March 6, 2014 2 Comments
Someone looking back over my college days in the 1970s might think that I was capricious. In the first three days of my freshman semester, for example, I switched my major from an immensely practical one–computer science–to one which lay on the opposite pole from it: English literature. Unfortunately, I hadn’t gotten good career counselling and had somehow missed a major requirement of such a field of study–you had to say something intelligent about what you read. Silly me, I thought you could just sit around reading great works of literature. No one told me you had to say something insightful about them. But what 18 year-old, green behind the ears, really knows that much about life?
The long and short of this is that I didn’t really excel in English. Rather, during my second semester, I found myself being drawn in another, equally useless direction (from an economic point of view): French literature. There was a method to my madness. While I was in elementary school, there was a major push to teach foreign languages. I think this was somehow related to the space race. So my first grade teacher gave us lessons in French. My ear must have been attuned to languages, because of hearing Flemish and Hungarian spoken in my maternal and paternal grand parents’ houses. In second grade, we had even more French instruction. When we produced a play in French, Petit Chaperon Rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), using papier mache puppets that we made ourselves, I was the narrator.
So when I got to college, I had no problem with French, and quite liked it. As I said in an earlier post, my French teacher was a whiskey-voiced Parisienne named Madame Poinsatte. She was very enthusiastic about teaching and encouraged us to do fun cultural projects. As a hobby I liked taking slides of great works of art, so I put togeer a show on Impressionism for the class, for which I wrote a descriptive narrative in French. The teacher liked it, and that made me decide to change my major to French by the end of the semester.
One of my goals at this time was to catch up on all the great books I had never read as a boy, in order to become a well-read person. If I thought about what kind of job would await me after college, my fantasy was probably to become a great writer. Someone told me James Joyce was the greatest writer in the English language, so I wanted to write like him. Still, despite my naivete, I would do it all over again. However, if I could go back through time and give myself two pieces of advice, they would be: 1) learn how to dance sooner and 2) don’t be so afraid of rejection.
Learning to dance sooner. Since I hung out with fellow classmate, let’s call her Lucy, so much, I naturally developed an affection for her. I was so wrapped up in my desire to be a serious “intellectual” that I must have appeared quite the nerd to her. Once I asked her on a date and took her to see the Vienna Choir Boys. Silly, me, I thought that would impress her. Who would not be charmed by seeing these alb-clad cherubs singing cute little ditties like Strauss’ Tritsch Tratsch Polka? On Mondays, Lucy used to tell me about parties she got invited to by a guy in our Western Civilization course. Some of these involved elaborate drinking contests and lots of dancing and other fun things. By the end of the semester he had proposed to her. So loosening up and learning to dance could have helped me avoid a good deal of depression and loneliness, which I now see was self-imposed.
Not being afraid of rejection. Let’s face it; that was behind most of my turning in on myself. Lucy had dropped me in second grade, and the mortification of that kept me from asking other girls out in college. There were a number of nice looking and interesting ones in my art and French classes, yet I was so shy that I never felt secure enough about asking them out. The pain of rejection had been so strong that I feared it above all other fears. Here’s a funny thing about certain type of fears and neuroses. Some people can home in on your fears and sometimes you have a tendency to home in on those who you know will repeat the very behavior on you that you fear the most. So when Lucy dropped me a second time, that sent me even more deeply into myself.
By the time the semester was over, I could not wait to transfer to the main campus of Indiana University at Bloomington and just get as far away from my past as I could. But, I still had one more summer to go living at home and working in the factory.