January 9, 2018:
I can see the depression in those photos. Hair past shoulders. Hair over face. Hiding behind an organic screen I carried with me.
I loved being on the campus. I'd loved it for years. The vibrancy of the intellectual discussions, the rebelliousness of the student movement. Their moral earnestness and their commitment to personal sacrifice. Their integrity. Like nothing I'd known in family life or the City Schools. And of course the gorgeous women everywhere. Sophisticated, experienced, knowledgeable. Yah baby.
I hated the classes. Huge lecture halls without warmth or contact. What's he saying down there? Without ability to dialog with questions or ideas. You're familiar with the factory analogy. It was pretty fucking exact. A bell would ring, we'd all skedaddle to the next assembly station for stamping and imprinting. Polishing would come later, we were undergrads.
I hated not being allowed to study the subjects which interested me. It was all non-electives all week. The most crippling was French. I wanted to learn, but, the pace was too fast. Like, insanely fast. Like, you've gotta be fucking kidding me fast. My looming failure there was spirit-numbing.
There was one class I loved. Art history. It was fascinating and I cared about it. I don't remember the instructor's name, only that she was young, bob-haired, pretty, and very bright. She recommended The Banquet Years by Roger Shattuck and that blew the lid off my world. Apollinaire, Satie, Rousseau, Jarry: these were people who lived their art. And they were playful: their work has a teasing wink to it. Nothing in my experience prepared me for that. I was a working class scruff from the projects, "art" meant the Mona Lisa or some shit. This was the eruption of an alternate universe of freedom and creativity into the one I'd always found so constricting and so alien.
I was walking to my bike one day accompanied by a very beautiful, very naughty rebel girl named Kelly. She was a high school girl who, like me, spent most of her days in the dorms with the college kids. Well — she was with the boys, of course, while I was with the girls. But we were in the same buildings. I told her of my frustration, of my discouragement. She said, she'd been able to read it in my posture and my face for many weeks. She said, it was because this isn't the right kind of school for me.
That was as world-altering as The Banquet Years. You mean there are different kinds of schools? As in, they're not all the same? That thought had not previously existed.
Yes, she said, and a day later she brought me catalogs from a school where her mother had worked. An alternative college with small classes, no grades, no fixed curriculum, where the rule was the professors had to teach what you wanted to learn. That was my true awakening. I threw my UCSD textbooks into the nearest trash receptacle, pedaled home in a kind of a dream. Announced definitively, I'm going there. Never did officially withdraw. I'm probably still enrolled, with a transcript full of F's. Fine.
God bless naughty rebellious Kelly and God bless anyone who sets you free.