Learning on my own terms

September 19, 2007

I am writing this for the September Write-Away Contest at Scribbit. The prompt is learning.

It started towards the end of my Junior year in college. An itch inside the head, a malaise spreading across my landscape–the knowledge that my education would soon be ending and a realization that what I had learned did not matter. Oh I had learned some things alright: how to teeter the edge of drunkenness and oblivion, how to get by with B’s by doing the absolute minimum, how to always move in the direction of pleasure at the expense of self-knowledge. I had been caught in the machine, taught that high school must precede college and from college to a good-paying job and if I’m lucky a nice girl to settle down with.

But something happened that Junior year, when the stories I had been told no longer made sense. When the frustration grew so great that the only movement that seemed possible was self-oblivion. Either I die or give up. This game that I had been playing, that was playing me had to stop. I started to read. Not just the text I had to for classes but what called to my heart, what helped me make sense of the mess I now found myself in. I looked with eyes that were beginning to focus on a reality that could be explored freely with a questioning spirit.

That summer I locked myself away. I was still living with my family but I moved in a sphere that kept them on the periphery. My routine: Wake at 3PM, eat and go to the back room and read. And write. I would break only for sustenance and return to Dostoevsky and Castenada, Hemingway and Steinbeck. Midnight to 5AM were the magical hours, complete silence and me seemingly the only one awake in the world dreaming wide-eyed while the words of the masters flitted before me.

I lasted like that in my cocoon of learning for a month and a half until my mother awakened me to my responsibilities. I found a job as a cook in a practically empty bar and could read for hours in the back of the kitchen. In the fall I returned to school more myself than ever though I easily slipped back into old routines. Drunken nights with old friends, study and regurgitate, repeat. There were times I would remember what I had learned and the notebook would come out and I could reflect on my loneliness and my betrayal of the soul. A man caught between what he knows to be right and the inertia of shallow friendships projected upon the backdrop of degree pursuit.

Not until I left school could I begin upon the journey towards true knowledge. I found myself on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the winter, no friends from any of my previous incarnations, a man ready to begin anew. There was no weight of expectation that I brought with me, to be anyone other than myself, that ever-changing glorious manifestation of the divine. My Outer Banks acquaintances did not know the beer-chugging frat boy. They did not have any memories of my past selves and I could slowly release those alternative characters I played and let shine through what was dying to come to light: me.