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Embracing the WTF?

BY DEAN TREFTZ | MARCH 23, 2009 7:30 AM

Audio: The author reads his column


[Editor’s note: Dean is going to temporarily ignore his fear of coming off as a massively arrogant prick for this week’s column. Enjoy.]

So I’m smart.

I mean that in the most informal way possible: I’m good at the classes I usually take and compulsively make sure I drop little hints to my friends as to how easy they are for me.

I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember. I’ve added some shades of gray, but when it comes down to it and I’m having a shitty day, I still need that emotional/biochemical doggie treat you get for a Smart Answer.

I get It and probably need to get It. Getting It is an embarrassingly sizable fraction of who I am.
Everybody’s got her or his thing(s) like this. Some are smart, others are hot, cool, right-thinking, nice, tough, compassionate, humble, etc. etc. Obviously, people’s identities are some combination thereof, but there’s always a No. 1.

Anyway, my point at this point is that I am smart in both the colloquial and identity senses. That’s why it’s been especially confusing for this economics/journalism major to take a literature and a creative-writing class.

In both, I am lost. I raise my hand, add my supposedly perceptive two cents, and see the professor pause in a way that’s obvious she’s just searching a way to connect what I said to an actually relevant point. I usually get a little panicked, throw out another opinion, and biff it again.

Early in the semester after classes like this, I think I felt like one of those 45-year-old waitresses who wistfully relive their prom-queen days (or I would if they existed outside of movies). Maybe a more apt analogy would be Michael Jordan’s stint at baseball – even better: Luc Longley if he had tried to play baseball and sucked harder than Jordan’s so-so performance.

Conspicuously not getting It also created not one but two forces of self-loathing (I know, I was actually kinda impressed with myself here) that fought for some sort of pathetic dominance over my brain.

One side was merely frustrated with my inability, for instance, to recognize Tolstoy’s foreshadowing of Andrei Nikolaevich’s death with the rant before the Battle of Borodino. This was even worse in my creative-writing class, in which I have to produce something original to a professional writer and graduate of the Writers’ Workshop and compete with some genuinely creative classmates.
The second self-loathing side was disgusted at the zeal of the first’s frustration.

Still, these two classes have been two of my favorites in my entire collegiate career. I used to think this was despite my near-constant chalk-blocks, but more recently, I’ve started to feel a wave of calm after each hour and a half of banging my head against these classes’ literary walls. There’s a sense of release that I can only equate with the feeling one gets after the last class before spring break (that one feels a little bitter now, though).

I became thoroughly confused when I realized this. I was still needily raising my hand, failing and repeating enough to probably annoy some classmates. I still hadn’t tasted any of that dickish confidence that comes with most other classes that made me think I could skip a week and still be OK.

Becoming completely lost in a class that I haven’t given up on has become one of the more invigorating aspects of college for me. I think I enjoy being mediocre at my chosen adjective.
Being a student means being a potential adult. This is where the “You can be anything you want to be” kicks its last postmortem spasm.

I could be way off, but I feel like there are a fair number of us uniformly embedded with the understanding that we’re special, and that contradiction breeds a lot of tension.
Anyway, my recent experience of getting my particular specialness beaten out of me has been redemptive. For three classes a week, I don’t need to be Somebody in a generation of Somebodys.


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