I may be graduating in the spring. Or I may not be. It becomes less and less clear as I stare deep into the LSA Course Guide and try to decipher its dry recipes: one part Upper Level Writing (didn’t I already take that twice?), two parts Social Science and an attempt to fit in a minor to taste. I wish my mom were here to set up a play date with my academic advisor. Roll over in bed, check Instagram. Why does everyone hate my generation again?
Georges Perec’s Things: A Story of the Sixties is a tribute to another generation in which a hunger for material and immaterial things (experiences, clothes, prestige and likes) hid the emptiness of people’s lives. Its perpetually frustrated characters are described as being caught in a web of their own vast desires. As I think about my own future, the idea of paralysis by sheer magnitude of aspiration first introduced to me through Perec’s work comes to mind. I want to be a filmmaker. I want to make money. I want to help people. I want to move far away. I want to stay close to home. I want everything and act upon nothing. I envy mercilessly: cheapening what I have by peering over my neighbor’s wall and coveting their summer internships.
In the black silence of greed I wallow. I take online personality quizzes that are supposed to tell me what careers would be a good fit for my personal brand of incompetence. Apparently I’d make a great guidance counselor or carpenter. Maybe I should change majors.
I am invited to the Rhodes Scholars reception. Mistakenly, I think it is an informal information session so I go wearing a sweat suit and smelling like yesterday’s pizza. As the wine and cheese pageantry climaxes the candidates for the various fellowships offhandedly list their accomplishments, I wonder what types of time management strategies go into winning research awards by day and fighting crime by night. What would these Sunday-best baby geniuses do if I lifted my coffee cup and poured its contents on my head? I leave and make a mental note to work harder to end global warming.
They have jobs for people like me at specialty coffee shops and white-walled minimalist boutiques. I’ll be excellent at greeting costumers with intelligent, noncommittal banter, allowing them to peruse their options with amused ease. My fellow employees will love me for my well-constructed work time playlists and caffeine-induced bursts of creative energy (which will result in elaborate window displays and behind-the-counter tomfoolery). I might even get a new boyfriend who plays bluesy guitar in a band that’s blowing up on the local scene. He won’t let me shoot his music videos because he has a friend who could do it better, but I’ll take many Vines with perfect shot compositions. I won’t have to live in my parents’ basement because they’ll let me use my old room with its bumbling mountains of camp photos and young adult literature. “You’re still my little girl,” my mom will say as she drops me off for work, “Don’t forget to e-mail your résumé to Dad’s friend tonight.”
For now I let myself love this cocoon of a university, its Midwestern warmth, its self-assured machinery. Every day I walk its campus, my flaws and strengths become more evident; defeats scab over with time and experience while victories are cauterized by reality’s harsh flame. This is a place that has made me feel incredibly proud of myself, yet small as hell, hellishly small, looking the wrong way through a telescope. Michigan is the place where I began to fathom how much someone my own age can accomplish. It is where I fumblingly began to understand the concept of self-discipline and the power of the uncool. Maybe I will end up as a professional coffee crafter, queen of the pour-over brew … but Michigan keeps whispering that maybe I will accomplish something beyond my own vast imaginings, past Hollywood and Wall Street, around the curve of Madagascar, to the stars.
I may be graduating in the spring. Or I may not be. For now I dance the Mambo No. 4, the fourth year, the senior shriek, hoping that the future is as bright as they say.
Sophia Usow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.