Apartment Life

It’s been a little more than a month since I’ve moved into my very first apartment, and I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve learned so far.

1) The neighbors will disturb you. The disturbances come in many varieties – there’s always something new and unexpected to shake up your day. Whether it’s a shouting match on your first night, a prolonged reunion between lovers, a group of bros tossing a football around outside, or the neighbors moving out noisily, you will not have quiet all the time. Now that you’re out of the dorms, you can’t even ask an RA to tell them to shush. Your best bet for a quiet living space is to adhere to the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. Don’t vacuum at 7 a.m. Don’t play loud music or video games. Just be a good person and do your best not to cause problems for other people. That way, if you ever do have a problem, you’ll at least have a good relationship with your neighbors and can (hopefully) work something out.

2) If the neighbors don’t disturb you, your roommates will. They might passive-aggressively wash dishes during your movie, they might come home at 10:30 and begin cooking dinner, they might leave hair in the shower drains, and their laptop and schoolbooks on your already too-small kitchen table. They might do all of these things in a span of twelve hours. The truth is, you’re going to get annoyed with them more than you did in the dorms because there are more worries than the are in the dorms. You now have an entire apartment that needs to be dusted, swept, mopped, scrubbed, and sanitized to be even close to fit for human habitation. You’re going to have to work out a system for chores – whether that means everyone pitches in, or if it means the least-busy person does all the housework. Something’s got to give. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it works for everyone involved.

3) The neighbors and your roommates might unknowingly band together and disturb you on the same day. This one gets its own point because it’s extra bad. As if being bothered by one group of people you can’t avoid isn’t enough. It’s further exacerbated because you can’t go to that quiet study room down the hall – there isn’t one. You have to learn to deal with your environment somehow – put in headphones, buy a sound machine, shut the door, avoid the problem until you’re ready to deal with it. Whatever it takes to make you comfortable and keep you sane.

4) Being on your own means seeking things out – your mailbox, the laundry room, the pools, the trash facilities, the internet company, the post office, the leasing office, maintenance, etc. Your internet doesn’t work? Call Spartan Net. You have ants in the kitchen? Call maintenance. Your bathroom is gross? Get to Meijer and buy some Scrubbing Bubbles, because, honey, nobody else is going to clean it for you. You’ve probably heard the song by Paramore that goes, “Ain’t it fun, living in the real world? Ain’t it fun, being on your own? Don’t go crying to your momma, ’cause you’re on your own in the real world…” It’s a cold, hard, truth: you don’t get to cry to anyone anymore. But you can be your own solution. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, take a minute to look at how awesome things actually are. You have the freedom to pursue your dreams. You can make your own decisions. You have the ability to completely transform a humdrum college apartment into a space that’s really your own, into a space that feels like you. Attack those problems with the same confidence you had when you decided to hang that One Direction poster by your bedside. It’s yours – your room, your apartment, your life – so own it.

5) Having a car is both a blessing and a curse. Being able to scoot off to the grocery store or the mall at any hour of the day you please is great. And parking your car twenty feet from the doorstep of your building is even better. What sucks is driving into campus. Especially when they’re doing roadwork and you have to sit through four cycles of the stoplight to turn the corner. Keep your head up though. Because you’re so far from campus, rent is cheap. The gas that it takes to drive in to campus doesn’t nearly add up to what you’d spend if you’d live closer. Just budget a little extra time into your schedule – yes, even if it means getting up ten minutes earlier – and you can make it work. Besides, part of being an adult is getting up on time.  You might as well start training yourself now, when the consequences of being late to class are minimal, rather than wait till you have an actual boss at an actual job.

6) I’m going to eat a bit of my own previously shared “wisdom” here. Remember how I told you it might not be the best idea to room with friends? That still holds true, but it also depends on the person. I currently have two roommates: one’s a best friend and the other was an acquaintance before we moved in. Right now, things are going strong with my bestie, but they can also get a little rocky with the acquaintance. So, I’m going to amend my previous statement to this: use your judgment. It can be amazing to room with friends. It can also be a nightmare. Things can be just as great/horrible if you barely know the person or if you’ve known them forever. The truth is, there’s just no way of knowing for sure. If you think there’s even the slightest chance your personalities will clash, don’t do it. Or if you do (because such things are sometimes unavoidable), be prepared for the good as well as the bad. It won’t be easy 100% of the time no matter what you do, but you owe it to yourself to minimize potential problems before you let them upset your entire week, semester, or even year – however long you need to coexist with that person.

7) Having a kitchen is both a blessing and a curse. Just like travel, you need to budget time in your schedule to eat. Whether that means packing a lunch, coming home to eat, or eating out – your budget will likely decide which of these options you’ll do for you.  You can’t just run up to the cafeteria and grab a slice of pizza on your way to class. You’ve got to think about your meals. Watch yourself. Don’t just eat cereal and microwave mac n’ cheese for two weeks straight. It can be so easy to fall into that pre-made trap. But it will catch up to you soon enough. Not necessarily in terms of weight gain, but certainly in terms of energy levels. You have to put a decent amount of healthy food into your system just to function. Personally, I get sick if I don’t eat enough protein in a day. It’s up to me to give my body what it needs to keep working. (Side note: my favorite meme is currently a picture of a man saying, “Salad? That’s what my food eats!”) That being said, look out for your roommates as well. Because it’s a decent, human thing to do. Everyone handles stress differently, and that can appear in many different forms. You don’t have to cook for them all the time or nag them to eat their Brussels sprouts, but a casual, “Hey, when was the last time you ate/showered/slept?” can really go a long way. Now, they might take it the wrong way or look at you like you’re insane, but honestly, that’s what you’re hoping for. Forgetting (or purposely neglecting) to eat/bathe/sleep is, sadly, not as uncommon as you think in college. Stress does crazy things to people. Be aware and look out for the people you love.

8) Have fun. Enjoy yourself. Like I said before, it’s your space. While it might be unwise to run completely wild, take advantage of the kind of freedom you’ve never had before. Stay up past 10 on a school night. Sleep in till 7. Do what makes you happy – as long as it doesn’t interfere with your actual purpose in college, which is, you know, to learn things. Good luck.

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Planted

By Kelsey Block

Darting through
The crooked rows,
Coarse leaves slapping
My face and arms.

Mid-July
The ground is crusty, uneven,
Pulled up by wiry roots
Clawing deeper into the earth.

I am laughing
But the sound evaporates
Quicker than water,
Soaked up by green.

Daddy’s warning:
Don’t play in corn fields!
But I won’t lose myself –
I am only a few rows in

Staring out
Tucked behind spindly stalks,
Almost invisible,
But I am there.

Author’s note: I wrote this poem for my book arts class taught by Professor Anita Skeen. The assignment was to create a tunnel book, a task I happily admit I am not competent at. So, proud of at least one part of the project, I decided to post another poem on Cows2College. If poetry’s not your thing, no worries, this is not about to become a poetry blog. I just happen to be doing a lot of poetry-related things lately. Hope you like it.

Adulthood?

Technically, under the law, I am a full-fledged adult. I can drive, I can buy a lottery ticket, I can smoke cigarettes, I can vote. (And, for those of you who are wondering, in reality I’ve only ever done one of those things – three guesses which.)

Despite what the law says, I am far from being independent. In no way am I able to take care of myself. Sure, I can cook edible food and (usually) get dressed without assistance, but as far as the finance side of growing up goes, I have the independence of a six year old. (Coincidentally, my weekly paycheck may be about as big as a six year old’s allowance, but I’m not complaining – every little bit helps.)

Really though, I think my biggest problem with this whole idea of adulthood is the concept of money. I abide by the law, I don’t need someone looking over my shoulder in order to get work done, and I can make basic decisions on my own. I don’t have everything figured out to a T, but I think I’m learning quickly enough. Money, however, is a whole different story.

No, I’m not one of those typical college kids without self-control who doesn’t know when to stop spending. Really, I’m not a poor money-manager – aside from school related expenses, like books and tuition and the occasional snack foods, I rarely buy anything at all, and when I do, it’s on sale. But here’s what gets me: I don’t even buy those things myself. Those little things, those little, insignificant things that nobody thinks twice about buying because they’re a necessity – toothpaste, shampoo, laundry detergent – those are the things that really get me. Frequently, I still have to ask my parents for money to buy that box of pop tarts so I don’t have to skip eating entirely on those days when I don’t have a spare minute for lunch in between classes. I still have to ask my parents for money to give to the friends who give me the occasional ride home on the weekends. And two or three times a year, I’m at my absolute lowest when I meekly pass that tuition bill across the table to my parents. Every time, every single time, I want to snatch it back and say, “I’ve got this,” but the phrase always gets stuck in my throat when I think about what would actually happen to my dreams, to my future, if I did.

In one of my classes, we read a New York Times article entitled “What is it about the 20-something?” by Robin Henig. The article focuses on the concept of “emerging adulthood” which is pretty much this awkward in-between stage of life between the ages of 18 and 24 or so where young people end up caught in this weird area of being treated like an adult but not really being able to act like one. Basically, we’re too old to be coddled but not necessarily able to manage be turned loose completely. For myriad reasons, the finances aren’t there or the maturity levels aren’t there or the stars just aren’t lining up correctly, and all the not-quite-adults get confused about what they really are.

Which is where I think I’m at now. I was sitting at my desk this morning, frustrated and trying to balance my checkbook – a job I absolutely hate. I was so angry as I flipped through the pages of the register trying to decipher my pathetic handwriting, thinking, “Will I ever be able to do this on my own? Just once, can I please do this without my mom’s help?”

Don’t get me wrong. I love knowing that my mother is there to help me with my problems, checkbook related or no, but I couldn’t help feeling defeated by this silly little book. I can ask for help, but I don’t want to. I think it’s this whole, “are you really an adult?” complex thing.

Yes, yes, yes I know that everybody needs help every now and again and that it’s a learning process and blah, blah, blah. Great. Thanks. I still don’t like to ask.

I know that my parents are happy to help. They want me to get an education, they want me to have food in my cupboards, heck, they even want me to have a balanced checkbook. I know that they’re able to help, too. And they know I can’t really stop asking them for help. But I also know it won’t stop bothering me because no matter how I look at it, $20,000 a year for schooling is a whole lot of money.

Now, to make things worse, my parents are talking about buying me a car. For some (possibly idiotic) reason that probably had something to do with this whole, “I want to be an adult,” thing,  I decided I wanted to live off campus next year – far enough off campus that walking to class is not an option. When it comes down to it, getting a car is practically unavoidable. (Sure, I could take the bus, but my time is worth something, too. If I have to sit on the bus for an hour to get to and from school when I could be working or studying, that is an hour ill-spent.  Even if I did decide to take the bus in and around East Lansing, I would still be next to stranded whenever I want or need to come home. I could rely on friends with cars to haul me back and forth, but that’s already proven problematic. I could take the train, but the nearest train station is an hour away from my house.) Anyway, at this point, a car, impractical as it may be, is my only plausible option.

Imagine that: a teenager who doesn’t want a brand new (used) car. Take a look folks, that’s an anomaly you probably won’t see twice. Two years ago, if you would have asked me if I wanted a new car, I would have said yes just like any other kid. Heck, I did.

But here’s why: to try to keep things fair, my family’s got a system. At certain milestones, you’re allowed do the things your older sisters got to do when they were that age. No wearing makeup or going to dances until you’re in tenth grade. You can have a cell phone when you start driving. Your curfew is whenever you get home, but you darn well better be on time for chores the next morning. You can get a car when you graduate if you cover at least a third of the cost.

Throughout high school, I had saved up enough money that I was willing and able to chip in my share to buy a car. I received a paycheck for the work I did on the farm, and did some babysitting on the side. It wasn’t a ton, but it was enough.

Then, my family sat me down to look at the logic behind it and I reluctantly agreed it just didn’t make sense. (I was living on campus, my car would have been parked at least a twenty minute walk away from my dorm, and I didn’t have a job or any other need to commute anywhere other than home, and that I could manage with friends.) And I pouted, mostly because I didn’t think it was fair that my older sister got a car when she graduated from high school, but I soon got over it.

In fact, I got over it so much that now, when I hear my parents talk about getting me a car, I feel instantaneously ill. I don’t want a car. A car is expensive and, as my daddy told me, a poor investment: the longer you own it, the less it’s worth. Also, I hate driving. Really, I would much rather ride. I don’t like dealing with traffic congestion and people who pass on the right and one-way streets. Most importantly, I just can’t cover my share of the cost anymore, certainly not after two and a half years of college. To be blunt, I’m pretty much flat broke, and to ask for a car, on top of tuition, on top of books, on top of snack foods and gas money, seems to be way too much, to be totally and entirely stepping over the line. But there’s nothing I can do about it. (Heck, at this point, there’s no way around it: my parents have made it perfectly clear that I’m getting a car at some point, and that it might as well be now. Touché, Mom and Dad. My childish attempt to be an independent adult has backfired… Who could’ve seen that one coming?)

All of this came to me as I sat there at my desk miserably attempting to balance my mess of a checkbook. Honestly, I really began to wonder if I will ever reach the point where I consider myself to be a competent adult, when I will have enough money (and I said enough money, not a lot of money) to take care of my own bills, to buy my own snack foods and gasoline, and, most importantly to properly return the favor to my parents.

*Please note that despite the somewhat bitter and confused tone of this post, I’m fine, I promise. Thanks for your concern, though 🙂

Expectations

We all have them. Whether we expect to get a good grade or we expect to lose 10 pounds, we all have our own version of how we think things should turn out, both for ourselves and for others.

All of my life, I expected to earn good grades.  I expected to graduate from high school and get into a great college. I expected to throw myself into my studies, get internships, and be the most driven person the world has ever seen.

So, last year when I got to MSU, I was convinced I was finally on my way to the top. I applied for an office position here on campus because I needed the money and saw a great opportunity to get to know distinguished faculty members. For reasons lost to me now, I fully expected to get it. I didn’t. Conversely, during high school, I applied for a scholarship. For reasons that were very logical to me then, I did not expect to get it. I did.

What these two instances taught me is that, funnily enough, I’m not the only one who has expectations.  Employers expect potential employees to have certain qualities. Scholarship foundations expect students to submit a polished application. Parents expect kids to get good grades. Michigan State University expects students to pay their tuition bills. Professors expect students to complete the assignments on time. Heck, followers expect bloggers to publish posts on a fairly regular basis.

Those are all reasonable expectations. The expectations my family has for me are a sign of pride and love, a sign that they believe I can succeed and that they won’t accept anything less. The expectations my professors have are a sign that they think I’m competent enough to complete the task they assign. Your expectation as a reader is a sign of loyalty and a reassurance that I am publishing these posts for a reason, that these posts must mean something to someone somewhere.

However – come on, you had to know there was a catch somewhere – the problem with these expectations is that they often happen simultaneously. My parents don’t stop expecting me to try my best when I’m feeling overwhelmed. My professors don’t stop expecting me to turn in my homework when I’m sick. Expectations go hand-in-hand with pressure – a lot of pressure to fulfill (or, sometimes, prove wrong) those expectations.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am (for the most part) a people-pleaser. I don’t like to disappoint people, I don’t particularly like conflict and I’m not likely to purposely begin a feud of any kind, unless it’s something that I hold deeply ingrained opinions on. As a result, I feel a lot of pressure sometimes to make sure I not only succeed but surpass others’ expectations for me. Why? I honestly have no idea, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am always striving to do my absolute best. A personality trait, I might add, that makes me a little crazy at times. When a multitude of different people are all shouting their expectations at you, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

And because of that, I think it’s important to note that expectations are just that: something you expect. They aren’t things that are set in stone, things that are ordained from above that are guaranteed to happen. Expectations are just what we think will or should happen. For better or for worse, expectations, your own or those of others, can be wrong. It is seriously improbable for any one individual person to fulfill every single expectation they set for themselves and every single expectation that someone else set for them.

Because of this, you might as well relax at little bit. Don’t let others’ expectations define your life, and don’t take your own expectations as a fact set down by God. He knows what He’s up to, what the future will bring; you don’t. Just be content knowing you did your best, and all will turn out okay.

In closing, here’s a change in perspective that brings out the positive side of all this talk about expectations: they push us to do our best where we might not otherwise.

Making It Happen

I was talking to my aunt at a family gathering last weekend about what I’ve been up to lately. She lives in Denmark, so to say the least, she doesn’t get the Huron County VIEW. I was telling her about my internship and some of the things I’ve been doing over the summer.

As it turns out, she and I share a very common philosophy – you’ve got to make it happen. I don’t remember exact details of the conversation – I have an abysmal memory – but basically, we both agreed on the importance of your own effort in making your dreams come true.

At the end of my first year of college, I was faced with the terrifying thought that I would have to come home for the summer. If you’ve kept up with me from the beginning, you might be surprised that, at that point, going home was the LAST thing on earth I wanted to do.

Growing up, I always said I was going to get out of Huron County, that I wasn’t going to be that recently-graduated kid that always seemed to be back in town, that I was going to have adventures and live life – in short, that I was getting as far away as possible and not coming back until the holidays.

Then, when I finally got out, I broke down. I wanted back in, and I wanted back in immediately. I was scared and confused because college wasn’t what I had always dreamed it would be.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t as terrible as I might have made it sound, but it sure was different. It took time to adjust, to get used to new things, and to really make a place for myself among the nearly 50,000 other people at MSU.

But, by the time I finally did that, it was almost time to leave for the summer. Originally, I had planned to take summer classes on campus, but unforeseen circumstances altered my designs. Thus, I was facing a four-month long break of being surrounded by cows, people I had nothing in common with, and, likely, a job that would not relate in the slightest to my career path.

Woot woot – sounds like a blast, right?

Feeling utterly ill at the image I had painted for myself, I went on a desperate hunt – a job hunt. Feeling nervous and slightly hopeless, I printed off copies of my resume on cardstock and handed them in at the only two newspapers in Huron County. I wasn’t expecting to come away with anything, but I had to try. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t even try.
Then, in case that didn’t work, I headed a little closer to home to look for a job as a waitress.
. . .
I was ecstatic when I heard back from The Huron County View. It was such a feeling. I gave a relieved “thank you” to the Lord, and I got right to work.

Now let’s back up for a minute. As you know, I grew up on a dairy farm, which means I’ve had a job since I was eight years old – a job I didn’t want.

Don’t get me wrong, I respect farmers with everything I have. The work farmers do to feed the world is astonishing. Trust me, I know. I’ve seen my father go out to the barn in church clothes to help a freshening cow or to fix fences. Every family Christmas celebration, we arrive late, eat cold food, and leave early. Dad and mom left the rest of the family one Independence Day to go put the terrified heifers and dry cows back in the barn because our neighbor was blasting off fireworks nearby. Farmers are dedicated. They have to be. Other living beings depend on their choices – calves, cows, and humans alike. They don’t get to call in sick, they don’t get vacation days, they don’t get to hit the “snooze” button.
All of these reasons, and many, many more, contribute to the reason I’m majoring in journalism and arts and humanities rather than agriculture. In short, I don’t feel like I’m a good fit for the farming life.

Yes, I know, you’ve seen all these magazines glorifying the life farmers live, with wonderful tales about watching the sunrise with the dog on the porch and a fat tabby cat in your lap, and yadda yadda yadda. That’s ridiculous. It doesn’t happen. Farmers don’t have time for that nonsense. We appreciate the land, yes, but we don’t exactly enjoy leaving a cozy bed at 4:30 a.m. during a blizzard.

Anyway, I knew I had to try to make a summer internship happen. I felt like I was at a major disadvantage when I compared myself to my fellow Spartans – students who had taken 12 AP classes in high school and knew how to use Photoshop and InDesign and started their own bands and traveled the world and tutored and were in every club imaginable. In short, I had to do something to make myself come anywhere close to comparable with thousands of students who were thousands of times more qualified than I was. (True, some of those kids went to bigger high schools in ritzy neighborhoods with way more resources, and they didn’t have cows to milk every day after school – but I don’t want to make excuses.) I’m working with what I’ve got. My dreams aren’t going to fall out of the sky and into my lap – I’ve got to work for them.

Thus, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I am just going to have to work harder than everybody else, and I’m fine with that because I want it more than everybody else. I’m making it happen.

War

Last week, I met a veteran of the Vietnam War. I interviewed him for nearly four hours about his experiences there, but really, I could have sat there much longer.  Now, I have studied Vietnam in history classes, but it was really something to meet someone who had actually lived it and who talked openly about his experiences there. It made it seem more real, as real as that event will ever be to me because I never lived it.

What shocked me more were not even the stories he told of actually being in Vietnam itself – it was the story he told of his reception at home.  People put animal feces into bags and threw it at returning soldiers, calling them “baby killers.”

I honestly don’t even know what to say to that. I’m not a big fan of war – I seriously doubt anyone is. And, while I am a big fan of freedom of speech (again, which is what even enables me to write these words) I do not think that throwing garbage at returning soldiers is an appropriate way to express your discontent. Write a letter. Paint a sign. Give a speech. All are, in my opinion, much more acceptable ways to protest something.

I guess what really worries me is the fact that somewhere along the line, those protesters forgot that the returning soldiers were real people. Not all of them even wanted to go to Vietnam – many were drafted. They had no internet or cell phones back then, and, this veteran said, they felt cutoff in very unsettling ways. So, I infer, they were probably ecstatic to be coming home, and thus I am just horrified at the way they were received.

The veteran that I interviewed told me that he sees a lot of parallels between the wars today and Vietnam, and while I don’t know many people in the military and I don’t know much about it, I hope that soldiers returning today never have to deal with the kind of public resentment faced by those returning from Vietnam. It just isn’t right.

This veteran got me thinking about the significance of my birthplace. I had thought about this before, but not quite on this scale. I read a book last semester on the Sudanese “Lost Boys.” I don’t remember who it is by or what it is called (I read it quickly for extra credit), but what stuck out to me was the author’s discontentment at being “rescued” and flown to America. He wrote that he discovered something along the lines of, “There is no place where you will have no problems – you may only have different kinds of problems.”

Talk about the grass not being greener on the other side. In a very roundabout way, I guess I have come to a conclusion I never intended to make. All throughout high school, I kept saying that college would be great, phenomenal, fantastic, wonderful – fill in pretty much any positive adjective.  And it is. But there are also some things that aren’t quite so positive.

In short, different places, different problems, but still sadness, still suffering, still humans. War or peace, Vietnam or Afghanistan, America or Sudan, a dairy farm or a B1G campus.

An Elephant and a Bowling Ball

The other day, one of my friends asked me what I wish I had known as a senior in high school. Well, there are a lot of things that I wish I had known in high school, but the most useful thing probably would’ve been finding a balance.

I’m not entirely sure how helpful that statement was, simply because I still haven’t quite figured it out. Right now, my life is portioned out at approximately 80% work, 15% sleep, and 5% other. Which works well for me, but is a far cry from what most people would consider balanced.

Not surprisingly, there is no perfect formula for this fabled “balanced” life. It’s impossible to devote an equal amount of time to every single task one completes in a day. Even if it were, the lines get blurred between tasks – do I file writing this blog post under “work,” “pleasure, “writing,” or “hobby”? So many of the things that I do fit into so many different categories that it’s impossible to give one particular task an all-encompassing, definitive label.

Anyway, back to my point: finding a balance, let alone defining that balance, is nearly impossible. When I first moved to State, I was constantly texting, as my roommate will readily tell you any day. I wanted to make sure people back home knew I was thinking about them, that I missed them, and most of all, that I only moved to East Lansing, not Mars. I would be back eventually!

As time went on, it shifted the other way. I stopped texting people from home so frequently, excepting my little sister. Being brutally honest, I was fairly content to just forget about a handful of people, to group them together under that mysteriously diverse category, “high school”.

It’s like I’m trying to live two lives simultaneously. I’m trying to live my life at home as the person I always was while trying to build a new life at school, taking special care to leave behind all the things I didn’t like.

This began my senior year of high school. I felt like an elephant trying to balance on a bowling ball. It was impossible. It still is.

So, this is my advice to all of you high school seniors, college freshman, new mothers, kindergarteners, whomever: you’re not going to find that perfect balance. You just have to do the best you can. If you honestly don’t have time to take on that extra club or meet up with the girls for a movie night, save yourself the headache and the stress, and don’t go. Quit worrying about what you’re “supposed” to do, or what you “should” do – who, exactly, is telling you that anyway, and more importantly, why? Trust yourself, and just do the best you can.

Deriving Originality

Very much to my surprise, I find myself cranking up the radio when Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’  “Can’t Hold Us” comes on when I’m in the car.  I couldn’t fall asleep one night because Fall Out Boy’s “My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark” was stuck in my head. Still, I know all the words to Darius Rucker’s remake of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” and I very much enjoy Yo-Yo Ma’s rendition of Bach’s Cello Suite. Beyond musical preferences, I discovered I have an unexplained liking for lace-up boots when I usually prefer high heels. I occasionally watch reruns of Avatar when I very distinctly remember thinking the plot was weird.

Before I went to college, none of this would have been true.  However, having lived in such close quarters, I realize just how frequently dorm life presents infinite opportunities to be exposed to all sorts of new things, good and bad. Thus, I have been able to reflect upon the absurd but somehow obvious assertion that much of who we are as individuals, perhaps even more than we would like to think or admit, is made up of others.

I realize this is nothing new.  Like I said before, it’s actually quite obvious.  We’re all affected by our surroundings and the people in our lives.  What’s absurd to me is that even though it’s so obvious, we still cling to the premise of being individualistic and original, of being irreplaceable and entirely unique.

Now, I am not here to dispute either argument.  I am most interested in considering them together. How can we be a mix of others while still being ourselves? When does it become old hat? How is it possible to derive originality?

Relax.  I’m not going through some sort of identity crisis.  I am, however, evaluating the discrepancies of my own exposure to myriad ideas and concepts while supposedly cementing my own foundation in the world.  In one of my classes last semester, we discussed the merits of self-definition through making distinctions between what “is” and what “is not.”  Someone pointed out that, oftentimes, it is much easier to say, “That isn’t me,” than to explain exactly what “I am…”

I remember reading a quote from somewhere that goes something like this: “There are only a handful of stories but they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never been told before.”

Wow.  Now that’s a statement.

I happen to disagree with it very much, but I can certainly see where it has some merit. In my own experience, many of the stories I’ve read (and trust me, I have read a lot) do indeed carry what some would label “derivative” ideas/plot lines/metaphors – the most common being: the protagonist triumphs over adversity and gets a happy ending while the antagonist gets what’s coming to him (excepting, perhaps, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  I could go on for several posts about each of those novels, but I won’t bore you with that. Not now, at least).

Anyway, I believe that every author needs to have some sort of foundation to go off of.  As one of my professors said, you need to know the rules before you can break the rules.  If you don’t, the story won’t make sense.  Still, I don’t think stories are derivative.  Each story has some unique attribute, even if it is only the combination of varying degrees of derivative ideas in unique ways, thus deriving originality.

So, in a very roundabout way, I suppose I have come to a conclusion – for now, anyway.  I can still be unique, I can still be entirely myself, even if I’m continuously picking up or discarding all sorts of ideas, characteristics, and attributes, which may or may not be derivative, because the circumstances in which I combine them is entirely unique.

Priorities

If there has been one thing that working for a local weekly newspaper has taught me about, it has been prioritizing.  This is only the second week of my internship, and I’ve already realized the value of being able to decide which task is most or least important.  At times, I end up juggling several different stories at once, and other times I’m waiting for more than an hour to hear back from a source.  My day isn’t set in stone; it is constantly changing to fit other peoples’ schedules, which sometimes that means I come in at 8:00 a.m. and don’t leave until 5:30.

But don’t think I’m complaining. I am truly grateful to be working at The Huron County View this summer.  It means so much to me to be able to work in the field I am studying in.  I am learning so many valuable skills, prioritizing first among them, that I know I will use later on in college and in life.  At any rate, it sure beats making pizzas all summer – not, I might add, that there is anything wrong with that.  That is exactly what I would have been doing if I hadn’t been so blessed as to get a position at the paper.

In fact, what has helped me most along the way so far has been this blog.  I put Cows2College on my resume, and people have responded very positively, which totally blows my mind.  Growing up, I never kept a diary because I didn’t think people would ever find what I have to say interesting.  When I hear positive comments about my writing, it is truly and deeply appreciated.

So, in a very roundabout way, I’m going to leave another bit of advice for anybody who is listening: do something. Start a blog. Make a YouTube Channel or a Tumblr page. Do whatever you want, it doesn’t matter as long as you do something to show the world who you really are and how great that is.  Just do it – even if you think no one will ever read/see/care about it. It just might pay off.

Just Great

All I have ever wanted is to be great. No, not “great” in a conceited, go-down-in-history way or “great” in an egotistical sense, but just by being a great me. I want to be great in my own way, in a simple way that makes me happy by doing my absolute best at what I love. I suppose when you stop to think about it, that’s all anyone ever really wants. To be honest, I don’t really know what this definition of “great” that I’m striving for entails, and because of that, I am afraid that I might never reach it. (Relatedly, for any Harry Potter fans out there, my greatest fear is much the same as Hermione’s – revealed to us in book 5, after her Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L exam – failure.)

When I find myself pondering my current employment situation (which, if you were wondering, is nonexistent), I get very discouraged and melancholy. It is so challenging to be positive when you want something so badly and have worked so hard for it and it passes you by. It usually takes a while – several One Direction songs, a Harry Potter movie, a phone call home, and a good night’s rest – before I am able to get over my self-pity party and to remember to count my blessings and get a move-on with my life. After a rough day, I always try to remember the great things I already have in my life – a wonderful family, a beautiful home with big open spaces and room to run, and the chance to satiate my hunger for a solid education.

Still, I sometimes get unwarranted and uncensored “advice” shoved down my throat about what I “should” be doing – such as majoring in something “useful” or indulging in the college life because it, of course, is the “real world.” While the concern behind such advice is truly appreciated, it would be quite a welcome and great change if somebody simply accepted me for who I am and my goals for what they are with respect. I am not out to be “great” in anyone else’s definition, just in my own.