On One Hand

February 24, 2009

Post-undergraduate thoughts

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:29 pm

I’ve been thinking about who I was in high school – focusing on my accomplishments – and how I’ve changed since then. My senior year I started a club focused on social justice (gay-straight alliance), I was an eagle scout, I was in the top ten percent of my class, I was involved in a huge number of clubs. I had perfect attendance for four years of high school and all my teachers were trying to funnel me into leadership programs in college. I stayed and chatted with them after school, they all told me amazingly supportive things like you have the potential to do absolutely anything you want.

I don’t remember precisely what I was thinking at the time, but I do remember resisting the urge to put myself into a bunch of programs in college that my school counselors were giving me brochures for. Because while this was all going on, I was going through the most awful religious crisis a human being has ever probably gone through, and I was literally convinced every moment that I was going to Hell if I didn’t chose to be a bitter lonely hermit for my whole life (I wanted a partner and a family more than anything, but the Catholic church said homosexuals were in mortal sin if they weren’t celibate). I went from being a devout Catholic to a terrified Catholic to, finally, a recovering ex-Catholic. During the process I felt more and more isolated. I needed some time to think and connect to other people and get off the ambitious track I was on.

I was also sick of being the “good” kid. My mother’s expectations for me (getting married to a nice Catholic girl, never drinking, never smoking) were so heavy I was just sick of expectations. I secretly longed to be one of the kids who hung out at the Smokers Pit across the street from my high school campus – potheads, rebels, deviant. They didn’t think about religion – in fact, most of them were anti-religion. None of them were college-bound, and many of them were barely managing to stay in high school. Our purposes were similar – I was going through life with the mindset of creating good institutions, they were tearing the bad institutions down. I created things like the Gay Straight Alliance and was a part of the diversity club, I was trying to start an alternative newsletter at our school. They were breaking the rules by smoking, saying fuck you to the jocks, proudly flaunting their sexuality as a way of lashing out at an anti-gay and sexist high school paradigm. But they had a lot more fun doing what they did, their job was easier and required less work or organization, and I was jealous.

My main concerns during college were answering these: will I finally get a boyfriend? Can I find proof that there is an afterlife? Can I find proof that we are not hell-bound for our sexuality? I focused my intelligence on very abstract personal questions – not on, say, the next essay for my Sociology class. I went through five years of college doing probably a third of the readings I was assigned, and still pulling a B+ average, which I can be proud of in a sort of sick way.

My main fear in life was being single at the age of 40, since all the grown gay men I knew were single. My secondary fear was HIV. I was still guilt-ridden as a formerly religious person. I clung like mad to horrible boyfriends who treated me like shit, because I was afraid of what it meant to be single, to date around (which felt more sinful than being committed), to be alone.

I’ve said again and again that my accomplishments in college did not fit my potential. I suppose this, like all things for me, must lead to an identity crisis, where I re-consider who I am – maybe not the brainy kid with the IQ of 150 like everyone told me I was from age 4 to 20. I can be perfectly happy following the path my parents followed – middle-income, middle-of-the-road, kids go to an in-state college, very attentive parents, members of the community, volunteers. My life would be easier and more relaxing. I could have a garden and decide what colors to paint the house, if and where we should have a library. Nice little things. If I switched into that paradigm – it would only take a tiny step – I would be so happy.

But something is preventing me from going there. I want to do big things. I feel that my thoughts and experiences contain something unique, and I have a lot to contribute. I have always felt that the pain I go through is intended to give me a purpose, and insight to prevent others from like suffering. I feel the urge to maneuver myself into high places so I can be more influential. I have the intelligence to do that, I just don’t know if I have the energy to work in a world of power that is cutthroat and often immoral.

I applied for Teach for America, but the more I heard about Teach from America from a couple friends in Denver who are in the program, the more I started to secretly hate it and hope that I didn’t get in. TFA didn’t give me an interview. I’m not surprised – my GPA was a 3.26 and their average is 3.65. I was stressing about what the program would be like, and now that I know, I feel relieved, although I feel bad that it’s the first time in my life I’ve felt “unqualified” for something academic-type people love, which, until I turned 18, were the places where I wowed everyone. I had a canvassing job last summer that brought me close to low-income people who had anything but a fair shake in life, and feel a new-found bitterness toward institutions that simply help privileged people get more privileged – under the feign of being of benefit to society. I’m talking about the whole world of academia, the “bastion of liberalism” that is just as classist as anywhere else – though, to be fair, had I set myself up to get into an Ivy League grad school, I would go. I understand the impulse of, when you are in a prestigious bubble, to make the walls thick to protect your own prestige. But it seems that the whole purpose of Ivy League culture is to peel off someone who is one percent smarter than someone else and make it seem like fifty percent smarter.

So maybe I am not in that Privileged class. I remember when I was in middle school and my parents were talking about sending me to a high school for gifted, college-bound kids eying prestigious universities. Eight years later I had a boyfriend later who was very infatuated with the idea of IQ, and I was musing to my father that I don’t think it’s a real number, and the tests are probably biased if you consider race and class. He told me something I was proud of – I hadn’t remembered – that the reason they didn’t put me in that accelerated program was that everyone there was painfully arrogant. He told me how he went to info sessions with my mom where they were told “your kids are not like everyone else, they are a cut above,” and my parents decided they didn’t want their kid growing up with a sense of superiority. I was proud of my dad for making that decision. We had similar values about elitism.

Now I don’t know whether it whether or not it was a good choice to keep me out of those kinds of programs. I could have gotten away from a high school culture that celebrated asinine behavior, where I got stuffed in the trash can in the cafeteria, where I posted club announcements on the school walls and they got ripped down almost immediately, where I was instilled with the seeds of insecurity and horribly mixed feelings about the idea of “achievement.” I don’t want to make excuses for myself, but I have to wonder whether there are struggles I could have entirely avoided – whether I would be in a completely different place today, a more accomplished place – had I not been seeded with that doubt and was set up with a different kind of peer group with more like-minded people. Not all smart kids are elitist humorless geeks. Some of them are passionate, wise, creative.

I’ll never be able to know for sure, but if I find myself in an entirely different place five or ten years from now, I’ll have a better sense of what I’m capable of.

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9 Comments »

  1. I agree.

    Comment by lackingquality — February 25, 2009 @ 4:39 am | Reply

  2. Since moving to NYC I’ve found myself moving even closer to that bastion of liberal elite known as academia. I’ve begun to enjoy some of the privileges and in my daily decorum I’ve noticed a change in my personality, and to be honest, I’m afraid I may be becoming a haughty arrogant elitist fuck.

    Stay where you are!

    Comment by timberwolves — February 25, 2009 @ 9:31 pm | Reply

    • I don’t even think your job is “Ivy League” or the kind of shit I’d make fun of. From my understanding what you do is pretty service-oriented, although I don’t know the details. It doesn’t seem elitist, though.

      Comment by ononehand — February 25, 2009 @ 11:59 pm | Reply

      • Just to be frank, Matt. I never did say my job or current social position is “Ivy League.” I never even dropped the term. However, I suppose I am somewhat part of the ivy league as a part time graduate student at Columbia and being under the tutelage of a former professor of Columbia, in addition to working for an organization that has ties to prominent foundations like the Pew Charitable Trust and the Rockefeller Family Foundation. Nonetheless, me sitting here listing off details in the scheme of vouching for your obvious lack of information about the “details” is silly, so I’m signing off.

        -James

        P.S.

        Before you make such an error again, check into the details. It’s kind of important to do so. It often mitigates the possibility of coming off as a prick.

        Comment by timberwolves — February 26, 2009 @ 1:23 am

      • I came off as a “prick” because I thought your job was cool?

        OK, um, I’m going to file that away under “nothing reasonable could have avoided that.”

        Comment by ononehand — February 26, 2009 @ 1:36 am

      • You’re going to get shanked in the dead of night…

        Comment by timberwolves — February 26, 2009 @ 1:41 am

      • God damn, baby! you know I loves you! you my lil lamb! you just make daddy so angry sometimes! I don’t wanna hit ya! But you make me so angry! God I love you.

        Comment by timberwolves — February 26, 2009 @ 2:08 am

  3. Matt, it’s Kelly. I have a comment for another entry but you have to add me back first.

    Comment by agent_k_says — March 5, 2009 @ 12:03 am | Reply


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