.journal 2001.09.09
A student once more.

Now listening to: Tori Amos, "Crucify" EP
Now reading: Poppy Z. Brite, Drawing Blood; Sylvia Plath, The Collected Poems
Now playing: Chu Chu Rocket (Dreamcast)

Someone stop the world; I want to get off.

Two weeks now I have been a full-time student at the University of Toledo. I thought my summer course would help reengage my mind to the process of learning, and I was right. But I should have taken two extra courses over the summer just to prepare me for this horrendous workload.

It was bad enough that my father stuck me with paying the $420 textbook bill I ran up that he'd promised previously he would cover. (And I just found out yesterday I have to go back and get another book here soon, joy of joys.) It's bad enough that lugging the damn things around in my backpack is making me sore all over. But all the reading I'm doing, good grief. My eyes feel like they're going to come loose from their tethers and fly off here, glide into the sunset so they can get some kind of rest.

The worst part of the reading assignments is that none of my instructors are consistent, but all but one of them are consistently bad. Either they're assigning us an eighty-page chunk at once and then covering twenty pages for each of four days, or else they're just not assigning reading at all and magically expecting us to know what pages to read to be prepared for the next day's class. The end result of this is that I have this huge chunk of reading I have to do, and then by the time I get done with that I have to start my "optional" reading hoping I'll be ready for the classes that don't assign reading that well.

And for all the reading I'm doing, I'm not getting much of a chance to put it to use. I've never been much of a reader, whether for academic purposes, leisure purposes or what have you, but writing, that's where I excel. I tried to pick classes where I'd be doing a whole bunch of writing, but it seems like I'm just not getting that many writing assignments. The assignments I get at least tend to be large ones (I'm forsaking developing one to write here now), but I'd been hoping to write books, not read them.

I guess perhaps part of the problem is that I'm not used to this style of college learning from Antioch. At Antioch I only took four non-music courses, and two of those were physical education. My political philosophy course is the only one I took that I think really "challenged" me. Strangely, even though it feels like expectations are a lot lower at UT than they are at Antioch, the path to get there seems more challenging. Just not that much time I have to myself here right now. Then again, nothing comes as easily to me as music does, and I won't be taking music courses at UT so I won't have that shelter.

Thinking about Antioch right now makes me reflect on my social life there. Antioch was a lot different because I was living on a campus of 400 students in a city of 2,000; in Toledo I'm living in a hotel (until the house gets rebuilt) and commuting to a campus of 23,000 in a city of 300,000. Big difference there.

The numbers really come into play when I'm in my lecture hall classes. Antioch has all of one real lecture hall like UT has, that's mostly used for Community Government meetings. I've been to Community Government meetings at Antioch before, where attendance typically runs about half of the 400 students on campus at any one time (keeping in mind Antioch does co-op). Some of my individual classes at UT seem to have just as many students. And somehow I don't think I'm going to run into a situation like I had studying music at Antioch, where half of my credit hours were being taken in one-on-one, professor-to-student situations.

Maybe it's living off campus that is getting me the most, though. At Antioch I was always bopping over to the coffeehouse (C-Shop), then over to the sparse video arcade. I can still remember that video arcade: Mortal Kombat II (which was the big draw back then), Atari's Tetris (the good one), Rastan and three pinball machines. Most prominent of the pinball machines was the Twilight Zone pinball machine, because Rod Serling was a graduate of Antioch. But I'd drop some quarters there, then maybe go up and DJ at the pirate radio station, then walk over to the grocery store and grab something to nosh on before heading to my dorm to study.

Well, UT has a radio station, but it's legit. Where's the fun in that? Back before I was on the local computer BBSes I made a friend at UT, and he took me to see the campus radio station where he DJed. It's just not the same to me. I understand there are great video games strewn about campus, but I never get to them. Not only don't I ever really get in their proximity, but it's not like I have the time to enjoy them anyway. After all, I need to study. Puke. And even though some days I have enough time to maybe try to hunt down one of the campus restaurants, it's right during peak time and I don't even want to think about the crowds I'd have to face.

It's bad enough trying to park at UT. I figured parking would be harder in the fall than it would be in the winter, but good grief do we end up packing ourselves in like sardines in that parking garage. Not that I'm that confident in my driving skills to start with, but I think we need a three-credit course just to figure out how to maneuver around those garages and how to get a spot. Nothing panicked me more than when Dubya came to campus last week and during my attempt to get out of the parking garage I did about three laps around the third tier. I was surprised I wasn't stopped by Secret Service agents for looking so conspicuous.

So we're back at the numbers again, and that seems so appropriate because compared to Antioch, time between classes at UT looks like a freaking zoo. I see more people walking between the buildings than there were at my old college, and I'm like, "Where the hell do I fit in here?" Even if Antioch had a larger study body, their attitude would still value individual attention and expression, but at UT you just wonder who all these people are, and whether or not the college can really give them the attention they need. Not that I don't stand out everywhere I go, but there's a difference between standing out and being singled out. Sometimes I wonder if UT could ever really single me out.

At least one good thing about UT is the lack of smoking on campus. Not that I don't see smokers here and there, but while I was at Antioch I would swear at least 80% of the campus smoked. It finally got so bad that I started smoking, just because it was the only way I could tolerate the smoke around me. Mind you, when I went home on the weekends I didn't smoke, and when I finally came back from Antioch I just quit, no problem. So at least I've learned that I don't seem to be able to get addicted to nicotine, which is a very, very good thing. And at UT the temptation won't be there because fresh air seems to come easily enough. (Well, "fresh air" by Toledo standards, anyway.)

Some students, however, are more than students. Some of them are my teachers. Antioch is undergraduate-only, so this is my first lovely experience with graduate assistants. And of the two graduate assistants I have in my classes now, I think I'm older than one of them, perhaps both. I don't think it plays a role in how I see them and their ability to teach me, but it certainly feels a bit awkward.

My age may be one of the hardest factors for me to get over. Even though I don't necessarily look older than my classmates, I still know I am older than a great many of them. Always being the smart one growing up, I got used to the idea of being on the accelerated curve, of taking the advanced courses earlier than other people my age. Now all of a sudden I feel behind the curve. I think I learned a great deal in my six years away from academia, lessons that you can't learn in classrooms, but in a collegiate setting it seems that academia is all that matters. And now I'm an old fogey, just because I took some time off to help my father with his business.

And of all those tens of thousands of students on campus, I still don't have one friend. Not that I have the time to be making friends right now, but I haven't even made an effort so far. That's one of the problems with growing up an outcast, you get so used to not having friends around you that you don't try to make them. Or, if you're like me, you don't really know how to make them. I hear that learning how to make friends is one of the things you're taught in the mandatory freshperson orientation, but of course I entered a sophomore so there goes that. Some of the people in my classes seem friendly enough, but how do I approach them? I literally have no clue, and so I go on without allies on campus.

Plus there's the whole issue of what friends I had before going to UT, and my loyalty to them. I don't know if I feel comfortable trying to make new friends when I know I need to keep in touch with my old ones. I don't make many friends, but what friends I do make I forge incredibly strong ties with. I don't test those ties, either, I do everything I can to keep those ties as strong as possible. But my friends haven't been around that much recently, and with all the anxieties I've got going on with school and the rebuilding of the house and all, I could use someone to talk to. Journals like these are great for getting thoughts out, but they can't match the same satisfaction you get from one-on-one contact. But I could write whole journal entries on my feelings about loyalty and friendship; for now let's just say I remain as confused as ever about it all.

And there are times when I think about telling UT "thanks but no thanks," delisting from my courses, going back to work for my father full-time and finding other ways to stay educated. Apart from the presentation during my summer course I haven't had a genuinely bad experience on campus, but I sure feel like I've had a string of uncomfortable ones. It's not like I don't have enough going on in my life right now, and maybe without school to worry about I could devote the proper attention to those other things. Then I could come back to campus when I feel better about it.

In the end, though, I have to tough it out at UT. Not just because of the time and money investment that's already been put in, but I know I need this challenge right now, I know that college is what I need most right now. Even if I'm uncomfortable with certain things, I have to try to make it all work out. Maybe I'll succeed, and maybe I won't. As much as I hate compromise, I know in the end I'll have to make some sacrifices in nearly every area of my life to get things right. But it will be worth it in the end. I'll come out stronger. I'll come out wiser. And I'll come out a better person.

I'll never be a straight-A student, nor will I be an athletic hero, nor will I be Miss Popular. But I can be me, with my oddities and vagaries and all that fun stuff. And hopefully UT will help me develop myself into the person I want to be. I won't know if I don't keep going there and making the effort to make this work.

Everyone take care and be well. I'll see you all soon.

- Sean