january 25 1997:
how's the homework situation


he thing is that I've been depressed all semester. (From what little I have managed to put here, you could probably tell that.) Even before I had the field work, I was slacking. Maybe that's what started it, actually, having those two days in the middle of the week totally free to do nothing if I wanted. Tuesdays and Thursdays I had off, no classes, nothing. I was free to wander around campus enjoying myself, going to the bookstore, doing errands, moving my studio stuff over to my new studio cubicle, taking care of the last few details of moving from the dorm to the new house.

That was the other bit, right there: the Town House. For those out in the world, there's this housing setup at Vassar called the Town Houses, the THs to their friends, that's across a busy street and down a 5-minute wooded path from the rest of campus. It's suites, basically, five people in a house with one living room, a kitchen and 1.5 bathrooms. There are 5 "blocks" of ten THs, A block through E block, arranged in a circle around a big ass lawn, with C and D blocks closest to the path to campus. These are cheap, stuck-together glorified apartments we're talking about. I was in C block. There's another bunch that was built after the THs, called the Terrace Apartments or TAs, that are in a much better location, on campus, have nicer, less boxy architecture and only fit 4 people. I wanted to be in one of those but they're highly sought after and I couldn't get it together at the end of the last school year to get into one.

back to the present...

Instead I wound up moving in with my friend Christine's boyfriend Alan and three of his friends, into a TH. This was a last minute thing but it looked like it'd work out well enough. I'm not sure why I liked the idea of moving into a suite-style living situation so much. I think the living room is what did it. The idea of lounging around on a couch watching TV and having one of my housemates come home and chat with me a little on their way up to their room, then kludging up some dinner later on... it all seemed so wonderful and sitcom-like. It didn't quite work out that way. Instead, I spent a lot of time by myself, in my room. It's always been like that, but at least in the dorm there were always people right nearby to hang out with. My four housemates didn't share many interests with me, and knew each other a lot better than I knew any of them. They tended to plan big dinners amongst themselves without it occuring to them that I was at all interested. In turn, it never occurred to me to express interest. I ate a lot of spaghetti, rice, cereal, ramen, with lots of fruit juice when things were going okay. A lot of times, for convenience and variety, I spent money on solo meals at the college snack bar. That was when I got my protein in.

I began to wonder where all of my friends had gone. Used to be that half of them were all on my hall in Noyes House. Now they had all dispersed to other THs, or TAs, or off-campus apartments or points unknown... we were all spending less time in central hangouts, anyway. And there were no new freshmen around to hang out with - they're all in the dorms. I just shuttled between places, walking from class to class, to College Center, to the library, then back across the street down the hill along the wooded path and back up out of the woods to my TH without seeing anyone I knew.

The first couple of problems arose after about a month. The weather had been nice up until then, certainly, but mostly I found it hard to enjoy because I knew, because I had gone from California to New York, that the nice weather wasn't going to last long. The first paper in my Ritual class came due, a not-even-3-pager based on a simple list of response questions. I hadn't been in the mood to do it all week, and the professor had told us that the first time someone handed a paper in late, he didn't generally ask any questions. So I didn't finish it. I wrote all the questions into the text of the document so that I could continue work on it later even if I lost the little sheet the questions were on. That was about the third week of the semester; I still haven't done any more work on that paper.

The other early problem was my field work, the full-unit big-time field work internship in NYC I had saved Tuesdays and Thursdays for. I was trying to get an internship at SiteSpecific, a nice little web shop that my friend Suze had gone to work for after leaving the Vassar library. I went down to interview with them and spent the night on the couch at Suze's place in Jersey City. I'm new to the whole interview thing, and when I was done, I couldn't for the life of me tell if they were interested in me or just acting polite. According to Suze, they were hungry for interns, but maybe just wanted them if they could do full-time. In the end, I got an email saying they had decided not to hire any interns for the present.

I had really had my hopes pinned on getting some experience and connections in that rarefied silicon-alley new-media world of wonder, where I could learn first hand about the kinds of design issues they don't put into books, because the people using these techniques all the time don't write them. I wound up at ArtNet instead. Now, ArtNet are some swell folks, I had a good time there and am grateful to them, and the magazine content is actually pretty eye-opening a lot of the time. But I didn't wind up doing anything I didn't already know how to do, and getting up twice a week at 5:30 to spend a total of four hours traveling there and back, not getting home until around 8 - it just took a lot out of me, emotionally, fiscally, and physically. My time in the office was more or less stress-free, but it made keeping up with the rest of my schoolwork, which I was already behind on, that much more stressful.

I never really got stressed out about my major, unless you count the art history requirements I'm finally having to deal with. (This past term I took History of Architecture. It's a 100-level course, the assignments were all teeny weeny and easy to ignore. I let pretty much all of them slide right by.) Painting class was a great time and I mostly stayed caught up with it throughout. I did, however, have a few problems in my extracurricular art-major duties. We have these critiques, meetings of all the majors and faculty every three weeks or so, where at least a few times a year each student is supposed to have some work to show, that wasn't done for a class or anything, that's just the kind of art that we want to be doing, totally self-driven. I shipped the painting I'd been working on all summer out to school from California and it arrived about a week after we'd already had the first crit of the year. It was a big vertical painting of Aubie's yellow sports walkman. At the next crit it got around to being my turn for everyone to file into my studio cubicle and check out my stuff. Passing looks at the stuff I'd already done in Painting 2 went okay, but all the professors thought the walkman painting was terrible. No interesting colors next to each other or clear edges or interest in general. None of the students spoke up one way or the other - they were all sitting on the floor reading my comic books the whole time.

Later on, over our week's break in October actually, I was getting set up to do this big comic-book painting that I still haven't finished. At that point in October I was still trying to stretch the canvas that I had gone down to New York and spent $60 on. I built my stretcher out of parts of these two other stretchers I had found lying around the studio. I stretched the canvas with pliers and staple gun, and then I set it up and started priming it in one corner. After working for about 20 minutes I noticed that that corner was warping. I kept going, hoping that it wouldn't get any worse. The stretcher buckled inward as the canvas shrank with the drying primer, and started breaking apart. I put the paintbrush down and started breaking it apart actively and tearing the canvas off of the stretcher bars, as calmly as I could. It was October break so no friends were around. I wanted to shoot things, make bad art constructions out of my own failed simple paintings and preparations for paintings. I walked home, trying to be careful not to stalk around too much, or to go too slowly like I was exhausted or in a trance, because I wasn't really exhausted and it was too dramatic to pretend that I was, and because stomping around really fast is cathartic and catharsis isn't good for you.

I had taken a job at the library three days a week, the days I wasn't at ArtNet, doing computer stuff down in the same room where me and Suze used to hang out (because she worked there). It was two hours a day, three days a week. My class schedule on these days made it so i was basically solidly busy from 10:30 to 5:30. I only worked six hours a week with the library because I was theoretically still on tap to do the art department pages, at the same minimum wage, determining my own hours. I never did any work on the art pages, predictably, so I dropped that job toward the end of the term. I'm still deciding whether to keep the library job, and under what kind of hours. Money is good, but I don't know; time is better.

On top of, and behind, all this stuff is the ever-present, well-documented "Mike-can't-get-a-date" problem. Fortunately there are no real details in this department available for me to bore you with. Not from the last semester, anyway. My crushes got a lot more random and ephemeral. It was frustrating; half the time I couldn't even think of someone acceptable to fantasize about. I had to think of someone who wasn't particularly a friend, because fantasizing about friends does bad things to otherwise beneficial friendships, and someone who wasn't particularly attainable because having fantasies about people you might actually get closer to causes weird mental distortions that could ruin your chances, and I couldn't fantasize about someone particularly unattainable because that just cuts you off from reality more and more.

This is how my thought process usually went: "oh shit, I can't do this work. I'm fucked. I wish I had a nice girl who loves me here right now to put her hands on my shoulders and tell me it's going to be all right. But it's not going to be all right, I can't get a nice girl to love me because I'm too awkward and weird-looking and my self-esteem is too low. I don't know anywhere near what I need to know to get a job that'll let me pay my loans, I can't do my work, I can't drop out, I can't take time off from school because if I do either of those I'll just have to come back after all my friends have graduated and I'll be in the same fucking situation where nobody calls me" (that reminds me, apparently I didn't get a lot of phone messages from my folks when housemates picked up the line) "and I never see anyone or talk to anyone for more than a minute, or ever have any fun or ever get anywhere with a girl." And so on, feeding itself downward.

Things got worse as my backlog of work got worse, since everyone else had more to do too. What can I tell you. The papers weren't hard. I still don't know how to explain it. I sat down and wrote a sentence and thought "This is a terrible thing to have to do," and turned around and sat on my bed and read a magazine and thought "I'm screwing myself by not doing my work," and went back to the computer to work and read a little and tried to think and thought, "I can't do this," and went out and took a walk, got halfway through the walk and said, "I'm still screwing myself by not doing work," and went back and looked at the paper I didn't care about, shut down the computer and went to sleep. I couldn't do what I wanted to do, I couldn't do what I had to do, so I didn't do anything. I showed up where I was supposed to, most of the time, and that was about all.

But guess what: it's going to be BETTER. I'm moving back to a dorm. There will be people around, even though most of my old friends have atomized outwards to lots of separate places. There's only going to be one class where I have to write papers. I'll have to paint a lot. I'll be eating at the dining hall. I'll be finishing.

I've been trying to think of things that I liked about 1996, before the memory of last semester forces them out, or they just get lost in my bad filing system. Academically the only thing I can think of is painting classes, and maybe the residue left behind by the second half of Intro to Western Art after the slide-cramming. Being in a band is great, and did a lot to keep me sane. There are people I've met - Samantha, the smartest person I know and one of the prettiest, who I met through Jon and last year's hypertext class; Chloe, an old soul who was a freshman on my hall and has become one of very few people whom I feel I can talk to about anything anytime (she's more 1995 really, as is Suze, and Mimi who hasn't emailed in months); Genevieve, Kelly through email, a few others. Of course there was my summer, the last summer vacation I'll ever really have (as I noted at the time in the top 50), long and wonderful even if I wound up totally unprepared to return to school afterward.

That title up there, "how's the homework situation," is what my dad always used to ask me back when I was in middle school and high school and never did my math homework. Or if I did, I didn't finish. Sometimes I finished; I always did fine on tests. But every night my dad would check in and all the time he'd use that same question, and he'd say it as though he didn't know that was what he always said and it bothered me so much. I didn't want to be reminded. Now my dad is working with me on finishing my incompletes. He's helping me stay on track, helping me finish sentences, he's discussing things with me and throwing ideas, sometimes he's just sitting with me and that helps. I waited until I only had a week and a half left to get 21 pages done, but we've made a huge amount of headway in that time. The official count as of this writing is five pages left. In the last two days the weather has turned as cuttingly cold as the average in Poughkeepsie over the past term, my fingers have always been cold up in the upstairs room and I've always felt like staring off. I just get to thinking about all the other pointless numbing painful heartburn tasks I'm going to have to do soon, just to assure myself a future. One instinct says it isn't worth it and I should read magazines, another instinct says that if I don't get a great web job or write a novel or make a really great comic - if I don't do something that not even I can deny is as good as the best work being done today - then I'll die. I don't know. I've made mistakes. Failure looks likely. But even though we're going down to the outlets in Gilroy tomorrow and it'll take most of the day, we're taking the PowerBook along and maybe I can type in the car. The end of the tunnel is real; I can finish my incomplete work. The homework situation is fine.

in other news...

I told Aubie about this piece while I was writing the bulk of it, and he asked me if I cared about all the people who would tune me out after the first paragraph, muttering to themselves "I don't need to hear all this, it's just self-indulgent navel-gazing, I have problems of my own." I told him no, and I wasn't going to put in any disclaimers or apologies either. I'm tired of apologizing. You don't like this, I got plenty else for you to read. You want explanations, go here.

Speaking of Justin, he had the right idea. If I had dropped out of school the second I learned HTML and moved back to San Francisco immediately, I could have been making $100 an hour as an HTML scripter, had an apartment, learned something about existing in the real world, and maybe even had some modicum of a life. Hell, I could have gotten laid. Oops, I forgot, you're not supposed to talk about not having sex until you've won Cool Site of the Day at least once. But anyway, I didn't do that, instead I stayed at Vassar in the hopes that I'd make some breakthrough, kicked a lot of shit, and now I'll have a parking stub validation - oops again, I mean a degree - and no knowledge of how to produce designs and graphics that really, honestly no bullshit beyond a shadow of a doubt, look professional.

I'm starting work on a home page redesign. I need the kind of graphics help that goes beyond the technical, into the first baby steps toward knowing what an image needs in order to look touched by the gods of design, the gods of perfection, the gods of professional, the gods of this-is-a-REAL-web-site. Someone, please help me.

Anyway I finished and I'm back at school. Things are looking up. Jon's down the hall and stops by my room every hour to ask some crazed question, as opposed to how he used to call or BroadCast every hour. And Olivia actually in the building, except that she's always out doing physics. I'll start painting this weekend.

Maybe what I need is a PowerBook. Then I could go to a fucking cafe and do my work. At least that wouldn't be my room, stifling and at the same time full of easy distractions. But a 'Book of my own won't be in the financial cards for a while. That said, I really like what I've seen of the eMate. A Newton with a full size keyboard - in fashion colors! - for under $800. It's only gonna be sold through education, but that's no problem. Half the people I know buy Macs through the university anyway, somehow. So we'll see how it goes.

Mimi might not have talked to me in months but she's still crunchin away on great stuff, check it out.

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read more about it!

the Vassar Picture Tour (included for visual reference.)

SiteSpecific (they used to have employee pages and side projects; no more. does this have anything to do with why Suze hasn't emailed me in weeks either?)

ArtNet Magazine (digging around in here is rewarding. for every article that's dorkily obsessed with the worst aspects of the NY art scene there's another on something obscure, accessible and interesting.)

Prozac (heh)

Tales From The Dork Side are copyright Mike Sugarbaker, email for permission to redistribute.
Updated Jan 23 1997