Before I turned twelve, and had my tonsils removed, I used to come down with strep throat every six weeks. It was punctual, occurring like clockwork. Those streptococcal bacteria didn’t miss an opportunity to infect me. I remember a recurring dream from those days, more likely a hallucination, of being suffocated inside a massive wad of pink, sticky taffy. As I drifted in and out of semi-conscious thought, nursing those raw throats, there was a dim recognition in a small corner of my brain that the visions of taffy were fever-induced, and not reality. I recalled those pink, sticky pillows of thought the other day when my daughter Isabelle, who was heading into a grueling set of seven final exams over a five day period to finish up her first year of college, asked me if I would tell her it wasn’t necessary to work out every day during finals. My response was, “Of course not. It’s finals. All rules for real life are completely suspended.”
I suppose I could have asked her the more pragmatic question: “If you’re only taking four courses, why do you have seven exams?” I suppose it might have been effective to apply the lambswool, and pet her (in virtua via textum, which means, in Emily-Latinspeak, I was talking with her via text message), telling her she’d be all right, that I loved her, and she would get through this. I could have applied that vanilla platitude, “What doesn’t kill us only makes us (fill in your fortifier of choice here).” But no, my first thought was, Hey, if you have seven finals over five days, who says there should be any rules? You don’t need to go exercise. As long as you’re studying your brains out, there are no boundaries. Bad parenting advice?
I think I get some credit here. I didn’t tell her to pull a few All-Nighters (because I don’t think that method works, when you’re trying to stuff information into your head). I didn’t suggest she pop Adderall pills, or some other form of pharmaceutical falsification of energy, nor did I recommend a homeopathic version, the whimsical Pick-Up Drops, which promise “[i]f [lack of energy] symptoms persist more than 7 days. . .consult a physician. . .,” since finals would be over before then. I merely told her what I always do in these situations: “Nose to the grindstone! It’ll be over before you know it! Then, back to reality!”
Edge.org, an online intellectual site which seeks “[t]o arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge. . .,” poses an annual question for the rest of us to think about. For the year 2013, they encourage readers to consider “WHAT *SHOULD* WE BE WORRIED ABOUT?” from a scientific point of view. I’ve scrolled through the responses, noting that science, according to Edge contributors, covers a wide spectrum of topics. From global nuclear annihilation, the financial collapse of the developed world, the treachery of human relationships, to what will happen to our brains if we continue to subject them to the informational barrage of the Internet, the answers are frightening. There were 154 recorded responses, to date. None of them considered my daughter’s question. And yet, to a teenager who seeks that endorphinal high one can only reach after accomplishing a five-mile run, I thought it framed her mindset rather well. To my way of thinking (particularly since a five-mile run is beyond my scope of possibility), her brain was full of gooey, pink taffy. Basically, she was a mess.
I worried about her all last week, as Dr. K and I drove from Colorado to Iowa (pre-graduation visiting), a brief jaunt up to Wisconsin (conference track meet), back down to Iowa (for our son, Harrison’s, college graduation), and then all the way home. Was she depressed that she couldn’t join us for graduation (and why don’t colleges coordinate their calendars better?); was she stressed by the overload of information (certainly); why did a freshman insist on taking upper level courses? (a situation beyond my control). Those topics of worry weren’t listed on the Edge.org list, either. I suppose they weren’t scientific enough for consideration.
Over a seven day time frame, not a day passed where we weren’t rolling over miles on the car. All told, I think we logged 2,046 (and a half) miles. Yes, I was counting. Let’s just say that all that driving puts a person into a fuzzy, pink-taffy state of mind. All that driving forces you to waft in and out of reality.
As we drove, I remembered my mom telling me when I was little, “You can go outside to play after you finish your lunch.” Upon graduating from college, people asked me, “So, what’s up next?” (Graduate school, I answered.) These days, people wonder what I’m doing. “You’ve written a novel,” they’ll say. “What are you doing now?” (Working on the next one, of course.) “How many miles left to go until we hit Beloit, Wisconsin, and I can have a martini?” (Me, posing question to Dr. K, whose response was always, “Check with GoogleMaps.”)
There is always that — next — thing. There is always that fuzzy blur, where we go can over the edge of our knowledge, testing reality.
As we rolled along those midwestern highways, green foliage spreading in all directions, one of my favorite songs played on repeat in my head. It didn’t matter that Dr. K’s iPod shuffled through 5,401 different artistically musical interpretations of life, this one kept popping up in there, pushing aside the taffy.
I want to run through the halls of my high school
I want to scream at the top of my lungs
I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world
Just a lie you’ve got to rise above
Mayer, John. (2002). No Such Thing. On Room for Squares.
Isabelle will be home soon for the summer. She’ll be working on an internship (non-paying), and has a job at a restaurant (even Princesses need to earn money). Soon, I’ll be able to talk with her face-to-face, rather than via text message. Soon, I’ll be able to tell her, “There is always another step before the next step. That’s the fact of reality, if there is, in fact, any reality at all. But, it is up to us, as individuals, to determine what the progression will be, and where we decide to take it.”