Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Remembering when the grass turned brown

Before I boarded my flight back home from my freshman year of college, my dad told me something he'd been keeping from me since September the year before. "Your uncle thought that by the time you were done with your first year, you'd want to go to a different school," he said. Apparently, thinking I was fickle for visiting one of the two schools I was most likely to attend and then soon after choosing to go to the other made my uncle think I was unsure of my decisions, unstable in making life choices.

At the time I was hurt. While I powered through my first year of college, hearing this testimony from my dad about a conversation he'd had with his brother made me think that instead of having my extended family root for me to do well, they were just waiting until I changed my mind and dropped the ball.

That kind of pressure is the worst. And it has made me re-examine myself in other ways.

While I try to avoid labeling myself as a "grass is greener on the other side" type, in some ways my uncle hit on something that is most definitely a part of my character.

"Someone once told me that grass is much greener on the other side."
Every quarter at school I think back on the last one, remembering how things were simpler then and wishing I could go back to several months before and not have to do what I'm doing now. I fail to realize that retrospect provides a much more glorified view of the past. What seems easy now is only so on the basis of false appearances because at the time it wasn't easy at all.

This quarter at school, I'm taking four academic classes that all require pretty extensive reading, essay-writing and test-taking. While in the beginning of winter I had quite a few breaks and time off, I soon settled into a routine of splitting up copious amounts of reading with the occasional leisure article on the New York Times, followed by an evening of studying.

I think back to last quarter. Only taking three classes and surviving by only doing the readings for two out of the three, I was in the lap of luxury. At least it seems like that now. But my time last quarter was one of the hardest of my life.

Grappling with feelings of inadequacy and stupidity, cramming all of my work into single evenings just to feel the satisfaction of being done and meanwhile waking up feeling depressed in the mornings because I was dealing with personal emotional issues, I'd venture to say this quarter has been a step up if not an entire flight up from where I was a few months ago.

But I still look at the past like some beacon of greatness.

In my children's media culture class, we recently talked about this notion that life a few decades ago was significantly safer than it is now. Parents used to let their children play in the streets on a Saturday afternoon without chaperones, or allow their urban kiddies to take the subway to the cinema without a second thought. But now there is this idea that the world is a much scarier place, even though statistics show that crime rates have not increased since those stereotypical "childhood golden years."

People have this tendency to look at the past and idealize it to the point of distortion. I once read somewhere that if you frequently recall a memory, you actually distort it every time you do so, making it even further from the truth than something that happened much longer before that you've only thought of once or twice.

I've thought a lot about last quarter. About restless nights and terrible mornings. About feeling overwhelmed with even a small amount of work. About absolutely needing time to waste watching QI or eating ice cream and listening to The Little Mermaid. But by overthinking the past and glossing over these moments of disruption, I've actually managed to forget how very terrible it was.

It's like ruminating on a relationship post-break-up. You start off feeling all the negative emotions that keep you from wanting to ever interact with that person again. Then the next minute, you've forgotten what it was you were angry about and instead start reminding yourself about all the good it was. You've selected only what you want to remember, even if that selection is not representative of the whole truth.

At the end of last year, I struggled. I picked myself up out of a slump, managed to get a 4.0 that quarter and went home for break feeling renewed. But just because I ended 2011 with a better outlook on life doesn't mean that those months before can be erased and replaced with happier thoughts. If anything, that's the worst choice to make.

In an ideal world our memories would be honest, kept in place no matter how many times we remember them. We wouldn't think back on our pasts and believe they were somehow infinitely better than reality. But in the real world it's not so easy to maintain truth and objectivity.

My uncle was very wrong about me wanting to leave the college I'd chosen. He was wrong in assuming I would change my mind and be fickle about my choices. But he was right in one way - I do idealize situations. I am, at heart, an optimist, and sometimes the grass really does seem greener on the other side, on the side of history. But the real truth lies in a further examination, when you finally realize that same grass went from green to brown quite quickly. And it's important not to forget that second half of the story.

No comments:

Post a Comment