The real world or The Real World

This is my first semester in 18 years in which I am not taking a class. Not a single one. The next five months are dedicated to finishing my thesis (read: glorified research paper) and studying for my comprehension exams so I can graduate in the summer. And then…and then…

Several of the people in and around my life have asked me what I am going to do in the “real world” once I graduate. For a while, I went along with this question and gave some very satisfying answers about job prospects, traveling, and purchasing at least five more cats within the next two years. But I’m becoming irked by this question, not because I don’t have a solid plan, but because of its implication. Since when was being in school not a “real” thing? Will my Master’s degree be imaginary, some mathematical equivalent to non-existence, i? I certainly hope not, seeing as the time, money, and brain-space sacrificed has a definite value of 18 years—no more and no less.

Imaginary Kate posing at Imaginary undergrad graduation, posing with Real Grandma. What a headache.

Without a doubt, we’ve all talked about, dreamed about, wondered and skirted around this “Real World” concept, so I pose the question to you: what in the flying f*ck is the Real World and how do I become a Real Person in order to live within its space? If am on the cusp of entering this place, then I feel like I need some clarification in order to avoid becoming a nonentity. It is my understanding that this is a place where a body is not in school, has its own job, pays it bills, and has a few more responsibilities that make it a commendable part of a working society (Note: professional students CLEARLY do not meet these qualifications).

Barf

Do this for the Real World and you’re an automatic IN.

It’s not like this is something I can look up and research, either, seeing as MTV has a monopoly on the Real World and has occupied it since 1992. But if I take my lessons from this Real World, then there are certain themes for my new life to be on the look-out for:

  1. Prejudice
  2. Politics & religion
  3. Romance
  4. Sexuality
  5. Unrequited love
  6. Departed house-mates
  7. On-screen marriage
  8. Coping with illness

Interesting how I never experienced any of this in the last 18 years (well,  “On-screen marriage” might be tricky to argue, but my sass is on a roll). Maybe the point of school is to prepare myself for these “recurring themes.” Maybe the purpose of my Latin America seminars in 2011 and 2012 was to teach me that there are some fiercely homophobic bros out there who love to hate on AIDS-ridden gays. I’m certain that my Marine Biology class from 2008 amply provided the life-skills for when my roommate moved out and we scrambled to find a new one. And the most important lesson, one that was a tough learn in the History of Revolutions course I took in 2009, was that of unrequited love…for immediate and radical change brought on by the people for the benefit of the whole and not the few…oh, wait, that has nothing to do with MTV’s Real World, because that might have actual, long-term, and significant change as opposed to the “longest running reality TV show” claim to fame. THAT must be part of Non-Real World.

I am so not prepared for the Real World if this is what it takes. But if my hunch about “reality” is right, that finding a job, paying my bills, and interacting with a larger community that is outside of (but not necessarily separate or far from) academia, then I’m certain I will do just find and y’all can stop saying Welcome to the Real World!

It is Valuable Because it is Yours: On Firsts

New Year’s Eve, age 13

Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in a series about losing one’s virginity, inspired by this project from Rookie magazine. Earlier authors include Jess, Kate, and Gina. It’s not explicit, but probably not for the easily scandalized.

What is the perfect way to lose your virginity? Every idea about it is soaked in a long history of men deciding womens’ lives for them. It’s perfectly respectable to make a personal choice to wait until one is in a serious romantic relationship to first have sex, but often the sanctity of that choice goes unexamined. What’s the right way to do it? And when?

I have felt like I was behind in my romantic life since I was about 11. One New Year’s Eve, when I was not much older than that, my friends and I tucked resolutions into boxes we’d decorated with puffy paint and sequins. Among other vows I made for myself at that kitchen table splayed with sparkles and craft glue, I wrote this: “This year, I will be kissed.”

It didn’t happen for me that year, or any of the next eight, and I wasn’t happy about it.  I was 21 when I finally fulfilled that wish, with a man who pressed me against an adobe wall and took my face in his hands. Whiskey was involved, but laughter was too.

Unlike all the times I’d tried to plan to kiss someone, all the parties I’d scanned eagerly, the spin-the-bottle games I avoided,  or the friends of friends I’d tried to coquettishly impress, it wasn’t difficult or fraught. After all the agonized journal entries about how awful and stunted I felt because I finished three and a half years of college before sharing a kiss, it felt like the easiest thing. Though we never dated or were even really friends, I am proud that man was the first one I kissed.

Though some might think having this story out there could hurt my job prospects or be more than a little too much information, here is why I’m writing this: Because my twelve-year-old self needs to hear this. My sixteen- and eighteen- and twenty-year-old selves need to hear this. Maybe there are some girls out there like me who need to hear this. And here it is:

There is no perfect or correct way to first experience physical intimacy. There are a lot of painful and dangerous ways, but as long as you know and can protect your own body, have no shame. If you’re sixteen or twenty-one or sixty-one when you first open your mouth against someone else’s, that experience is true and real and legitimate, because it is yours.

It doesn’t matter that the average age to first kiss or fuck is years younger than you are – you are not an average. Seventeen magazine doesn’t hold the compass to your realest life. Those girls at summer camp who make you feel inadequate, to whom you lie about how many boys you’ve kissed? They don’t hold your map. The raspy-voiced girls when you are in college, the ones who casually mention their genital piercings, they have nothing to do with your timeline. They can’t say what is right. Only you can.

I first had sex less than a month after I first kissed a person on the mouth. He wore flannel and played guitar, and we met because the man I’d kissed introduced us. On the patio of that college bar, we clinked glasses and talked about the books we both loved. I was a literature major and he taught ninth-grade English, and we both loved David Foster Wallace and Catcher in the Rye. He was visiting from New Jersey for the weekend. When he left that patio I got a text: “Not every day you meet a girl who drinks whiskey and has read Infinite Jest, so I got your number from my friend. Come out with us tomorrow?” He didn’t seem like a phony.

It wasn’t a romance, and it wasn’t a transaction. It was, for me, a decision made sober and without apology. There was mutual attraction, he was smart and took me seriously. He was leaving in two days and I never had to see him again. The next night, when I took his hand at the Sonoran hot dog stand and asked him to walk me home, it was without hesitation. The day of texting we’d done about music and literature and cosmic dissonance was all the relationship I wanted or needed from him.

He didn’t know it was my first sexual experience, and I wasn’t going to tell him. Years before I had decided a penis wasn’t the ideal instrument for breaking flesh, so he didn’t have to know. He was a weird, stiff-tongued kisser, and not as good with his hands as I expected of a guitar player. Perhaps it wasn’t what I would have called the ideal, at fifteen or seventeen. But here is what I have to tell those younger desperate selves:

One day when you are twenty-one and tremendously unkissed, it will not be the end of you. Do not lament the days you thought you were the last virgin alive. One day a man who loves books like you do will unbutton his flannel against you and you will be proud to have him between your legs. Never feel like a failure, never feel like less than a woman, because of your sexual experience.

To that fifteen-year-old self, you are not better than your friends because you think you are above sexual urges. To that seventeen-year-old self, you will still have a superlative college experience though you are a tight ball of anxiety about your experience with men. It isn’t a penis you’re searching for, in those hours when it feels like no one will ever take an interest in your lips.

When it was over, it wasn’t really pleasure I felt. It wasn’t love or ecstasy, and it wasn’t pain or regret.  What it felt like was relief, a great unspooling of so many expectations I had of myself, all wound so tightly around a knot of nervousness and shame. It felt like release.

Inviting that man to walk me home and into sexual experience was perhaps not the perfect way to lose my virginity. But it was this: Authentic. Free. Mine.

On Being Cool and Why We All Feel Lukewarm

A few days ago I saw my friend from college, and before I get too distracted by how weird that sentence is to say, I want to tell this story. For those of you in the home audience, yes this is yet another one of those inspirational stories that should lift your self esteem. I hope you stretched.

Like I was saying, I just saw a friend, Kate, from college. We met for a late lunch in one of Tucson’s oh-so-trendy cafes on 4th Ave. I’ll give you a hint: it was B Line. I walk into B Line, she says hi, we exchange hugs, she gets guacamole with her chips, I get salsa, we trade life experiences. About four stories in she stops me. “You are so cool, I want your life,” she tells me.

I think I actually looked behind me for who ever she was actually referencing, who she had to be referencing. It couldn’t be me. But it was. I was cool. I was more than than that, I was worth aspiring to be. I was, frankly, confused. Who wants to be me? Heck, sometimes I don’t even want to be me. Melodrama aside, I wouldn’t have said that I’m cool.

This is how my WIRED subscription is addressed.

Part of what took me so completely aback by the situation has less to do with my own clout and more to do with the fact that I think that Kate is freaking amazing. I’m not just saying that to be humble on the internet. She is, first of all, beautiful. And I’m sure that her feminist streak loved that I started there. But she is. And she rocks a septum piercing that very few can. She makes Target clothing look the way it looks in Target ads, that is to say, good. She is smart, she’s getting her masters right now. I think what I envy the most about her is that she unabashedly studied (and is getting her masters in) history but flat out announces that she does not want to be a teacher. Let me explain for those of you who didn’t major in a social science: for those of us that did, teaching is pretty much the only answer your doubting relatives will accept when they ask just what are you going to do with that history degree. In a nut shell, cool.

The question that we should be asking ourselves isn’t whether we are or aren’t cool. But what is up with all this self doubt. Probably most of us are like Kate and I, able to see the immense value in the people in our lives but somehow not attributing that same value to ourselves. So what gives?

What is it about us personally that we can’t see we are cool? The thing about when I was told I was cool is that I didn’t think I was cool but the things Kate listed off, things that are all from my resume, are cool. But because I look at my resume so often (God bless this endless job search), it was all commonplace stuff. And, interestingly, what about her life I thought was really cool, she hadn’t considered because it was the things that made up her everyday life. I know the sample size is small, but I see a pattern. Seems like it isn’t that we aren’t cool but that we in fact are cool with such regularity we don’t even realize it.

Did I just make a breakthrough?

I Love Change

Seriously psyched.

Unlike many of my friends, I cannot wait to graduate. I was the one who started the countdown at 50 days (there are only 42 now!). I’m the one who is already packing up my stuff, getting ready to move everything home. I am so ready.

I’ve never been one for studying, so the prospect of never having to take an undergraduate class ever again is pleasant. I cannot wait to be done. Sure, I’ll miss my friends, and I don’t really have a long-term life plan. I’ll be in D.C. interning for the Daily Caller for 10 weeks this summer. After that, I have no job prospects whatsoever. I’m torn between finding a random job and moving out to Boulder, Colorado and trying to stay in the nation’s capital doing journalism. Both places are enticing, for different reasons which I won’t go into here.

I’m going to miss a few things about college, but I cannot wait to see what the future holds. I always feel like no matter what is going on in my life, there’s always something out there that’s better and more exciting.

I seem to always be seeking something different.

I hate when things are the same. I hate going to the same classes, seeing the same people, walking the same routes, going to the same bars, and never meeting anyone new. It’s not that I don’t like college. I do (or at least I used to), I’m just ready for something else.

Last year, I needed a change so desperately that I moved out of my room and into my roommate’s (I live in a house with six other girls). I just couldn’t stand being in the same bedroom for a year and a half. There was nothing wrong with it, but I didn’t like walking upstairs to the exact same room day after day, week after week, month after month.

So far, most of the changes that I have encountered in my life have been positive. I just hope they stay that way! Everyone says I’m going to miss college as soon as I’m done, but I can’t believe that’s true.  So what do you post-grads say? Will I regret wishing my 42 days left of school fly by?

Twenty-Something Expectations, Why Are You a Thing?

Listen, ladies. You're stock photo models, your lives are not that together. Stop making the rest of us feel bad.

I, like many young people, spent much my school days thinking about how great it was going to be to get out of school. I pictured the bohemian chic apartment in the city, the satisfying job with a nonprofit, spending my evenings with someone tall, dark, and handsome, and generally relishing young adulthood. Whelp, I’m a few months out of college, living in an apartment where the only perk is the ever changing array of props the neighbors use to hold open their windows, working three jobs to scrape by, sleeping with the same stuffed animal I’ve had since I was a baby, and generally cursing my twenties.

I hadn’t factored in this early period of adulthood. I grew up middle class and sort of expected I’d just stay middle class, with the middle class perks. I did not. I dropped right out the bottom and skidded to a stop somewhere near the DES office downtown. I spent my first summer wholly confused. Actually, I spent that summer hiding under my covers. Pity party aside, it was not what I’d expected.

And that was my problem. I actually never gave much thought to my twenties, and whatever I did consider was influenced by TV and movies, where being broke is endearing and cute rather than exhausting and, frankly, unhygienic.

Slowly, when I couldn’t excuse myself to my friends and family and had to admit to my poverty, I discovered that this is what being in your early twenties is like. I found out that not only my very middle class parents started out on food stamps working as part time cashiers, but so did the very middle class parents of my friends. Even my step mom, who I was certain was born not only with her shit together, but her stocks lined up, had it rough in her twenties.

Um, hello? Why did no one mention this before the fetal position? Ladies (and dudes), this is how it is! By keeping our silence we only perpetuate the myth that if you can’t get your bills together, and something definitely just scurried behind the toilet, and that, no really, you just like pasta this much you’ve done something wrong. I was blaming my crummy situation on my grades in college. As my very wise mother pointed out: That C in “Our Place in the Universe” isn’t why I haven’t gotten my foot in the door at a nonprofit.

Oh. No, yeah. That makes sense. So, blame the economy (like we haven’t heard that one before) or your major (what am I going to do with that history degree?), and definitely blame your twenties (see above), but cut yourself some slack. Reread Harry Potter, watch the new America’s Next Top Model, and buy that interview dress before you even send out your resume.

Most of all, don’t give up on yourself. You rock my socks. Besides, being in the black is for vintage photos anyways.

I’ll leave you with this blog entry I wrote in a fit of American style pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps motivation during a brief reprieve from my summertime blues. I will admit that I didn’t live by this, but I did emerge from the summer and have since embraced my twenties for all that they are. And even for all that they aren’t.

Tabula Rasa Souffle

Ingredients:

1 dozen eggs

Months of plans

All your hopes

Life goals

Childhood dreams

High expectations

Directions: In one basket place: eggs, plans, hopes, goals, dreams, expectations. Scrap. Begin again, minus above ingredients. Do what you can with half a box of pasta, ketchup, and an old banana. Fight the rising nausea, blame the banana. Go grocery shopping. Try new things. Meet new people. Don’t worry so much about following the recipe.

You should also know I got that job with a nonprofit.

Keep Procrastinating, It’s Good for You

It’s happened to everyone: You have a huge paper due Monday, a test Tuesday, and a massive group project at the end of the week. This week literally counts for 50% of your grades this semester. And yet, it’s Sunday night, and of course you haven’t done a single thing.

I mean, to be fair, it was the weekend. You were with your roommates. You had a chill Friday night and planned to get stuff done on Saturday. Instead, you wake up at noon on Saturday, go to the gym, cook lunch, cook dinner, check all relevant social media sites, and then it’s time for the basketball game that you can’t miss. You drink a few beers at the game, and then your friends convince you to go out after the game. You meet a cute guy who buys you shot after shot and you let him, homework be damned! Then on Sunday, you wake up with a massive hangover and spend the rest of the day lying on the couch and asking your roommate why you took that 5th shot of Patron and watching Harry Potter weekend on ABC Family.

I didn’t pull this scenario out of thin air: This is my weekend about 80% of the time. So unfortunately, I am no stranger to procrastination. More unfortunately, I am great at it. I have Tumblr, Netflix, Hulu, my friends, and my iPhone to convince me that there are far more relevant things to do in life than focus on schoolwork. This usually means that I find myself sitting at my desk at midnight, class in nine hours, wondering why the hell I didn’t get started on this five page paper that could literally have been completed in two hours, two weeks ago.

Probably the reason that I am so excellent at procrastination is because it’s never stopped me before. I always get everything turned in on time, even if I am a little sleep deprived. But hey, I am not the only one. In my apartment of three, I don’t hold a candle to my roommates when it comes to procrastination. One of my roommates is in pharmacy school, so she’s pretty responsible. However, she’s excellent at studying for a scarily-named test (med chem, anyone?) in the span of 40 hours. She will literally get five hours of sleep over two days, but she always makes the grade. My other roommate holds a gold medal in procrastination. I have lost count of how many times she has turned papers in late, and yet she has never once been penalized for it. Four years, tons of professors, countless papers, assignments, online quizzes and she still has a shining GPA. I watch my roommates and I remember my stories and I can’t help thinking, “No wonder I procrastinate!”

There’s a very famous saying that went around my college freshman year: “Sleep, Social Life, Good Grades. Pick two. Welcome to college.” This could not be more true, and we procrastinate because we want it all. We’d rather choose fun over homework if we have high hopes that we can finish the homework later in the week. Sure, it might have been logical to actually get the homework done ahead of time, so you can have a stress- free social life, but where’s the fun in that?

So I say, keep procrastinating and have fun. College is only four years (hopefully) and they should be amazing. Have these life experiences and learn how to deal with deadlines now, because they’re not going anywhere. Trust me I know; while writing this article, I’ve been procrastinating on writing my senior thesis. So wish me luck!