Thursday, August 18, 2011
Helpful Psychological Tip: If you want to maintain your self-esteem, never reread any of your papers or letters from high school or college. Seriously.
Old photos are bad enough. They bring back memories of long-lost hair, and of unfortunate fashion choices. But old papers and letters remind you of how you thought.
“Callow” would be a good description. “Painfully naive.” “Completely clueless.” “Trying so, so, so very hard.”
In reading them, I’m reminded of watching a child put on his father’s suit. Except that the child knows it’s play. I didn’t.
These were the days before email, let alone Twitter. Back then, “long distance” phone calls were hideously expensive and postage was cheap, so penniless students wrote letters. And by “wrote,” I mean “handwrote.” I haven’t used cursive for anything longer than my signature since I don’t know when, but there it is, in all its glory.
One particularly painful exchange from my senior year of high school, with a young woman who had just gone off to college, featured an exchange of...I am not making this up...poems. Apparently I had written and sent some to her -- really? I did that? -- for feedback, and she politely declined to critique them, noting that it would be “like Virginia Woolf critiquing Richard Brautigan.” (We tried soooo hard...) I’m sure I didn’t get it at all. Reading her letter now, it reeks of “what-ever...,” but I didn’t get that at the time.
You forget what the world looked like at 17...
I even found a picture of me with my college girlfriend, who later came out as a lesbian. (My preferred interpretation: you’ve had the best, why try the rest?) My mullet was mighty and untamed.
The most painful part is knowing that even if fortysomething me could time-travel back and give twenty-year-old me a clue, it wouldn’t have helped. I wouldn’t have understood it. Some things just have to be learned firsthand.
Every so often now I’ll see young students doing things that remind me of the callow, clueless kid I was. Part of me wants to pull them aside and give them a clue, but I know it wouldn’t work. To them, I’m just some old guy. They have to figure it out for themselves, as painful as that is.
If nothing else, the excavation exercise is usefully humbling. Some of those kids wandering around with deer-in-the-headlight expressions will eventually be fine; they just need some time to grow into themselves. And those of us on the other side can’t try to rush them. The generation coming up may never have this experience, since they never used paper this way. At least my juvenalia isn’t floating around on the web somewhere.
Meanwhile, the shredder is getting a hell of a workout.
Further, I think one advantage at a CC is that we have older students around. Some aren't a lot older, but they have matured a lot in Iraq or Afghanistan or after supporting a family for 5 or 10 years. We shouldn't hesitate to encourage students to help lead other students.
And whatever you do, don't give up! Didn't you learn from advice that was given to you but ignored at the time? Learning is not instantaneous, regardless of what the outcomes assessment mavens wish was the case.
Memo to TW and Brother of DD:
Fb is the repository of choice for old photographs, like those DD found without realizing he is still a young whippersnapper.
Helping Mom clear out a storage unit five years ago, I found a box of crap from my college days, including a few papers. I cringed for days. So very, very bad. If I ever have the misfortune of coming across a copy of my undergrad thesis, the popular internet phrase "KILL IT WITH FIRE" will be applied. Even thinking about it now makes me twitchy.
Letters to the ladies that appear to have been written in my hand in those days were all forgeries. Every last one. Forgeries crafted by my enemies to thwart my wooing at the time and make me look borderline brain-damaged in later years. An elaborate ruse designed to make me look like a buffoon. My enemies were clever, vicious bastards.
Using his "youthful" photo while posting a birthday greeting is lots of fun when enough years have passed by for you and many of your similarly aged friends. Also a good reason to keep any professional Fb page a long way away from your actual friends.
But it's also exciting, breathtaking, amazing, filled with wonderful people and things. I'm 63, and I can look back at the 17-30 me and see someone who's "callow" and "trying ...very hard" (I have re-read some of the editorial columns I wrote for my college newspaper) (and some of the letters I got from a young woman (then) with whom I'm still in touch). And I can see how difficult and awkward it was, but I can still feel the thrill of discovering new ideas and of connecting with people in wholly new ways and forming friendshipd still alive and vital affter 45 years.
Hope you enjoyed the time alone! Sounds nice for a couple of days.
I've kept all the personal correspondence I received through my 20s, neatly filed. I think of it as the good, the bad and the ugly.
Thanks for another great one.
A constant complaint from teachers, and one that's been constant throuhout history is "Students today can't even [fill in your pet gripe here]." It's what teachers said about US when WE were students. And it's what THEIR teachers said about them when they were students, too.
We'd all be a bit more sane (and maybe a bit more humane, too) if we remembered this the next time a student pushes one of our buttons.
Seriously, Catholic upbringings are just not compatible with kids who want to be their own persons and understand the world. Don't even try. You're just doing damage.