All semester I’ve been sitting in
the same seat in my philosophy discussion section (the back corner
on the left), but Wednesday I walk in one minute late and this guy
is sitting in my seat — kicked back, comfy, books all over
the place — like he’s been waiting for this a long,
long time. I gape at him. It’s stupid, it’s just a
chair (my chair), but I am incredulous. Who does that? Who switches
seats with three class periods to go? And to the back corner seat!
The back corner seat is an institution. This is not merely a case
of gee-I-think-I’ll-sit-somewhere-else-today. This is
deliberate. This is outrageous.

Mira Levitan

I sit down one row forward and three seats to the right and try
to shake off my righteous indignation. Righteous indignation, like
dread and love, never creeps up on me — it drops from the sky
like an anvil to the head and I see stars (or hearts or tweeting
birds or what have you) until something equally unsubtle snaps me
out of it. For now, though, it’s hopeless. My defenses have
been down because it’s the end of the semester and I’m
behind — terribly behind in everything, school-related and
otherwise — and at times like this I rely on small joys to
keep my veneer of relative sanity from disintegrating, to keep me
thinking about the things that are supposed to matter to everyone,
the big-picture problems: politics, justice, God, etc. I’m
tired and now I have to sit in a strange place, somewhere joyless,
thanks to this guy with the books.

Today, it’s the final insult. My thoughts drift (or
rather, careen) toward all the things I try to pretend I
don’t think about, like “Maybe I should have been a
biology (or at least political science or economics) major”
and “God I hope I don’t end up writing
infomercials.”

I think about graduating in April and the year sabbatical
I’ll be taking from academia and how people usually think
I’m going to do it because I want to get some practical or
wacky life experience under my belt so I’ll have something to
write about later. Their eyes light up and their imaginations run
wild: So I want to be a writer, do I? I must be planning something
spectacular! One of those crazy eccentric things you always hear
about writers doing: opening up a bikini shop in Tikrit, working on
an assembly line in a factory where they put the covers on
telephone books, locking myself in a log cabin and subsisting only
on wheat berries and creek water and carving a novella into the
walls with a Swiss army knife.

Usually I smile and let them think what they like. Maybe. If
there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s leading
people to believe I’m more interesting than I actually am.
But some people worry. They worry I’ll get married and forget
to go to graduate school, or that I won’t do anything
dangerous or miserable enough to remind me that all the world is
not like college, that most Americans are going to vote President
Evil into office again next year, that big cities and small towns
can be unfriendly places.

“Perspective” is the word of the day. A lot of
people are telling me I need perspective as though perspective is a
physical object, a kind of diploma I’ll receive if I suffer
long enough in the real world. The “real world” being a
horrible, stressful place where everyone’s either out to get
you or couldn’t care less that you exist. Essentially the
same things they told me at the end of high school about
college.

It’s not that I doubt life’s ability to make me the
interesting person I’ve always dreamed of becoming. What I
doubt is that any one experience (or set of experiences, place of
residence, terrible or fantastic job, sight seen or derring-do
done) can change much of what keeps a person awake at night. Time,
place, location, occupation — these are secondary. It’s
always the stupid little things that make or break us — the
guys that steal our seats, the idiotic things we blurt out and
regret instantly and replay over and over in our minds every day
forever, the tiny little offhanded remarks that shatter our hearts
into a billion pieces. The small joys: long letters from dear
friends, cloud-watching, singing in the shower. Nearby Meijers and
good pizza, fountain pens and coffee at night.

Perspective on one’s place is illusive by definition. We
can’t really know where we stand until after we’re not
standing there anymore, but we can learn plenty about the world
from just about anywhere if we keep our eyes peeled and our minds
open. Sometimes we don’t need to change seats to figure out
that the back corner really is the best one in the whole room.

Henretty can be reached at
“mailto:ahenrett@umich.edu”>ahenrett@umich.edu.

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