The Black & White

I aspire to live…

By Stewart Longsworth

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College searches, college visits, AP credits, GPAs: I’m no stranger to the stress of achievement.

Photo by Stephanie Haven.

Like many students who attend Whitman, I earnestly want to do well in high school so I can get into a good college.  I make the effort to take tough courses and succeed.  But it’s all a façade; I’m a poser overachiever.

Type A personalities—hardworking people with ambition and a high need for success—seem to rise to a challenge.  They fight upstream and, when the river swells, they keep on chugging.  I am not a Type A personality.  When homework piles up and life bogs down, something stops clicking in my head.  The engines of effort choke and die and I stop trying.

When this happens, my normal worldly concerns drift away.  I lie on my bed, listen to the Velvet Underground and let my train of thought run wild.  I think, why care?  Caring about anything is useless.

Such was my condition when my mother enthusiastically handed me a letter from Yale.

I sighed—I didn’t have time for Ivy League colleges!

I considered throwing the letter on my floor (a disaster zone that has seen the loss of many an important document), but my parents would doubtless ask me about it at dinner, so I relented and opened the envelope.

“Dear Stewart: Congratulations on your high aspirations and your success in realizing them so far!”

I stopped.  Aspirations?  Success?  Me?

With labels of academic ambition, the Dean of Admissions had torn my heart in two.  One part sank into my stomach with a queasy thud and another part sprang into my throat.  After a year of AP classes, college searches and homework scattered across my bed, cynicism finally overwhelmed the levees of school-day mentality.

I picked up my pen and wrote.  The words flowed from an unknown well; an unconscious rock had suddenly become a spring.  I later went back and mopped up the writing.  Here is the resulting letter:

Mr. Brenzel, I have no ambition.

I will admit to a few idle daydreams of mine.  They all boil down to one thing: I want to COME ALIVE.

I want to shake the dust of the deceived off of me.  I want to move to the slums and learn how gangstas talk.  I want to walk the city streets.  I want to frequent seedy bars, meet good buddies and get drunk on life.

I want to be in a rock band.  I want to hang from cliffs and be rescued at the last second.  I want to put my arms around Kurt Cobain and tell him, “It’s alright.  Everybody loves you.  Don’t do it.”  I want to see pretty girls smile at me, and to smile right back at them, and to feel butterflies in my stomach every time.

I want to work odd jobs and drift around the country.  I want to sleep in the back of a truck, under the stars.  I want to fall madly in love and tour the world with my lover, seeing distant lands and strange peoples.   I want to learn Spanish, and I want to be able to cuss in every known language.

When I start growing older, I guess I will want to settle down, get married and have kids.  But before then, I want heaven and hell, heart-struck and heart-broke, hills and valleys, laughter and tears.  I want poignancy: sun to shine brighter, rain to fall harder, skies to be bluer and clouds to seem fluffier.

Most of all, I want stories.  I want to hear stories, feel stories, live stories, tell stories and die with a story.  I want to pour out my heart for the world to hear me and become the wiser.

Most of these things are contradictory, impossible or just plain sentimental.  They are, after all, fleeting dreams from a shy white kid from a happy, middle-class nuclear family.  But these are the closest things I have to aspirations right now.  I don’t want your dead money or ivory-tower learnedness.  I don’t want a “future.”  I want a life.  If you show me that I will wake up to life at Yale, then, I promise, I will apply.

Are these words true?  After sanity kicked in, my words seemed artificial and ridiculous—truly heat of the moment—yet strangely unsettling.  Is it just me?  Maybe I’m weird.  But maybe there is something more we all want, something more than future degrees and millionaire CEO positions.

I’m not going to drop out of school in the meantime, but this summer, I have some serious thinking in store, and not just about my college applications.

42 Comments

42 Responses to “I aspire to live…”

  1. hey you! on May 17th, 2010 9:23 pm

    i have a stack of papers in my room filled with thoughts like those. except they’re mostly drawings, like a visual story of my mind or something. hey, high school’s just a game after all, right? the best thing you can do is to find a way to integrate your academic interests into the way you live your life. high school doesn’t give anyone enough freedom. go to a small liberal arts college!

  2. Julia Dane on May 17th, 2010 9:45 pm

    This is really, really good, Stewart.

  3. keep it up on May 17th, 2010 10:10 pm

    i earnestly await each of your columns. please keep writing!! you’re keeping me sane in this college mess.

  4. Juliet on May 17th, 2010 10:47 pm

    STEWART I LOVE YOU

  5. James on May 17th, 2010 11:10 pm

    You are a huge beast.

  6. i mean, okay on May 17th, 2010 11:13 pm

    WTF THIS IS SO GOOD. i hope you sent it.

  7. Mike on May 17th, 2010 11:14 pm

    Hey man, this is an awesome article. I too wish for some of the listed above. Variations of course. But the only thing getting in your way, is yourself. I mean this with all sincerity, but there will always be that driving force suppressing your wishes. This is why we are human. We want so badly what seems impossible to have. It is simply just allowing yourself to have that feeling. That longing. It will come for you in some shape or form, and all we can really do is be ready for it when it comes. Very inspiring article keep up the good work my friend.

  8. megan on May 17th, 2010 11:14 pm

    This is fabulous. Stewart, you have a knack for writing that is unfailingly honest.

  9. Claire Bartholomew on May 17th, 2010 11:17 pm

    Wow, Stewart. That just about summed up everything I’ve ever felt about my “future.”

  10. Ben Lewis on May 17th, 2010 11:21 pm

    Stewart, this is awesome

  11. Senior on May 17th, 2010 11:22 pm

    This is such nonsense. Stewart is a textbook type A Whitman kid who got burnt out at the end of his junior year. Cry me a river. People like Stewart are the reason Whitman is the way it is, and why it has gotten worse. This was probably his essay on the SAT. Stewart, you are a huge hypocrite and sadly may not even know it.

  12. TheDevil WearsPrada on May 17th, 2010 11:27 pm

    Youre too good for Yale.

  13. Eleanor Katz on May 17th, 2010 11:34 pm

    Wow Stewart. I’m impressed. Keep on writing. The whole school loves it.

  14. Douglas Graebner on May 17th, 2010 11:41 pm

    I think there are a lot more people in your boat than you think there are.

  15. Jeremy Klitzman on May 17th, 2010 11:53 pm

    Stu, this is why you’re my boy. Not only is this actually so beautiful and eloquent, but it is also one of the balliest and most spot-on things I’ve ever read. You’d be surprised how many Whitman kids – both current, past, future – subscribe to the exact same belief you just so gracefully detailed. Well done.

  16. Senior on May 18th, 2010 1:03 am

    To “Senior”
    I burnt out in my junior year too, and it made me a much better person, so don’t be bitter that Stu is getting fame for being himself and you remain to be nobody.

  17. Molly Kaplowitz on May 18th, 2010 7:10 am

    Stewart, this is really good. Not only is it thought provoking, but it’s amazingly well written. Hope to see another column of yours up soon!

  18. Son on May 18th, 2010 9:27 am

    Brilliant. Mrs. Reynolds must be so happy

  19. Julia on May 18th, 2010 9:32 am

    Stewart, this is amazing

  20. Sarah on May 18th, 2010 9:51 am

    This is wonderful, Stewart. Keep it up!

  21. Yale Admissions on May 18th, 2010 11:00 am

    Sorry, John Mayer beat you too it . . .
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1W2UddURXI

  22. Becca on May 18th, 2010 11:16 am

    This is incredible!!

  23. Nikhil Gupta on May 18th, 2010 11:17 am

    Way to kick butt Stewart! Awesome article. KEEP WRITING and I’ll keep reading.

  24. Fuzzy Bear on May 18th, 2010 11:21 am

    If Yale accepted you tommorow, you would jump right off your high horse and move to New Haven. Yes, people at this school are overachievers, but that doesn’t mean they wont enjoy the fruits of their labors.

  25. David Ortiz on May 18th, 2010 1:51 pm

    Thank you Fuzzy Bear. Everyone singing Stewart’s praises is the biggest hypocrite of all time. “OH YEAH I ALWAYS HATED SCHOOL I JUST WANNA LIVE MY LIFE” Tell that to your 4.0 gpa.

    If you want to live your life then stop buying into the Whitman philiosophy and try something other than homework every day. Writing a fairly tale to appease your narcissism doesn’t count. Just admit you are a hard-working student who wants to go to Yale etc. but is afraid you may not get accepted. To combat this, you come up with this crap? Wow. Typical whitman kid. You will never change. The day you figure this out is the day you can aspire to do at least .01% of what you mentioned.

  26. Hailey on May 18th, 2010 2:45 pm

    Stewart, this is amazing! You’re a great writer!

  27. Mike Bernhard on May 18th, 2010 3:48 pm

    You make me proud Stu

  28. pssshh on May 18th, 2010 7:37 pm

    keep writing this nonsense

  29. Shoulda been a son on May 18th, 2010 7:42 pm

    Stewart you’re cool 😀 That guy up there probably never even took the SAT (he’s 2 cool 4 skool! 8| )

  30. Beers on May 18th, 2010 10:49 pm
  31. Junior on May 18th, 2010 11:31 pm

    Whats up big Stew. This is brilliantly written and something honest and vital that needs to be said about the whitman community full of over achieving kids, over-expectant parents.

  32. StewartSky on May 19th, 2010 12:18 am

    StewCanoe: Awesome. And I thought I was a good writer, though admittedly quite shallow. You not only write with command of the language, you dig where many think but few have the ability to go.
    Proud to be another Stew.

    Your Favorite Foster City Uncle

  33. Grandpa on May 19th, 2010 9:05 am

    Stewart: I am truly impressed in the way you can express the feelings you have: your ability to look deeply below the surface. While I would not like you to see you take part in some of these scenarios, these are thoughts that most of us have had. That’s why you connect. You have a great talent for writing. Keep at it. Love, Grandpa

  34. Stewart Longsworth on May 19th, 2010 3:06 pm

    Thanks, guys! And here I worried everyone would think it sounded weird.

    @Senior, Fuzzy Bear, and David Ortiz:
    You guys are right–I’m so far from these fleeting concepts that it’s ironic. I try to highlight that in my story. It is interesting to reflect on the chasm that separates the goals I work towards and the fancies that suddenly strike me in moment’s such as the one in this blog–a real event.

    Your vicious cynicism was totally unnecessary to that point. I feel sympathy for you guys, because most people aren’t so hateful and distrusting of someone for having internal conflicts. Apparently, I’m not the only one.

    By the way, I definitely don’t want to go to Yale, my GPA is 3.6 (still pretty good), and I don’t hate school at all. I just get apathetic sometimes. Next time, listen with open hearts, and don’t assume I’m a liar and hypocrite.

  35. Charmaine on May 19th, 2010 4:38 pm

    Dear Stewart, you make me cry with your depth and heart. Just know that all that you desire will come to you in many forms and you will have a rich life. Just be patient and believe. Love you.

  36. Stephen Sanchez on May 19th, 2010 11:01 pm

    Stewart,

    Paul Harrison shared this with me. I was moved, not because it of the internal conflict, but because of what I can only perceive as internal clarity. Your heart desires life-life, not just the cheap imitation that we settle for. I have a student-club at DeMatha where I teach, and some of us meet in Bethesda on Friday’s. I’d like you to come and read this and discuss it with us, if you’re interested. Please contact me.

  37. '09 on May 19th, 2010 11:36 pm

    Okay I hate to be the downer here, because this is very well-written. But someone needs to point out that this article is every bit as weird and fuzzy as you thought it was.

    On a more important note, perhaps, you should just be careful not to throw away opportunities for the sake of writing a nice article and impressing people with your feelings. Sometimes you just have to suck it up for your future’s sake, because honestly if I were a cynical college admissions officer reading this, I would think two things:

    (1) Whatever you have in talent and passion, you more than make up for in lack of ambition; and

    (2) You’re kind of selfish…you want to experience all these things for yourself. You want to hear stories so you can enjoy the stories. There’s nothing in it about using what you learn to make a difference in the world. You just want to be there to watch life happen and then fade off into the sunset.

    I realize in some ways this is the point you’re making: but faders just don’t make it.

    This is harsh, maybe, but it’s a reality check. I admire your thoughtfulness, and since I don’t know you I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt that the article is sincere. But just like you might question whether or not to send that letter, I’m sure you questioned whether or not to post this here. And if I was your parent, I’d be awed and terrified at the same time.

    It’s awesome that you can express yourself like this. That’s a great gift. I would just be concerned that this whole thing is a little myopic.

  38. Charlotte on May 20th, 2010 9:11 am

    This is really, really good.

  39. Mscolleen2003 on May 20th, 2010 6:38 pm

    To the devil wears prada,
    You are what is wrong with Whitman. He is not burnt out, he is coming alive, he is feeling freedom nipping at his heels, touching his face and making him want to experience life. Life is as it should be for this young man.

  40. A friend on May 21st, 2010 12:59 am

    Stu,

    ur lyk3 s000 fam0u5!!

  41. Meg on May 23rd, 2010 5:11 pm

    Stewart, your writing is brilliant — fresh, impassioned, and alive with intention. To Yale or not to Yale, that is not the question… to be, perchance to dream, is. Great job.

  42. copernicus on June 2nd, 2010 9:33 am

    at best this article could be considered fake