Day 26: Choices

February 9th, 2016

Joslyn, Hollie, Beth, Jamie

Shout out to my college friends Hollie, Beth, and Jamie

 I‘m taking part in a 30-day writing experiment. The theme for me is “personal, not pretty.” See Kale & Cigarettes for details and the Facebook Group to read stories by other 500-words-ers.

Something I saw on Facebook about the endless debate regarding spaces after a period (it’s one space; trust me and every single grammar expert and professional publisher on this) reminded me of a moment during my freshman year in college. That was many, many years ago, and a fuzzy time in general due to the malaise and the partying.

I went to college at Syracuse University. Don’t ask me why. It really was not a great choice for me, but I was 17 and from a very small town in Western Massachusetts and didn’t know anything about the world or making life choices. I had this idea I wanted to go “far away” to school. But I was too scared of flying to go anywhere that would require plane trips home. Syracuse was a 5-hour drive, which seemed like a good distance to put between myself and my hometown.

What I did not take into consideration was that Syracuse is a cultural pit of despair with the worst weather in the entire world. It regularly snowed 5, 6, 7 feet at a time, and I never had proper outerwear. I was always sick, and felt incredibly out of my element.

In my defense, the one time I had visited Syracuse, while I was prospecting for colleges during my senior year in high school, it was a warm, sunny fall day and the quad was a picture-perfect representation of the quintessential college campus: people just hanging out, smiling from ear to ear, with seemingly not a care in the world. I later found out through personal experience at Syracuse University that it is nice out roughly twice a year, and yes, everyone skips class and hangs out on the quad those two days, because they are rare and everyone is desperate for sunshine. The rest of the school year, they question their choices as they trudge off to way-too-early classes through a frigid wind tunnel created by the lake effect and tall, soulless dorms, icy tears freezing to their faces and strep germs eagerly looking for open orifices. The strep germs always win.

I did also spend one summer in Syracuse, and it is not cold in the summer. It’s hot as a goddamn. Syracuse is one of those places that goes straight from miserable, hellish winter to miserable, hellish summer overnight—forget about spring and fall.

The university itself is enormous and revolves mostly around the Greek system and sports—neither of which I was even remotely interested in. I ended up in the art school, where I found a niche, sort of. But freshmen year, I wasn’t yet in the art program. I started out as a photojournalism major, and because of that I was forced to take a lot of pedantic classes like “Punctuation Intensive 101” where a very small group of us sat around a conference table and had serious heart-to-heart discussions about punctuation.

During one such class, which I was taking with my friend Kristin, the utter seriousness with which the other students were taking the subject matter at hand—probably something about serial commas, or whether to use a hyphen, endash, or emdash—struck us as so inane and ridiculous that we had one of those medically critical giggle-fits where you are not in control of yourself and can’t stop. It did not go over well, in this small room with nowhere to hide.

At the time, I did not care at all about punctuation, but cared very deeply about not being a nerd. Trapped in that small space that afternoon, we could not help but be amused by the sheer silliness of people who seemed to have such serious and earnest opinions about punctuation. “Idiots,” we thought. “When can I get out of here and go get a beer?”

Now, the opposite. I love nerds, definitely am one, and have strong opinions about the proper use of serial commas, semicolons, and which type of dash is appropriate. And were I to do it all over again, I would choose a school with a little less snow, more nerds, less sports, more punctuation classes, less beer, and more distance between me and home.

There’s a whole world out there, unbeknownst to 17-year-old me.

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