Image credit: Ben Crowder
Well, three weeks ago I said goodbye to Provo and hello to Wellington, New Zealand, and in so doing bid farewell to the weirdly concentrated BYU experience I got to brave for one solitary semester. Here’s what I learned along the way.
I’ve always held that compartmentalization works. There’s a time for seriousness and there’s a time for jokes, for work and also for play . . . for school and, separately, for church. For me, school has always asked for a sterility that the inclusion of church would threaten to disrupt. What’s curious about a place like the Y is that I found my worlds colliding (Jerry!) and yet each remained relatively intact and entirely functional. My geology classes began with prayer, and my biology classes audaciously considered the concept of the creation in alliance with the theory of evolution. My cinema class broached the subject of the relationship between Mormon modesty standards and feminism in the context of our screening of Persepolis! What’s more, the friends I made at school were willing to be casual in their discussion of their spiritual growth in and out of class. It felt bizarre and liberating to engage our minds and our hearts in our studies. But despite my misgivings, both parts survived.
While, fortunately, I never had any direct run-ins with the guy-versus-goals dichotomy, I heard about it from friends and let me tell you, I don’t like it. I heard about him losing interest the moment she mentioned law school. I heard about him turning off the moment she revealed she was majoring in neuroscience. I heard about pretty, competent ladies forfeiting the conversation with their Cute Boy because they let it slip they were not simply pretty. I don’t intend to generalize–I personally found heaps of support from my male and female counterparts alike. But for the men out there lacking the aplomb to provide a similar encouragement to all their friends, both romantic and not, know that your sepia-tinted mindsets have awakened a vehemence in me I don’t intend to lay to rest off school grounds. If a girl’s aspiration ever disappoints someone she likes, she should turn and walk the other way. No questions asked.
I’m not sure this is a Y-specific lesson learned, but it’s certainly college-specific. I think there’s a natural pressure in any university atmosphere to figure out your lives, children, for your day of adulthood is close at hand! And I’m a big believer in getting there–eventually. It’s just that I’ve sat by as my best friend has filed through astrophysics, music, geophysics, public policy, and environmental science (all within about six months), travelling to Paris to study one and then to Guatemala to study another, and (here’s the kicker) it’s all been ok. If she wanted to take more than six months to figure it out (and she will), it’ll still be ok. I think a soft dose of relaxation regarding that whole adulthood thing might free up some space in our minds for a little more personal exploration on our way There–and it will ensure that There is the right place to end up.
This one I did experience personally. I don’t think I processed it this way then, but in retrospect I’ve felt a little aghast as I’ve pieced together my logic at the time. After one date with Mr. Hottie McGee, I felt I had spent enough time with him both to have had a fun time and to understand that he didn’t interest me a whole lot. And yet I felt reluctant to spurn the interest of the only male human on campus willing to ask me out, so I kept leading him on in the days that followed. I know that just reads “desperate”–but I’d wager I’m not alone in my irrational rationality. Singledom is the woeful curse, sometimes, of those with standards. So be it.
Professors’ office hours are great. They’re the nicest people–at least those I had this semester. T.A.s are also wonderful. Relief Society presidents, hiking buddies, roommates, it turns out they’re all totally there to help. As with any resource, they should be approached with deference and the sort of conduct that will ensure their service perpetuates, but beyond the basic rules of courtesy, mentors are there to foster growth, so go ahead! Learn! Grow! And allow them to help.
What a stunning metaphor. Or maybe just an obnoxious workout when I’m already too late for class to care.
This is a tired lesson, I know. But it’s true! So much happened on campus at any given moment that every time I chose to venture into the fray of activities, my happy exhaustion as I hit the sheets that night would remind me that I should do it again. Energy feeds energy, and friends breed more friends. Engaging in the campus that I had chosen for my life helped me feel like the campus had in turn chosen me for its life. And similar, I think, to any community, I found that the more I invested of myself in those around me and in the crazy schemes we found ourselves pursuing at ungodly hours, the more smiles I could store up for later. A simple equation. Spectacular results.
Or maybe more than one night. I feel it’s paramount to defend my natural introversion even as I acknowledge the participation-to-fun-ratio I discovered too. I think it’s foolish to place one’s merit in the amount of activities ticked off in a month, or the amount of friends who come knocking every night. I’m a passionate believer in legalizing alone time. Especially in a culture that plans a ward Christmas party the night after the singles Christmas party which takes place the night after the Relief Society Christmas party, I think it’s dangerous to lose sight of the thrill of doing nothing, all alone occasionally. Socializing is great, but so is not socializing. Both get thumbs-up.
Even though I’m not leaving school as a graduate (yet), I think the concept of “next” is as scary to me now as it is for each fresh generation of graduates that appear on the streets of Provo each winter and spring, dazed and directionless and petrified about the whole “future” bit. The truth is, I don’t know any better than they do how my life will pan out as I try to find my legs as an “adult” in the world. But even after school has left us standing at the bus stop alone, all dusty from its sudden departure from our lives, I think we’ll all manage haphazardly yet successfully to pretend our way through everything else that comes our way. Cheers to “next”! Whatever that is!