It’s been a long week, and my vacation is finally over. Late Saturday night, early Sunday morning–either tell me it’s a weekend just like any other. I relaxed, I finally got the chance to enjoy Wicked, and I tooled around downtown gulping food I don’t deserve with a woman equally beyond my reach. I got drunk, I got sick, I had fun, and I’ve got little to show for it but some new rattles in my empty head.
Today I unpacked something I should have tackled years ago: an old box I jammed full of meaningful papers and memorabilia before I went to college. Every assignment I saved from highschool, every reading stashed away in my backpack and later archived when I finally deemed it safe, all weighing down a box I’d lugged from college to the Quad Cities and finally to Chicago with nary a second glance.
I didn’t read everything–that would literally take several months. I did halfheartedly separate most things by subject, putting my more notable papers–the ones covered in accolades, flush with arguments that sound strong even today–in a smaller pile so I can eventually spend some quality time digesting the boy I was. But I did read some of it, and what I did peruse surprised me. Fifteen or eighteen, it didn’t matter. I.B. had me writing reasonable nine-page essays surprisingly early, and now, basically fifteen years later, I’m amazed at how little things have changed. Except that those tasks, voluminous and staggering to a teenager barely capable of stringing together a sentence–and don’t argue, my freshman and sophomore papers were a nightmare of laughable grammar, terrifying transitions, and laughably wordy jumbles of incoherent flimflam–still seem daunting. How did I do it?
I was arrogant and fearless, uncaring that my reasoning was assumptive and overreaching, out of my element and reveling in every slapdash paragraph I passed off as an assignment. I wonder how my teachers ever did it… I was one of the good students, and my early days were hideous assaults on literature, history, and philosophy, wrapped in writing unfit to line a birdcage. Yet still they encouraged me, pointing out my weaknesses and telling me where I went right, until in I.B. Philosophy, every single paper I wrote save one, garnered a perfect score and gushing praise. Even reading a couple of those papers, I easily picked out bad style, weak arguments, and unsupported chicanery the teacher somehow missed. That’s what gets me, even years out of school, the only skill I retained is the one I never really fostered: writing.
My best I.B. score was in English. My Washington State standardized tests pegged my interests in Literature, with sciences a distant second. Fifteen years is a long time, twice my age when I started highschool, but it feels like I never left. I’m always learning, always evaluating, forgetting, moving on. I barely remember Calculus, couldn’t figure acid molarity if you paid me, and ask me about Germany in the 1940’s and I’ll likely laugh in your face. It’s all gone, since I’ve had a lifetime to forget. But the experiences along my life have shaped and chipped away the base granite of my raw potential into something more refined. I miss the force though, that dangerous and undirected fervor that enabled me to pound out a three page essay in less than an hour. It’s the child I was, with that visceral current, that makes me realize we, everyone, underestimate youth.
We forget, I think, just how smart we were, because of the now. I don’t feel thirty–though that day’s a mere month away–but I knew true surprise reading those old papers. It was me, but not, and if not for my packrat nature, I’d still belittle my previous incarnation. Still me, even fifteen years ago.
Maybe I’m more sane now, more balanced in the deeper rut I’ve worn through life in the interim, but I’m just the same. Still don’t get out much, still aloof without meaning to be, still overwhelmed by the enormity of life. Still overly verbose. Knowing maybe half a dozen people will ever read this, or care, considering their own reflections, gives me pause. I’ll keep going because I must; that’s the lonely road I travel. My heart taught me I can never be broken, so like a tired old pack-mule, I’ll plod through life, maybe fart out a book or two along the way, and then chew some well-deserved dirt.
I don’t have the charisma necessary to do much else. All the years that have gone by, and that’s one thing I still can’t seem to learn. Based on the schoolkid I once was, I’ve always been a grand philosopher, but beyond navel-gazing, I’m not worth much else. I only wish I could cap my vacation from work with a vacation from the present, so I could revel in the excuse that I shunned the limelight because I was too busy with homework.