Phases

It seems like most people go through phases—periods in life when you’re really into something and then you’re not. I’ve had many, and I was thinking about them this morning and decided to make a list.

Annotated List of Phases:
(in mostly chronological order)

1. Monster trucks

They were big, loud, flashy, and powerful. What’s not for a little boy to love? My friend Bobby and I once begged my dad to take us to a truck pull, and when he finally agreed, we celebrated like we’d just won the lottery.

2. Karate

Inspired by the original Karate Kid, I made it all the way to . . . green belt. So it was short-lived. (I had no idea that crane technique wasn’t legit.)

3. WWF Pro Wrestling (and sometimes NWA Pro Wrestling)

My friend Jonathan and I would binge-watch past series of Wrestlemania on VHS. And my friend Matt and I spent a lot of time playing with these rubber wrestlers:

—highlight: seeing the Road Warriors wrestle when the NWA came to Jackson, TN.

4. BMX

Fun, but soon replaced by #5.

5. Skateboarding*

This one really resonated. It was when I first became aware of subcultures—those little enclaves of activity outside the mainstream. I was in the sixth grade, and I realized skaters were my kind of people.

6. Hair bands

And the crushes that went with them.

7. Rap

Anything at all that can be traced back to Dr. Dre still turns me up.

8. Basketball

Michael Jordan was active and winning championships with the Bulls, so it was a good time to be a fan. I played a lot with my friends, but it all went sour when I didn’t make the team in tenth grade. Even now, I get jealous when I see a really tall male.

9. Grunge/alternative rock*

It was a glorious thing to be in high school when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit. It was the perfect intersection of adolescent angst and early-90s apathy; a generation of teenagers pretending to be dead inside. It was great!

—my uniform: flannel shirts, ripped jeans, and green Doc Martens; also, a general shagginess
—sub-phase: reggae (complete with a Bob Marley sticker on my Honda Accord)
—sub-phase: The Doors (who hasn’t communed with the spirit of Jim Morrison?)

10. Painting*

I had always drawn pictures, but in 11th grade I began to realize that art was about way more than just pencil drawings of random things. It was (and is) a way of living, one that grew exponentially more important in college. However, the various painting phases of my artistic life apparently have their limits.

11. Hunting/fishing

My dad took me hunting and fishing several times when I was little, and at the end of undergraduate school, I found myself wanting to do it again (plus it lined up with a sub-phase: obsession with the movie Legends of the Fall, in which Tristan is a hunter). Yet I was never a successful outdoorsman, and I think it’s because, at my core, I’m not the hunting/fishing type; this phase was more about being in the woods or on a lake with my dad and brother.

12. Being in a band*

I’ve been in three bands (four if you count the rap group in junior high). Each was fun in its own way. The most special, though, was the one I moved to Nashville with, because we were really trying to do something with it, artistically speaking—trying to “make it.” Oh well, oh well.

13. Golf

It’s amazing how one good golf shot will make you forget a hundred bad ones. Eventually, though, you get tired of spending money on something that makes you angry.

14. LEGO

One of the triumphs of fatherhood is that now I have a justification for playing with LEGOs. This phase is ongoing.

*The asterisks denote a recurring phase.

Looks like my list will end here. I’ve had more interests than these, but many of them lasted hardly long enough to be considered phases. Also, things have grown out of certain phases that have evolved into something bigger—something more aptly called a lifestyle, like writing, which I trace back to my painting days, falling, as it does, under that greater realization of what it means to be an artist. Further still, some things are too monumental to be thought of as a phase, even though their relative duration was short, like graduate school. And finally, as I noted with asterisks, some phases never truly leave. In fact, there’s a skateboard in the back of my car right now.

What are your phases? Make a list!

 

Uncanny

It is the day of my thesis meeting. My committee of three professors, having read my thesis, will offer suggestions and provide feedback for about an hour. If you know anything about long writing projects, then you’re acquainted with the rush of relief that comes when the final draft is submitted—the seeming swelling of everything good; the easiness of breath due to  your newly expanded air. It is a feeling that lingers for some time. Well, I turned in my thesis over a week ago, so my committee would have time to read it before today’s meeting. And that feeling did come, and it lasted for two or three days, in slowly ebbing increments. It makes me wish I always had a long paper due (not really).

Yet a different, but just as exhilarative, feeling found me this morning. The last song to play in my car, right before parking and entering work (alas, it’s still a work day), was a song that I reference in my thesis: Lou Reed’s “Make Up.” Out of the hundreds of songs in my iPod, which was set to shuffle, it chose that one! It’s as if the universe patted my shoulder, letting me know that my effort was in harmony with all of existence—like the pieces were coming together, if only for a moment, and allowing a glance at some bigger picture, whose pattern would clarify in the end. My anxiety evaporated into the cool November morning, and I listened to the whole song.

Back to School, Fifteen Years Later

On campus.
On campus.

It has been fifteen years since I strolled across the stage in Union University’s chapel, shook Dr. Dockery’s hand, and officially ended my college career.  Then began fifteen years of life experience–some of it hard, some of it triumphant, some self-inflicted, and some not.  For fifteen years I have been figuring things out.  And while many riddles remain unsolved, there is one thing that I knew it was time to do:  go back to school.  The time was ripe for pursuing that master’s degree that I had long claimed to want.

 

Returning to school was an adjustment in some unexpected ways.  Having always enjoyed that setting, I thought that I would slide back into it with ease.  But here is the thing–I am not who I was fifteen years ago.  No one is.  We are ever changing–tastes, styles, likes, dislikes, views, routines, relationships, underwear–and often imperceptibly.  Age, alone, brings about changes.  It was naive to think that I would transition so easily.  In our late teens and early twenties, we are kids who think that we are adults.  In my late thirties, I have no such illusions–the kid years are long gone.  By the way, college kids have not changed.  They still wear ridiculous hats and pajamas to class; they still stay up all night “studying”; they still sneak around and smoke cigarettes (they have to sneak at Belmont, as the campus is smoke-free).  The smell of identity-searching fills the air.  Conversely, my dress is fairly conservative, I have a wife and a two-year-old, I go to bed by ten, and I gave up smoking years ago.  Every night on campus (graduate classes are mostly all at night), I am aware that my peers and I are in the minority.  There is much less leisure for us.  Whereas the undergraduate may spend the hours between classes hanging out in the dorm or the student center or at Bongo Java across the street, having animated, idealistic discussions about the subjects on which they are now experts, I am navigating a toddler drop-off with my wife on the other side of town in rush hour traffic or arranging to be late for work so I can turn in a paper in hard copy, which my teachers unscrupulously demand, despite the age of email in which we live.  These are not complaints, however.  Let me emphasize that.  These are merely illustrations showing how the rules of the game have changed on this second go-around.  I am thrilled to be back in school, but the logistics of making it happen have become much more of a balancing act.  That said, semester’s end brings an elation like I never felt as an undergrad.  There is more reading and writing in one graduate English class than in a full course load at the undergraduate level (at least it feels that way).  A completed semester feels like an enormous accomplishment.

 

There was a point near the end of the most recent semester when I finally felt like a part of the school, integrated into the body of learners, professors, and buildings.  Walking to class from the parking garage, passing between two lines of fiery red maples, it finally hit me.  It had taken two semesters to sink in, but I now felt like a student.  Of course, I had known I was a student since summer–my student account attests to that–but I did not feel like one.  For much of those first two semesters, it felt like I was pretending to be a student, reading and writing a lot in the early morning hours and showing up once a week on campus with a backpack.  It was like a very aware dream.  So much time had been spent in frustration over a job that had grown tedious that the thought of pursuing something different seemed forever out of reach.  But it was, and is, happening.

 

Speaking of that job, it has taught me something very valuable.  It has taught me how to work when I do not feel like working.  After an inspiration-sapping shift, when the easy chair calls most vehemently, an inner voice reminds me that the schoolwork has to get done.  It just has to!  Thankfully, it is a rewarding endeavor.  Never have I regretted sitting down to my assignments.  As discipline triumphs over lethargy–a battle fought often–the academic effort becomes increasingly satisfying.  And there is something else that will be satisfying:  commencement.  The day will come when I will stroll across a different stage and shake a different hand.  That will be its own kind of elation.