On Being a Freshman: High School vs. College

“Before you ask which way to go, remember where you’ve been.”

–  All Time Low, “Stay Awake”

 

Surprise! Just because I’ve been in college for almost a week doesn’t mean I’ve completely forsaken my blog. Only partially. I can already tell that I’ll be blogging less, but I most definitely will keep at it.

I’m sure there are at least a few readers who want the rundown of how I’m settling in, so I’ll give the quick version: everything here is great. My dorm is exactly the kind of place I want to be living in, and my roommates (I have three of them) are all seriously fantastic. Classes have just started up, and I’m busy, but even the homework doesn’t seem that bad. If I have trouble understanding a concept, my roommates and I study together. We coordinate where and when to go to eat, and let me tell you, the food is amazing. In fact, I have a separate post in mind to outline my college diet, because it’s worth sharing.

But! Right now I want to talk about a very general concept, which I wasn’t really smart enough to discuss before, but I think I am now: being a Freshman.

I say that I wasn’t smart enough to talk about it beforehand because I think you need to be a Freshman at least twice before you can get a good grasp of what it’s like. When you first start high school, everything hits you. The sense of being out of place, adjusting to the norms, and of course meeting new people.

That’s all there in college, trust me. But it’s a lot different.

In high school, for one thing, you’re still probably working on the whole self-confidence thing, and you think that if you aren’t sure where to go or what to do, you’re the stupid one. When in fact chances are, there are probably a lot other people with the same question.

By college, you’ve most likely learned enough to know to ask questions. You realize that a lot of your classmates are on the same page as you, and that if you aren’t sure where to go or what to do, it’s no big deal because a lot of other people are on the same boat. I know for me personally, that’s how it’s been. If I get lost, I don’t get nervous or freaked out. I just treat it like an adventure, find people who are lost too, and we figure it out together.

Second of all, adjusting to norms. Again, different than high school. In high school, I was crazy stressed trying to learn all the rules like where the busses parked, how hall passes worked and why you needed one, what you were allowed to do, and what you weren’t. College isn’t like that at all. I don’t know if that’s because I personally have become more relaxed since I was fourteen, or else because I’m more comfortable in unfamiliar situations.

But honestly, I know that as long as I don’t do anything illegal, then whatever problems that come up can be dealt with. If I go somewhere I’m not supposed to, people will tell me. Maybe even yell at me. But by now, I realize the concept of understandable mistakes. And more importantly, I’m in a place where they’re more forgivable. Let’s face it: in high school, it’s ridiculous how many rules there are. Most of them make sense, but there’s a few eye-rollers in the mix. Things like needing a signed paper to walk ten feet to the bathroom, or not being allowed to pull out your phone for something as small as checking the time.

In college, it’s more my kind of rules. Don’t threaten anyone, don’t do anything illegal, don’t drink, etc. I’m a full believer in taking responsibility for your own life. If you want to skip class to walk around for forty-five minutes, I don’t understand why anyone should stop you. I’m the kind of kid who never shows any work on homework unless it benefits me personally. If I can solve a math problem in my head without writing anything—which, quite often, I can—then I usually just write the answer and box it. That’s what the real world cares about, right? Solving problems?

That’s what college is like. It’s about “here’s what you need to do, get it done however you want.” I love that.

And, the final (but most important) difference: meeting new people, high school vs. college.

A lot of it is the same. There’s that same sense of picking a few people you already know and using them as anchors while you slowly-but-surely branch out. The same feeling of meeting a person, getting a feel for what they’re like, and forming a loose group.

The other night, my college had a dance party on the front lawn of campus. I went with a few high school friends, and we immediately met six new freshmen and formed a loose group. By the end of the night, we were all Facebook friends and talking to each other. That was one night, and that could very well become my central group of friends for the next four years. Only it probably won’t, because there have already been two more groups since then, with the same results.

I guess that’s the real difference. In high school, everyone is pretty nervous, and you slowly make friends. In college, everyone is primed to start up entirely new friendship groups. It’s considered normal to just walk up to someone, shake their hand, and strike up a conversation. Everyone does it. The other night, at said dance party, I became separated from my friend group. I was standing there texting and saw another kid standing by himself, too. So, I immediately walked up to him, held out my hand, and introduced myself. Then I held up my smartphone and asked if it would be okay to add him on Facebook. He said absolutely, and now we’re great friends. Simple.

One example in dozens, and that’s just with me personally. This place has an AIR of forming new relationships. In high school, the environment is a steady dose of nerves mixed with a dash of trying to fit in. You have to struggle not to conform to standards, but at the same time, you don’t want to stand out TOO much. In college, it’s the exact opposite. There are no standards. You just be you. And I think that’s so valuable, being allowed to remember where you came from, because that determines where you go from here. And what kind of people you decide hang out with.

So that’s one piece of advice I would give to high school freshman, though it’s much easier for me than for you: if you want to be the happiest person in the world, then just act like the kind of person you want to make friends with. If you hate drinking, say so! I’ve said so every day since I got here. And guess what? A lot of my friends hate it too. A few don’t. But that’s still okay, because even the people who I know that drink, don’t care that I don’t. In fact, they respect it.

And I’d say that’s a pretty darn important difference between high school and college.

So, bottom line: no matter where you’re starting school, just remember that everyone is as nervous as you, and that even if you think you’re alone, you aren’t. There are people out there with the same interests as you, who think the same and act the same and have the same definition of fun.

Go find them.

Before I Go (On Goodbyes, Part 2)

“There are reasons we met, reasons for the good and the bad times, and more importantly, a reason to end. We have more to learn, more to experience, and more loving left in this lifetime.”

–  Unknown

 

Hi there, people I haven’t blogged to in a week! To be honest, I haven’t given a second’s thought to blogging since this past Sunday. That’s mostly because of packing for college, finishing a manuscript, saying goodbye to my friends as they leave, and basically setting up my life for moving into college. So I haven’t had much time for WordPress.

Speaking of college: I go there tomorrow. As in, move out of my house and into my dorm.

Except I’m posting this in the morning, so it’s really TODAY, even though I wrote this Friday night.

Wrapping up my life here hasn’t really gone like I thought it would. For one thing, I didn’t anticipate how busy I’d be. I mean, I knew I’d be swamped, but not all day, every day for my last week here. Today was the busiest of them all, but I got everything done.

Another thing that really struck me is how calm I’ve been about it all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of emotional ups and downs these past few days. I go from being happy to sad to indifferent in about an hour, and I’ve had arguments with a few people I really care about, including my parents and my best friend.

But the actual goodbyes have been calm. One by one, I’ve seen each of my close friends for the last time, and there haven’t been any tears, drama, or regrets. It’s mostly been, “well, I’ll see you for Thanksgiving; until then, keep in touch and stay the same!”

That’s the gist of it, anyway.

A few exceptions to that. One was my girlfriend, who I already mentioned. That hurt a lot more and took a day or two to get over, but now, we’re all adjusted. I went over to her house after we broke up, the day before she left for college, and we had a fun talk.

The other exception is one I had about four hours ago, when I said goodbye to my best friend. I’ve only really been close friends with him for the past year or so, but it’s been a busy year. We’ve talked a lot about school, growing up and that sort of fun stuff, and the more guy-oriented topics like girls and all that. A few of those talks have been the 2 AM types, which I think are the real kind.

Today was the more fun kind of goodbye, running around the neighborhood and of course, talking. It’s funny how in a lot of cases, that’s all you need. And when we said bye, no, it wasn’t emotional or anything like that. Mostly a “see ya,” same as the rest. But the difference with this was how fun it was, not to mention that it was the last of my goodbyes before I go. It was the perfect way to end summer and have a final social event before I go off to college.

You’d think I’d be all broken up about it, right? After all, I was on a severe emotional low on my last day of high school. But I think the difference is that the end of high school is something definitive. No going back. With friends, you can always text or call them. It might get harder as years go by, but you still can.

So, that makes this my big emotional post the night before I start the rest of my life, right?

I don’t mean to disappoint you, but I’m really not that fussed about all of this. Like I said, I’m surprised how tear-free all of this leaving has been, and still is. Maybe it’ll hit me in a week or two and I’ll break down into a huge emotional wreck on my way to Calc.

But. Probably not.

Honestly, right now, everything’s happening way too fast for me to take any of it in. And I’m at the point where I can’t even imagine what my life will be like three days from now, let alone a week or a month or a year, like I used to. A year ago, around the time I started this blog, I had a pretty good idea that I’d be going to college right now. And I knew it would be busy. But did I know I would date the girl of my dreams, then have to break up with her? Or make a really awesome new best friend? Or get a full request from a literary agent?

No. I didn’t.

That makes me both excited and nervous for what life will be like one year from now, or even one month from now. I want to go to college and have fun, but I don’t want to get sucked into anything and come out a different person. I love who I am, and more importantly, I love who my friends are. And if there’s one thing I’m really scared about, it’s that I’ll come home and find that they’re different.

But I don’t have time to worry about that now. Right now, I have to worry about settling into my dorm, and getting along with my roommates, and finding my way around campus. And I’m not really saying goodbye to the friends I have here. Just knocking them down one priority notch for a few months.

So, to wrap it up before my last night in my own bed (for a while): thank you to everyone who’s gotten me here, but especially to the people I love. My amazing family, all my friends, my still-awesome ex-girlfriend, and my best friend who I really hope will keep that title for a good long time. You all have gotten me to this spectacular point in my life, and I’m ready to make the most of it.

Here I go.

On Writing- The Resemblance is Stunning! (Basing Characters Off People)

Are fictional characters drawn directly from life? Obviously not, at least on a one-to-one basis—you’d BETTER not, unless you want to get sued or shot on your way to the mailbox some fine morning.

–  Stephen King, On Writing

 

Around a week ago, I hammered out an outline for a new novel I’ve decided to write. It’s nothing I have high hopes for; more like, a way for me to try my hand at the coming-of-age genre. No publication goals for this one.

I’m not going to say much about it here, but it centers around high school. So naturally, I had to whip up a variety of high school characters.

You can see why I would be apprehensive doing this. I just graduated high school, and no matter what spins you put on characters from that setting, there are bound to be similarities between my literary cast and my set of best friends.

So, here are my thoughts, as an author, about creating characters and how they compare to real life.

Wisely following Mr. King’s advice, I’ve never written a character who’s directly based off of someone I know. When I write out a character, the fun part for me is getting to create someone entirely new, embodying either the best or the worst of some role I’m trying to fill. However, despite what you may think, I’m not an overly creative person. And while I don’t directly base a character off a person I know, I do use that general frame of reference.

Here’s an example. If I have to create a school bully character (which I never have, incidentally), I’ll think about the school bullies I’ve encountered in the past. I think about what made these bullies so unpleasant, why it did, and what defined them as rude people. Then I take all of those elements and spit out an entirely new character.

I do not, however, pick out one bully in particular and create a character exactly like them except for their hair color. For one thing, if a person I meet is so unpleasant, why would I want to spend time writing about them? I’d much rather create a bully of my own and force readers to hate them. So yes, I draw on base elements to get some groundwork, but I never copy exact traits. And certainly not from one person.

Occasionally, someone I know will inspire the creation of a character. For example, if I knew someone named Jack who could read an entire book within two minutes (again, not a real example), I would probably be intrigued enough to create a character who can do that. Anyone who knew me personally would start pointing the fingers and cry out, “Whoa there, you just wrote a story about Jack and changed his name, hair color, age, height, personality and gender!”

I hope I’m never in that situation, because it’ll be kind of hard to explain. As a writer and storyteller, I’m always on the lookout for interesting things to throw in my stories. That includes places, people, and even specific events in my life.

But here’s how that process works for me. Non-writers might assume that it goes something like: Element A inspires me, so I create Element B (similar to element A) to inspire readers.

Not quite. I’m a pretty weird kid, and I can’t assume that the same stuff that inspires me will inspire others. So instead, it goes like this: Element A inspires me. I think about why, then create an entirely new thing (Element B) which I hope will inspire others in the same way, make them feel the same things I did. Naturally, the elements will have some overlapping traits. But that’s not intentional.

Here’s the main reason why I would never adapt a character straight from someone I know: because if I’m writing a story, then I want to have the creative license to twist up that story however I want. If I want to write a romance novel which ends by the love interest killing themselves, then it might not be such a good idea to base the love interest off of my girlfriend. I can make them similar, but at the end of the day, the love interest character has to be an original creation. If they aren’t  and I decide not to add the suicide in fear of what my real life girlfriend would make of it, then my creative license has officially been revoked. I’m now being restricted by real life in how I can write a fictional story. And seriously, what’s the point of writing a story if you’re restricted in telling it?

So, to anyone who has, does or will read my stories someday, if you think you recognize yourself, don’t be so quick to jump on board. Yes, you might very well have inspired a character that I want to use in a story. But when I write, I picture that character in my head, not you. So please, don’t think that anything said character does is a reflection of what I think of you. And most certainly, please don’t be offended if they end up killing themselves.

Have a lovely Friday!

On Goodbyes, Part 1

“Never forget me, because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.”

–  A.A. Milne

 

As usual, there’s a reason for my blogging absence—college prep stuff has hit me like a tidal wave. “College Prep” stuff really falls into three categories: taking care of the final paperwork/payment jazz, packing and buying everything I’ll need to take with me, and saying goodbye to most of the people who pretty much make up my life.

I’ll blog soon about college packing, because that’s an interesting endeavor. But for now, I just wanted to write the first of what I suspect will be two or three posts about saying goodbye. I know I’ve touched on this subject before, but here’s a full, concentrated nostalgia burst.

Let’s begin!

I’m about halfway through my goodbyes right now. The first one came at the very end of July, when I had to make what will probably end up being the hardest one: my girlfriend.

To be technical, she isn’t my girlfriend anymore. She left for a college trip at the end of July. Then she planned to be back for one day and  head up to college for good in mid-August. So, we decided it would be best to break up before she headed off on her trip, so that we could divvy up the break-up and goodbye portions rather than doing them both at once.

I’m surprised at how many people were shocked to hear we were breaking up. A lot of my friends said the same thing…“Why would you plan a day to split up? Why not try to stay together then see where it goes?”

That was my initial attitude, but luckily my former girlfriend was the smart one of the relationship and maintained that we didn’t want to start off college trying to keep it going. Especially when we’d only see each other once every few months. Speaking from a few weeks later, I can tell you it was the right decision.

We spent our entire last day together, doing everything from seeing the new X-Men movie to walking around the local town square to watching Harry Potter to seeing the sunset at a beach boardwalk. And of course, what would complete the day but a midnight trip to Ihop?

After that, we drove back to her house and said goodbye. It kind of sucked, though she was more worried about me being able to drive home safely in my semi-shocked state. I promised to text her when I got home, which for me meant sending her this picture:

Becky's not even hot.

Becky’s not even hot.

Anyway. I’m not here to describe the details of my relationship, nor its especially clean end. Rather, I’m going to re-iterate something I briefly described in a post the night before I turned eighteen. I defer to childhood me:

“Here’s the thing. There’s no such thing as a definitive goodbye anymore. When you say bye to someone who’s leaving, you’re still going to stay connected on Facebook, and Twitter, and maybe they’ll even visit occasionally.

To use an example: when you say goodbye to your friends before going off to college, it isn’t a definitive goodbye. You’ll still see them during the holidays, and you’ll text them, etc. Let’s agree that the reason we say goodbye is because the WAY we see them is about to change. Instead of hanging out every day, you’ll hang out a few times a year. Less and less as time goes by, and eventually, you’ll stop. Then you realize you don’t really miss them anymore. And you wonder what even happened when you weren’t looking.”

I think that’s a good starting point for my ‘goodbye’ posts. There are two main reasons I’m sad to leave people behind. The first is because I’m going to miss spending time with them, and talking to them, and doing fun things with them.

But the second reason is really why it’s so hard. That being, I’m scared to death that my friends are going to forget about me.

Not entirely, of course. But they’ll move on, make new friends, and I’ll just be a set of old memories. See, I’m not worried about it happening the other way around. I’m quite confident that I’ll still hold onto my friends when I leave, and that I won’t entirely move on from them. It’s just that, I’m afraid they’ll move on from me.

Believe it or not, I’m an optimist. And I think that college is no excuse to really say goodbye to your friends. Think about it: we’re in school from end of August to end of November (three months’ wait). Then we go back; home by mid-December (three weeks’ wait). Then we get to see each other until school starts again in February; home for spring break (six weeks’ wait). Then we go back; home by mid-May (eight weeks’ wait). And at that point, we have a whole new summer to see each other again.

So yes, I’m willing to hold on to my friends, accepting the fact that it’ll be a little different but that we’ll still get to see each other. And I just really hope, pray, that when we do, it’ll be like old times.

I really do hope my friends are willing to hold onto this. I understand that I’m going to meet a whole new set of people up at college, and I’m going to love them, too. But I promise myself—publicly, now, so I can’t back out—to never let go of my old friends. To always be available to text or talk to them, just like I am now. And to hang out whenever I’m home.

Just like everything used to be, except with a lot more stories to tell each other.