A Look Inside the Real College Experience
I perched myself upon my futon, eyes affixed on the television screen. I had finished two classes on that crisp Monday afternoon, and I had two more to go. Tired, already longing for a return to relaxation just hours after a nine day hiatus, my eyes followed the scrolling TV Guide channel as if it were Moses leading his people through the desert. And my Moses did lead me to my refuge. I saw that on channel 72, HBO Signature, the film Almost Famous was showing. It was then that my week began.
People from back home, both younger and older, in college and out, often ask me what college is like. Is it raucous bacchanalia, monotonous doldrums, hair-pulling stress or is it just life? That question has always perplexed me. There really isn’t a way to explain what college is without divulging every last detail, from the boring experiences you can barely remember, to the painful ones you wish you’d forget, all the way to the flashbulb memories that will be with you forever. College life definitely is different from high school, and is also quite different from living in the real world. But I can’t really put my finger on why. The differences are concrete, yet they are also fluid. What may be my safety blanket one week can be a tidal wave of controversy the next. What may be my kryptonite one week very well be my shimmering light the next. The point is, no college experience is the same for any two people. My experiences are not yours. What I do you may never do in your lifetime. But the reactions I make, that is what is shared. No matter how you get from point A to point B, you will get to point B. That is the point of college. And this week, I reached point B.
The movie had already begun. Almost Famous strikes a chord within me. It isn’t my favorite film of all time, far from it actually, but the movie is my emotional guiding light. Any self-doubt, self-loathing, or self-realization that I feel, I can feel through the lens of that film. (I highly recommend watching this film to those who haven’t, but I will reference points in the film throughout the story. I will try to avoid spoilers.) Perhaps the reason that the film resonates so much for me is that it is at its heart a film about people working through tough friendships and trying to build strong relationships, but on the surface it is also about journalism. The film follows young William Miller, a teenager who has left his high school to write for Rolling Stone magazine about the fictional band Stillwater. My room was far from packed to the brim, but four of us sat and gazed at the screen. I quieted everyone in the room. As peeved as they were by my incessant need to see this film, I feel as if some people came to enjoy certain parts of the film. But looking back, watching this film truly did set me on the path towards the next point in my college experience.
I had to end the film prematurely. I had a class to go to. Principles of Microeconomics. It is a scintillating as watching a sloth watch a tortoise watch paint dry. My professor has the charisma of a less-excited Bill Belichick. Not only is the grand lecture hall always at less than half capacity, only about a tenth of those brave enough to show up can actually finish a class without pulling out their cell phones, laptops, iPods, magazines, other homework, or any other distraction. I once became so bored by his lecture that I pulled out my wallet and started reading receipts. I was trying to keep my attention on the fascinating story of how price and marginal cost are a function of elasticity, but my phone buzzed. I figured that a friend was texting in our group-me and I would just check on how the conversation was. I turns out it was my editor for The Red and Black, our student-run school newspaper. This week was my first week as a full time staff member, with creative control to spin and contrive my stories in any way that I wished. I figured that he may be confined to common courtesy and was wishing me luck. I was wrong.
The paper had recently received statistics about the GPAs of all the NCAA teams on campus. They wanted to write a story about these stats. It was a mere forensic cast study, an analysis of the intellect of those who were awarded scholarships for what is often considered the opposite. In a concise way, they wanted to detail brains vs. brawn. My editor came to me to write the story. I don’t know if I was his first choice or if every other sportswriter on the paper turned him down, but nevertheless he came to me. I was honored. My first week full time and I was to write not just my allotted two golf stories, but also an additional one? Economics was now the back of my mind. I was silently giddy. I planned on returning to my room after the class ended and embarking on the journey towards writing the best article ever immediately. But then came the caveat. It needed to be finished by 5’oclock Wednesday evening. That was wholly attainable. Swiftly, I leapt out of my seat when dismissed and rushed to my dorm room to begin.
However, by the time I got back to my dorm, my anticipation shifted to nerves. I had never before written anything to this scale. Even if the story would be at most 1/12 as long as the longest thing I had ever written for this site, I knew there needed to be a level of eloquence about it that I never before had exhibited. This needed to be good. I knew that I was capable of writing something professionally; I knew that I was capable of getting quotes to put in a story. But I didn’t know how well I could do it on deadline. I, both consciously and subconsciously, expected this sort of emotional stress to pile drive me into a useless pulp of shivering gook. So I stalled. I watched The Terminal. I shifted back and forth on my futon for hours watching that movie, which for the record I love, nervous about sending three e-mails.
I may not have made myself clear. In order to do this right, I had to interview people from the teams, coaches and players, which had been the most successful academically in the last term. And you can’t just walk up to a practice facility with a notebook and an inquisitive look demanding to interview the team. That is how you get tazed. So I had to send three e-mails, one to each of the Sports Information Directors, or SIDs, that represented the teams which I wanted to talk to. I sent the e-mails at about 4. By 5, I had heard back from two of the three and I had scheduled interviews with the gymnastics team at 12:45, the men’s tennis team at 1:15, and the women’s tennis team at 1:45. When you compound that with the interview I already had scheduled with the golf team at 2:30, it would be quite the hectic day. But then my worst nightmare became a reality. I got a text from my editor. He asked me if I could push up my deadline 24 hours and get the story in by Tuesday. You can’t say no to your editor. I believed in myself. I obliged. I now had less than a day to write a full length story, compiling quotes from four interviews, and submit it to the presses. I took a deep breath. Let’s get down to business.
I made camp in the lobby of my hallway. My room was occupied. I believe Super Smash Bros was the reason. I didn’t care. I brought my laptop and my reporter’s notebook with me. It isn’t a real reporter’s notebook, it’s just a regular three subject notebook that I use for interviews. It’s not much, but hey, it’s better than a bunch of yellow sticky notes. (That is also from Almost Famous, if you are counting references. I couldn’t find a link.) I was listening to Elton John’s greatest hits on Spotify without headphones. I didn’t care if people knew I was an Elton John fan. That dude can sing. Somewhere between Your Song and Bennie and the Jets, some people came in to see what I was doing. What I was trying to do was write questions for the interviews I was doing the next day. What I really was doing was pacing back and forth while maniacally singing along to the songs and running my fingers through my hair like I was ferociously trying to rip it out. (One friend remarked that I was quite successfully pulling off an afro. That made me feel good.) I couldn’t figure it out. I have been improvising interviews for years, and it has always come out to moderate success. But now, preparation was screwing with my mind. I was stressed out beyond belief. My pacing became more frequent and quicker. I would run over to my notebook, scribble down an idea, and then walk away while vocalizing the instrumental melody to The Bitch is Back. I threw my pen. I picked it up. I slammed my fist. My self-induced afro swayed in my self-created wind as wind chimes do in a thunderstorm. After two hours of cathartic rage and a brief cool down while listening to Candle in the Wind, I finally took pride in exactly how well I thought that I had done. There is only one way to describe how I was feeling. I was ready. Another deep breath: tomorrow will be a great day. As that last scene described perfectly, at first I thought I needed something else, but I realized at the end that I was exactly where I needed to be. (For the record, this is one of the most famous scenes in the movie and frankly one of the best. It is amazing. If you have been bypassing the links, don’t bypass this one.)
I awoke Tuesday morning scared and nervous. Oddly, I didn’t wake up to my alarm. I woke up to natural sunlight. Weird. I walked up close to the clock, unable to see without my contact lenses, and saw that it was 10:30. I only have one class on Tuesday. And it is at 9:30. I walked over to my phone. The alarm that I had set was still set. It just didn’t go off. Why it didn’t go off I have no clue. For some reason, my 9:00 alarm refuses to go off on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I don’t know why. It’s quite odd. I took another deep breath. “No class today,” I thought. But I did only have two hours of mental preparation before I could go in and meet the athletes. I ate some chicken strips for lunch. (Like a Boss.) I was too nervous, I couldn’t eat I forwent finishing them. I abandoned my human urges for sustenance and instead went back to my room and played on Sporcle. Oh Sporcle, you know how to make me feel better. I left my dorm at 12:30 to make my 12:45 interview. It was in the Coliseum Training Facility, which is essentially the private gym for athletes. I expected the security detail in there to be Threat Level Midnight, but I really just walked in the front door and meandered around the building until I figured out where I needed to be. That took entirely too long, but I eventually found a door. Behind that door was a secretary. I told that secretary where I needed to be. She led me through a door. That door led me to another door. That door led me to a common room. That common room was connected to the practice area. Maybe the practices were actually on Threat Level Midnight. But after I got my clearance, my TSA pat down, deloused, a physical, and took a field sobriety test, I was in the facilities. I was met by the SID for the team and he found me two people to interview. They were both very helpful, but the first one so much more so. Then I bolted to the next interview, which since it was outside had considerably less SWAT team surveillance, sniper towers and electro-shock therapy chambers for captives than the last. That went quick and went well. I hustled across the complex to meet with the female team after that session had ended and that one also went very well. Then I ran back to my dorm, drenched in sweat from head to knees, downed three glasses of Powerade from the dining hall (Its UGA, there’s no way in hell we could have something called Gatorade served on our campus.) and ran to my friend Paige’s room. Paige had pledged to give me a ride to the golf course, which is three miles off campus and I had no way of getting to on time without someone else’s help. She is very, very, very nice, so she volunteered to do so without me even asking. I appreciated that. I got to the golf course. Everyone there was nice to me, even the players and coaches. I rather like it there. I do look forward to going back to there and continuing my beat reporting there. But I had no time to stop and smell the roses. Paige and I went back to our dorm. Frantically, I sat down on my futon, turned on Spring Training Baseball for long enough to curse out Kevin Youkilis twice, and then wrote my article. I had to finish by six. I finished by 5:15. The article was posted on the website, only edited in two grafs, (that’s journalist speak for paragraphs. I know I could’ve said paragraphs and avoided this parenthetical, but I rather like parentheticals, so I did it anyway.) by 6. I read it. I liked it. I was hoping that it would be considered good enough to make the print edition. But I had no time for that either. I still had two more articles to write. In addition, I had a speech to write for my Communications class, I had three online exercises to do for one of my journalism classes, and I had a test on Friday in the tepid boredom hole that is Microeconomics. I got right back to work, packed in my post in the lobby once again, this time considerate enough to wear headphones. The same people that walked in on me the last night were walking in on me again that night. They inquired as to how I had done. I answered well. They said good. I chit-chatted some more, but then got back to the grind.
Wednesday wasn’t really a big day for me. It was just a lot of schoolwork and writing. I’ll skip the narratives of that day, because it really was boring.
I walked outside. The cold breeze bit my face as hard as a snapping turtle. I shivered, my hair still wet from the shower I had taken just minutes ago. It was 9:15. I had fifteen minutes to walk to my next class. My eyes locked on to one object in my field of vision. I saw a newspaper receptacle. I opened the dispenser and procured a new edition of The Red and Black, fresh off of the presses. I made it look like it was an impulse decision, but I had been calculating for 48 hours when I would read this week’s news. I tried to flip to the sports section, but the wind kept clapping the paper against itself. I kept flipping, trying to get all the way to page 15. I succeeded and then I almost dropped the paper. I saw my story printed in the center of the first sports page, serving as the lead story for the week in sports. My first time in print and I was the lead story. I contemplated skipping to my class, but then I remembered how awful I am at skipping. I closed the paper. I would reread it later. The paper clapped against itself one more time. Something about the way the wind pushed the top left corner of the paper, almost like something out of a Robert Frost poem, drew me to that very corner. Then I noticed it. My story had a lead in on the front page. I lost it. I was beyond mere excitement. I had been elevated to cloud nine.
I rushed back to my dorm after the class had ended to brag to my friends. The thing about my friends is that they don’t care. No one, save one person, actually wanted to read my article. The written word is dead in their eyes. They think that the written word is “uncool.” But to quote the most profound line of Almost Famous: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” I was humble about my excitement, but the day had begun and basketball was on the television. I watched games on games on games as my reward. But I had to get back to work. Happy time was over. Test time was upon me.
I locked myself in the basement of my building, nothing but a pen, notes, and a laptop to my name. I studied for five straight hours. I wanted to do better on this test than I had on the previous two. I took a few interludes from studying. I took one to buy a candy bar from the vending machine. When I am writing, my stress fighting tactic is running my fingers through my hair. When I am studying, I stress eat. My second interlude was to watch the end of the Harvard vs. New Mexico game, which was crazy. My last interlude as to listen to Justin Timberlake’s new song Mirrors for the 500th time that week. The 20/20 Experience, his new album, lived up to the hype. It is fantastic. Other people, namely the critics from Rolling Stone magazine, (Not William Miller) disagree with my assessment, but I had been waiting since middle school for a new album and I’ll be darned if he followed through. Aside from that, five straight hours of my life were dedicated to studying for a test. The rest of my friends were out and about, at sorority functions, supporting the band A Lot More Less at a concert or playing in the band A Lot More Less in a concert. I was just sitting at home. (Of course I was at home, I’m uncool!) Thursday turned into Friday and I went to bed.
I awoke the next morning and trudged through my classes and test. I think I did pretty well, but only time will tell on that front. My week was over. The most stressful and most rewarding five days of my life ended not with a bang, but with a fade into the darkness. Friday night I planned on sitting alone in my dorm and just watching TV. I thought Happy Endings was supposed to come back on TV this week, but it turns out it was next Friday. In that regard, my week technically did not end with Happy Endings like a wanted, but I replaced that with a surrogate. I briefly mentioned A Lot More Less before. They are a band made up of two of my hallmates on lead guitar, backing guitar, and lead vocals, a kid from the floor above us on drums, and another kid that I’m not quite sure where he lives on bass. My direct neighbor, the lead vocalist and backing guitarist, wanted to busk (street perform) that night for the drunkards of downtown Athens. I thought it was a brilliantly fun idea, so I committed to come along as a roadie and super fan. I did.
We got to the corner of East Clayton and College Ave. at about 12:30. It was cold. Just about the only day that week that wasn’t cold was the day when I was running back and forth across town interviewing people. We had three acoustic guitars, a pair of bongos, and some drum sticks. I am not proficient in any musical instruments, so I mostly just stood there and tried to chime in vocally on the songs which I knew. My real service to the band was I was body detail. When I drunk person came up to the members of the band and begged to rap for the group, I was tasked with getting rid of him. (That one is a funny story. I had to convince him that he didn’t want to rap, let him borrow my phone against better judgment, and try to keep singing along all at once. I eventually got rid of him.) When drunk girls wanted someone to high five, or to touch, or to hug, I was the man. That part was rough. If there is anything all college guys hate, it is girls touching them for no reason. College girls, take this as advice, if you want to bother guys just get drunk, put on an entirely too revealing dress, go downtown, and ask to high five, hug, and take pictures with guys. Trust me, we hate it. I must’ve taken three or four pictures, been in a handful of videos, and gotten hand herpes from six or seven inebriated “21” year olds that night, but it was all in the spirit of fun. The bars closed at about 2 am. That is when the night got really fun. Drunken people evacuated bars in droves. Drunken hipsters began crowding around us first, because that’s how music works, but then the frattiest of the fratty joined in with us. We began to perform songs that were easily sang along by the intoxicated. I say we because at that point, we dropped down to two guitars, used the bongos with hands and the drumsticks on the ground, and all five of us began harmonizing. The highlights of the night were when we in a row song Cee Lo’s Forget You, Nirvana’s Lithium, The Black Keys’ Lonely Boy and Weezer’s Say It Ain’t So in succession. Those four songs effectively shot my vocal chords, but it was ridiculously fun to see a bunch of drunk people stand around us, giving us money, just to sing along to “YEEEEEEEAAAAAAH-EEE-YEAHHHHHHH!” One group of two girls in particular liked us so much, that they asked me to go on a walk with them twice. I began to accept, but then I had a better idea. They joined us in a drum circle for the next hour. As the time grew closer to 3 am, the crowd changed from hordes to the few. One guy in particular liked us enough that he started throwing out requests. We obliged, and I finally got to share lead vocals for the first time on Wish You Were by Pink Floyd. I even played the bongos on one song, Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. As we packed up, the drunkest guy of the night would not leave us alone. It took us about 15 minutes to get rid of him. We did, but one bad apple did not spoil the whole night. Once again that week, I was genuinely happy.
This one is from School of Rock, not Almost Famous: “One great rock show can change the world.” Of course, this was neither a great rock show nor one that changed the world, but it did change my world. Through the events of this week, I think I reached point B. No, I didn’t make any great contributions to society like curing the common cold or do something outlandishly impossible like get a girlfriend, but I did advance personally in my own life. No one that reads this story will share the same experiences that I did this week. These are unique to me. But self-actualization, even if it is merely understanding yourself a little better, may actually be the true meaning of college. I haven’t found myself yet. But this week showed me I am on my way. I would love to tell more stories on this platform, but I have a staff meeting to get to for the newspaper. Onward to point C.