My family has a tendency to nag my sister about her repudiation of the national criterion that expects all nineteen year olds to immediately enroll in a four year college upon high school graduation, lest they wish to toil through a life of welfare or, God forbid, work a blue-collar job for the rest of their lives. When I was still enrolled in fastidious studenthood, I might have agreed with my family’s concerns for my sister. After all, she’s an incredibly bright human being with a charming personality and the same fierce drive that makes all us Moon-Woods workaholics. If she had found a college program that appealed to her, there’d be no doubt in my mind that she would excel at it. But thus far in her life, nothing a college degree can offer has yet to beguile her into attendance, and surprisingly, I commend her for standing by that fact. I’m probably going to be ostracized from the family for the newfound beliefs I’m about to confess, but after making the decision to adhere to The Official Timeline of an American Life, I wholeheartedly support my kid sister’s decision to deter from the norm.
For some reason, the overarching sentiments of this country seem to suggest that adults who veer from the expected college track will become work force pariahs, too burdened by ignorance to climb the occupational ladder and attain the life of monetary leisure the American dream extols. We have a tendency to completely discredit other forms of learning in the face of institutionalized academia, and pity those who reject the increased opportunities a diploma provides. But it’s an obvious fact that the boot of school is not tailored to every foot–especially since many of our schools operate under the delusion that packing young, overworked brains with a winter quarter’s worth of knowledge and then testing them to assess and grade their intelligence is a universally beneficial system. For some students, this rote methodology works wonders, but for many–including obsessive-compulsive grade point extremists like myself–this system is incredibly faulty, prioritizing a numerical outcome over the individualized educations every child would receive if all schools truly fulfilled their self-referential mission.
While this is certainly a cynical take on institutionalized learning, I’m not discrediting the value of education in the slightest. I think actively broadening your mind in the pursuit of knowledge is far more important than seeking a degree for the future income it might secure, and therefore I’m a huge proponent of the academic value of continuing on to college after high school. Sadly though, elements of my schooling reinforced the fact that monetary gain takes precedence in the eyes of our Capitalist system, demonstrated by my required enrollment in several courses that were entirely useless, taught by so called “educators” who had nothing to teach and instead comprised an obligatory conveyor belt in the production line that is contemporary college.
Based off of my experience, college is a business bent on perpetuating the larger mechanism of national wealth. While the notion of putting a price on knowledge is completely counterintuitive, the idea of coupling education with the exclusivism of astronomically high tuition is outright idiotic. Yes, garnering an education at a community college is a much cheaper route, but for those who can afford and choose to attend a community college, there’s still the stigma that their educational institution is merely a stepping stone for a more expensive school, where greater resources supposedly ensure better academia and, in turn, more profitable jobs.
But when we talk about the value placed on today’s “premiere educations,” we’re talking about exorbitant prices. Even with the incredible, four-year scholarship I received, the 16 hour days I worked without breaks, and the nerve-wracking amounts my parents had to proffer up every quarter, the remaining bill still weighs on me like an unmanageable dumbbell, and I’m officially a statistic on the long list of post-grads facing a lifetime of staggering college debt.
To make matters worse, I’ve now witnessed the fact that many college graduates who’ve been roaming the “real world” much longer than I have are victims to the twisted notion of the internship. This concept might have once meant a brief, occupational transition between school and adult responsibility, but has since evolved into an interim period of strenuous unpaid labor that (like my boyfriend’s internship) can demand seven straight days of serious work, imperative to the company’s success. All of this sans the pay that an uneducated fast food employee makes in one hour.
Because the American system condones the idea of unpaid labor and demands five years worth of experience for numerous entry level jobs, many recent grads have to become fast food employees, waiters, sales floor reps, and grocery store parcels just to afford residency in the city that hosts their internship, which in the arts industry that my former college caters to, means the extremely expensive cities of New York and Los Angeles. Enter a restaurant in LA and if your server isn’t an out-of-work actor, they’re likely a post-grad with a bachelor or masters under their belt and at least five internships on their resumé. And I’m not over exaggerating. Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve become friends with law school graduate who has to waitress here in the City of Angels and can cite the impressive degrees of everyone on her restaurant’s waitstaff, and I’ve met innumerable people who shake their heads in exasperation when they tell you that yes, their fifth internship is also unpaid.
This whole transitional interlude is an incredibly stressful time, and if you took International Baccalaureate classes in high school in the hopes of attending a prestigious college that supposedly guarantees a comfortable job, you’ve been extremely stressed since you were sixteen. I accommodated this stress into my life as a natural part of living, and thanks to cautionary familial examples of the toll eschewing college can take, I always figured I’d made the right choice. But then my sister chose otherwise, and I had a new example to behold.
My sister works at a job that many would consider undesirable. In fact, having worked in the same establishment, I can vouch for those dissenting opinions myself. But my sister and I are two very different peas from the same pod of sweat and determination, and despite some displeasing elements, my sister loves her job. She’s incredibly popular amongst her coworkers, supervisors, and the customers she serves, she gets to arrange her own schedule (which happens to begin at four in the morning, at her request), she gets paid well and receives numerous benefits, and she has plenty of time to engage in her favorite after-work hobby of toning those buns and thighs at the gym she frequents. She may not have the salary of a med school-trained neurosurgeon, but she has an even more beneficial facet of life: she’s happy. And all those six years that I was tearing my hair out in academic exasperation, she was approaching life with a relaxed mindset that maintained her persistent, bona fide smile. Yes, there’s no telling what her monetary future holds without an official stamp of institutionalized approval, but is that really the most imperative crux of a human life?
To conclude, I applaud your decision to take things in stride, little sister, to live for the moment even though we can’t resist heckling you about the future, because we, like the rest of the country, abide by the fear that if you don’t acquire financial security there’s little hope for happiness. If you should ever want to learn a new skill set or venture into a new occupation that requires a piece of verifying paper, I encourage you to look into colleges or trade schools. Resist being swayed by money-hungry recruiters who’ll sing any school’s praises, and conduct your own research about the professors and the real success stories instead of the advertised statistics. Find an institution that will really give you your money’s worth, and attend it with a desire to learn, not a desire to merely graduate. And should you ever find yourself suddenly living a cautionary tale of your own, do what most narrators don’t: make an effort to change it. Life is too dang short to spend it mimicking the rest of society because that’s what’s expected of you, so go out and garner wisdom, work, and happiness however you see fit little girl. Keep approaching life with the sense of excitement and wonder you’ve always possessed, and I know you’ll do just fine.
A few years after enjoying the edgiest, most memorable high school Intro to Psychology course in the state of Oregon, I experienced International Baccalaureate Psychology, a class so dull it warrants no description beyond the obligatory kudos to Jesus for equipping me with the company of my friends Nyssa and Michael for vital commiseration. The entertaining pre-IB course was taught by the iconic Cliff Shaw, a man who sported a bald head, red goatee, gauges, and square glasses long before pop culture revived them, who figured effective curriculum entailed reenacting Milgram’s obedience and authority experiment with two voluntary students (to serve as “teacher” and “learner”) and a “shock machine.” While the whole thing turned out to be a ruse that only Shaw and the “learner” were in on, the shocked student’s acting was so Oscar-worthy we thought we were witnessing a lawsuit in the making, and ultimately proved as an entire class that authority overrules morality… or that everyone just wanted to see the class clown get shocked some more. With such a hard act to follow, it’d be a chore for any successive psychology course to garner favor, but IB didn’t even try. Taught by a recent college graduate who seemed to have no interest in either teaching or psychology, IB Psych was an experience that makes it difficult to decide whether my college psychology course, in which I learned nothing new beyond the rate at which your social life declines when assigned two quick-turn-around essays every week for three months, was really all that bad.
One interesting takeaway I can attribute to IB, however, occurred when a classmate discussed treatment of her obsessive-compulsive disorder which, if my memory serves me correctly, involved some sort of stick with multicolored stripes that she was instructed to methodically match with her hands. This oration hearkened back to the Intro course, in which a girl discussed her fixation with touching a certain spot on the wall prior to leaving her room each day, flipping light switches twice, and making sure her shoe laces maintained equal lengths on each side. If these things, among others, weren’t tended to on a regular basis, she would fall prey to panic.
Personally, I have never been formally tested for obsessive-compulsive disorder. My family is averse to doctors and abides by the “wait it out until it becomes dire” creed, demonstrated clearly the time I had pneumonia and desperately needed a prescription for an inhaler three months earlier. Despite the fact that I don’t have a distinctive chicken-scratch signature to officiate it, obsessive-compulsive disorder drives me with the same obviousness that plastic surgery drives Jocelyn “Cat Woman” Wildenstein.
Although Cat Woman’s obsessions clearly trump my own and she may be in dire need of a striped stick, listening to my psychology peers divulge their diagnosed OCD ticks provided an interesting comparison to my own symptoms, which were recurrent, daily necessities even without the professional signature of validity. For example, while living in the animal menagerie that comprised my mom’s old house, my nerves required that I check every single plate, bowl, cup, and utensil for pet hair before eating from it, and if someone served me up a dish without the mandatory inspection, I would literally become sick to my stomach and stare at the meal dismally, wondering how on earth I’d go about eating it without gagging on my neurotic suppositions. When I would write (which was constant habit both pre-IB Essay Onslaught and post), I would be impelled by some force of necessity to scratch things regardless of a nonexistent itch, resulting in scarification that made makeup application an exciting challenge. The contents of my room had to stay immaculately clean, everything had to occupy a permanent spot that it was always returned to, I always needed to push back my cuticles when I was nervous, and work always needed to be completed before I partook in anything else, including eating. If I didn’t perform these and numerous other compulsions with immediacy, they gnawed at my mind until I finally amended the hitch.
My symptoms have actually dissipated quite a bit with age, in part to a personal campaign I enacted a couple years ago, working to relieve myself of the more inhibitory compulsions and miraculously pulling it off. While time and sheer determination have worked wonders, there are some routines I still can’t shake. Everything in my life has to maintain a specific order, and while I no longer color-code my closet, making sure every garment faces the same direction, I still abide by a figurative grid. All my belongings have to be consistently organized in a relative pattern to one another, and if something becomes askew, it has to be fixed. Ovens and stove tops have to be checked twice before leaving the house, I have to sit in the exact same, silent spot to complete any written material, dishes have to be washed immediately after cooking and right before eating, and work has to be completed prior to leisure and meals, unless my willpower can sneak a banana past the obsessive-compulsive beast.
Recently, while enduring an internet crisis over the past couple days, something happened that almost deemed my Beat the Urge campaign moot. My boyfriend introduced me to a compulsion that’s entirely new to me: the drive to beat a game. While this unexpected competitive spirit would generally be ascribed to a spike in testosterone, I fear my fervor may be morphing into fixation before my LED-illuminated eyes. And the game of all things? Candy Crush, an iPhone app I had to commandeer my boyfriend’s iPad to play, and play I have been.
I was never one for dwindling away the hours in front of a game console or plodding away on a cell phone to navigate a centipede through a labyrinth. My dad bought us an X-Box back in middle school and we played Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Jet Set Radio for a couple months before basilisks and gun-wielding cops on the hunt for pesky rollerskating taggers gave me too many heart palpitations and retired the X-Box to DVD duty. Video games further deterred me upon returning home from my first quarter of college to discover my current boyfriend had been inducted into the Call of Duty fetish, morphing him from a peaceful musician into a Gollum-eyed drone, controller permanently at hand to shoot the enemy and attention fixated on the screen no matter how many times you walked naked in front of it.
But that was before the Candy Crush craze. Presented in the whimsical colors of a four-year-old’s wardrobe, Candy Crush is a sugary sweet game with aesthetics not unlike Sugar Rush of Wreck It Ralph fame–sans any large-headed, speed-demon children. In a vein akin to Tetris, Candy Crush is all about aligning like candies in groups of three to complete various tasks, such as clearing away a horde of whipped cream-cover jellies and earning yourself 40,000 points in 60 seconds to save Lemonade Lake from drying up. With so many challenging puzzles and the allure of 440 levels featuring hotspots like the aforementioned yellow puddle, it’s no wonder the game is addictive. Between sketching featured images for the blog and completing a retouching project on my end and covering a script on his, my boyfriend and I spent almost 24 hours a piece trying to beat the onerous level 23, and when I finally did I almost shrieked as loud as thirteen-year-old Emily when she received the movie Holes for her birthday.
Where Candy Crush gets vicious, however, is in it’s ability to lure you in with a guise of varicolored innocence and then capitalize off your obsessive-compulsiveness by making the latter levels all about sheer luck. I felt sure I’d finally weened myself off of it when level 33 produced the revelation that a game was causing me frustration rather than quintessential enjoyment, but the next morning I found my fingers seeking out the iPad they’d previously tossed aside as if acting on their own volition. Perhaps I’ll get lucky, compulsiveness tells me, but logic asserts that it’s time to reenact Operation Quell the Hankering and crush this competitive aggression (that my racquetball coaches always wished I’d display) into a million candy-coated shards.
In my youth, I was what one might call a prolific writer: a kid whose bespectacled eyes were permanently glued to the hulking cube of a PC under the stairs, fingers zipping across the keyboard for hours in an improper, self-taught typing technique. I was such a literary zealot that not only can those bespectacled eyes be blamed on my incessant proximity to a glowing LED monitor, but I had a fan-fiction that spanned 200,000 words in 58 chapters, and had garnered a fan base of 320 similarly bespectacled adolescent computer-mongers. The only problem with this Homerian epic and the six original books I succumbed to myopia for, was that chapter 58 was the preclude to the last chapter, and the last chapter never came…
So what was it that overtook the celebrated child author who many writing forum patrons knew under the immature moniker of Munkymuppet? How did such a promising wordsmith’s skills encounter the second coming of the Cretaceous period and peter out with the same expiry flair as the dinosaurs?
It was junior year of high school that witnessed the last rapidly typed production of anything other than academic essays, dissertations, and artist statements; and the culprit? International Baccalaureate.
At the time, fan-fictions were a thing of the hormonal, middle school acolyte past and I was onto my next kick: a gruesome thriller fueled by a love for high-octane action stories that would gradually dissipate as I increasingly aged into my cringe-prone mother. I was on chapter 21, the mystery was unraveling, the villains were amassing, and the action was building toward a climax with nerve-wracking rapidity, when suddenly International Baccalaureate–the global and more taxing version of high school honors–amped up the stress levels to 300% and succeeded in expunging any and every drive for creative writing. Although the IB gods mercifully spared my penchant for visual arts (allowing me to attend a widely reputed art school and inhume myself in asphyxiating debt for the next seventy years), any sense of personal motivation to put pen to pad has been wiped clean ever since.
To this day, the creative writing skills that hoards of teachers once praised as “years ahead in maturation” are nothing more than a desert whose cacti might proffer up one or two pages of liquid inspiration every six months, resulting in 27 one to two page stories that are still sitting on a digital shelf, gathering pixelated dust while they wait to be revisited. But with this history teeming with burgeoning novels, short stories, contemplated screenplays, a heavily trafficked Xanga and three consistently updated Blogspots, writing is clearly a part of my genetic code and can assume substantial responsibility for producing the verbose, imaginative adult I am today. Thus, I think it’s time to really put some effort into climbing back into that ballpoint pen-laden saddle, no matter how nervous that mercurial horse might make me.
So with WordPress as my accomplice and a temperamental internet connection as my medium, here it goes: Operation Invoke the Hibernating Author Within. All I have to do is employ the wonderfully freeing purpose of a blog and talk about any subject that comes to mind–from the qualms of being a new inductee into the second biggest city in the country, to the artwork of people who inspire my creative spirit, to all those paranormal TV shows I continue to freak myself out with late at night like some sort of Stockholm syndrome enthusiast. Just make sure to WRITE. And perhaps, Allah willing, what might first feel like a daily chore may gradually resuscitate the dormant intrinsic nature that’s just waiting to be rediscovered.