Back to School
No doubt you'll breeze through freshman year on a combination of fear, naive enthusiasm, and bullshit. But get ready to slam headlong into the dreaded "sophomore slump." So how will you recover from, say, your 1.8 grade point average and, maybe, academic probation? Easy! Just follow these three simple rules.
Rule 1: Only take classes you like. That music history class sure looked easy, but omigod was it boring! And it met at 8 a.m.—what the fuck were you thinking? There are a shit-ton of inspiring classes out there on fascinating subjects you'll never have the time or energy to enjoy again. So take them. And don't buy into that crap about college being an opportunity to prepare for a career. You know that Introduction to Accounting course you're dreading? Now imagine doing that for the next 50 years. Trust your instincts.
Rule 2: Never argue for a grade. We know this rule might seem counterintuitive, but you need to completely give up caring about grades. This has to be about you and your own sense of pride and self-worth, not a desperate longing for the approval of professors and TAs. Also, your GPA will never recover from that 1.8 you got last term, so why discourage yourself by dwelling on it?
And most important of all...
Rule 3: Never, ever, ever take a class before 10 a.m. Preferably not before 11 a.m. Maybe noon. And try to avoid Fridays altogether. The point is, it doesn't matter how important that class is to whatever degree it is you think you want—or how inspiring that professor is supposed to be—if you can't drag your sorry ass out of bed and into the classroom on a regular basis. Know your limits!
Remember: No matter how crappy you did last term, your life isn't over—just your chance of getting into a decent grad school.
Your college is not a city; it is the controlled environment of a campus. Seattle is the city you are in: Get out in it. Be a pedestrian. Just start walking and go for a long time, up and down steep hills. When it rains, keep going. Stop in a coffee shop to dry off, and it will probably slow down anyway, or you can pull up your collar, put on a hat, and look like a private detective, which you kind of are as an explorer in any city, trying to figure out how all this works. When you take the wrong bus and get lost, you will get found again. If you panic, you will calm down again. Every form of travel constitutes a different lens—varying speeds, differently framed views—so you should walk, bike, train, bus. (Driving is not the best way to notice what's around you in a city.) You'll stumble across fields of unexpectedly spectacular graffiti. You'll figure out how long you can sit using the Wi-Fi at a cafe before you start to feel guilty for not buying more than one coffee. You'll be forced to deal with people poorer than you. Watching the changeover of businesses, and the heavy-duty action on construction sites, and the popping up and taking down of for-sale signs, and the different characters of different streets, you will start wondering about land use and street engineering, and traffic and power. If you see an art gallery, go in—it's free. If you see a museum, go in and ask—it's probably pay-what-you-can. Definitely, certainly use the Central Library. It is wild in there, and you should not expect it to be predictably easy to navigate, which is okay. Some of the best things come in shapes you don't recognize yet. This is the sort of learning you can't get in class.
It's okay to be curious. It's admirable, even. And firsthand experience is really valuable. So you want to learn what Mormons believe? Or you want to take a Dianetics-style personality test, to see what it feels like? Or you want to talk to the LaRouchies, to try to get to the bottom of whatever it is they do? Go ahead. Send away for the Book of Mormon. Give your e-mail address to the Scientologists. Walk up to those crazy people on the sidewalk with the Hitlobama photograph on their table. Talk to that overly enthusiastic blond guy at the party wearing the gi about his all-beet diet and how his bowels are the root of his human energy.
But you should be advised: Once you open the door to crazy, crazy isn't going to want to leave. That Book of Mormon will be followed by a pair of tenacious, pasty dudes in ties and short sleeves who will come to your apartment again and again until you agree to sit down with them. Captain Stool Sample is going to want you to come to his seaside healing energy workshop. And at some point, you're not going to want to go along any further.
Here's the important part, the way out of these situations: Say no. Mean it. Be firm. If being polite doesn't work, stop being polite. Just outright refuse. Tell the missionaries they are not invited to your home anymore. Unsubscribe and mark the e-mail as spam. When you're dealing with crazy, you've got to shut the game down entirely. Don't worry about their feelings; the thing about crazy believers is that they get rejected 350 times a day. And then, once they're gone, you have a hell of a story to tell, and you've confirmed that there's a whole shitty life experience you want no part of. That's about the sweetest feeling in the whole world.
"There's life outside a baccalaureate degree," says Mike Lawson, a teacher at Franklin High School who's been telling that to students for 18 years. Lawson teaches what used to be called shop (now called "career trades education" or CTE) and is righteously pissed that so many students graduate from high school thinking their only options are (a) a four-year liberal arts degree with a boatload of student debt or (b) a lifetime of poverty and sadness. There are other choices, especially in the trades—from carpentry to working on a ferry—that are completely viable options for those who don't, in Lawson's words, want to "sit in a classroom for another four years so they can go work in a cubicle and then die."
Trades apprenticeships, Lawson says, are available to pretty much anyone: "All you need is a good attitude and some basic skills, like knowing how to read a tape measure." Some of his students who've gone on to apprenticeships have also earned trades-relevant two-year degrees (which the unions paid for) and were making more than $100,000 a year by the time they were 25. Others work in the trades to put themselves through four-year colleges and graduate with a baccalaureate degree and years worth of experience.
Local trades organizations have annual career fairs, plus people who specialize in helping people like you study the options. You can begin your search with Washington Women in Trades (wawomenintrades.com), WA Building Trades (wabuildingtrades.org), and the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (lni.wa.gov). "With high schools teaching to the test, we've eliminated all the things that make life rich, that can help you find what moves your soul," Lawson says, meaning things like arts and trades education. "And that's a bunch of bullshit by companies that make tests and run universities. How did we end up with that?"
It is really scary to admit you fucked up. But the alternative—not admitting that you've fucked up and just ignoring problems, running away, or offing yourself—is markedly worse. So! You just flunked an important class? You've been accused of a crime? You have a drug problem? These are things you may need to discuss with your parents. Note: You do not need to tell your parents about every little wrinkle in your life. Make some mistakes, fix them yourself, and never tell your folks at all. However, when the fuckup is big, and you're seriously considering magic spells, time travel, or suicide to avoid admitting it, just remember: Your parents, in almost all cases, are grown-ass adults who can handle it, they are biologically programmed to love you anyway, and they would definitely prefer that you live. Just explain that you're freaked out, don't be defensive, apologize, get their help, and move on. It'll be okay! And if they're unforgiving, guilt-tripping dicks about it? Then it's not worth your time to worry about "disappointing" them. Get ready to start caring less about their approval.
Also, "talk to your parents" isn't the only option—maybe your parents are dicks, or maybe you don't have parents. There are truly compassionate and empathic humans out there ready to walk you through this, whatever it is. You just have to tell someone. Your campus has a health center, and health centers have counselors. If the counselor at your health center is a monster, leaving you feeling freaked out and alone, try calling the awesome people at the Seattle Crisis Clinic, 24 hours a day at 866-427-4747.