Sunday, June 30, 2013

Undecided Is Okay

As soon as people find out you're going to college, they're going to ask you what your major is. Your counselor, your great-aunt, your roommate...they all want to know your plan. Maybe you do know -- and that's great. It's good to have a direction, to know exactly what you want out of life, to start off on the path to your future.

But if you don't know? The weight of that decision can paralyze you. It can suck the joy and adventure right out of what should be the biggest adventure of your life thus far.

Don't let it.

Take your time.

You'll figure it out, but first you need to figure yourself out. And the person you are when you arrive on campus as a freshman is not the person you'll be when you leave four (or five) (or six) years later.

So take your core classes. Make an effort to meet people you don't know -- on your floor, in the cafeteria, at the fitness center, at the student union or the coffeehouse or after Bio lab. Join the clubs that pique your interest even a little bit. Do whatever you can to expand your worldview, and when it comes time to register for next semester, think about what you love, and try to find classes that relate to it somehow.

I was an English major in college, but my emphasis was in secondary education. I took precisely one creative writing class the entire time. And yet...I didn't love teaching, once I had a classroom of my own. Four years after I started teaching, I quit, and I've never looked back. Teaching was practical, but it was really the stories that I loved.  In retrospect, I wish I'd been less practical -- learned another language, read more books, taken art history classes, taken that trip to England.

Time spent pursuing what you love is never wasted. The path you take to your degree and the career you're working toward might twist and turn and meander, but you'll get there eventually, and be happier for it.

There's plenty of time to decide where you want to go. Just make sure to enjoy the journey.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

College: What is It Good For?

Eugene, circa 1999, filming the Blair Witch parody
"The Lerner Hall Project" with the Columbia
University Science Fiction Society.
Let me preface this by saying that I started college as a pre-med student and graduated with a concentration in visual arts (not even a major). I now work as a professional writer (I have a writing day job in addition to my fiction), and that visual arts degree from an Ivy League university really hasn't done me much good in my career. And twelve years out, I'm still paying those student loans...

When I think back on college, I'm grateful I had the opportunity to receive a great liberal arts education (which has definitely made me a better writer), but it isn't my time in the classrooms that most shaped the person I am today. I fondly remember the late night hours editing in the campus TV studio, hanging out with my science fiction club, debating the morals and philosophy of science fiction, and meeting lifelong friends.

I remember the many different work-study jobs I held as an undergraduate in the dining hall, in campus security, providing technical support in the communications office, managing the website for an alumni office. The things that have stuck with me are the diverse skills I picked up in all those different roles and the people I encountered; I learned how to act professionally and interact with individuals with a multitude of different viewpoints, personalities, and backgrounds. And I also learned how to fail, and I realized that giving up on one dream for another didn't mean I was giving up on myself.

For me, college was an exercise in learning what I didn't want to do just as much as what I couldn't do. I was a good student for my entire academic career, but I struggled in science and math at college. I eventually decided that I probably would never do well at them because I wasn't passionate about a career in medicine anymore — I needed to care more to work that hard for it. Instead, I had finally found an outlet for my creativity at college and discovered new interests and talents, and I wanted to develop them. I wanted to make things that would entertain and inspire others.

College is where I became more outgoing and made more of an effort to meet new people and foster stronger friendships and varied interests. I've always been a geek, but through the friends I made, and especially my girlfriend at the time, I discovered a love for foreign cinema, theater, Yiddish short stories, new music, photography, filmmaking, art, and so much more that I probably can't even trace back to those days. It also was in college that I first found out about the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and met published science fiction writers and editors for the first time — and decided that I really wanted to be a part of that community one day.

Your mileage may vary, and I don't want to tell anyone that grades don't matter (however, no one has ever asked about my GPA, and apparently even Google says that they're "worthless"), but I do think it's important to have a social life and be open to new experiences and interests. It's a cliche, but it's a cliche for a reason: College is where you can discover who you are, become someone entirely new (every week, if you like), fall in love (every week, if you like), discover new interests, make mistakes, meet people you may be close to for the rest of your life, decide what's important to your life, and prepare for living in the "real" world. And I don't regret any of it. (Except for the student loans.)

So, if you've already been to college, what do you remember most? If you are planning to go to college, what are you expecting to get from it?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

College or Bust!!!!!

                                                    Adam N. Leonard : Author and Teacher
Crazy Roommates = Hell
So I had this  roommate whose nickname was "Booger." He was a trip. He used to stay up all night playing his drum set (which was next to my bed). It was a practice set which was not as loud as regular drums- but at 3:00 in the morning I still wanted to kill him. Then, he would tape blankets over the windows and sleep all day. I'd be at my desk doing my work with a flashlight at 3:00 in the afternoon! If I turned on the light he'd swear like a drunken sailor.

He had a beer bottle collection accumulating along the top of the wardrobe units in our dorm that completely covered 2 of the 4 walls. There must have been a hundred bottles or so. I thought nothing of it until one day i noticed that all the bottles were partially full of beer... I asked him about why he was keeping half full bottles of beer. He said, " That's not beer!" 

I was stumped... He chuckled at my obvious confusion. He continued, "I hate having to run all the way down the hall when I have to go to the bathroom, so...." 

You're probably thinking I'm making all this up- nope.

And perhaps his most bizarre quirk was that when he would drag himself home baked and drunk out of his mind- fubar to the extreme- then stumble down to the men's bathroom and take a shower- with his clothes on!! No fooling! I would come back to the dorm and he would be passed out on the floor or his bed completely soaked! He said his father had done the same in his college days and he was just carrying on the tradition!!
So- choose your dorm roommate wisely- or at least fill out the future roomate questionnaire  carefully!!
-Me in my dorm room-
Party Hardy! or Hardly Party?
College, college, college... oh the memories! Lots of fun. Too much fun perhaps.

No parents to tell you to get up in the morning. No parents to tell you to go to class. No parents to tell you to do your homework! Sounds awesome, huh?

Well, it kinda is- except a lot of kids don't get up in the morning, don't go to their classes, and guess what- don't do their homework. So all that freedom can be very cool- but only if you can handle it. I saw a lot of my friends drop out of college because they were having so much fun partying, taking road trips, and drinking that they forgot why they were there in the first place. It is easy to do.

So if I could give any advice to people heading to college or those there already it would be get your work done first and remember why you are there
All work and no play makes Johnny a very dull boy!
Well, I think even if you hated high school, you'll probably like college. It is a great time in your life. A time to be on your own. A time to do well and explore the career you will pursue. A time to meet all kinds of people from many different areas with different backgrounds. So make the most of it! Have some fun while you're there but also remember why you are there! Keep your grade point average high or what's the point? The job market is tough and you won't impress anyone with a "C" average. Try new things and start over in a way- no one knows you there (or not many) and you can have a fresh start!

Oh yeah, and bring lots of novels or download some on your kindle or whatever reader you have- nothing beats bouts of loneliness or home-sickness like a good book with cool characters to keep you company!