Friday, July 29, 2016

St John's Origin Story Part 2

I closed the first part with my job at the post office in Maine, which detail is incidental to the story, curious to me only because I had not thought about it in a long time, even though I have been back to the town numerous times since I returned to this part of the country and have surely driven past the building on several of these occasions. To move on, during this time it was suggested to me by a handful of people, including my father, that perhaps I should consider joining the army, since I gave the impression, I suppose, of being disorganized and lacking in direction and many people have the idea that the army can correct those problems in young men. Perhaps it would have done me some good, instilled in me some real discipline and purpose, though certainly the United States is full of people who appear to have come out of the army in little better condition either psychologically or as far as possessing other relevant life skills than when they entered it. I was a petulant little brat at that time, and my idea about the army was that it was akin to signing up for two years of virtual slavery, and why should I have to endure that when all of these other people had these great lives, going to college and parties and having women and so on. What had I done, that I was not as entitled to these things the way everybody else was? Admittedly this point of view was very shallow and foolish, and if one wishes to argue the case that with such an attitude I was not fit for or deserving of going to any college, I can make no defense other than to argue that colleges are full of people as weak-headed and morally objectionable as I was, some of whom even have worse academic qualifications than I did.

I became at this point quite obsessed with going to almost any college of the regular residential, sex- drugs-and-rock-and-roll variety, which obsession was reinforced by a few weekend visits to nearby schools which people I had known in high school attended (I realize now the true generosity and indulgence of these friends, whom I dropped in on completely unannounced with the full expectation that they would put me up and entertain me for several days). The threat of enforced sobriety and especially chastity scared me off from considering any super religious schools, where temperamentally I otherwise might have fit in. I reacted to my feeling of having been shunned by serious academia by abandoning any real concern about the nature and quality of the education I was supposedly seeking and devoted most of my energy in this search to what I thought would enhance my possibilities for engaging in mature (in the film-rating sense) relations with women. Though I did even at this time keep up my correspondence with St John's, as the reading list there still appealed to me, the tiny size and as it appeared unfavorable male-female ratio of the school raised the spectre that there might not be enough women around to satisfy me reliably produce any who might be interested in me (and who I would be interested in as well, though at the time I did not imagine there could be very many people left who would not fall into that category). I did not realize that when you have no demonstrated history of being desirable to women, the last thing you need to do is expand your options, because you don't have options. You need to limit the number of able competitors that you have to overcome. This point did not fully hit home with me until years afterwards, when I knew some people who worked at a residential home for mentally handicapped adults (from well-off families) in an isolated part of New Hampshire. There were about twelve people on the staff, evenly divided by sex, mostly from Germany with the rest from various of the old Communist European countries, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, etc. Every one of them that I knew of was at some point involved with one of the fellow staff members, and at least two of the couples eventually got married. But getting back to the main story, besides this concern about numbers, I figured that the girls there would be like the smart girls at my high school, many of whom were wonderful people, but likely to be too engaged with learning and taking part in constructive (self-improving) extracurricular activities and contributing to the advancement of various liberal causes for me to be easily able to connect with them, because I was not going to be engaged with these things to the same extent, mainly because I did not know how to be so, in the right way. If I was going to be able to get anyone like this it would only be, I foresaw, after a long and necessarily asexual vetting process which I did not want to go through, though of course I did not articulate it thus at the time. Instinctively I knew that my life was passing me by, that I needed some things that were quick and dirty but also exhilarating to begin happening immediately, though I had no idea how to make those things happen. I had become convinced however that the answer to my problems did not lie with the liberal smart girls who up to that point had shown little interest in me anyway, but among the more general, less intellectually conscious population of females; a population the overall mindset of which, alas, I understood even less than I did the striving liberals.

It is understandable if by now the reader is thinking that I did not need to go to college, but should have packed off for Ibiza or the Full Moon parties in Thailand until such time as I might have found some Eurotrash or licentious Australian girl, hopefully multiple ones, to carry me past this ailment that was psychologically crippling me. This would have been the ideal solution, assuming anything would ever have come about, which is a big assumption, but I knew nothing of such scenes at the time, and the affordability of such trips would have posed a bigger problem even than college did, for which at least financial aid was available. The world is very efficient at gathering the most desirable young women in a fairly limited number of scenes, which of course cuts anyone left out of those scenes off from them. When you are a nineteen year old boy/man out of college, particularly if you have a three digit IQ, the truth of this situation/arrangement of society becomes very salient to you. There seemed nothing else to be done but to go to school.

So on my second attempt at applying to college I applied almost exclusively to large universities that had some name recognition but did not seem overly difficult for me to get into, though a couple still rejected me anyway, as did as a couple of rich kid 'alternative schools' I took flyers on because the literature on them indicated that if you went there you could be the ugliest person in the world and still get laid, which the literature on St John's did not promise so explicitly. I ended up going for one semester to a large university in a state somewhat renowned for the ordinariness and boring composition of its people, full of Deadsvilles from one end to the other. I imagined this would be an ideal environment in which to rejuvenate my flagging enthusiasm for existence, because there would be hordes of simple, wholesome, cornfed babes that I as an Easterner possessed of a mind that seemed threatening to grow more overpowering every day would be able to manage...Needless to say I did not manage anybody. I have in fact never been so entirely invisible and nondescript to women while actually in the midst of them as I was there. The tiny number that even condescended to acknowledge my presence did so in a way that indicated that if I happened to possess any latent sexuality, its expression was something that was going to occur in a time and place very remote from the present scene. One day a very beautiful, polished sorority type girl made the rounds of the floor I lived on, selling cosmetics or something as an assignment for a business/marketing class. Her pitch to me was that I could get some "for my mother". It was fortunate that I did not have any money or I probably would have felt some compulsion to buy something even though the women spoke to me as if I were less than a full human, politely enough of course, but in the manner of a being on a plane of life with which the likes of me could never hope to have anything to do. I realize now that my approach to that whole experience could not have been worse. Going to classes held very little interest for me, and I devoted the greater part of my days to trying to procure alcohol, drinking alcohol, and sleeping off hangovers. I did nothing to improve my chances of meeting the kinds of people with whom I might have been compatible, partly because I did not have a good sense for what people with whom I might be compatible did for activities (judging by my subsequent experience and other pleasant, attractive, and reasonably intelligent women I have met over the years, squaredancing, hiking/camping, and other anachronistic types of fun would have served I guess). Unlike at St John's, where the overall environment is serious and comparatively elevated enough to wield some positive influence on a mind otherwise wholly given up to obsessions with drinking and women, there was no such tempering or uplifting atmosphere to lean on in this other place. Despite the circumstance of the semester's having been a complete failure on all imaginable fronts, since I did not know what else to do, I still planned, when school let out for the summer (I had started after Christmas my first year out of high school), to come back and give it another try, figuring that eventually I would have to have some luck. I still was not really that inferior, after all, though certainly I felt that I was whenever other people were around. And perhaps if I had quickly gotten a summer job, and that had gone well somehow, and things in general had started going in the direction of looking up for me, then maybe I would have returned after all--I left some favorite books and other youthful mementos, including possibly my high school running medals, in a storage box in the place where I had gone to school, which I never went back to retrieve--but that story I must leave for another section (I am now only fifteen months out from my matriculation at St John's College however...)     

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

My St John's Origin Story (Part 1)

On Facebook a few weeks ago many of the St John's alumni were publishing their stories of how they ended up going there. I didn't feel like writing it there, but I thought maybe I could try it here. It's taking a long time because my versions keep coming out overly long and negative in tone, and I don't want it to be like that. So I am going to have to try to shape the truth showing only the (comparatively) less depressing aspects of the story

My parents once took a day trip to Annapolis when I was around seven or eight, I assume to look at the old houses and perhaps the Naval Academy. I don't remember anything of this visit other than a vague recollection of the brick sidewalks and the narrow old houses. I have no idea whether we saw St John's or went on to the campus or not. It was certainly not pointed out to me on this occasion as anything special or any place where I might go to school someday, though this does not seem to have been anything that greatly interested my parents. It was not that they never talked about "college", but it was mostly in a generic way, without reference to particular colleges (though my father, among his many eccentricities, had for some reason conceived an intense dislike for the University of Pittsburgh, and was wont to speak disparagingly of it in reference to several acquaintances of our family who had gone there).

I first became aware of St John's when I was around 15 or 16. My father had read something about it and made a point of mentioning that it sounded like the kind of place I would like, which I probably noted because, as I noted above, he was not in the habit of making those kinds of observations. His having brought it up did not make me feel any great warmth towards the place, that and the idea that he associated me with a place that seemed to appeal mainly to misfits, and that no one I knew of who cut a winning figure in the world would acknowledge having ever heard of. I was suspicious, as people often are at that age, that it was being recommended to me more in consideration of my perceived deficiencies than my perceived strengths. Like almost every young person who has any measurable abilities, my perception of where mine must rate compared with the entirety of my generation at that time could hardly have been expected to be accurate, especially as we were not blessed in those days with as big a picture and examples of the spectacular achievements and talents of our faraway contemporaries as young people are now.

When I reached my senior year of high school, somewhat to my surprise, no one among the adults who might have been expected to be guiding me seemed particularly interested in whether I went anywhere for college or not. My parents, having gone through a separation and eventual divorce as well as making several major moves during my middle high school years, were still too distracted by the problems all this had created to be overly involved in what I was going to do, and certainly there were no big discussions or strategizing sessions about this with anyone at my school. I suppose it could be argued that I was a totally nondescript student, but still, I was in the top quarter of the class, and my SAT scores, which seemed to be a big deal as far as other people were concerned, were around what Princeton claimed to be the average score for its incoming freshman at the time, which I thought was pretty good, but I guess they didn't make much of an impression on anybody at my high school, though maybe they didn't know about them. Also compared to other people I knew I received very little material in the mail, and nothing from any place I would have wanted to go to, though I put this down now to the circumstance that I never took the PSAT and went to three different high schools in three different states, all of which may have knocked me off of the radar of the colleges at the time. I ended up writing to a bunch of places myself for information, including St. John's, which even then I had a feeling I might end up going to, mostly because it was the only school where the test scores were in the range where mine were that didn't reject most of the people who applied, and I did like the subdued, mature tone of their materials compared with most of the other schools'. But it was very small, and I thought I would not like a school that was that small, that my social options (ha!) would be too restricted, so I did not apply there in this first round, but applied to four other places to which, other than maybe Columbia, which I was imagining more in its 1940s carnation than what it had probably become by 1988, I had no especial passion to go other than that they were prestigious, you had to triumph over other people to get into them, they conferred status, and the social proof of an important institution declaring you to be in some degree a winner, one of the chosen ones. Who doesn't want to be a winner, and judged to be acceptable by some segment of the best and smartest people? Obviously I always have, and especially then, since I had some idea that I deserved it. The people who were promoting St John's (none of whom I knew personally--this idea was gathered from such rare and widely scattered testimonials about the school in printed materials as were to be found in those days) did not seem to me to be promoting a promise that the kind of transformation I was looking for, that being basically to become a comfortably dominant person who awed lesser people into submission and was attractive to the most interesting and desirable types; I felt like they were telling me to embrace my essential 98-pound weakling, which I felt it was my duty to some extent to resist. Needless to say, I did not get accepted to any of these schools I applied to.

So when the fall after I graduated from high school came around, instead of heading off to college like pretty much everyone else my age who was in any way like me, I took up a job working in the little more than kiosk-sized post office in Kennebunk, Maine...

Since it has taken me a week to get even this far (and it's still pretty negative, though the story does get better), and I as am going on vacation in a few days and don't know when I might get around to finishing it, I am going to publish this part now. To be continued (maybe...)