This essay (probably a draft yet to come) will be part of my application to UWO’s Master’s in English program.
Today is September ninth, Two-thousand-three, I’m nearly twenty-five years old, and I still don’t have a clue what it is I’m doing here.
Ten years ago – no, that’s too many – eight years ago, I was starting my junior year of high school, and I was riding a wave of confidence and self-assuredness that would carry me through the next two plus years. I was a kid who had a lot of friends, enjoyed school, got along with teachers, and had a good job for one who’s sixteen. I was even sure of what I was going to do with my life.
I envy the kids who were like that and, eight years later, find themselves in the place they envisioned back then. I remember thinking of the future (the one that I’m living now) and I imagined what it would be like.
I’d be out of college for two-and-a-half years.?â€¢
I’d be writing for some newspaper in Wisconsin.?â€¢
I’d have a girlfriend – check that, a fiancÃ© – who I’d be planning to wed in the next six to eight months.?â€¢
We’d live in an apartment, because we want to move around some before settling for good.?â€¢
I’d have enough money, but not a lot; enough to be happy.?â€¢
I don’t know how those people who start planning when they’re in high school (and my sincerest apologies if you are one of those; we should sit down and talk some time) can do it. How do they know? What’s different about them from the experience I’ve had?
You can extrapolate from this diatribe that I have not been able to check those items off my list all too cleanly in the past eight years.
I took four-and-a-half to finish college, and it’s been almost two more since then.?â€¢
I got out of the journalism major in my first semester.?â€¢
I haven’t had time or interest in a romantic relationship for over four years.?â€¢
I live with my sister and her long-term boyfriend.?â€¢
I make just enough money to pay a few bills.?â€¢
I’d like to share with you here some of the knowledge that I’ve accumulated in the last eight years that’s propelled me in this direction, and ultimately, I’d like to talk to you about where I think I’m going from here.
You see, the thing that I can’t comprehend about those people that planned so brilliantly at sixteen is how they are able to predict the future. I arrived at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh almost exactly six years ago, and I changed more attitudes, opinions, interests, and values than I knew I had. All of these things added up to a future not only dissimilar, but nearly opposite the one my sixteen-year-old self had concocted. I suppose the others who were able to stick to a plan from sixteen didn’t so much need a crystal ball and a fantastic talent for premonition; only a soul less malleable than mine. They had a plan and stuck to it, either because their convictions were so strong, or they wore blinders all throughout, ignoring the world turning round them.
That was what sent me from journalism to speech communication to radio-television-film to religious studies and back through again: a predisposition to delve into different topics and test the waters. I consider myself one who deeply appreciates at least a little knowledge in a vast array of disciplines, which is simultaneously a blessing and curse. It means I can be interested (even fascinated) in a score of vocations, and yet a sliver of my mind remains ever vigilant for something new that might be MORE fascinating.
I suppose you might say I “rolled” through the university with this attitude, this panache for dabbling in all sorts of different things, because when I came out on the other side, and I needed to choose something to do with myself, my number one choice was to continue dabbling. There are precious few companies in America that are looking for Career Dabblers, and while you might think that having knowledge of a little of this and a bit of that would make a number of different avenues available to you, the opposite is actually true. When you’re twenty-two and you’re asking a human resource director for a job, they want some evidence that you possess a level of expertise in the field. Dabbling won’t lift you up to a pedestal from which you can hop to whatever you want; it will abandon you on the ground, looking up to everything. When I finished my degree at UWO, the profession I was best qualified for was to be a student.
Ironically, through all the change and redirecting that I’ve done these past eight years, a passion that I’ve held even longer than that has always remained (although at times subdued), and that passion for writing is the one I’ve ultimately decided will be best to cultivate.
A writer has the unique privilege of choosing anything on his mind to write about. A writer really could dabble in whatever things he likes on the side, and he can fuel his writing with those experiences. But, I never received any formal training in writing through all the time I spent in college, so how could I claim to be professionally proficient?
Here I’d like to briefly discuss the post-modern, Western understanding of the nature of a student, and how it might be thought of differently. A student in America is, in many ways, a child. It is an immature, underdeveloped being that will, given instruction, study, and commitment, grow into a professional, which is the median point between student and expert. A student, whether intentionally or not (whether consciously or not), will be thought of as “a little less” than a real person.
This is not an inaccurate description, although it is an incomplete one. A student (one who studies, who learns) is open to new things, is accepting of someone else’s perspectives, and is well aware of the fact that their knowledge is and will always remain incomplete. In these ways, a student can be wiser than a professional; at least the professional who fancies himself an expert. What about the professional who understands that the wisest among them is always a student? That person is a teacher. That’s the sort of professional I’d like to be.
I like to think I continue to know my past selves fairly well, and my sixteen-year-old self would have trouble understanding what it was that caused me to stray from the envisioned path. The thing I feel I would do, the thing I’d try to teach him, is that the path I’m on now is not wrong. The one he is on is not wrong either. The greatest lesson that I’ve come away from the past eight years with is that knowledge and experience, at least those that we talk about in the humanities, are never fixed or certain. The rightness of an idea can always be challenged, and learning is the quest of perpetual challenge.
I can think of no better way to continue that quest than to share my experiences with others, and to grow through contact with theirs. By becoming more proficient in writing, and by teaching others in kind, we can explore the depths of any and all knowledge we choose, to the ultimate benefit of generations to come. I said earlier that even after all the years, I don’t know what I’m doing here. That’s only because I’m formulating the answer all the time.