Wednesday, August 1, 2012

You and the Occasional Wrinkle

You’ve come now to the conclusion that you were not all as different as you’d imagined when you began your university career.  Figure a third of thinking yourself the hotshot writer, out to conquer some territory, another third a perfervid idealist, and the rest a mixture of wanting to challenge every possible avenue and dirt path of authority you could find.

You and how many others?

Part of what brought this home to you was the longish commentary you wrote on the semester project of a gifted student from the last quarter, where you more or less laid out some turning points in the road ahead, based on the student’s presumption that the final project, while not ready to go off to a publisher quite yet, would, with a decent touch-up, be at that level.

An inherent joy in being at this student’s level of ability and of challenge is the presence almost everywhere of targets.  You were drawn back into the delicious memories of cutting a particular class you enjoyed in order to dash off a satire, then cut another class to polish it, by which time you’d be due for your stint at the daily newspaper, where there were the student equivalent of big bucks to be made for various editorial chores such as desk editing, copy editing, and sports editing. 

There was also the more daunting challenge of a day gig as proofreader, your complete ineptitude at spelling not presenting problems (thanks to the Merriam-Webster New Collegiate, 11th edition).

You were between ambitions related to graduate school, thus the grades you received were of less interest to you than what you could pry out of the excitement of the library and the instructor’s lectures.  You told yourself in all seriousness that if John Steinbeck could leave Stanford without taking a degree, the least you could do was stick around until you’d taken enough courses to exhaust your curiosity.

No, this is not a panegyric to undergraduate nostalgia or to rebellion for its own sake.  Less yet is it a sense of regrets for wasted opportunities or misdirected energy.  Truth is, you’d probably do much the same as you did then, even given what you know now because among the things you know now are awareness of youthful hubris, adrenals, and that exciting sense of wanting to reinvent things that had already been invented, only better.  Even then, you knew that many important things had been said, things you could not possibly keep up with on the basic level of reading them and learning about them.  Yet those you were aware of, your hubris whispered in your ear that you might try saying them better.  Or differently.  Thus would you leave your mark.

You are much the same person you were then.  Less hair.  Missing a few teeth.  The occasional wrinkle.  True, you listen better; take longer to do things, often by choice rather than so-called ravages of age.

But here’s the interesting thing:  You were in much more of a hurry then. Perhaps it was the hurry of impatience, of wanting to get on with life, to find the next place, after the university, the place you thought would be something like what you’re doing now, but without the teaching and the editing.

The fact of you being farther along on the throughline of your potential life span has not caused you an enhanced sense of hurry, even though there are now tangible projects, satellites orbiting about you, wanting your attention.  Of course you wish to engage them, but the time line of things taking longer extends to those as well.  You needed some time to write that report to that student.  The editing project before you is taking much longer than you supposed.

So what?

The difference now is the awareness that some things will not get done because there are so many things looking for devious ways to nudge themselves into the procession of the orbiting satellites.

This is its own best defense against the shadows cast by that rascally poem by Andrew Marvell, in which the narrator, with a touch of a manufactured sigh, mourns:

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot drawing near,
And yonder, before us, lie
Deserts of vast eternity…

Well and good; the flutter and whirl of the orbiting satellites drown out the clink and rattle of chariots.  The buzz of excitement comes from the orbiting ideas.  You reach out to catch them and wave at the impatient person you were back then, when you thought you knew what you were doing and how you were going to make things happen.

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