Hi there.

New post noti­fi­ca­tions:

It’s back-to-school sea­son in Chapel Hill. Stu­dents choke Franklin Street like kudzu, and I nearly hit them with my car, aston­ished at how much greener this year’s crop looks than the last. Surely my col­lege days were marked by at least the illu­sion of slightly more matu­rity than these kids con­vey. I am not exag­ger­at­ing when I say I can no longer reli­ably tell the dif­fer­ence between a 15 year old and a col­lege freshman.

I haven’t yet stopped mark­ing the pas­sage of time in terms of an aca­d­e­mic cal­en­dar, even though I handed in my last graded assign­ment in 2005. I was not a con­sci­en­tious stu­dent in the tra­di­tional sense, but like most of us, I find it hard to escape the well-worn rit­u­als of my school days. My alarm didn’t go off this morn­ing, and in my first dis­ori­ented moments of wake­ful panic, my dread was that I was late for the first day of school, not late for work. I’ve stuck close to col­lege towns since my own grad­u­a­tion, since that’s where my peo­ple con­gre­gate and where it’s eas­i­est to find the kind of work I’m equipped to do. I am also keenly attuned to the school year because my part­ner is star­ing down one last year of grad­u­ate school, and the bet­ter I keep in step with those text­book rhythms, the bet­ter able I am to be sup­port­ive in the rest of our shared life.

The things I miss about school tend not to be the things that took place in class­rooms. I miss being able to drive on a Wednes­day after­noon to a con­cert five hours away, then drive back in time to catch a Thurs­day morn­ing class. I don’t miss try­ing to write short sto­ries after a full day’s work and a full night’s read­ing. I miss skip­ping classes to meet pub­li­ca­tion dead­lines for the arts mag­a­zine I edited. I don’t miss buy­ing sci­ence textbooks.

But what I miss least about col­lege is the illu­sion that I could achieve com­pe­tence in any body of knowl­edge dur­ing the course of one semes­ter, one lab, one minor, one major. The tra­jec­tory of my edu­ca­tion strongly implied an end­point, a moment at which I would finally arrive, sure in the knowl­edge of … some­thing. There is a relent­less­ness to this kind of edu­ca­tion that belies the truth of learn­ing. I was never taught the con­vic­tion that I would some day fully grasp any­thing worth know­ing. Maybe it was in one of the lessons I skipped, but it seems like the kind of thing that would have been on the final.

Col­lege did offer a built-in com­mu­nity, and in the absence of shared classes and enforced prox­im­ity, build­ing and main­tain­ing that kind of cama­raderie has proven dif­fi­cult, espe­cially in a town where most peo­ple are just pass­ing through. Maybe it’s thanks to this prac­tice that I’ve got­ten bet­ter at mak­ing friends quicker. Maybe it’s also due to my friends’ tran­sience that I feel increas­ingly guilty about being a shoddy cor­re­spon­dent when it comes to my farther-flung peo­ple. Can this post count as a let­ter to all of you?

I will say this for the struc­tured learn­ing envi­ron­ment: there are some things I absolutely can’t pick up any other way. I’ve moved three times now with an acoustic gui­tar that I still can’t play for the life of me. It was given to me to cel­e­brate the end of grad­u­ate school and the bounty of time I would have to learn it. I also can’t seem to fin­ish a short story with­out those oner­ous dead­lines. My sense these days that I don’t have time for such things is as much an illu­sion as the one that promises those of us who’ve paid our share of tuition that we’ll even­tu­ally pos­sess a dis­crete body of knowledge.

Attain­ment is folly. Every­thing I can name leads to another ques­tion. As long as I can keep ask­ing, I’ll be okay.


Every two weeks some friends and I cre­ate new posts on the same topic. This week’s syn­chroblog posts — ask­ing “Are we there yet?” — are listed on our group blog, The Cre­ative Col­lec­tive. Please read them all.