Life Without Bullet Points

Should I write you a list? Is that what writers are meant to do these days? Elaborate concoctions with rules and guidelines, the do’s and don’t’s. Should I pick a nice round number of ways to make it through your … Continue reading

5 Things They Don’t Teach You in College

(an irreverent list by an even more irreverent post-grad in possession of a history degree that apparently only truly prepares you to live at home with your parents even though you are almost twenty-five and technically not a dependent according to the IRS.)

I learned a lot of things in college. Most of these things don’t really translate to marketable skills that would fit on a resume. Things like calligraphy, the art of spending the least amount of money possible at Taco Bell, or pulling all nighters for a week straight. Or writing your fifty page senior thesis the night before it’s due. (That is a true story and a point of pride for me. Not that my professors were ever made aware of it.)

I learned some interesting tricks at the small private Christian college I attended in Portland, OR. But as illuminating as my education was on a purely academic level, it left out a few key survival skills that would probably have been helpful as an adult who is supposed to be mature and able to make her own way in the world. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my patient friends I’d probably be useless.

So…here are five things I wish they had taught me at college!

1. How to NOT be an introvert.
I’m rather shy. I could expound on this for an entire post, but let’s just say I was homeschooled. (You’re nodding in sympathy now, huh? Yeah that usually clears a few things up…) I’m quiet and I don’t like the venture outside of my comfort zone. I’m told you usually get over this in college. You know, when you’re forced to live with people you’ve never met? Not me. No, I became very good friends with the library and my books and my laptop and the Hollywood video store down the street. Also with my professors. I knew they wouldn’t expect me to make plans with them on Saturday nights.
Of course, if they had offered a class on small talk or unleashing your inner extrovert, I probably wouldn’t have signed up. Unless it was online.

2. How to live alone.
I think in my entire life I’ve only lived alone for the span of two months a couple years ago when I was in Vegas. And it was not by choice. Growing up and in college, I lived with people, more specifically with loud and occasionally obnoxious and rather dramatic women. Thought I heard a creepy noise down the hall? There were about 15 other women who would check it out with me. Left my purse in my car in the dark parking lot? I could drag my roommate into the wilds while I retrieved it. Feeling sick? My roommate would check on me every so often to make sure I wasn’t dead. It’s nice to live with people.
Unfortunately, being adult means sometimes having to be on your own. And I really don’t know how. Because who do I talk to when I have really awesome moments of brilliance and most of my friends hate talking on the phone? Or when I want to make a midnight run for ice cream and need an accomplice to justify my junk food choices? Or when the cute guy at the store looked at me and I need to dissect every nanosecond of the encounter while “cleaning” the apartment? Living alone is the worst. Especially when it comes to cleaning…

3. How to come up with legitimate excuses to get out of things.
I liked to skip out on classes a lot. I was kind of a terrible student, even if my grades said otherwise. Didn’t want to get dressed and walk across campus? Forgot to do an assignment? I’d send a quick email to the professor coming up with some ridiculous excuse. (I was sick a lot. And I may have once implied a family drama…) And I got away with it. Mostly I think the professors didn’t really care because I’d do the work anyway.
But this set a bad precedent. In the real world, saying “I feel kind of vaguely and non-specifically –insert lie here—“ isn’t going to get you out of anything: not work or bills or that blind date that your friend rescheduled five times. (That last one is hypothetical. I don’t date ever.) And it’s hard to fake a family emergency when you work for your family. And the credit card companies don’t care if you missed a payment because you felt a little under the weather. Guess that whole responsibility thing isn’t limited to alcohol consumption.

4. How to pay back your school loans.
Colleges are really good at getting you take out loans. Trust me. And anytime I buy anything these days or hear about people making extravagant purchases, my first thought is “how much of my loan payment would that cover?” The second thought is “how many books could I buy with that?” Loans are pretty necessary to going to college these days. And the cost is high. It’s a commitment, one the government tells you is worth it.
Of course, since the government makes money off the whole thing, they would say that. It would have been nice if in between handing me the loan papers and watching me sign them, the loan counselor had given me a chart on how to pay those back before I die. Or informed me that liberal arts isn’t necessarily the most cost efficient degree. Or suggested that maybe I just wait until I actually know what I want to do before I aimlessly spend thousands of dollars on something I’ll change my mind about later. Ugh.

5. How to answer the inevitably “why are you still single?” question without seeming like a spinster.
Granted, I went to a Christian college. They probably assume you’re going to find the love of your life within the first semester, court for the second semester, then get engaged and married before you even graduate. So being single at graduation is the exception rather than rule, leaving the idea that some people might need to come up with a reason for not having a significant other sounding ridiculous.
But it would have been nice to have a list of reasons. Especially around the holidays when aunts and uncles wonder if I’m ever going to settle down. And when my sister’s friends meet me and say ”you’re going to be an awesome aunt.” And when people email me asking for relationship advice and I have to explain how I have no experience. Yeah, I would have signed up for that class. It would have been more useful than Golf 101.

Thank you for reading! And maybe (definitely) follow me on Twitter. I’m pretty entertaining.

My blank slate.

My mother once said I was a doormat. It was about five years ago, during an especially difficult year at college, and I was incensed. My mother, the woman who should be building me up and encouraging me as my friendships were falling apart, stood across the counter from me, looked me in the face, and said I was a doormat. I let people walk all over me. I didn’t do anything for myself. I wasn’t the girl she had raised, the woman she knew I had become. I wasn’t me anymore. (She’s pretty no nonsense, my mother.)

I wouldn’t hear it. I refused. She didn’t know me. I spent most of my time down in Portland for college. I only saw my family about one weekend a month, and I talked to them on the phone even less. I’m not usually the sort to wallow in self pity, but what my mom said kept going through my mind. I heard it in my sleep, while I was reading, as I watched a movie. The words kept pestering me, insisting I hear them and remember them. They demanded my attention.

My mother, as mothers usually are, was quite right in her rather determined diagnosis. After some reflection and a healthy dose of brutal honesty, I agreed. I was a doormat. No, I had become a doormat, which wasn’t the same at all. Because that means at one point, I wasn’t a doormat. I wasn’t someone who lost her sense of purpose, her goals, her own personality. I wasn’t what everyone made me into. I was solely and completely myself. I was my own driving force. But at some point, between high school and college, I receded. I dimmed. I faded into what my friends wanted me to be, what I thought guys wanted me to be, what I thought society wanted me to be. I forgot myself.

When I remember my first year of college, I remember myself as a blank slate; tabula rasa. I walked onto campus and was ready to become. I could shed everything I was and start fresh. I didn’t have to worry about pleasing my parents, my church, my friends, or if I’m completely honest, God. I could make myself into the best version of Cassi. It was all up to me.

But it wasn’t. I gave it up and handed it over to everyone else. I let other people determine me, create me. I passed them the pen and let them write on me, on my blank slate. I let them cover me in what they wanted, in what they needed. I let them leave their mark on me.

I’ve let men write on me, on my body, on my mind, on my heart. I’ve let them write their taste in music on me, their taste in “film.” I’ve let them write their opinions and beliefs on me. I’ve let them write their sexual type on me, their idea of pretty, hot, or beautiful. I’ve let them write their dominance on me, convincing me of my inferiority. I’ve let them write their fantasies on me, setting me up to fall short. I’ve let them write their expectations and needs on me. I’ve let them write their insecurities and physical desires on me. I’ve let men write their “ideal” on me, tattooing it on my heart and soul.

I’ve let women write on me. I’ve let them write their personality on me. I’ve them write their taste in clothes on me. I’ve let them write their paranoia on me. I’ve let them write their gossip on me. I’ve let them write their self esteem issues on me. I’ve let them write their negativity on me. I’ve let them write their flare for the dramatic on me, their addiction to the spotlight. I’ve let them write their pettiness on me. I’ve let them write their need for attention on me. I’ve let them write their idea of femininity and sexuality on me. I’ve let them write their history with men on me. I’ve let them write their depression, ignorance, and immaturity on me.

Everyone I met left their own tattoo on my skin, marking me whether I allowed it or not. I couldn’t erase them. They overwhelmed me, swallowed me whole. I tried to write over them, using word after word to cover up the ones I didn’t like. The words on my skin clashed, becoming run-on sentences and incomplete thoughts. I became a mess of everything, and the sum of nothing. I would stand in front of the mirror, look at myself, and see only a stranger. I would see what everyone else wanted or demanded of me. I saw what they needed, but not what I needed. As I tried to cover the words, they only dug deeper, leaving scars on my soul. And then, I stopped caring. I let the words be, letting them define me. I became them.

It is difficult to un-become something. It shouldn’t be, not when you didn’t want it to begin with. But you become used to it, comfortable with it. You look in the mirror and you start to recognize it. Even when you don’t want it, you cling to it, because somewhere along the way it started to make sense. You began to understand each other.

But we never, I believe, completely fade away. We never give up everything, because there is always a little part of us we strive to protect; that one thing we treasure, the one part of ourselves we are proud of. Perhaps it lies dormant, waiting until we are ready to accept it, to unleash it as we shed the words others have given us.

All the men I’ve met can’t erase their marks from my skin. Neither can the women undo their scarring tattoos. They can’t fix me or renew me. Some of the wounds go too deep. Some of them hurt worse than others. I can’t erase the marks from my skin. I don’t have the strength, it seems, to look in the mirror and say, “I need to start over. I need a new blank slate.” I don’t have the patience or the will. But truthfully, I don’t have the heart. It was too much responsibility that first time, having a blank slate. And I ruined it; I let others ruin it. And I don’t think I can put myself through that again.

I’ve stopped trying to cover myself in the words I want. Humans are nothing if not fickle creatures, and I have the tendency to change my mind between one breath and the next. So I don’t write on myself, but rather on paper. I write for myself, for the God who made it so, for the God who protected that part of me. Every so often I catch the glimpse of my fading tattoos, and ask God to take them from me. I give them to Him, one at a time, and He erases them from my heart and soul. He is patient with me, not demanding I give everything up at once, not hating when I stubbornly cling to some of them. He loves me through my healing, gives me grace when I may not deserve it.

He writes on me now. He wrote a new purpose on me, a new goal. He gave me permission to be something I never thought I could be. He wrote hope and love on me. He wrote potential on me. He wrote imagination on me, and a bit of creativity. He wrote forgiveness on me. He wrote desire and dreams on me. He wrote all the words I didn’t think I could have, didn’t think I deserved. But He gave them to me, one by one, when He knew I was ready for them. Some mornings I wake up and look in the mirror and see that God left a new mark on me, a new word He meant only for me. And I smile at them and work to become them.

Thank you for reading! Follow me on Twitter.

Valued but not invaluable.

I have an awkward love/hate relationship with stress. Actually, its probably not a relationship so much as an acknowledged coexistence. But its not one of those productive, balanced symbiotic relationships. No, its an imbalanced mess from hell. I tend not to stress out about the things that I have the power to change, fix, or control. Things like homework, packing, getting the house ready for a party; those things were a walk in the park. Why? Because it is solely up to me how they turn out. What was the point of worrying over finishing a paper when I knew that I was going to eventually get it finished? I knew I was going to sit down and write it, so there was no reason to stress over it. It would be finished on time (which means couple minutes before the actual deadline). The night before my college senior thesis was due, I wrote fifty pages about paradoxes and nonconformity and history and computer science and art, but never once did I freak out and think, “Good Lord, I’m not going to finish. I’m not going to get this done. I don’t have enough time. I’m going to fail and not be able to graduate.” No, I thought, “I wonder if I can squeeze in a forty-five minute nap between the last section and my conclusion.” Obviously I’m unstable.

And then there are the other things. The big things. The aspects of our lives that we only dissect during the ungodly hours past midnight and before dawn. Those frustrations that we manage somehow to shove into compartments in the recesses of our minds, but like to bring out during the times when we should be relaxing and possibly dreaming about attractive men and shopping sprees. These are things we stress over: our finances, our careers, our relationships (or lack thereof), our futures. I lie in my bed at night and fret over things that are a little bit out of my control, things that I don’t really have much of a say in. Sometimes I’ll be alone and my problems blindside me, knocking me over and leaving me breathless, as if to remind me that it would be silly to think they had somehow solved themselves and disappeared.

I’m in debt. It was I choice I made when I decided to pursue my education. Going to college was, for me, merely a question of when and where. School was the only thing I was truly good at, the only skill I seemed to have developed. So as an undergraduate, I took out loans to cover my room and board (I was blessed with a full-tuition scholarship; I’m not sure how I could have possibly managed without it); as a graduate student, I took out even more. I justified the large amounts to myself, saying that you can’t put a price on knowledge, academics, and a good education. And maybe I couldn’t put a price on it, but the federal government could and did.

We live in a society where education is “valued” but is not “invaluable.” We are told that we need it, we need that piece of paper saying that we passed the tests and wrote the papers. We need the degree that somehow means we have achieved an expertise in something. We need to borrow thousands and thousands of dollars for an education, only to be sent out into the world and be told that there aren’t enough jobs and we don’t have enough experience. In the end, we didn’t need it, we shouldn’t have wanted it, and a piece of paper is just a piece of paper. And while we scramble trying to make it work, the government comes calling, and that priceless education is now given a monetary value that is expected to come out of my minimum wage, part-time paychecks. Its kind of cute really.

What isn’t cute? The horrid feeling of dread that I can’t seem to shake. The deep acknowledgement that at some point over the last six years I must have made a mistake: I picked the wrong major, I picked the wrong school, I picked the wrong career path, or perhaps I didn’t really pick a career path at all. I walk around and feel as if I am drowning and know there is absolutely nothing that anyone can do to fix any of it. That even I, to some extent, can’t undo or erase or change it. No matter how many tears I cry or nights I go without sleep, the debt is going to keep following me. It’s a chain wrapped around me and there is no key.

The hardest choice I ever made was deciding to walk away from graduate school without finishing. I completed my first year, loved every moment spent in the classrooms, at the library, and in front of my laptop. I learned so much and wasn’t even close to knowing it all. But I was an out of state student without a teaching assistantship, which meant more loans. My first year as a grad student doubled what I had already taken out in school loans. A second year would triple it. For two weeks I was beside myself. I wanted that degree. I wanted my Master’s in history, because I was damn good at what I did. I deserved that degree; I was worthy of it. But the cost was too high. And I had to sit down, for the first time in my entire life, and decide whether or not my education was worth it.

It wasn’t a choice I should have had to make. No one should have to. Education should never be the thing we have to sacrifice. We shouldn’t look at it like an indulgence or guilty-pleasure. I shouldn’t be made to regret the time, effort, and money I put into bettering my mind with the intention of bettering someone else’s. It saddens me that the society we live in would rather make money than educate the future generations. It would toss education aside as something extra, without real value or purpose. Knowing that I live in a place where my desire to learn will cost me my peace of mind and get me ridiculed leaves me heart-broken. And honestly? I’m finished.

So, society, I’m calling you out. You want an entire generation of adults that has to give up their dreams of higher education to slave away at minimum wage jobs to pay off loans or to simply survive in this world? You got it. So what are you going to do when we forget how valuable an education is? What are you going to do when the leaders of your country could barely afford an associate’s degree at a community college? What are you going to do when our education system continues to embarrass us on a global scale? What are going to do when we stop reading books and forget how to write? What are you going to do when there is nothing left, when the brightest minds to come along in the last century are told that their knowledge, creativity, and gifts are meaningless and useless? When you become a joke, a laughingstock, an embarrassment to the history of mankind, remember that you told me working in retail was a better use of my mind than going to graduate school. Remember that you made my choice for me, and you have no one to blame but yourself.

Click here to follow me on twitter. Thank you for stopping by!