Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chronic Optimism

There are few things I have experienced in my 21 years on this terrestrial ball as optimistic as the beginning of a new year of undergraduate study.

As I watch school start for my friends and acquaintances--as I watch from the outside--I'm impressed with the unbridled positive spirit which lives and breathes on campus. Impressed, and a little amused.

Lest the following post sound like sour grapes from a recent post-grad, let me remind my constant readers that I experienced the illogicality of Fall Optimism, and I drank it to its dregs. More than most, perhaps.

First, there's the issue of Coping With The Loss Of Summer: inevitably, the complaint is that summer was too short. But since Wisconsin draws out its summers into mid-September (often later), the weather will not have changed yet. In fact, many moving-in students probably wish for a cooler wind to whisk through the futon- and TV-clogged hallways. And the first week, we reassure ourselves, the first week of classes is always easy.

Which brings us to the second hurdle to be overcome by Fall Optimism: the discipline of school after a summer of...something else. Some were able to relax and take their ease; for them the hurdle is higher. Those who worked hard all summer to make spending money for the fall? Well, they're already in a disciplined mindset--but even so, academic discipline is different from working-world discipline.

So how is this hurdle overcome? By forgetfulness. We don't remember just how draining a 15-page paper on the minor differences between John Locke's and Jean-Jacques Rousseau's vision of mankind can be. We forget the sick feeling that comes with looking at the syllabus and realizing that no, that test isn't next week, it's tomorrow, and did I study for it? Is the Pope Presbyterian?

Instead of those things, we remember the day that our one prof jumped up and down when he was talking about Portia in The Merchant of Venice, or we remember how the other prof is a department head so he cancels class fairly often, or we remember the time we listened to Bob Dylan songs the whole class period.

We remember the positive.

The same goes for on-campus activities that we participate in. We don't remember the blinding, sickening drag of getting up coffeeless on a Saturday morning to help with set build for the fall musical. We don't remember the frantic scheduling, the wheeling and dealing necessary to make sure that neither one of our on-campus jobs needs us for Tuesday night, because that's when the writing workshop is--oh wait, I was supposed to take my buddy shopping. Gotta text him quick...

Instead, we remember the glow of satisfaction as we take our bows at curtain call.

And we forget the intricate webs of relationship that we entangle ourselves in while we're at school. In our delight to see everyone once again, we forget that one's emotional instability, this one's immaturity, that one's inability to take a hint and LEAVE, for Pete's sake, because SOME OF US have to be up at 8am tomorrow for a meeting. We don't see the potential for new pains, new struggles, and new sorrows. We look at our friends, associates, acquaintances, with rose-colored glasses.

This post seems to be shaping into a condemnation of the idiots returning to school, how they can't live in the real world, how they must practice self-deception to survive the harsh realities of college. But fear not, gentle reader: for now comes the Shyamalanian twist.

I applaud the Fall Optimism of whose waters so many returning (and new) students drink deeply. And I applaud the students who are mature enough to drink of those waters.

When confronted with something massive and fanged, one may run and hide, or despair, or gird one's loins up with confidence and self-respect. Those who run forsake the potential glory of defeating the monster. Those who despair are often consumed by the monster. But those who stand tall in their own two shoes, screw their courage to the sticking-point, and face the monster head-on have the greatest chance of victory.

I have seen people leave school because those papers or those tests or those presentations were too much. I have seen people become cynical, hate-filled shells of themselves, all their energy wasted on hating their alma mater. And I have seen people emerge triumphant, because they could cope. They drank from the well of Fall Optimism; they found a way to cope with the depressing aspects of college; and then they raised their shields and dashed headlong into the maw of Semester I.

Hail, students. We who know your toil salute you.

Long live hope.