Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Passing On The Past

I really should start my history paper, this Long, Difficult Thing that I've known about for a month yet haven't given any thought to until tonight. It's not even that long or that difficult, and I know that if I stopped procrastinating and actually started writing it I could get at least a few pages done tonight, but the thought of writing even one sentence is enough to make me feel tired, unfocused, and a bunch of other adjectives-as-excuses that would justify me not writing some more.

I wasn't always like this. Once upon a time (high school), I was really good at writing papers. I could bang out a close reading in an hour and get glowing feedback from the teacher; science lab write-ups were simply a matter of IMing my smarter friends and rewording their answers to sound like me; and for any other subject, a couple of quick Google searches provided me with all the information I'd need to squeeze three to five pages out of the United States' containment policy during the Cold War, or the importance of the Beatles on contemporary music, or even una biografía de Frida Kahlo.

Maybe this had to do with the fact that I grew up in central New Jersey; the only other things to occupy my nighttime were parties (to which I was rarely invited, let alone welcome), television (which I usually watched during the afternoon), or smoking weed with friends (but the stuff isn't as good back home, so the effects didn't last that long.) Or maybe this had to do with all the pressure of being an AP student applying to colleges. Or that living with two constantly arguing parents meant that the safest place in my house was often my bedroom, which housed both my textbooks and my desk. (Also, no Facebook. Man, how did we ever make plans?)

Whatever the reasons, I was a great student in high school. Then came college and vodka in amounts I'd never fathomed and dorm rooms and Misshapes. Living in the city means that almost no time is too late for plans, and there have been many nights where I found something to do at 2am. So even though it's midnight right now and I should be writing this damn paper, you know, this devilish and unreasonable voice in the back of my head is telling me to wait it out because something, anything, might come along and make me want to change out of these sweatpants.

With all this shit going on, it's no wonder that my grades have started to suffer. Well, not really--I'm certainly not in danger of failing any classes, and have long since abandoned my high-school mindset that Bs are unacceptable. But I'm not a straight-A student anymore, and only in Creative Writing workshops do I stand out as a participatory, potentially sorta talented student. And paper writing has become a bitch.

I think a major reason I have trouble starting Page 1 is that every time I see that blank Word document, that little bar blinking at me in both mockery and impatience, and the pages of notes I've hastily scribbled inside a beat-up notebook overflowing onto my keyboard, I feel inadequate. The old me would have finished this paper by now, but the current me has no idea where to start (or a great desire to do so.) I feel the ghost of my past taunting me, making me feel even worse about myself. With every word I write, this feeling that I'm just not good enough anymore--even if "good enough" means being the star pupil, and even if that entails a set of entirely impossible expectations for myself--sinks deeper and deeper into me, until it's spread throughout my body and into my hands, paralyzing my fingers and making me want to just fuck it and spend the rest of my life working retail.

William Wordsworth once wrote, alluding to his past self, "I cannot paint what then I was." And even though I can clearly see myself back then, with my short boy hair and my American Eagle sweatshirt, a look of smug superiority on my face because the Shins are playing on my computer and I'm just so indie, well, I can't relate to that person anymore. The idea that he was me is unfathomable. In some ways I guess I've been trying to get rid of this totally different (and probably nicer) boy--the boy that I was then--ever since I stepped into Goddard two autumns ago. But when I'm sitting at my desk, checking Facebook for the umpteenth time, knowing full well that I should have started working hours ago, that boy reappears me and hates me for having ignored him so much. I just don't like dealing with him. After all, it's much easier to stress about impending work than it is to confront your past, wouldn't you agree?

-Josh

4 comments:

i'm not going to cubbyhole said...

the real problem is that there are no longer teacher edition textbooks full of hw answers you can buy

also, only until i read 'american eagle sweatshirt' did i realize wordsworth's quote was long over

Jess and Josh said...

when i was in high school i thought that all of the pointless shit we put up with would disintegrate once we got to college.

unfortunately, i was wrong.

i still totally feel like 80% of the work i do at this school is literally for nothing. only this time i'm paying $50,000 to get assigned that work. and none of my professors even know my name.

when does the bullshit stop? grad school? doubtful. when does learning become this thing you WANT to do, and not this thing you have to SHOW you're doing through 10 page papers?

-jess

Michael said...

when you find the cure for restless indifference let me know.

Luísa said...

I'd just like to say that your ideas (josh's and jesse's) resonate with my own rambled-not-put-into-words thoughts in such a manner that I actually feel relief in reading your essays. I started to reverse-read the blog, and I'm not getting anything done until I finish! An I do have two papers due Wednesday, so.
You both should be very, very proud of this blog. Really.