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.

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