The Ten Year Undergrad

Last year around this time, I found myself seeking out answers from a 26 year-old drug addict panhandling at Main and Terminal. A season characterized by achingly beautiful sunsets and sub-zero temperatures never fails to make me feel alive and wild. It was perhaps this sentiment that redirected me to connecting with a guy so obviously high on heroin. But more so, on my midnight trek home from work I became emotional with not knowing where this human being was going to sleep.

Earlier in the day I spotted the most still cumulonimbus clouds, pushed into being by the cold front that rolled in the morning of. I felt euphoric and incredibly excited for the future. After seven years of exploring, I had finally found an academic field that I could dedicate my life to. Ironically, Human Geography is all about exploring the human condition. “The body is constituted though perspectives it cannot inhabit. Someone else sees our face in a way that none of us can” (Judith Butler, 2011). This form of academia has taught me to look past my place in this world and instead question the sociality that exceeds us. Put in another way, which structures and institutions are vital to our survival? Is it the collective action of many or the heroic action of one?

My ten-year undergrad degree can be defined by disorder and sporadicity. They say that curiosity killed the cat, but here it just delayed the normative sequence of ‘adult life’ leading many to question, “what are you going to do with your degree” and “do you think you’ll freeze your eggs”? The answer to both is simply a cute paronym: “I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.”  I am at once Finn Dodd and Vera Brittain, Impetuous yet always seeking answers.

The best professors challenge you to a degree of despondency, until the semester ends, and you miss them dearly. They become part of your identity as you shake off past conceptions and build new meanings into your life. Take a moment to remember your favourite teacher. What was it about them that made them so memorable? Did they care enough to hold you accountable? Did they show you other dimensions of this world? Did they give you a reason to fight, question and persevere?

Without this confidence how can we challenge a world so enmeshed in productivity and consumption. So often students start their academic journey believing that they have the power to change the world and by graduation they see their reveries as fruitless imaginaries. Is this because we all have to face the realities of the world sooner or later; where debt piles up, inequalities continue to grow, lovers leave you, and/or you find yourself in a job surrounded by small-minded idiots?

But what if this other dimension of life is simply transposable knowledge that unites instead of divides? A place where we all have a chance against hungry-environmental-destroying-capitalists. A place where legalities are not built on foundations of loop-holes that protect the perpetrator and destroy the victim. Could it be as simple as: you have a body, therefore you have a right. “The right comes into being when it is exercised, and exercised by those who act in concert, in alliance. Those who are excluded from existing polities, who belong to no nation-state or other contemporary state formation may be “unreal” only by those who seek to monopolize the terms of reality” (Donna Haraway, 1988)

Going back to that aberrant night, I will now introduce you to Lucas.
I asked him, don’t you look up in the sky and wonder what kind of clouds there are? He responded that all he thinks about is how to score his next hit. “Right now I’d give the shirt off my back for just a forty-five minute high.”  (It was -2 out)
How did this all start? Percocets and boredom.
Do you want to stop? I’d give anything to stop. I quit a couple of months ago, but then my girlfriend and I broke up and I started using again.

In the same way that you cannot force someone consumed with drugs to stop, you cannot lead the love of your life to love themself. But of course the two are connected aren’t they? People will derail their lives and their loved ones will often be subsumed. Their pain is your pain.

To the end of my days I could take course after course subsisting on forms of enlightenment. My ten-year undergrad will no doubt turn into a life-long masters degree, of life of course. But knowing what I know sometimes makes it difficult to continue on when I feel my support systems slipping away. Acts of kinship, acts of kindness, and acts of forgiveness are all I need. Can you find a place where you feel the same? I don’t think it requires a ten-year undergrad but it does require you to question your place in this world. As my sister often reminds me, “are you living to write your resume, or your eulogy?”

As I sign off, I want to think of Lucas. Someone so lost and wrapped up in his own limiting idiosyncrasies. It can be drugs, alcohol, obsession with material goods, or even ones own ego that prevents one from finding the true beauty of this world; this other dimension. In the race to wealth, do not let genuine connections pass you by. In the face of insecurities, try to hold the ones you love closer instead of pushing them away. “No human can be human alone. And no human can be human without acting in concert with others and on conditions of equality I would add the following: The claim of equality is not only spoken or written, but is made precisely when bodies appear together or, rather, when, through their action, they bring the space of appearance into being.”(Judith Butler, 2011)

But even closer to you, you seem so very far
And now I’m reaching out with every note I sing
And I hope it gets to you on some pacific wind
Wraps itself around you and whispers in your ear

-Florence and the Machine.

Feature Image: artist unknown.

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