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Commencement 2012

As I drove around Missouri earlier this month, I was struck by how much I have missed the sky. Living in New York City, you only see the sky as a backdrop, a veiled scrim behind a clutter of tenement buildings and skyscrapers. But in the Midwest, the sky is a large blue canvas, freckled only with clouds. Driving underneath it, I was awed by how massive it can seem when unencumbered by glowing ads for soda products and clothing lines.

 I was in Missouri for the weekend to witness my little sister graduate from college. “Little” is really a misnomer now. Only older siblings can fully appreciate what a surreal experience something like this can be. This is the “baby” sibling that you, if you are anything like me, teased mercilessly for years on end. Even after they get to the age where they are genuinely capable of returning a solid punch on the arm, you are still not prepared to watch them walk across a stage and collect their diploma. I was present for her first steps, and now she’s wearing high heels. I imagine this is a mild precursor to the mixture of pride and wonder I will feel as a parent, witnessing my children grow up and sighing to myself about where all the time has gone.

Since graduation is always at the end of the school year, many people forget that “commencement” actually means “beginning.” It is meant to signify the start, not the end of the things. Sitting in the gymnasium of my sister’s small school, I was reminded of my own commencement four years ago in St. Louis. I graduated from Webster University with a B.A. in film production, a dream that I had pursued relentlessly since the fifth grade. Surrounded by similar, like-minded colleagues, we sat more or less politely through the speaker’s well-meaning address, none of which I remember now. I’m sure that it was the usual commencement speak, rife with cliché and meant to encourage us in how special and unique we are; how the world is now ours for the taking and how we can do anything we set our minds to. Honestly, it’s probably for the best that I don’t remember a word of it. Because now I’ve had the benefit of discovering that life rarely, if ever, fits so neatly inside the packaged banalities of most commencement addresses.

When I was in high school, I applied to just three schools with film programs: UCLA, NYU and Webster. I didn’t have the grades for UCLA or the money for NYU. Webster was my safety, and I went promising myself that I would transfer to New York after two years. That didn’t happen, which I am thankful for because I met my beautiful fiancée, and we both made it to the Big Apple eventually anyway. I moved here in the fall of 2009 for a film production internship. It truly seemed the stuff of graduation speeches: I was in the city I’d dreamed of, pursuing the job I loved.

 I pined after New York City for well over five years. But now that I’m here, I find myself wishing more often than not that I could move back. Not just because I miss the sky, but because I miss little things, like driving, and big things, like being so close to my family. Wide open corn fields, once endlessly boring, now seem freeing. The smallness of things and the slowness of life, once patently maddening, now feels idyllic. What’s more, I no longer feel that the degree that I worked so hard for is at all what I want to do with my life. This is more than just a “grass is always greener” mentality. This is a bona fide crisis of identity. Why didn’t my commencement speaker prepare me for this?

This was why, as proud as I was of my sister, I was also worried for her. I worried that her commencement address would do the same thing to her mine had done to me – to reinforce the notion that a liberal arts education automatically opens every door for you, gives you all the answers, makes things easier. I love my sister, and I want the best for her, and of course I want to encourage her to dream big and reach for the stars – all that cheesy, clichéd stuff. But I also want her to know the truth: that life is really, really hard, and full of disappointments, and more often than not does not turn out at all like we expect.

And more than anything else, I want her to know that that’s okay. 

I wish everyone would stop looking down on me for having an E-reader

Photo credit: http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2010/06/22/battle-e-reader-price-war-breaks/

Excuse me everyone, I just want to make a quick announcement before I step out of the doors of the subway car and allow the train to get moving. I can already tell by the looks on some of your faces that many of you are quite livid; obviously you all have places to be and I certainly don’t want to make you later for work than you already are. But I just needed you all to know that this morning on my commute I will be making use of an E-reader, and I hoped to explain why.  

Now, I know what you’re all thinking – “an E-reader? So you hate the publishing industry and wish to see all writers out on the streets?” – but I think that’s a little harsh. All I wanted was a lightweight and compact reading device. Really, is that a crime? My bag is already heavy with half-finished screenplays, broken Pop-Tarts, and a month’s worth of unread issues of The New Yorker. The thought of carrying around a few additional paperbacks as well gives my neck palpitations just thinking about it. 

What I can ensure you I did not want was a way to carry my Dean Koontz novels around in my pocket so I can read them without strangers like you judging me all the time. Really, do I look like the kind of person that reads Dean Koontz? The very idea of it is preposterous. It also has nothing to do with the fact that the electronic version of Confessions of a Guidette is cheaper than it is in hardcover, or that I am sick and tired of ruining my City of Glass series by having to glue covers of The Economist to them. These completely hypothetical situations in no way resemble the actual reason I bought this reader, namely, it’s amazingly simple interface. I have also never noticed that thanks to daily deals, disgustingly stereotypical romance novels with slightly racist titles like Savage Beloved are only ninety-nine cents.

And no, to be honest I don’t “miss the feel and texture of actual paper,” thank you very much. Look around, people: paper is going the way of the dinosaurs. Paper has had its thousands of years under the sun. I can guarantee you that three years from now, none of us are going to be sitting around looking at one another saying, “Remember paper cuts? I miss those.” Six-inch, black and white screens are the future, ladies and gentlemen. Pretty soon your TVs and smart phones will follow suit. Mark my words.

Some of you obviously enjoy carrying around massive copies of Jonathan Franzen novels, and that’s fine. Enjoy your mid-life spinal re-alignment! Whoever Jonathan Franzen is must obviously be in serious need of some door stops around his house, if you get my drift. Some of you say you like going “outside” to an actual “store” and using “money” to buy a “book.” To that I say: how about being able to download a book in 2.5 seconds so you don’t have to interrupt your marathon of The Voice?

But I reserve judgment. You like to read one way, and I like to read another (slightly smarter) way. This is America, after all, and we should all be free to read however we choose - left to right, right to left (if you’re reading manga), or solely in pictures (if you’re illiterate, or a toddler)!

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your time. I just realized this is an uptown train and I want to be going downtown. So I’ll leave you all to it. Happy reading.

Photo credit: http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2010/06/22/battle-e-reader-price-war-breaks/

It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. By

Frodo

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King