Monday, February 13, 2012

College, I love this stupid place

Many things about college can make a girl feel hindered.

While the relative "freedom" to home is an inevitability that some may cite as their argument against my forthcoming complaints, I have to say that regardless of the amount of time to myself that I have in my dorm, I'm met by an equal if not greater amount of restriction. And the restrictions are as follows:

1. No feasible form of transportation anywhere, ever at all.

I have no problem with the El. As far as public transportation goes, it's absolutely stellar.

Okay wait, that was the most flat out untruth that I've ever written. Let's backtrack and start over.

I have many problems with the El. As far as public transportation goes, it's one of the worst I've ever experienced. Growing up in suburban southern California, I never had to think about buses, subways or trains. Driving is a way of life in Orange County - if you don't have a car then you are literally nailed to the ground because there is no other way to go anywhere.

But despite my own driver's license procrastination (I didn't learn to drive until I was 18), I've still never warmed up to the idea of most public transport systems other than the London Underground. And the Chicago El is, on par with the New York Subway, the most ridiculous excuse for transportation I've ever deigned to ride.

Should you want to go anywhere other than the next town over in less than an hour, you'd best become friends with someone with alternative modes of transport because the El will not take you anywhere in a reasonable amount of time.

This has prevented me from utilizing my college experience to the fullest extent due to an inherent distaste for spending more time sitting on a train than actually hanging out around town.

2. Why can't I make noise?

My home life back in California is filled with loudness. My dad and I crank up our respective TVs to full volume every night, him to watch ESPN SportsCenter, and me likely to watch Pride & Prejudice or Scrubs for the umpteenth time.

So living in a place where not only can you not play TV wars with your neighbors, but you also can't even have a simple phone call without being heard by half the floor, I feel like I'm being watched by Big Brother.

Sometimes when I talk to people on the phone now I find myself uncontrollably speaking at a softer decibel than my natural register. The need for privacy makes me neurotic outside of my room, and when I do forget to be quiet I punch myself later because I inevitably get an angry note or comment from a friend about it later.

Call privacy a luxury, but even as a college student living a communal dorm lifestyle, there are some levels of quiet that make this place feel more like a prison than a place of rest.

3. No one wants to go to the movies with me.

I'd say it's pretty unacceptable that among the perhaps half a dozen times I've been to a movie theater off-campus since freshman year, I have most often attended with my dad. My dad lives 2,000 miles away and rarely visits me in the Midwest. So why is he my most frequent film companion?

I find myself falling way behind in film knowledge for most of the year. When people I know mention the movies they've seen in theaters, the ones that are coming out that they're planning on seeing soon, I realize that I barely even know what's in theaters.

At home I pass by my local theater's marquee fairly regularly. Even when I don't know what's in theaters, at least I know things by name. And being a Film & Media Studies minor, sometimes not knowing about the latest film craze is a little embarrassing, even if I can excuse myself by the fact that I live a freezing cold walk to the cinema.

Maybe it's a silly complaint, but movies mean a lot to me and I feel strangely cut off from that world for all seasons save summer.

4. I can't buy what I want.

You don't recognize the value of a generic low-expense grocery store until the only produce market within walking distance is a Whole Foods. Even with enough expendable cash to buy a bushel of organic apples (should I choose to make such an immense purchase), it's hard not to be bogged down by the weight of "well there are apples in the dining hall."

Convenience is an excuse for lesser quality. It's true with places like 7-Eleven and fast food joints like McDonald's. And it's true for dining halls.

To be honest, frugal and careful as I may be, I'd love to feel the necessity of going out shopping and buying produce I actually want to eat. Is there really any value in mealy apples and spotty bananas when I could be going to the grocery store and getting juicy nectarines and red seedless grapes? Only in the fact that if I didn't do it I'd actually be wasting more money having paid for those awful apples and bananas already.

Why I still love this stupid place:

Also, it's sometimes really pretty here.
Annoyed as I am that I can't walk down the street and buy all the apples I want for a reasonable price, I don't think I could ever be happier at a school than I am here. I complain about the inefficiencies, the necessities that are not met unless my dad visits and rents a car in which to drive me to Target and back. But this year and a half (and forthcoming two years give or take a few quarters) has been one of rewarding experiences in every way.

I've learned the extent of my strength against separation anxiety. I've discovered how to forcibly put myself in awkward situations even if I am aware that I will be permanently out of my comfort zone. I've come to value the necessity of certain luxuries like a supermarket. And I've realized that even without those luxuries, I am not utterly helpless.

There are alternatives to everything, even those things that feel like they're sectioned off from cafeteria-fed, thin-walled room living college students. So even when I could rip my hair out from tension and annoyance at needing more contact solution and having to pay twice my average price at CVS because there is no other option, at least I know these are things I can handle.

College freedom is constantly battling with college restrictions. We long for our Emerson-esque notions of self-reliance and proclaim to others that gourmet food shopping is a luxury. But in the end, reconciling haves and wants does not always have to end in a transcendentalist conclusion. Maybe minimalism isn't the key, but balance is.

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