NotCollegeMaterial


"I consequently never learned the fine arts of football or basketball appreciation, binge drinking, or proper socializing."

Visiting with a high school guidance counsellor when I was about halfway through high school, I received one of those life-defining bits of advice. Reviewing my transcript in progress, the counsellor remarked that I was NotCollegeMaterial. Not that I'd been aching for a college career. That counsellor was correct in that I had never seen myself as college material, but to have even a minor authority confirm my self-assessment seemed a mixed blessing. Before, it had been a choice. After, it felt like an edict, as if no matter what I might accomplish, the 'powers that be' had identified me as uniquely unqualified. This was a bit of a blow. I'd known that I was nobody's mathematician or linguist. In those days, college admission required at least two years of successful foreign language study, and I'd failed to assimilate French and German, so I was cornered. I was then more interested in my guitar, anyway, and figured that I might one day become a star once I was discovered. Not a mainstream celebrity, for sure, but one of those narrowly-appreciated underground types never heard on top forty radio.

I figure that I got more of an education not being college material than I ever could have acquired had I passed that second year of German and stopped calculating on my fingers.
My to-be first wife attended the University in Seattle and we moved in together there during her second year, so I got to experience life in the U District, though I remained an outsider there. I cast a shadowy figure wandering around campus indistinguishable from every other undergraduate except to my own eye. I felt every bit a second or third-class citizen, a presence without portfolio performing at The Last Exit on Brooklyn on open mic nights and failing to garner casual labor work with the winos and hard core druggies. My long hair effectively disabled me as a prospective employee. I figured I deserved my fate and dedicated myself to becoming the very best undiscovered singer/songwriter I could become. I eventually even found an agent who sometimes found me paying work.

Seven years later, I enrolled in University and discovered that I was college material after all. I suspected that my earlier designation arose from my not being particularly high school material. The University I attended was almost entirely unlike high school and I thrived there by selectively avoiding crap I suspected that I would not succeed at, which meant I enrolled in pseudo-science classes in lieu of mainstream physics or chemistry, and bone-head sections of math that wouldn't require me to master calculus or long division. This meandering path probably provided me with a more-rounded exposure to academia that a more traditional student might have received. I learned a little about an awful lot and went on to become one of those professionals without a discrete portfolio, neither doctor, lawyer, nor inveterate tycoon. I'd finally decided to ignore the counsellor's injunction while sweating through a casual labor assignment. The job involved wrestling two hundred pound cubicle walls down five flights of stairs, through a garden, and into a semi-trailer parked on the street below. I watched through the windows of an adjacent office tower as suit-and-tie wearing young men earned their living a different way and I wondered how I might join their ranks. Three years later, I joined them.

I remain uncertain under what conditions what might prove to be no more than a random bit of information becomes predictive definition. Someone calls me a jerk in traffic and I never take that injunction as definitional. It's just imminently discardable information, basically useless noise. Take a high school guidance counsellor who frankly never knew me better than that belligerent cursing driver who called me a jerk did and his words arrive like received wisdom, gospel, and I'm instantly blessed or cursed, or at least deeply influenced. I see myself differently then, seemingly redefined whether I want to be or not. I've known my share of charlatans who possessed this curious ability to redefine people to themselves. They could drop a mere hint and watch the suggestion ripple into absolute definition fueled by considerable dedication. Yea, that's happened to me, too.

An unexpected pregnancy or a surprise layoff can each shockingly redefine a person. The Muse, attending a lecture at work, heard an ex-Secretary of Labor speak of young women "ruining their lives." She meant that some young women gave birth at early ages. The Muse, having graduated from high school with a newborn son in her arms, took issue and publicly chewed that politician a new one. 'How dare you declare that these young women ruin their lives before they've even discovered their adult lives! It's a poisonous proclamation and entirely untrue unless someone like you convince them that they're irredeemable,' she must have said. At a young age, she'd understood that edge between information and definition and defended her right to reject dis-definition. She wasn't college material, either, until she decided that she was. Her college classmates complained that she skewed the grading curve too much, at least until she pursued a more independent course of study nobody else had to compete with. She was still not really that college's material, over-qualified for the place.

I remain uncomfortable within any gothic enclave, a residue, I suspect, of the years I spent hiding out around the old University campus in Seattle. I would occasionally slip in to listen to a lecture and find myself mostly able to understand what was presented there. I was no dummy, but I had to admit to myself that I was not natively well-suited to the role of full time college student. By the time I enrolled as a student, I had a wife and, by the time I graduated, a family. I had lawn to mow. I worked nights and weekends and consequently never learned the fine arts of football or basketball appreciation, binge drinking, or proper socializing. I suppose I was still hiding out, watchful lest I be discovered as not being college material. I became an individual student without affiliation, earning credits so that I could get the Hell out of there. I still tell the callers from the alumni association to stuff it when they call. They seem dedicated to the idea of turning that school into just another gothic enclave and I'll be damned if I'll contribute to that degradation. See? Still NotCollegeMaterial!

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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