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The Prodigal Blogger Returns

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Having slogged my way through final papers and final exams, study sessions and an eleven-mile hike specifically designed to avoid study sessions, I am now safely on the other side of my sophomore year of college.

(I am taking a Maymester course, starting tomorrow, but for some reason that counts as part of my junior year.  Hooray bureaucracy!  The course is on the trial of King Charles I, which is a good thing for me to spend a month on, because I am sadly lacking in Stuart-related historical proficiency.  All I could manage to say about Charles in the essay section of my final exam was that Parliament had important things to discuss with him, but he dismissed them, which was a poor choice because what if they just wanted to tell him his fly was down?)

On the same day I made jokes about anachronistic pants-closure methods, I had a birthday!  Not only am I free of the yoke of underclassman status, I am free of the infinitely-oppressive “teenager” status.  I feel this is important for my credibility as a Deeply Serious Writer, bringing it to a grand total of zero, if you round up.  Compare this to the average teenager’s negative credibility; I’d say birthday = win for me!

In addition to aging, higher education, and regicide, the other gleeful news in my life of late is that I managed to wrangle a summer job.  I am one of two minions (as one of the Circulation supervisors calls us) hired by the campus library’s Technical Services department to turn regular books into library books.  The work is menial and the chairs are damn uncomfortable, but I don’t work weekends, I get to choose my own hours and lunch breaks, and I can even snack on the job.  Plus, I don’t work for a Fascist corporation.  I work for a bunch of laid-back librarians.  So I’m down like a massive object in another, more massive object’s gravitational field.

Technical Services is on the ground floor of the library, cocooned away from through traffic.  It houses all sorts of things:  the library mailroom, Acquisitions, Cataloging, and one hugely pregnant lady whose purpose I don’t remember, but it doesn’t matter because she’ll be on leave after this week.  The place is my favorite kind of organized mess.  Bizarrely-organized shelves of new books fill one wall, and carts laden with books and other media at varying stages of being processed are strewn about.  Because of all these carts, an aerial view of our office would look like a paused game of Tetris.

And because it’s in a library and all, it’s QUIET.

I’m the type of person who would rather listen to my own thoughts than to someone else’s noise.  I nearly shut myself in the hotel room’s closet when we went to New York City, so desperate was I for a little peace.  Sometimes even coffee shops are too loud for me:  they’ve always got some weird music playing.  Coffee Underground, though otherwise perfect, plays disco ad nauseum (and yes, it really does make me nauseous).  Needless to say, I was super-jazzed about getting paid to sit somewhere quiet with books.

Yesterday, the quiet was everything I’ve ever dreamed of.  It was like going to a spa, except that a) I’ve never been to a spa, and b) the chairs are wicked uncomfortable.  I thought up all sorts of big thoughts.  I debated the relative merits of Soren Kierkegaard and Rainer Maria Rilke—who has the better name?  (Ragnar Shaggy-Britches was the write-in candidate.)  I enumerated the evils of highly-processed foods, and decided to try to eat more cleanly.  I even pondered the nature of the human-animal connection!

But today, I mostly hummed the Frito Bandito song to myself.

So I’m charging the old iPod as I type.  I wonder, do Click and Clack have a free podcast?

Written by Estie

May 12, 2010 at 2:25 am

Things Girls Do in Libraries

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It’s a month away from finals, which at CCU means crunch time!  Our last papers are coming due, our last tests are on the horizon, and our less-organized professors are scrambling to get through the rest of the material before they have to examine our knowledge of it.  So I’m sorry I haven’t been around.  I’ll try to write once a week, but probably no more often until the first week of May.

Crunch time at CCU also means library time, if you’re not me.  I go to the library when I have leisure time, because they have a great selection of books and magazines, and plenty of comfy chairs in which to read them.  The chairs are even next to big, floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can get your Vitamin Sunshine in the winter and don’t shrivel up and die of SAD, even though you haven’t been outdoors properly in 42 days.  Last but not least, libraries are one of the few public places in which you can be near other people without having to interact with them, and that is awesome.

Part of the reason I went to CCU was their library.  I think it’s like #18 on the Princeton Review’s list of bestest college libraries evahr. If they served food in the basement, I’d spend all day there.  If they had a dormitory in the attic, I’d spend all night there, too.  But sending me to a library to study is a little like sending a football player onto the field in the middle of a game to study.  I do my homework in my dorm, because I’ve already read everything in there.  So I haven’t been to the library lately.

When I do hunker down for a marathon library session, it’s like embarking on a wilderness expedition.  I make sure I have everything I need to sustain life:  food, Diet Coke, lip balm, layers of clothing…sometimes I even grab a clean pair of socks.  I only get up to go to the bathroom.  And when I do, believe you me, it is with great reluctance.  If I were a guy, I’d probably just pee out a window.

I don’t know if you’ve gathered as much, but CCU is uptight, type-A, anal retentive yuppie central.  Emphasis on the anal-retentive.  And not in the figurative sense, either.

I know most girls are kind of shy about pooping.  But I swear to you, I have never met so many girls who were so neurotic about pooping in my entire life.  The brave ones skitter out of the stalls like ashamed mice, scrubbing their hands at lightspeed while avoiding eye contact with anyone.  Some people won’t go at all if there’s the remotest chance they may not be the only person in the bathroom.  Then there are the people who pick up their feet when they go, because someone might recognize them by their shoes.  And heaven forbid someone else know that they, like everyone else on earth except colostomy patients, poop!

Okay, I know that it smells bad, and it’s kind of embarrassing when it’s loud, but guys?  Come on.  Everybody poops.  As my mother said to me when I was very young, even Cinderella poops.

This concept had a lasting impact on my life.

For some reason, the CCU female hive mind has collectively decided that the only place any of the ~1500 of them can poop is the library.  I can understand the privacy-seeking and the shoe-hiding and even the refusal to exit the stall if another person’s presence is detected, but I do not get the library-pooping thing.  I’m beginning to suspect it’s a ritual they learn at sorority initiation.

I can’t imagine what the situation was like before the library was renovated.  It’s got something like nine stalls in it now, by far the biggest bathroom on campus, and it still smells like something died in it.  If it shrank by two thirds, to the size of all the other bathrooms, it’d have to be designated a Superfund site.

Or maybe the pooping came after the renovation.  This seems more likely, given that the campus was built in the 1950s, when everyone smoked everywhere all the time.  To the best of my knowledge, the CCU library has never exploded.

I know I am a liberal arts major, but I think it’s time for a little cross-disciplinary science experimentin’.  So let’s pretend I know what I’m talking about, and look at this empirically.

There is one other bathroom on campus that is almost as big as the library bathroom.  It does seem to be a little funkier than the other ones, which would suggest that CCU girls like to poop in big bathrooms.  I, too, have often felt that larger bathrooms provide greater anonymity:  I can blend into the crowd of poopers, instead of being the lone pooper in a bathroom where the other two people present are just fixing their makeup, and inexplicably judging me.

But I wouldn’t say the odor in this second-biggest bathroom corresponds proportionally to the odor in the library.  The library bathroom is about a third bigger, but it’s probably twice as stinky.  Hmmm.  Problem.

But wait!  This second-biggest bathroom is upstairs in the CCU dining hall!  And nobody remotely sane poops where they eat!

Conclusion:  There is poop safety in numbers.

Conclusion #2:  The CIA should begin recruiting its agents from the female population at CCU, because they are a superlatively sneaky bunch.

For another insider’s report on female college poopers, see PoopReport.com.

Written by Estie

April 10, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Poisson d’Avril!

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Thursday marks four years that my boyfriend and I have been dating.  Yes, you read that right.  Since my sophomore year of high school, I’ve been the ol’ ball and chain for the same boy.  And for the umpteenth time, no, we’re not getting married.

We didn’t do it on purpose, officer.  It just happened.  One year passed after another, and we somehow didn’t get sick of each other. We went to different schools, lived in different states, and somehow didn’t grow apart.  We meant to do the adult thing and break up after high school, but when it came down to the wire (read:  the day before I went to Millsaps), we couldn’t go through with it.

(We didn’t pick that inauspicious anniversary date on purpose, either.  It…also just happened.)

He’s a computer programmer, and I’m a history junkie; if we had to switch majors for a day, we’d have our pants bored off us by the second hour.  I love to shop, and he damn near has a panic attack every time he remembers that the mall exists.  He likes typography and philosophy, and he eats meat.  I’ve never had a good eye for design, I find philosophy rather arbitrary (except for Sartre, but everybody likes Sartre), and I’ve been a vegetarian since I was fourteen.

It embarrasses him when I talk about Harry Potter as if it is real in public, and when I get involved in arguments about literature on Facebook.  It embarrasses me when he skips in public, and when he wears the “Vagina is for Lovers” t-shirt he screenprinted himself.  (I do have to admit that it’s a nice color, though.  And is as tastefully done as a “Vagina is for Lovers” t-shirt can be.)

He likes to save, I like to splurge.  He’s a morning person, I’m a night owl.  He works hard, I like nothing better than sitting on my ass and procrastinating.  He’s very neat, and I’m a mess.

We’re different.  But we’re also very much the same.

We like to compromise.  We don’t like to shout.  We like giving gifts better than receiving them.  We’re addicted to the Internet.  We both like the mountains better than the beach, and we both have trouble with our swimsuits falling down.  We have similar taste in movies and TV, and we both like to cook—he thinks I make a mean avocado sandwich, and I think he makes killer scrambled eggs.  Oh, and his espresso is to DIE for.

We like cats, Asian food, and blowing things up.  We both speak Toothbrush, and we both drive like grannies.  Each of us knows exactly what the other is talking about, even when the other isn’t making any sense whatsoever (and this is a common problem, because we both have the same bizarre sense of humor).

My roommate, who is a year and a half older than me, got engaged a few months ago.  When I informed my boyfriend of this, he said matter-of-factly, “Good for her.  I’m not engaging you, though.”  When we finished our dinner, he congratulated her, then we retired to his dorm to discuss just how crazy she is.  I like that we can agree on this.  I also like that we can agree children are annoying, and partying is vastly overrated.  This means that, if we so desire, we will be able to continue to get along for the foreseeable future.

It does not, however, mean that we’re obligated to declare ourselves stuck together for life.

People think that we have the strangest relationship on the planet.  They simply cannot understand why, if we have been together for so long, we are not “engaging” (ha, see what I did there?) in the horrid activities most other couples do, like naming our future children (gag) or planning our wedding (ugh).  And it seems that no matter how many times I say to those people, “We’re nineteen, okay?  WE ARE NINETEEN,” they never seem to get it.

This is the way I see it:  if you don’t want children, why should you legally tie yourself to another person?  I’d rather live without a commitment that requires lots of messy paperwork to dissolve, and know that when I am in a relationship, I’m there because the other person wants me to be there, not because it’s too expensive and too much of a hassle to make me leave.

Especially now, when I’ve got at least sixty years left on this earth—if average life expectancy is any indicator of my own—why should I arbitrarily push even more of my life’s milestones into the first twenty-five years of my life?

It doesn’t mean I love him any less.  To be honest, I probably love him more for it, because he feels the same way.

So here’s my acknowledgment of our momentous anniversary, because come Thursday we are going to New York City with my mom and brother, and with all the traveling hullabaloo, I’ll probably forget all about it.  =)

(Seriously, that has happened before.  We both forgot our second anniversary, because it was during our senior year of high school, the day after my dog died and my colleges rejected me, while he was devoting every second of his life to his school play.  My friend Sheri reminded me of the occasion three days later.  FAIL.)

Yeah, I know, it's lame that this is from prom. But we have shockingly few pictures together. He's always behind the camera.

Written by Estie

March 30, 2010 at 3:43 am

Picaresque FINALE, and the insidious Seinfeld

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It seems that nearly every post I’ve written here has an opening monologue.  I have just noticed this, and I don’t know whether I like it.  Audience poll:  should I cultivate it as a fabulous new addition to my shtick?

Regardless, I suspect that I know from whence it came.

Hello, Jerry...

Oh my Christ, am I Newman?  Though I did not previously feel any kinship with him, his character as described by Wikipedia bears several resemblances to my own:

  • Often speaks in a humorously sinister tone
  • Impulsively protests the idea of any mail being “junk”
  • Tends to be bombastic and verbose
  • Loves food
  • Talents have so far eluded similar recognition to Jerry’s
  • AND my paternal grandfather worked for the Postal Service, so we are genetically linked.

Oh dear.

All of this evidence can only lead to one conclusion:  Seinfeld is insidious.  Cunning, sneaky, quietly powerful; a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  It is a persistent cultural meme.  It is not as explosive as the Interrupting Kanye, but it is nevertheless omnipresent.

Seinfeld is ostensibly a show about nothing.  But by being about nothing, it is simultaneously about everything.  That is why it’s insidious.  While we’re watching weeknight reruns, cringing at 90’s fashion and Jason Alexander’s negative sex appeal, Seinfeld subliminally worms its way into our brains.  We think it’s a sitcom, the sole purpose of which is to shut our brains off, but we are very, very wrong.  Eventually, Seinfeld takes over our subconscious.  We become Seinfeld zombies.

And we write 250 words about a canceled television show, instead of continuing to blog about our life stories.  And that is sad.

*

I am left handed, which endows me with special powers.  These powers are further enhanced by the fact that I have sharper-than-normal eyeteeth, and my second toes are longer than my first.  Also, I may have absorbed my twin.  One of my powers is the power of prophecy.

And now, for the benefit of my readers (all two of you…), I will prophecy:  In twenty years, medical schools will take over the world.

My powers allow me to know this, but perceptive Muggles may find evidence of it in the fact that half of the damn populations of all three of the colleges I have attended seem to be pre-med students.  (I told you I can’t do math:  add that up, and it makes three halves.)  Assuming every other college in the United States has similar demographics, the Congressional healthcare bill will soon be damn superfluous, and the U.S. population will soon have a frighteningly high percentage of smart, highly-educated sadists with God complexes.

And the best of these will come from Emory.

Because it is a top-20 university, Emory has a highly diverse student body.  Everybody has something that makes them special on the surface.  You could probably find a New Zealand-raised Palestinian kleptomaniac with a surgically-corrected cleft palate and a transgender parent somewhere among the undergrad and graduate student population of Emory, if you tried hard enough.

But if you gathered everyone in an auditorium and polled them, you’d find out that nearly everyone wants to be the next Sanjay Gupta.  In other words, wealthy, personable, famous, millionaire doctors with hot spouses.  Many twelve-year-olds also want to be those things.

I should stop to point out that I’m not trying to condemn Emory University in particular.  I suspect this is true of most top universities.  Furthermore, I am sure that there are many exceptions to the rule.  What I am railing against is the stereotype.  So please hear me out, okay?

In middle and early high school, I was socially awkward.  I was kind of a freak, to tell you the truth.  But by the end of high school (probably thanks to those fantastic SSRIs), I had learned how to make friends.  But I really didn’t make many at Emory.  This was not for lack of trying; it was just that, honestly, I preferred the company of my Sims to the company of my classmates.

(I named one Sim baby Pootbrick, and she grew up to be the coolest person ever.)

This is going to sound horrifically snotty and holier-than-thou, but most of the people I met were repulsive.  Even the ones who didn’t smell of tuna salad.  My impression of them was that they were obsessed with gossiping, social status, and money. At their best, they behaved like high schoolers, and at their worst, like the cast of Gossip Girl.

Example:  my English class, taught by a totally awesome guy named Dr. Galle, was full of the sound of crickets, i.e. silence.  Nobody ever talked except for me, my roommate Hira (not the tuna salad one), and Dr. Galle.  Okay, I know most of the students at Emory are scientifically-minded and were taking the course to knock out a graduation requirement, but come on.  These kids are supposed to have SAT scores that are higher than Amy Winehouse.  Need I remind you that two of the three components of the SAT are verbal and writing?  They should at least be able to bullshit their way through a class discussion of Huckleberry Finn.

Honestly, I think the other students were afraid of getting the wrong answer.  This makes me feel a little sorry for them.

In order to get into top universities, you have to have spent your entire childhood being groomed for it.  There are rules you have to follow, which over time become so deeply ingrained that they become part of your character.  You learn to always know the right answer, always make 100%, always do everything correctly.  But English isn’t like that:  there are no right answers, and the best work tends to result from breaking the rules.  That’s scary.

*

I think the real problem is that I can’t handle highly competitive people.  They never seem to have any emotional depth, and even when they do, they seem to be doing their utmost to conceal or destroy it.  They are so consumed with displaying the various ways in which they have “won” at life.  At some level, they seem to realize that it’s hard to display winning at being a good person, and that accordingly falls by the wayside in favor of other goals.

You’d think it would have taken me fewer than thirteen years, forty thousand dollars, and countless thousands of miles to realize that I don’t want to be a Smart Person after all.  I don’t like them, and I don’t like what I become when I think of myself as one of them.  And I don’t think they like me, either.

I’ve decided I don’t believe in dignity, or status diplomas, or Smart People.  All I really believe in is being happy, and for whatever crazy reasons, Country Club University makes me happy.

Well, Punky helps with that too.

Written by Estie

March 13, 2010 at 5:59 am

Picaresque, pt. 3

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Now that you know everything about my current and former pets, I suppose it’s time to return to the topic at hand….

First, you should know that if you’re disgusted with me thus far, you’re not the only one.  I could try to defend myself by pointing out that I was young and stupid, but as all of this occurred last year, that’s not the greatest argument.  So, okay, I’m a bad person.  Moving on.

It turns out that I did manage to get in to Oxford of Emory.  I don’t know if it was the essay, which was full of bitterness and regret about my neglect of mathematics, or the fact that I worked my ass off and managed to get straight As at Millsaps.  Regardless, it sure was nice of the Oxford people to wait until the last week of winter break to let me know.  To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, if someone had managed to shove a lump of Christmas coal up my ass, in two weeks they’d have gotten a diamond.

Oxford of Emory is a weird little place.  It’s called Oxford because it’s in Oxford, Georgia, and also because they can piggyback on Oxford University‘s reputation.  When big Emory moved to Atlanta proper, they converted their old campus into a sort of a feeder school into Emory.  It’s supposedly dedicated to the liberal arts, but in my exalted opinion that’s a heap o’ crap.  The liberal arts don’t tend to flourish when everybody’s pre-med.

Basically what happens is, if your test scores or extracurriculars or other essential benchmarks of personal worth are not quite up to the standards of big Emory, the admissions officers might decide to admit you to Oxford instead.  After spending your freshman and sophomore years at Oxford, you automatically move to the Atlanta campus to finish your undergraduate degree.

“It’s just like Emory!” they claim, “Only smaller!”

The tuition is slightly cheaper, too, but still not below $40,000 a year.  Oh, and good luck trying to get scholarships!

Regardless, when I toured the place in October 2008, I decided it was perfect for me.  The girl who led our tour was a freshman, but she was cool and friendly and from Oregon, which gave her extra points in my book.  She’d spent a gap year doing something related to poor people in Latin America, because her parents could pay for it she was just that good of a person.

If she was the typical Oxford student, I’d have zillions of cool friends!  We’d have clever yet unpretentious chats about, like, literature and stuff!  Their conversation would be so stimulating, I’d be able to pen a smart contemporary novel within six months of graduating!

ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR!

Okay, so I wasn’t quite that naive.  But I was looking forward to being surrounded by certified Smart People.  It was a bonus to the fact that in three and a half years, I’d have a diploma from Emory University to hang on my wall.

With that diploma, I’d never have to doubt myself again.

*

My dad is addicted to workahol.  In high school, he held down two jobs, in addition to playing football for Dorman High School.  Now he’s an engineer.  Though my parents are still married, Dad has lived and worked on the road for most of my life, coming home as often as distance allowed.  As the economy began circling the drain, that distance seemed to get greater and greater.

Right now, he’s living on an Air Force base in Bagram, Afghanistan.  He and his coworkers are in charge of running and expanding the base, while the actual military personnel fight the war.  He lives in a six-by-eight foot hut and sleeps on a cot.  He comes home for two weeks once every three months.  But hey, the pay is good!

Blah blah blah, this is what’s wrong with the American Dream, yadda yadda Daddy Issues, etc.

Except not really.  I have a few zillion neuroses, but I don’t think any of them are my dad’s fault.  I know he feels guilty for missing out on the minutiae of my childhood, but he was there for the important things like spelling bees, poetry readings, and my high school graduation.  He taught me to ski and to change my oil.

And he told me this story:

“My parents always said they’d pay for me to go to any college I wanted,” he said, “As long as it was Wofford.”

Neither of his parents had a college degree.  His dad worked at the post office, and his mom did secretarial work.  They lived with my great-grandmother until my dad was around ten years old.  On their income, they still managed to cover college tuition for my dad and both of his siblings, as well as medical school for my uncle Fordham.  As far as I can tell, they did this by driving the same Rustoleum-ed Plymouth for 30 years and subsisting on scavenged mushrooms and barnyard offal.

(Scrambled calf’s brains?  Vile!  And they wonder why they have high cholesterol.)

So of course, my dad appreciated what they’d done for him, but he’s an engineering type and Wofford is a liberal arts college.  He majored in mathematics, but he’s had some difficulty finding work in his chosen field because he doesn’t have an undergraduate degree in engineering (plus he took and passed the P.E. exam without going to grad school, but that’s his own fault).

He told me that he worked so hard, and was gone so often, because he was going to do me and my brother one better:  if we could get into the college, he’d pay for us to go there, no strings attached.

If he hadn’t kept that promise,  you wouldn’t be skimming through reading the tale of my grand college adventure with such marginal great interest.  So thanks, Dad.  Every great freeloader artist needs a patron!

*

Failure in the writing world is more frequent than success.  Many good writers who do end up being published are Ivy League graduates, from Sylvia Plath to Jonathan Safran Foer, and a lot of authors who (should) go unpublished went to, um, Brigham Young University. This is a terrifying prospect, but before you go crank up the Cure and hide under your bed, consider this:

If you feel better, don't read the next paragraph.

The thing about tried-and-true wisdom is that after a few million repetitions, it starts to sound stupid.  Anyone from Albus Dumbledore to the Swedish Chef could have told me that it didn’t really matter where my degree came from, but it would have taken a Memory Charm or a good whack to the head with a rolling pin to make me believe them.

I was not the best writer in my class at the Governor’s School, not by a long shot.  Those were some seriously gifted people, y’all.  One of them got published in Poetry magazine the month after we graduated.  But I’m not bitter, no, not me.  Not a bit.  No sirree.

(AAAAAARRRRRGGGHHH!)

It was so easy for me to imagine myself at fifty, sitting alone and wondering how different my life could have been if I’d graduated from Emory instead.

So in the last days of winter break, I dragged all my crap out of Millsaps and moved into a dorm at Oxford College that smelled EVEN MORE like nursing home than the previous one.

Do you believe in signs?

Written by Estie

March 4, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Posted in College, Me

Picaresque, pt. 2

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Fun fact:  I am a prematurely old lady.  This partially explains why I prefer going to bed at a reasonable hour to partying, and why I am so fond of pretending that I know anything about anything.  However, I am technically still a teenager, despite my elderly personality.  So I am forced to substitute pictures of my pets for pictures of my nonexistent grandchildren.

I like animals better than kids anyway.  It works out.

In case you were wondering, this is what my most beloved border collie-spaniel mix Oreo looked like:

I still miss her.  She was a good dog.

But the narrative must go on!

My teacher George promised to help me fix my college predicament, while I sniffled and sobbed and contaminated his office with no small amount of my snot.  Looking back, I’m not entirely sure what I thought he could do.  This is a man who dresses like a homeless person and openly mocks those in positions of authority.  He smokes behind the dumpsters outside school and collects baculums.  One day, he brought a cooler full of live clams to class, and made us practice catching by throwing them across the room at us.  He’s just not the type of guy who’d be adept at bargaining with admissions officers.

However, he might be a little bit magical.  Because, the very next day, an admissions representative from Millsaps College dropped by.  George pulled me out of class to go speak to her.

The logical explanation for this turn of events is that since Millsaps has rolling admissions, they send their admissions reps around one last time in April, to pick up stragglers like me.  It was just a lucky coincidence that this bouncy young redhead named Emma showed up the day after doomsday.  George must have put in a good word, because Emma all but promised that if I could get an application to her within the next week, I’d have a spot at Millsaps come fall.

You know what I think about logical explanations?  BO-RING!  Let’s dispense with coincidence and pretend I’m the fairytale princess I wanted to be when I was small.  George is perfect Fairy Godmother material, right?

*

Once upon a time, way back during the first quarter of my junior year, George assigned our class a short story by a guy named Rick Bass.  The story’s called “Cats and Students, Bubbles and Abysses.”  I forget what we were supposed to learn from it; probably something about Voice.  What I do remember is that the main character really hated his roommate, who thought he was hot shit because he graduated from Millsaps.

“What’s Millsaps?” a girl asked, wrinkling her nose.  She was the type who’d apply to every college in the Ivy League (but unlike me, would actually get in).

“It’s in Mississippi,” said George.  “I got a coupla writer buddies who went there.  It’s not bad or anything.”

George makes a living writing about the South.  He bemoans the slow disappearance of the kind of southerners who populate the works of Flannery O’Connor and her peers.  Southerners like my great aunts, who worked in mills and drank Royal Crown cola and set their hair with stale beer, and who speak like they just wandered off the set of Gone with the Wind.

“Southern lit is disappearing!” George railed.  “Who cares about people who live in New York City?  They’re not interesting.  The guy who sells face jugs at the jockey lot is interesting.  Write what you know!”

Yet I still dared to tell him that I hadn’t applied to a single school east of the Mississippi River or south of the Mason-Dixon.  No wonder that when he played Pink Floyd backward and waved his magical raccoon baculum, he sent me to Millsaps!  That school would be in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico if it were much further south.

My fairy godmother might be willing to do me a favor, but in doing so, by god, he’d teach me a lesson too.

*

The weekend after I graduated from high school, my mother and I took the nine hour drive from Greenville to visit Jackson, so that I’d have some idea of where I was supposed to live come fall.  As we crossed from Georgia through Alabama, the towns became fewer and farther between.  The humidity rose (from around 90 to 95 percent…Greenville is in the South too).  We began to see dead armadillos on the shoulders of I-20.

“We call those possums on the half shell!” Emma informed us later.

“I think I hear banjo music,” said my mother.

We drove through a solid hour of forest before we arrived on the outskirts of Jackson, the treeline broken only by the muddy trickle of the Chunky River.  The next morning, we toured Millsaps.

The students had already gone home for the summer, so the campus was eerily empty.  Emma had to turn on the lights in every building we entered.  I was trying to keep an open mind, but it was really hard when Emma pointed out a mossy mausoleum on the pathway between the liberal arts building and the chapel.

“That’s Major Millsaps’ tomb!” she said.  “He and his wife never had kids.  When they died, they were buried on campus, so they could always be near the students they came to think of as their children.”

I could end my story here, with a dire warning to high school seniors:  if you don’t pick a safety school, you’ll end up living out the opening scenes of a low-budget horror movie.  But honestly, that’s not fair to Millsaps.  I kinda liked it there.  The dorms smelled like a nursing home, and the cafeteria food was atrocious, but my professors were brilliant and I still miss the friends I made there.

For example…

My roommate was a Kazakh exchange student who polished off a 20-pound jar of pickles in two weeks and taught the frat boys to take flaming shots of Sambuca.  She shouted in Russian at her friends back home, via webcam, at 2:30 in the morning.  Her name was Kseniya.

I joined the Beekeeping Club, which didn’t have bees yet.  We mostly sat around listening to Duran Duran and planning elaborate fundraisers that would allow us to purchase said bees.  After a while the two founders would need a cigarette, so the meeting would disband.

My friend Kailey started a Quiz Bowl team! I joined, of course.  We spent my last weekend at Millsaps at the Admiral Ackbar Invitational quiz bowl tournament at the University of Alabama.

I took a class on the history of the U.S.S.R. that slightly changed my life.

And I saw a live crayfish!

    I would not by any means discourage anyone from attending Millsaps.  In the perfect vision of hindsight, I realize that the school itself was a better fit for me than I thought.  Jackson gets a little scary at night, and the dining options aren’t as posh as those in Greenville, but neither of those would have killed me (though one might have mugged me).

    I left anyway.  I felt that being successful at Millsaps, regardless of the effort it took, would have been a pyrrhic victory.

    A nagging little voice in the back of my head needed me to prove that I was better than everyone else, or else I would be a complete failure.  Going to Millsaps had bought me a little time, along with the chance to prove to admissions officers that I could be successful in college.  But graduating from there was out of the question.  Having to list Millsaps as my alma mater for the rest of my life just didn’t sound impressive.

    On the other hand, if I kept my grades up and wrote a killer essay, I just might be admitted to Oxford College at Emory University for the spring semester….

    Written by Estie

    March 1, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Posted in College, Me

    Picaresque, part 1

    with one comment

    “Hey, you!” you say. “What makes you such an expert on this whole college thing? You haven’t even graduated yet.  You’re not even close.”

    Don’t get me wrong, I dig heckling as much as the next person, especially when the heckler has a point.  I mean, isn’t the Daily Show just glorified heckling?  And hasn’t it been the best thing for America since the New Deal?

    (Does heckling still look like a word to you?  Because it sure as hell doesn’t to me.)

    So, to answer your question.  I’m not an expert.  But I’m a little more…well-traveled…than other students.  This semester — the second in my sophomore year — is the second semester I’ve spent at CCU.  Its beginning also marked the longest time I’ve managed to stay at one college.

    I get around round round round...

    Yeeeah.

    See, what ha’ happened wuz…

    [FADE IN]

    Int. School Hallway – Day

    It is late March.  Little Estie, a senior in high school, calls her mother on her handy-dandy cellular phone, to see whether any big fat acceptance letters have arrived in the mail.  Her mother answers the phone in tears.  She is ululating like a professional mourner.

    Estie’s mother:  I DON’T THINK SHE’S GONNA MAKE IT!!!!!

    Turns out, Estie’s mother is at the vet’s office with Estie’s dog.  She did not mean for Estie to find out this way, but Oreo has suffered a sudden rupture of the spleen, and will need to be euthanized.  Oreo is only eight years old, and her family loves her lots lots lots.  Estie’s family did not even know Oreo was sick.

    Estie’s mother:  YEAH, THERE WERE A COUPLE OF LETTERS IN THE MAILBOX FOR YOU! JUST LITTLE ONES.

    This is the thoroughly awful way in which Estie finds out that she has not been accepted to a single one of the colleges to which she applied.

    [FADE TO BLACK]

    What the hell am I supposed to do now?  I’m an honor student at a prestigious boarding school for the arts. I want to be a writer someday.  For God’s sake, I can’t go to a state school.  And community college?  I’d die of shame!  I’d rather amputate my own toes with hedge loppers.

    At this point, I’m sure you probably suspect that this crisis was my own doing (the college one, not the dead dog).  I didn’t really have any safety schools, and though my academic record was impeccable otherwise, I had a nasty dark blot on my transcript called Mathematics.

    So.  The short answer is, you’re right, it was my own doing.  The long answer is…a question.  (What a twist!)

    Are you ready for another trip back, back, back through the dark mists of Time?

    Wheee!

    MONTAGE:

    1.  Eight-year-old, snaggle-toothed know-it-all (and hyphenation enthusiast) Estie enters the Challenge classroom for the first time.  She is surrounded by late-90’s computers with undulating fractals for screensavers.  Crowded between these computers are scale models of the Parthenon handmade of styrofoam.

    2.  Nine-year-old Estie, dressed in a hairy purple sweater, wins the geography bee on stage in front of the entire school.  She is presented with a medal and a stuffed tortoise called Geo Georgie, who sports a pith helmet and a shell that doubles as a globe. She beams.

    3.  Nine-year-old Estie sits on a bench at recess, reading a book while the other kids play.  She glances up to make sure she hasn’t missed her class being called back inside.  Her teacher, Mrs. Cook, smiles at her and waves.  Estie waves back.

    4.  Ten-year-old Estie is onstage again and still wearing the same damn sweater.  She stands at a microphone with her eyes closed.  She visualizes the word speleologist, and spells it aloud. “S-P-E-I-L…” The judges shake their heads.  Drat.  The next step would have been the national bee!

    5.  Twelve-year-old Estie, sporting braces and a Spongebob Squarepants t-shirt, receives a graded math test from her Algebra teacher.  At the top, scrawled in red pen and circled, is a C.  She stuffs it to the bottom of her backpack without another glance.

    END MONTAGE.

    You can see where this is going, right?  All other sources pointed to the fact that I was smart:  I knew big words, I read lots of books, I scored high on standardized tests, and I didn’t have many friends.  I’d been hearing how precociously bright I was from a very young age.  Not much later than that, I’d also begun to hear about what a nerd I was.  In the socially-cutthroat worlds of middle and high school, being smart was all I had.  I wasn’t about to let anyone find out I had an academic weakness.

    My teachers noticed, of course, but they had bigger problems than the fact that one of their honor students wasn’t Meeting Her Full Potential.  On the rare occasions that one of them did speak with me privately, I’d just smile and promise to do better on the next test.  I think they were honestly too exhausted to argue with me.

    My parents noticed too, but I was still making better grades than they did in high school.  They let the Cs on my report cards slide without much comment.

    It turns out that you can fool your teachers, and you can fool your parents, but you’ve got another think coming if you think you can fool the SAT.  The highest I was ever able to get my math score, after a prep course and a few sessions of private tutoring, was 560.  (Compare this to the 780 and 790 I made on the verbal and writing sections.)  I could have worked harder on math — taken more prep courses, and stuck with the tutor — but by that point the mere memory of math’s existence filled me with deep and pervasive shame.  Every math class and every tutoring session was a run through the emotional wringer.

    Instead, I hoped that colleges would read my writing samples, look at my grades in other subjects, and recognize me as the genius I’d always known I was.  Sure, I didn’t have the greatest math scores, but I was exceptional!  Couldn’t they see that?  Didn’t they just know?

    Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

    No.

    I present, for your viewing pleasure, the list of schools to which I applied:

    1. The University of Chicago
    2. UNC Chapel Hill
    3. Reed College
    4. Washington University in St. Louis
    5. Whitman College

    I am a big fat idiot.

    I did not realize this until that fateful afternoon that my dog died, my schools rejected me, and I probably lost some of the hearing in my right ear.

    Luckily, one of my Creative Writing teachers found me On the Verge of Meltdown after I hung up the phone.  He’s the male counterpart to the crazy cat lady archetype:  he chain-smokes, looks homeless, and owns nine dogs plus one very ornery cat named Herb.  His wisdom is second only to that of the great Roger Ebert.

    He took me into his office, showed me a photo album of all the dogs he’d ever owned, and promised that he’d help make things all right.

    And in a long, extremely roundabout way, he did.

    Written by Estie

    February 25, 2010 at 9:40 pm