Tear out your hair, beat your breast, fill your pants with dirt and howl in misery, all those who missed the Pumpkin Carving Contest last week in the multipurpose room. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.
Yes, it was that much fun. My team made a robot pumpkin. I was so excited about it that when we finished, I decided to carve another pumpkin all by myself. It was soon plain to me that I had followed in the footsteps of most artists of questionable talent who attempt solo careers. While the pumpkin I worked on as part of a team came out looking sassy and robotic, my pirate pumpkin, embarked upon in a selfish quest for personal glory, was neither sassy nor robotic, but it did inspire several curious onlookers to question and ultimately discard the idea of the existence of God.
It didn’t look anything like a pirate. I don’t know what it looked like. In any case it was a lopsided, toothless token of my artistic inadequacy. It reminded me of a pumpkin I decorated with a green magic marker when I was four. There is a picture of me, taken that Halloween, with my arms around it, staring into the camera with the direct, pained gaze of a misunderstood artist. My creation had an enormous raggedy maw full of shark teeth, rimmed by two eyes of different sizes, with a nose on his forehead. Examining my latest pumpkin attempt has confirmed my suspicions. Artistically, I peaked at four.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I grew up believing that I was a good artist. Perhaps I had one too many encouraging babysitters or overenthusiastic arts and crafts instructors at camp. As it is, nothing I ever draw looks like what it’s supposed to be. When I was little, I solved this problem by telling my Mom what my scribbled drawings were–there were a lot of cowboys–and having her write it at the bottom. Now that I can read and write, I do that part myself. No matter how much they disagreed with it, few art teachers could disregard the pure efficiency of this method.
I still remember the high school art teacher who broke my gentle, deluded spirit. She is the one to whom all credit is due for my sadly realistic view of my meager artistic talents. She made us paint from still-life arrangements which consisted of mountains of elaborately arranged fruits and vegetables, which, amazingly enough, after four or five months, rotted away. This infuriated her.
She was less than five feet tall and shaped like a mini-fridge, wore long beaded necklaces and made me hate myself from 2:00-4:30 on Mondays and Wednesdays. This was because she made me use color. A student of the doodling-with-a-pen-on-lined-paper-during-math-class school of art, color did not belong in my artistic world. Nor did fruit, or, for that matter, Mrs. Thompson.
After a semester, my canvas was filled with pears that looked like neon light-bulbs and bunches of grapes that looked like they were caught in midexplosion. I told myself that my fruit picture looked inept and distorted because I was working so close to it. Once in awhile I would tack it to the wall and look at it while backing away slowly, hoping that distance would resolve the colorful mess into something that didn’t make you want to stop eating fruit (or perhaps into something that didn’t look like the tragic result of not eating fruit. I don’t know what I meant by that, exactly.) The further away I got, the better I felt, not because the picture looked any better, but simply because I was farther away from it.
Near the end of the year, I came to class to find that my painting had been cut neatly into three pieces and stacked in the corner, to be used by students as scrap paper. I brought them to Mrs. Thompson and demanded an explanation. She looked shocked and apologized, claiming that she had only seen the blank back of my picture, and hadn’t realized that it had a painting on the other side. But a look of understanding passed between us.
I can’t lie to myself anymore about the work I’m going to do today/tonight/when I am steady enough to walk again. These lies poison my soul and irritate my friends. Each time I stand up from dinner and announce that my plans tonight are to get a little reading done, maybe study some flashcards, then turn in early, an angel loses its wings. Or at least gets heartburn. This cannot go on.
My latest endeavor is to have a completely open, honest relationship with at least myself. I know damn’ well that I am not going to walk into my room, pick up a book and read for an hour, though it’s what desperately needs to be done. I won’t go on the Internet and immediately begin my research on the history of the tent.
No, when I get to my room, before getting started on that six-page paper, I call the friend who is in the class with me to complain about the length and difficulty of the assignment. When I get off the phone, I tidy up my desk. I feed my fish. I water my plants. I wonder why living things that need my attention receive it only when I’m putting off doing work. Perhaps my priorities are a little off. At this stage I should only have children if I plan to have the kind of high-pressure job that makes feeding them become an attractive alternative to meeting deadlines. So, the paper. Right. First, better make some Ramen. And a mix tape…
I now assume that carrying a book with me like a security blanket everywhere I go is equivalent to reading it. Consequently I lug books to places where reading is at the least inappropriate and at most impossible. I have sat in darkened friends’ rooms and watched movies with Sociology readings in my lap. I have gone to parties in the Old Gym with Crime and Punishment tucked under my arm. My books become battered and worn from their constant travels but still remain very much unread.
It is my hope that being brutally honest with myself about the ways in which I am actually going to spend my time, rather than the ways in which I have the best intentions of spending it, will shame me into better study habits. Probably, though, it will just shame me.
I drag myself from my bed at one-thirty in the afternoon and crawl to the computer. “Must…work on…English paper.” Exhausted from the effort, I loll in my chair and soon fall into a deep, dreamless sleep. When I awake it is twilight. Feebly, I scoot across the room and into the kitchen in my rolley-chair. I consume half my body-weight in anything I come across that’s in either a Chinese take-out carton or a box with a Nutrition Facts label on the side. With my last remaining strength, I propel myself back to the living room in my rolley-chair by kicking off of sturdy pieces of furniture. How I adore thee, rolley-chair. Although the one in my house is large and awkward, when I’m in it I roll it every place I can to avoid getting out and walking somewhere with my boring legs. By now I have honed my rolling craft. Onlookers are dazzled by my range and dexterity. Several have remarked that it is as if the chair is an extension of my own body.
In case you’re wondering, No, I didn’t do anything much over vacation.
I only went home. However, home was enough. For some reason I always feel very vulnerable whenever I come home after having been at Bard for an extended period of time. Little things, like the traffic noise outside my window and Mtv, leave me feeling overwhelmed and frightened. The many blank walls in my apartment unnerve me. Where are the flyers advertising bands and selling used cars? How am I supposed to know where and when the next Roving Poetry Reading is taking place? Gradually, I grow accustomed to life at home. I stop camping out in front of the television for hours before my favorite show is on so I don’t have to dispute my right to pick the channel. When I take a bag of chips from the kitchen, I no longer hide it under my jacket.
Spring break: A time that for many means traveling with three or four wild, attractive friends to someplace warm where there are sandy beaches and camera crews to stick your studded-tongues out at and to take your tops off in front of. Or so I have gathered from watching Cable. But for me, Spring Break is a time for reflection. A time to sit back and ask myself where I am at this point in my life, and what are my plans for the future, and how long have I been wearing these pajamas? It is a time to realize while watching Conan O’Brien that I haven’t left the apartment that day. It’s a time to eat ice cream out of the carton and wonder if certain events happened recently, or if you just dreamed them. It is the sort of vacation that you figure is either really good for you, or really bad for you.
I never really experienced fall until I came to Bard. As a child growing up in New York City, I noted the changing seasons in unique ways. In spring the pansies in the small flower beds surrounding the trees on my block were in magnificent bloom. As summer arrived, subway cars became air conditioned, the sidewalks began to smell of baked garbage, and the dreadlocked man outside the Job Lot on Broadway would once again be wearing cowboy boots with spurs and red hot pants. I could always tell winter was approaching because it would be nearly dark when I came up out of the subway station on my way home from school. And in fall the air seemed crisper, sweeter, laden with the scent of store employees rushing around with skeleton decorations and orange crepe paper. But I never really noticed the leaves changing until I got to Bard, when they were all I could look at, until they were gone. And then they were all I could jump on, until I found a boyfriend. After four years on cross-country, I also began to equate fall with pain, running, more pain and getting up early on Saturday mornings. But all in all, I enjoyed spending it at school in the Hudson Valley.
I am having a little trouble figuring out what to think of fall now that I am a college graduate. Last spring I worried that I was going to have a hard time adjusting to life after college. Then, over the summer, I naively congratulated myself on a separation well done. “I don’t miss school one bit,” I thought, well-adjustedly. “Look at me. I’m doing great. Ha, ha, wee!” Of course, nobody else was in school either at that point, but that somehow didn’t seem important. And then, around mid-August, I began noticing store posters showing children with gleaming teeth and striped shirts reminding me it was almost time to go “Back to School.” I couldn’t walk through a drug store without staring wistfully down aisles crammed with three-ring-binders and shiny folders decorated with anonymous, unaffiliated robot action heroes and candy-colored unicorns. I stood in line, wishing I was buying a new Trapper Keeper, and flipped through teen magazines with headlines that read, “Seven hot new back-to-school outfits that will make everyone forget how no one liked you last year.” And then, come September, everyone went back to school, and I…went back to work, at my summer job, which had suddenly turned into a fall job, also known as a job.
I promise this column isn’t going to turn into a forum in which I whine about how I miss college. At least, not until I run out of money, at which point this may become a forum for me to whine about how hungry I am. But for now at least, I’m trying to give life-after-college a chance. After all, the last time I wasn’t enrolled in any sort of school system, I was two feet tall and thought the Pillsbury Dough Boy lived under my parents’ bed. Now I’m 5’4”, and think there might be money in publishing.