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Getting Older, Growing Up

photo(Charlie Gill)– There was a moment on the morning of Christmas Eve, as I flung my head out the door of my dad’s moving car, having improperly nursed the previous night’s hangover and spewing vomit onto the street and perhaps a few unlucky passersby, during which I thought to myself, Wow, it really sucks to be me right now. And in another moment, as I stumbled out of the car still dry-heaving, my thought process changed to, Wow, it really sucks to be my dad right now. And then, in the moment I sat back down in the car, red-eyed and quite embarrassed, I remembered that this was not my father’s first rodeo. I actually have quite a long history with this kind of thing.

I got carsick as a kid. I got carsick a lot. These days I’ll maybe feel seasick or a little nauseous if I go on too many amusement park rides, but otherwise I don’t ever have to worry about it. When I was a little boy, though, every ride to the grocery store presented a new challenge. Back then, if you put me in a car, I would vomit. Period. If it was a ten-minute ride, you could give me like eight and then it’d happen. A two-hour road trip? I’d vomit as we were pulling into the parking lot at one hour and 59 minutes in. A personal low point may have been unloading hot dog chunks onto the man who sat in front of me at my sister’s JV basketball game. My parents even kept a boot-bowl for me in the back seat for those windy roads near our house that would inveterately put me over the edge. So, while there may have been quite a long hiatus, Christmas Eve was definitely not the first time my dad had heard that dreadful request to pull the car over.

Carsickness was constant throughout my childhood. Another constant was a baseball cap. When I was in elementary school, my grandfather found this white, Boston College Eagles hat on the side of the road while he was walking one morning. He picked it up, gave it to me, and (after washing it, of course) the hat became the centerfold of my wardrobe. I don’t even know why really – I wasn’t that big of a BC fan, and I know I owned baseball caps that hadn’t been found in a ditch – but the BC hat never came off my head. Going to school? Wearing the BC hat. Playing outside? Wearing the BC hat. Watching TV? Wearing that same hat. For whatever reason, I just loved the thing. So this one time, in the prime of my carsick days, as nausea hit me suddenly on the highway and I began to feel, you know, that feeling – the feeling that says firmly, I am just not going away until you throw up, and that, sir, is final – as I desperately reached for my boot-bowl and could not find it, and as I ballooned my cheeks, holding back the certain, sour spray I knew milliseconds later would burst from my little body, I happened to be wearing, of course, the BC hat.

Sitting in a car, cradling in my lap a baseball cap full of my own vomit: definitely an all-time low. Even worse was watching my dad take the hat and fling it into a ditch adjacent to the highway. Funny how that thing went full circle, I suppose. Needless to say, however, I was devastated. I couldn’t be mad at my dad for throwing the thing out; nevertheless, I was super upset about losing it. The BC hat, at that time in my life, was about as much a part of me as my left lung, and leaving it behind, covered in regurgitated Beeferoni, felt like tearing away a sliver of my identity. It stung hard. Yet, years later as I sit here writing, I’m happy I still have my left lung and I really could give a fuck about that baseball cap. Whatever meaning it once had in my life is gone – and that’s a good thing.

Since I’m already indulging into aspects of my past life that I’m not proud of, I’ll tell you also that I used to make girls cry. This was freshman year of high school (and in total disclosure I’ll admit I relapsed a bit in my first few weeks of college but that’s beside the point), and the thought process behind it was this: I had always been told to be honest, so I decided that I’d be honest 100% of the time. That meant if a friend asked me if they looked good, I’d say they did – or I’d just as soon say they didn’t. That meant if someone’s mom took me to a movie and asked if I’d liked it, I’d tell her I did – or I’d just as soon tell her I didn’t. That meant that when a girl who I really was fond of in many ways asked me why I’d stopped spending time with her, I was dead honest and told her, “because you’re too dramatic and always cry over the stupidest things.” And of course, when I said this in the middle of our high school cafeteria, she began to cry. I realized, in that moment, that I wasn’t only being honest. Mostly, I was being an asshole, and that was the last thing I wanted to be. So I changed. Honesty is great, I realized, but while there are times to be honest, there are also times, though less frequent, to hold back the truth.

Some things, like my carsickness for example, we grow out of eventually. There wasn’t a particular instance in my life in which I realized I could safely take a ride in the car. It just happened, and at some point I noticed. Other parts of us, however, like my favorite BC baseball cap, have to be ripped away. Both those methods of change – that is, the things that happen over time and those that happen with some kind of force – constitute growing up. Coming from a place of not much experience, but enough to know a few things, my urge to you is to not shy away from the latter method. If there is some quality you have that you don’t like, don’t assume it will change on its own. I’m not saying I didn’t love that baseball cap, but I’m happy I’m not still wearing it everywhere I go. Likewise, at one point in my life I thought I was totally cool because I told it exactly how it was all the time. It took a friend crying in front of my eyes to rip that part of me away.

Character is fluid. I heard this once and it stuck with me. All of us are changing, maturing, and growing as human beings all the time, and it’s important to acknowledge that. Perhaps some things happen in us without us knowing. For example, I was a huge Red Sox fan as a kid, and then at some point over the past few years I realized that I just didn’t give a shit, even while they were winning the World Series. I used to throw up every time I took a car ride, and then at some point I noticed my carsickness had gone away. The most important moments of change in my life, however – the ones that affect me most deeply as a person – are the ones that happen all of a sudden, like loving a hat one moment and throwing it in a highway ditch the next. If you see a part of yourself you don’t like, get rid of it, even if it seems engrained in your very being. It isn’t. As we enter together into 2014, don’t be afraid to throw things into the ditch.

One comment on “Getting Older, Growing Up

  1. Christian
    January 13, 2014

    1. Why are we not friends?

    2. I absolutely love your articles on so many levels. I think you do a great job at encouraging us (your massive fan following) to challenge the assumptions we hold about others (and ourselves!) as well as getting us to think about how we, as human beings, can improve.

    2a. Exhibit A: “The thing is, at Amherst, even amidst the longest math equations, and among the most stereotypically not-intellectual, not-creative, not-poetic social groups, I’ve found that people are more interested in pursuing the things that make us feel.” — Your “Missing the Muse” article encourages us to think differently about a group of students on campus, which is a conversation that’s long overdue, I think. And yeah, I’m pretty guilty about holding assumptions about people at Amherst; I think we all are. When I had lunch with the lacrosse team, the last thing I thought we’d be talking about is Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings (I really can’t remember if it was both or just Harry Potter). I had absolutely no reason to hold the assumption that the team couldn’t POSSIBLY be talking about these things. After all, we’re all at Amherst because we’re intellectually curious and have a diverse set of interests/passions. Saying, “Oh, I would never imagine that that’s what we would be talking about” shouldn’t have to be said; I should just be happy that I had a great lunch with a great group of people who are interested in a number of things. Also, I think (and this is really the sociologist in me talking) that talking about these stereotypes is a double-edged sword. We want to talk about them to start breaking them down, but by talking about them we reinforce their existence. It’s kind of like that thing people say on campus that there’s a divide between athletes and non-athletes. It’s become something that we’ve reinforced by talking about it, and it’s going to remain true with every incoming class of first-years because we keep talking about. It’s something that we could improve and that I think your “Muse” could change. After all, I guess I’m not so different from the lax team, right? ;-) And to be honest, your article is part of the reason why I wanted to have lunch with the team in the first place.

    2b. Exhibit B: “Studying the humanities is like unraveling the nature of what it means to be alive. When I get lost in graphs and flow charts, I find solace in words. When I find myself staring at a computer program, attempting to translate the list of strings and bools no easier than I could a passage of Sanskrit, I find companionship in words.” — I really just like this quote, haha. The reason I love literature so much is because it helps us define an often difficult part of our identities: voice. I didn’t really have much analysis for this quote. Like I said, I just really like it.

    3c. Exhibit C: “…I’ve found that people are more interested in pursuing the things that make us feel.” — I know I already quoted part of this in Exhibit A, but I wanted to write a little bit more about it. You wrote that you find yourself “surrounded by white, male athletes, many of whom come from the kind of socioeconomic and personal pursuit backgrounds you might imagine would steer their career interests towards banking, not say, writing or teaching.” This might be the kind of thing that would prompt someone to say, “ugh. classic lax bro majoring in Econ.” What your “Muse” article encourages us to do is discard that way of thinking. You wrote that the people you meet are interested in pursuing the things that make us feel, which is absolutely true. We shouldn’t think less of a “lax bro” who wants to major in Econ, just as we wouldn’t scoff at a student from a low-income community who wants to major in Sociology because the topics studied (such as the institutional reasons as to maybe why a person lives in a low-income community) better relate to his lived experiences than a major like Computer Science. Obviously there’s a lot of fluidity here, which is kind of my point: we came here looking to find something we’re passionate about.

    My final point about the muse article is just to say that it has sparked a conversation that I think will help us move forward as a community. It may have not been your intention, but your article has the potential to break down the so-called athlete/non-athlete barrier that I’m on a journey to end (see more about that here:

    3a. Your “Hoarders” article is also great at challenging us to think differently. “A home so unlike the one I grew up in, and a home so unlike the one we share here at the college. Let’s not be too comfortable in this home.” — This is so great. I think that when talking about the so-called “Amherst Bubble” we shouldn’t just think about “Oh, there’s a life in the town of Amherst that doesn’t revolve around the College” but also about the lives of our own peers. Here we all live in similar dorms, eat the same food, etc. But what about when everyone goes home? I live in Seelye this year and I can tell you that my parents could never afford to give me a room (to myself) that big. We start getting too comfortable in this “home” that we often forget the lived experiences of the people we live with here at Amherst. Again, what your article does is that it sparks a conversation (might as well call you the ‘writer on fire’ because all your articles do this, hahaha). What’s often missing at Amherst is a conversation about class and socioeconomic status. We like to tear down white male privilege and talk about race-related incidents, and these conversations (sometimes lack thereof) mask the conversations we should also be having about class/socioeconomic status/poverty. Like Prof. O’Connell said, “Poverty is invisible in America, except to those living in it.” It’s true. By mentioning poverty in your article, I think you’ve given us the potential to bring it up for discussion. Otherwise we might end with the same discomfort you experienced when you first met Susan. Because you shared some pretty “the struggle is real” moments in this article, I’ll share one. One time during my first year, I came to Val and filled up my empty bottle of Orange Juice. That shit is like $4 at Target. I don’t *always* have that lying around, so I just took it to Val. I got some pretty judgmental looks and a few people who were trying to suppress a laugh (but couldn’t). I don’t blame them, haha. My life is a joke and I’m laughing too. But the point is it probably made them feel uncomfortable to see me doing that. I hope they know that I wasn’t doing it because I was super okay with going to val and stealing their orange juice. I was doing it because I really didn’t have a choice (although to be fair, I don’t REALLY need OJ to survive. I could definitely do without it). Welcome to the real hunger games (a gross exaggeration, but you feel my struggle). Also, in no way does my situation compare to Susan’s, but if it did, I’d hope people understand that it’s probably a product of my circumstance and not a choice (a sociological lesson, if you will).

    3b. “If we want to help those who suffer, then first we need to remember that they exist, and then we need to remember that to those suffering, there is nothing taboo about their situations at all. It’s important to be aware of those around us who slip through the cracks, even when it feels uncomfortable to do so, and even when the college life gives us blinders.” — Why don’t you have a Pulitzer Prize yet? I also love that you’re talking about things that make us uncomfortable because I think one of the first steps towards process–and healing–is to feel some discomfort. The path to helping others is often one of pain and hope, and we have to experience some discomfort to truly understand people’s lived experiences. Great article!

    And now, we finally get to this article. If you’ve made it this far, I commend you. If not, then I guess this is just like any other night when I end up talking to myself.

    4a. First of all, I want to know if the crying incident in the cafeteria happened at Exeter. That place has seen some real shit, haha. This past summer some of my students threw something at the glass near the roof and the entire thing shattered. Then another time I slipped on a clearly unmarked “wet floor.” Do you know how embarrassing to be THAT teacher? My students never saw me the same way again. This comment is pretty irrelevant to everything here, I just wanted to connect with you on dat level.

    4b. Ok, now to the actual article. “Character is fluid.” — Change comes, but change is hard. Change (and letting go and growing up and getting older) is a process through which we come to find ourselves, I think, and it’s a process that always involves pain and hope. It’s a process through which we come to find our position in a society that hosts us yet often feels alien. I think part of the reason we have a hard time finding our “self” is because we are shaped by this external force (society/culture/family/etc.) and we spend our entire lives going through this process to try to find our place in society. That process, I guess, is just growing up, maturing, and letting things go. We all change in small ways. For example, when I first learning to drive I would use both feet to step on the gas and pedal. My dad kept yelling at me to only use my right leg to press on either the break or pedal. I felt it was impossible. When I came home for winter break, I drove the car around for a few days (picking up my mom from work, dropping her off, picking up groceries, etc) and one day my dad noticed that I wasn’t using both feet anymore. I hadn’t even noticed. This was a small change that just happened.

    But the bigger changes (like your honesty scenario) are often ones that come with pain. My senior year of high school, I thought I was top dog. Mind you this was a school of over 5,000 so how I thought I was top dog in a school that big is beyond me. I was class president, ranked 8th in my class of 850 students, taking 3 AP courses (I know some kids at Amherst took like 6 their senior year which later made me realize that 3 was nothing, but at the time I thought 3 was the best because that was all my high school offered for students in my track), performed in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, and a few other things. I don’t know, I guess all those things made me feel better than everyone else. I applied to like top colleges everywhere and was 100% sure that after graduating I would be going to one of those colleges. Around March/April/acceptance/rejection time, I received only two acceptances and like 20 rejections. I was devastated. Well, the acceptances were to UCLA and UC Berkeley, which are obviously great schools, but not the schools I had imagined myself going to. It all felt wrong. I decided I wouldn’t go to either school because I didn’t want to drown myself in loans, especially when I wasn’t THAT crazy about going to those schools in the first place. Instead, I went to a community college near my house: East Los Angeles College. Kids at my high school (heck, even I did it sometimes) referred to this as the second Roosevelt, or your “fifth year of high school.” We basically trashed it as a place where only those who couldn’t get accepted to “real” colleges went. In fact, during college application season my senior year, I joked to one of my friends, “what if I get rejected from everywhere and end up at ELAC? LOL that would be so funny but that would never happen.” I guess Justin Bieber was right in saying “never say never.” Kudos to his wise words. Anyways, the summer after HS all my friends were preparing to go off to different colleges (all over the country) and I was just at home like “ok whatever I guess I’m here forever.” I was still kind of angry at the universe. I kept thinking I was “the best” and couldn’t reason why I wasn’t away to college too. During that summer, my mom told me to do something with my life and so she asked my neighbor to take me to her job as a volunteer. I reluctantly agreed. That June, I started volunteering at a shelter for women who had faced domestic abuse and oh my god, my life changed forever. I won’t bore you with all the details because you’re probably already bored AF, but I basically realized that the reason no college accepted me was because I was extremely selfish. You were 100% honest, and around the same time I was 100% selfish. The class president, performing in a parade, taking AP classes, etc etc etc were all purely selfish endeavors to boost a resume. And it took all those college rejections and that volunteering experience to force me to change. Character is fluid. I’m freaking happy that this is the case! I had to let the old Christian go in order for me to become a (somewhat) better person. And I spent some time at ELAC before finally transferring to Amherst. And I’m eternally grateful to that community college. Even there I met people who sure as hell weren’t there because they were failures. They were there because they were trying to improve their living situation (get a better job, higher degree, etc). So going back to your “Hoarders” article, I guess there’s always more than meets the eye.

    And this article, the one about getting older and growing up, is great because it encourages us to open up about our experiences (probably not in these lengthy responses). Sharing these with each other helps us become better people, I think. After all, our lives aren’t just measured in years. They’re measured in the lives of the people we touch around us. We all grow up and mature, and while the experiences that shape our lives are often ones that we have to personally experience ourselves (not just through hearing about other people’s experiences) it doesn’t hurt to have other people who are growing up with you.

    Thanks for all your great writing. When you publish your novel, short story, autobiography, book of poetry, whatever it may me, know that I’ll be that that book signing, haha.

    Ok, I should probably end this essay before it gets creepy. Let’s be honest, though, that probably happened after article 2a.

    I give your articles the highest honor I can: The Hunger Games’ “three-finger salute.”

    Have a great semester, year, and time at Amherst. May the odds be ever in your favor.

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This entry was posted on January 11, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .

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