Graduated, leaving, and happy about it

BY DEAN TREFTZ | JULY 27, 2009 7:15 AM

Iowa City is a serene Eden of learning, originality, and small-town charm, and I have never been so relieved to leave a place. The strange thing is that this seems to be a fairly common contradiction.

At some point — not necessarily graduation, but that seems to be a popular one — a Leave-Iowa City Clock (the Homework-Due Clock’s big ugly ex-con brother) seems to start ticking.

There are specific cliché worries about career and life course that accompany and possibly even cause this unease, but it’s less noticeable in words or explicit thoughts than in an increasingly nervous presence in my stomach.

Having managed to squeeze four years of college into five years, my personal clock started last summer when many of my friends and acquaintances left. The tick-tick-tick grew louder and faster with every handshake in front of a packed minivan, every earnest doorway hug, even with every awkward “I’ll see you around, man,” which both parties know is probably not true.

I knew I was going to leave and do something, but I was going to enjoy my last summer here. Tick.
More and more undergraduates stared to look like they were on the other side of the definitive mini-generational line that separated freshmen from everyone else and high-school seniors from freshmen. Tickticktick.

By the time July rolled around, I was practically counting out the ticks with my shoe and could barely have a casual drink with a friend without saying some derivative of “I gotta get the hell out of here.”

From what I’ve seen and whom I’ve talked to, this seems to be a shared experience among a decent section of the local soon-to-be/postgraduate demographic (yes, I know that I’m more likely to talk to/remember people I can relate to, but let’s go with it anyway).

It’s been interesting watching friends’ clocks go off, and they have trouble talking/thinking about anything but getting away.

Everyone seems to love Iowa City as much as ever, too.

This is a fun, fascinating town. It’s a magnet to interesting and eclectic people. There’s always something going on to the extent that it feels like the social infrastructure is built for a town at least twice the size.

I personally love how the student area and broader city are two distinct cities within Iowa City that offer completely different enjoyable experiences right on top of each other (it helps to know a bunch of townies for good times past Governor Street).

As with anywhere, there are downsides. There’s a vicious violent streak and weird ethnic tension that no one really knows how to deal with, and the level of self-satisfaction can make me want to go join a Sarah Palin rally.

But this is best place I’ve ever lived for any extended period of time.

There’s quite a few different explanations for this contradiction like “I came here for college, that’s done, so I need to leave” and “I need to see more of the country/world.”

A particularly seductive narrative sometimes whispers in my ear that this anxiety is ambition not letting me settle for an “ordinary” life, and the stronger the pressure to leave, the more successful you can become. But besides being way too easy and narcissistically gratifying to be true, it carries a heavy implication on those who stay, even just for a year or two.

I’m not sure what is driving my clock, but it seems to be the swan song of my college career, and I try not to fill in the blanks for people whose thought processes are clearly different.

I’ve written this to describe my experience in Iowa City as I’ve seen it with the hopes that you understand what the hell I’ve been talking about. I hope you got something out of it.

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