“So much crap in my head / So many rubbishy facts / So many half-baked / Theories and opinions / So Many public figures / I care nothing about / But who stick like pitch … So much crap, yet / So much I don’t know / and would dearly like to.” — from “Doves,” C.K. Williams
Past midnight when you decide to cut through the Law Quad. Be closer to 12:30 by the time you get to her house. Insincerely warm for November, the trees more than half empty already. The ivy burns crimson along corners the stained glass, leaves scatter out over the lawns like yellowed photographs. Slump down on the steps of the chapel and dig your palms into your eyes. Think. Just relax, and think, and an idea will come. Have plenty of time, just need to think.
Mutter a curse for not having a single Tums on you. Ought to know better by now.
It wasn’t suppose to be like this. Graduate early, you said, why the hell not? Seemed like a reasonable idea. Brain must be full by now, don’t want to over-polish it. Easier to find something in the winter. You’ll be ahead of the competition.
Simple proposals are the most dangerous, handing you a bucket of paint and luring you into a comfortable corner or skipping the pretense and matter-of-factly tossing you off a cliff. Your jaw is stone, your stomach is fire. You are a balloon to be popped.
Five classes and 40-plus hours a week at what theoretically still is referred to as a part-time job. Commitments replace friendships. Antacids replace food. Leave the embrace of the warm bed and Google job searches when you can’t sleep. The straining glow of computer screens replaces dreams.
Your father most likely still likes you. He thinks he is being helpful. He thinks you need to be reminded, prodded like a pack animal. He doesn’t sleep either. Learn to remember this; counting to 10 doesn’t always do the trick. Accept business cards from him and put them in your wallet. Promise to send the e-mail on Monday.
Well-rehearsed excuses buy extensions. Articles can be written on the page. Pretend to be a jazz musician improvising manic brilliance while hacking out what will make you shudder in the light of day. Nobody reads anyways.
Inconceivably strange and elaborate plans will start to make all sorts of sense if you simply repeat them often enough. Feel free to laugh while humming them like mantras. Eventually you believe them, like an addict conditioning himself on either side of rehab. You could work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. You could design cereal boxes and milk cartons. Somebody has to write People, somebody has to open a bar in Alaska with a genially eccentric parade of regulars, who at every turn have such remarkable and amusing insights that publishers/television execs would have no choice but to fall all over each other if somebody had the foresight just to transcribe their lives.
Strong minds bend too. Bells ring, you drool.
Nails are made to be bitten, honor’s an expendable commodity. Cross lines and fingers, check off lists. Snap at somebody at least once a day. Tunnels have lights, swear to yourself, tunnels have lights. Scowl like it’s going out of style. Wrap a paper napkin so tightly around your finger at lunch your friend will point it out to you and ask if you’re OK.
Make broad statements about economic cycles and hiring markets. You are shampoo, you are air-freshener. With the proper packaging everyone will want to buy. They will gather the children together in the den on bended knees and marvel that they ever thought they could get through a single solitary day without the awe-inspiring glow of your presence. Gee, they’ll say as they puff on their pipes and give the wife a playful squeeze, aren’t the marvels of modern living so conveniently swell?
The pile of books on the nightstand will get bigger. You will learn to play guitar later. Drum your fingers and wait, just wait. Carryout beats cooking anyways. People forgive you; it’s their job. Your third wind is usually the most important, the one that carries you through till morning. You’re probably too young for it to be arthritis. People get the chills all the time, literally all the time.
Remind others you are tired. The dry heaves don’t count as actually being sick. Pressure is a gift; nothing would ever, ever get done if it weren’t for the proverbial gun being shoved in your temple. Secretly hoard compliments while remaining outwardly indifferent. Think of it as balance. Try not to make her cry so much.
Sputter at earnestness; laugh at those who still raise their hands in discussion. Caring, are they actually caring? Volunteer nothing. Have your bag on your shoulder before the hours even up. If there is one immovable law of fashion, it’s that a scowl is always in style. Try not to dissect others, but assume they are dissecting you. Wear paranoia like a blanket.
Hold your breath whenever the computer freezes.
It all goes so quick.
And it’s over.
— Scott’s column earlier appeared as an essay for class. His editors initially vetoed this submission, but they now see the wonderful irony of a column about deadlines being on a deadline. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.