It’s 2:50 a.m., and I’m sitting in front of my computer. To my right sits an empty bag of nacho cheese Doritos and a bottle of diet Mountain Dew. I have a novel to start and finish reading in the next eight hours. It’s go time.
The Statement is The Michigan Daily’s weekly news magazine, distributed every Wednesday during the academic year.
Nights like these aren’t entirely irregular for many college students — running off fumes from the pre-packaged rocket fuel dispensed from vending machines, rushing to finish neglected schoolwork last minute.
I’m going to be honest: I hate that we live this way. And I say “we” because I know I’m not alone.
One glance at Yik-Yak is enough to tell me that I’m not the only one who procrastinates; I’m not the only one who feels lonely sometimes; I’m not the only one without a clue as to what I want to do “when I grow up”; and I’m certainly not the only one who is becoming increasingly aware how quickly time goes by and how little control I have over it all.
During the Fall 2014 semester, I took Political Science 315: Media and Public Opinion. The class was a crash course in understanding the psychology behind media persuasion, specifically through the lens of political campaigns.
One of the biggest topics of the course was this idea of “mortality salience.” Mortality salience is, essentially, the knowledge that one day, we are all going to die.
In the political sphere, this manifests itself in how we choose our leaders: because we’re doomed to death, while we’re alive, we look to the people who are going to keep us safest for guidance.
I understood the term’s application in the context of our course. But it resonated with me because for a while now, I’ve felt that time is going by faster and faster, and as a result, my mortality salience has skyrocketed.
All of this, I think, is just a part of growing up. And that’s what I really, really fear — that the older I get, the faster time will speed by. And that sensation isn’t helped by junk food-powered all-nighters that seem to make each day blend into one murky continuum, in which there is no time to pause and simply take it all in.
The astronomy class I’m in right now has also made me realize just how insignificant this all is. We live on a planet hurtling around a star, and that star is one of billions of stars hurtling through the galaxy, and the Milky Way is one of billions of galaxies in a universe that is slowly expanding every day. Relative to everything there is, we are equivalent to a fraction of a grain of sand.
If we’re so insignificant, and one day each of us is destined to simply … cease … then what’s the point? I guess I’m just a little bit sad, that’s all. Or rather, I feel really overwhelmed.
Overwhelmed by the day-to-day stuff that seems so important — grades and internship applications — and overwhelmed by how unimportant some of it is in the long run.
I realize that the most important thing is to recognize that, because time is limited, we must make the most out of every day. But therein lies another problem: I recently considered the idea that I haven’t been putting my all into everything I do.
In my first semester of college, I was a straight-A student. I was confident in my academic abilities. The full effort? It wasn’t there, but it didn’t need to be. I was cruising, and cruising felt good. I was writing for the newspaper, and that felt good. I was struggling socially, but talking to my high school friends on a regular basis was a remedy for that. Eventually, that struggle disappeared. Everything was, overall, okay.
But things aren’t as “okay” now. The more courses I’ve taken, the more I’ve become aware of the fact that I don’t know exactly what I’m passionate about. And because I don’t know what I’m passionate about yet, I worry that I’m wasting my time in some classes where the fire hasn’t been ignited. That’s a terrible feeling, and subsequently, I try to avoid it.
The hardest part is, this whole college thing — I’m supposed to make some kind of return off the investment, right? And the investment is so much more than prioritizing the newspaper over class, surfing the Internet for hours and hiding behind the façade that I don’t have enough time for the homework. The reality is that I’m just not making time for it because I don’t know what I want and that scares me.
I was an anxious kid. I’d get restless, panicked and even nauseated just by sitting in the same place for too long. I was also very idealistic: I had a vision for how the world should work, and when people failed to meet my expectations, I very easily became disappointed and frustrated. It wasn’t fair, but when people didn’t agree with me, I saw it as a personal affront.
So when, as an undersized fifth grader, pamphlets were presented to me in class about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, they really got to me. I went home crying that day, worried that there were substances that could impair my judgment and risk my safety.
I was doubly appalled that, in the vague but not-too-distant future, at least a handful of my friends would apparently be doomed to use these “scary” substances — and would subsequently pressure me to join them.
My heart would beat faster even when my parents had even one glass of wine at home — I didn’t want them to get drunk. Even after they explained to me that alcohol consumption is nuanced, and responsible adults know not to drink in excess, it took a while to sink in.
By high school, little had changed. Some of my friends began drinking and smoking, and I was not subtle in my disapproval. I avoided weekend parties at all costs, because A: I feared that I’d be unwittingly presented with substances, and B: I worried that I’d be too uncomfortable to enjoy myself.
When I got to college, part B held true. During Welcome Week of my freshman year, I found myself in the basement of a fraternity house. I hadn’t wanted to go, but a friend had suggested it and I figured that if college was about getting out of one’s comfort zone, I might as well give it a try.
After telling the drunk student manning the door that my friend Joe and I were “definitely going to rush” in order to gain entry, I stepped into a nightmare. The house was dimly lit by colored strobe lights. It reeked of marijuana and cigarettes. The floor was wet with spilled beer and cheap vodka. Red Solo Cups lined fold-out tables in the foyer, along with half-consumed handles of liquor and chaser.
I couldn’t hear my friend above the music, which was so loud that I could feel the bass reverberating through my body. There were so many people packed into the home that there was little to no room to move. It was very humid. Less than 10 minutes after arriving, I left.
I got drunk for the first time at a friend’s house toward the end of my first semester, sharing a case of Hamm’s beer — the cheapest and crappiest we could find — with three other guys. I had decided that if drinking was part of the process of becoming a college student, I was going to do it with a small group of people in a comfortable, contained setting. Here’s what shocked me: I liked the buzz. I liked how it felt. And liking it made me feel guilty.
We come into college believing that it’s where we’re going to find ourselves, make our closest friends, and have this epiphany where we realize our higher calling and pursue it with gusto. On top of that, I personally came to college with naïve notions about the “evils” of drinking and fears about other substances that I’ve since tried.
So far, I’ve found that the idealistic, picture-perfect version of things doesn’t hold true. That’s what really gets to me. Because right now, the 10-year-old version of myself who wanted to be an author (or a professional baseball player) and thought that he’d never touch an alcoholic beverage is kind of disappointed in me. I get that it’s not rational, but I still feel that disappointment, and I’m deeply conflicted by it.
The point here, going back to the beginning, is that I know I’m not alone. And I just wish people would talk about this more, beyond the confines of an anonymous mobile social media application. It’s the same logic behind the reason I love listening to melancholy Jackson Brown ballads when I’m feeling down: I’m comforted by the fact that someone else has, at one time or another, shared whatever pain I feel.
We need to be more honest — the world isn’t always everything it’s talked up to be, but that’s okay. Frequently I feel shackled by either fear of what the future holds or my childhood idealism. But I’ve learned it’s about being in the moment. I just don’t want that moment to end.