Every year, around the end of July, I start to get really nostalgic. Back-to-school time is creeping up on us, and it always makes me miss being a student (not to mention a teacher). I was one of those kids who lived for back-to-school. The new always wore off within a month or so and I was sick of it again (because they made me do math), but I always loved going back to school in August. I would get really excited when school supply lists came out. Going school supply shopping was like Christmas. Those clean notebooks! Those sharp new pencils! Those fresh erasers! Joy!
And with college, it just got even better, because along with buying new school supplies, I also got to–nay, had to–buy new books. Well, some used, of course, because everyone knows that if you take the time to go through the used books, you can often find nearly new ones (i.e., ones that once belonged to slackers who basically never cracked them open and certainly never made any highlighting or anything) for the used price. But still…books! So many books! Every semester, a new set of books!
This year, as I started to wallow in my morose back-to-school nostalgia, I realized it has been ten years since I graduated from college. Ten. Years. I was already feeling old because, much to my irrepressible glee, overalls and Birkenstocks are everywhere again, which means I’m now old enough for my high school closet staples to have gone out of style and come back in again. But to realize that college was officially ten years ago…it was a bit jarring.
College–that is, my four years as an undergrad–is the one period of my life so far that I would totally relive if I could. I recall high school with much more lingering fondness than I would have expected, but I have no desire to relive those days. And it’s not that I would go back and change everything about my college days, mind you–I’m a firm believer in that cheesy platitude that everything happens for a reason, and if I had changed a whole lot about my life trajectory, I wouldn’t have met Mr. Mostafa, and I wouldn’t have Lavender. But I miss so much about college life at the University of Missouri.
I chose to go there because it was the biggest university in my state. Unsurprisingly, coming from a high school graduating class of 29 to an incoming freshman class of over 5,000, my first few semesters knocked me on my ass, academically and otherwise. Encouraged by my mom (who I’m pretty sure just wanted to make sure I was surrounded by people who were obligated to look out for me lest their membership numbers drop), I did sorority rush (or “recruitment,” as it must be called), and I joined a sorority, and I was immediately terrible at being a sorority girl (although, ironically enough, that is where I really picked up my cross-stitching habit as an adult–endless chapter meetings on Monday nights. Cross-stitching was the one part of being a sorority girl that I was good at). I lived in my sorority house for a year and a half. And then when I moved off campus as a junior, I quit the sorority because I didn’t see the point of paying to be a part of a group of girls with whom I had nearly no meaningful connections, anyway.
Needless to say, sorority life is not something I have ever missed about college. Nor have I ever missed the loneliness. Despite being surrounded by people all the time, college was pretty lonely for me, because even though I did have a few wonderful friends at Mizzou, my best friends were in the southern part of the state, at what is now Missouri State University (and where I would end up going for my master’s, and where I would meet Mr. Mostafa), and I didn’t fit in at all. It seemed like I was completely surrounded by affluent kids from St. Louis and Kansas City who all went to private schools (to this day, when I drive through St. Louis and see cars with Lou Fusz emblems on them, I think of all the shiny new cars lining the streets of Greek Town, which belonged to kids whose parents had bought them new cars for their 16th or 18th birthdays).
Add in the reality that I’m really socially awkward in any place I happen to be, and yeah…it’s safe to say that in many ways, I was a square peg in a round hole.
Because of that, I don’t miss football games or basketball games or any other such school spirity things. I hardly ever went to those things; in fact, on weekends when I didn’t head to another part of the state, I usually went grocery shopping and did my laundry during football game times because I knew places wouldn’t be busy then. I don’t miss partying, because I never felt any inclination to do so even when I had the chance. I don’t miss waiting for the weekends, because nearly every weekend, I was gone, either home with my parents (and sometimes my friends, when they were home, too) or in Springfield with my friends.
But looking back…I sure do miss a lot of other things. Some are silly, like York Peppermint Patty Bites, to which I’m pretty sure I would be addicted to this day had they not long since been discontinued, and which I always used to grab from the university bookstore while walking to or from class. And Shakespeare’s Pizza, which, in my mind, is still the greatest pizza in the history of ever (even Mr. Mostafa agrees). And other things, while small, seem more meaningful.
I miss walking around campus, whether to class or work, with my iPod earbuds in my ears, trying to imagine what my life would look like in five years, always envisioning those songs on the soundtrack of my life in that imagined future. I miss all the daydreaming that was involved in this ritual.
Like I said, I miss buying books. I miss registering for the next semester’s classes. Here’s where my nerdery is really going to be on display–I always got really excited on the day that the next semester’s class schedule got released, so I could settle in with hard copies of both the schedule and the university course catalog and plot out my courses for the next semester.
And as I mentioned a few posts ago, I really miss the darkroom.
I worked at the Current Periodicals desk in Ellis Library in my senior year, and I miss that a lot. I loved working in the library. It was a pretty simple job, but it gave me tons of time to…you know, read. Not only did I get to study when not helping people, but I also discovered some pretty great media that way, stuff that I probably never would have discovered otherwise.
I miss listening to viewpoints I completely could not ever fathom agreeing with, but listening anyway. When I was at Mizzou, Jed Smock and his family lived in Columbia, which meant that we students were lucky enough to get a large amount of Bro Jed’s hellfire-and-brimstone preaching, because he would frequently set up his folding chair in Speaker’s Circle. Back then, I always enjoyed taking a seat around him on some sunny afternoon and listening to his sermons, even though I disagreed with basically every word he said.
Much more broadly, I miss learning all the time. Not that I’m not still always learning in a different way, but I miss structured book learning. I miss having the opportunity to study things all the time. The other day, a friend of mine on Facebook mentioned that she was going to buy some used textbooks when she was back in the States, so she could feel like she was learning something. I think I’ll put that on my to-do list, as well. I already Google for syllabi of classes that I would like to take, and I save the books in my Amazon cart. But you know what? I think the next time I’m home, I’m going to go to the university bookstore and just cruise through the textbook section and pick out some textbooks on the spot.
I like to live dangerously.
I may not get around to digging into random textbooks for awhile (after all, I am still embroiled in official academic pursuits of my own, like an ant mired in honey), but they’ll be ready for when I am. And that alone will be comforting, I think.