I guess I said yesterday that turning 21 didnít warrant a long depressive post about getting older; however, every year I get the birthday blues. Why should this year be any different? Yesterday I thought that Iíd escape them this year because I was very giddy about my new ability to go out on the town, plus my beautiful laptop arrived right on my birthday (talk about great timing and a great birthday present.) At midnight on the 20th, we all went out drinking and I consumed eight drinks within an hour with no hangover. Last night I had even more than that (still without getting sick!) but unfortunately woke up with quite the hangover. When my boss called me at 10:30 to drag me into work it had subsided some since the initial regaining of consciousness at 7:00, but it was still with me. I wasnít very goofy last night (though I donít remember posting the comments on a few of the latest articles) so I donít really have a reason to bury my head in the sand. No, what Iím feeling right now owes nothing to alcohol.
At least once a day I stop and ask myself what Iím doing with my life. I was born outside of Chicago but my parents moved to Waterloo, Iowa when I was about two years old. I grew up there Ė and itís really not that bad of a place to grow up. Itís quiet enough that in most parts you donít need to be worried about leaving your house door unlocked. The greater Waterloo area is about 110,000 people and is home to one of the state universities. It was diverse enough to give me some breathing room, as opposed to the horror stories of growing up in small Iowa towns I hear from so many people. When I was in high school, I was always an overachiever, but the last couple years were a big struggle for me, as I battled the often excessive external pressures of my parents and the always unreasonable expectations that I gave myself that catapulted me into the depths of depression at a very early age. I wanted to move far, far away from my parents as early as possible and go to a great school and really do something with my life.
When college application time came around, I was still pretty undecided as to where I wanted to go. I was a fool and only applied to a few schools. And guess what? Most of them didnít want me. Stanford didnít. Brown didnít. Oberlin did, but it wasnít good enough for my parents. Then there was my fallback school Ė Iowa State University. Since I was a National Merit finalist, ISU offered me a full-ride scholarship for four years. In the end, I decided to go there with the original intent of being here only a few years and then transferring somewhere else.
Three years later, Iím still here. Iíve changed my major(s) multiple times and now Iím finally in Graphic Design, on the road to actually doing something that I enjoy. I should be happy. Right?
Not only that, but Iím actively doing something that I enjoy for work as well. Iíve been doing web development professionally since I was 19. Iím currently working as a web developer for the university. I get to design new sites for university departments, do information architecture work, a little bit of code, and supervise the other students in the office to ensure a smooth day-to-day operation of the office. Sounds like a great job, right?
Here the influence my parents had on me comes up again. Iím twenty-one years old. What have I accomplished in this time? My parents were always clipping out articles of child prodigies and teenage entrepreneurs. I was raised in a very Indian manner Ė success is very important. Indeed, monetary and professional success is the only way to measure your life. Maybe thatís why I heave a sigh when I realize that I havenít created any wonderful art or changed the world or made my first million or made my mark upon society. Iím finally beginning on a path towards being a real designer. And yet... when I visit random sites on the Web I happen upon great sites done by punk 15-year-olds in their parentsí basement that are as good, if not better, than anything I could do myself. Maybe thatís why I havenít made a personal site in years Ė performance anxiety.
I make my way through school in the middle of Iowa, now going into my fourth year and the last year of my scholarship. I basically went here because of the full ride; not being reliant upon my parents as much for school was a very tempting idea. But now Iíll need to actually pay for school Ė and Iíll still be in Iowa. Very often I think about going away to school. My best friend Jeffery lives in New York City and has friends who go to the School of Visual Arts. Many times Iíve thought of trying to go there. And yet Iím still here in Iowa. Iíve just applied to a three-year program and itís hard to just pick up and go elsewhere. Plus if I do that, itíll put me even further behind. I already know people who had multiple degrees by the time they were 25; Iíll barely have a bachelorís.
I try to tell myself that being in boring Iowa helps me focus on school. Itís a likely idea; the Big City has so much in it that focusing on school could be a lot harder to do if youíre not constantly surrounded by other college kids in a strictly college town. Then I take a glance at my GPA Ė barely at a 3.3... not quite good enough to even be in the honors program here. Always the nerdy scholar, it hurts me to look at some of the terrible grades I have in some classes.
I remind myself about the person behind that transcript. I try to learn about the person behind the name, behind the Social Security number, behind the brown eyes. Always searching for myself, I sometimes grasp at straws to say who I am. I have to force myself to remember that the B+ I got in that class took a lot of work to get. I have to remember that I got an A- on that test because I cut studying short to be with a friend who needed me. I remember the C on that project was a struggle to get because I was too busy sobbing to work on art. How can you explain to your instructors that sorry, I couldnít study for your test or work on that project because I was too busy trying to convince myself not to resort to the coping methods Iíd developed in high school (though I often failed anyway.) I have to remember that the B- on that project came after triple-dosing myself with antidepressants just to make it through the night.
What have I achieved in my 21 years? Nothing. Nothing tangible. But it is not for a lack of trying or a lack of motivation or a lack of anything. Itís simply because I havenít. Yet. I celebrate my small victories. Iím in the graphic design program. I have loving friends. Iíve been off antidepressants for six months and doing reasonably well. Iím in school trying to do something with my life and pursue my dreams. I recognize my faults, acknowledge them, and slowly but surely I try to change them and make myself into a person that someday... someday Iíll be able to love. And maybe, just maybe when that happens, thereíll be someone to love me too.
I take a deep breath of fresh Iowa air, filled with that pungent aroma of freshly cut grass that always tells me that itís summer, my favorite season. Itís a smell of life, and chipmunks scamper across my path, darting around the baby bunny in the bushes. Stand up straight, shoulders back, head up... and face another year.
Hey, I live in Houston, Texas. I have since 1990. I was born and raised in Waterloo, Iowa, went to college in Des Moines.
Now that I'm married with kids (to a native Des Moines woman) I want to move BACK to Iowa. Don't knock Iowa, you'll miss it one day, trust me.
by Dwight at September 4, 2001 3:41 PM