Shit nobody tells you: the other college education
To my family, for giving me the incredible opportunity of attending UW-Madison (even though none of us knew Wisconsin was a state), being so supportive, loving and putting up with all my bullshit. Don't read too much into this story, I'm not actually the psychotic alcoholic I come off as. I think. Shout out: my mom is the SHIT.
And to my friends, for being the most incredible crew I could ever ask for. I don't know where I would be without my homies. And of course, Jilly...because I would have never ended up in Wisconsin to write this story if it weren't for your amazingness.
To my professor Deborah Blum who taught this creative writing class and let me be my weird self with no filter whatsoever. You are the most inspiring woman, teacher and mentor. I went all out here... Sorry/thank you.
I LOVE YOU ALL VERY MUCH. Pour yourself a glass (or five) of something before reading this...And don't judge. Actually, I don't really care. Peace.
Truth be told.
This uncensored excerpt delves into the more unorthodox, or alternative, route to schooling (or lack thereof). Actually, I happen to think it’s a pretty ordinary depiction, but I’m
definitely probably a relatively questionable source. Here’s to a solid four years of the things you didn’t exactly sign up for (minus the chronic morning hangover situation—you probably asked for it when you took those last two Jäger shots at bar time. Oops.)
College is kind of like an upside down, tangling and twisted rollercoaster; a venture with a few
monotone inspiring professors, vodka, coffee and infinite student loans along the way—in no particular order. There is the kind of experience your parents think you are having (who told them to be so naïve?), which includes tuition and late nights at the library studying your ass off so they don’t have to support you for the rest of your life. They are probably longing for you to become a successful doctor or lawyer. Meanwhile… I’m a journalism major over here—sorry mom? It’s one of those career paths where when someone asks what I’m majoring in, I get a look of pity and an “oh, good luck with that” or “newspapers are dying” response. In which case I interpret their letdown with my best don’t be such an ignorant asshole smile and carry on with my life secretly hoping that I won’t actually settle for a rich husband and sit on my ass trying to make a career out of my food blog. Although, that kind of has a nice ring to it. No pun intended. I think.
And then, there’s the vodka academy kind of education, where if you do not spend a few nights caressing and spooning the toilet with pretzels sprawled throughout the bathroom floor and friends holding your hair back while you are butt naked on your charmingly vile bathroom floor, then you clearly missed out on a few life essentials. In which case, it is probably too late to act like a complete idiot after graduation (actually...this is debatable), which is unfortunate because morphing into a real human sounds…like the ultimate fear I’ve been playing hide and seek with forever. I think it’s finding me though. Reality, that is. Shit. Maybe I should just become a stripper and call it a day so I can stop drafting cover letters, stalking people on LinkedIn and trying to get a real job. That would probably require extra time at the gym though, so I’m ruling out pole dancing at the moment so I can continue my late night habitual pizza calling that routinely appears on my ass the next morning. (This routine is usually followed by a nervous breakdown in front of the mirror where I solemnly swear that I will stop going on drunken pizza adventures and will stick to vegetables until the end of time. Five minutes later I acknowledge that I am lying to myself and definitely not eating celery at 2 a.m.)
Essentially, if you can manage to successfully combine both kinds of experiences (the academic and alcoholic ones) into four years and come out alive, you probably had an entertaining and gratifying ride. But there are mistakes made, lessons learned, opportunities not taken, regrets that linger and a myriad of traces of an (alternative) education you forge outside the classroom—the kind you didn’t pay for. That’s the kind that matters. Right?
I think I got the best of both worlds, though I probably should not speak too soon because technically I have not yet received my diploma. Here's to packing on the unavoidable Freshman 15 (it came with cute nicknames like "muffin top" and "love handles" which are actually not cute at all), gaining some words of wisdom, and familiarizing yourself with substances of all walks of life.
Let me do the honors and exterminate your rainbows and unicorns for a fat slab of reality before you have enough time to process, interject and refute my bluntness. You are going to pack on a couple of pounds and that is okay. It is actually more than just fine; it is expected—maybe even hard-wired and inevitable (unless you actually don't, in which case
I hate you, go you!) I walked into college with the hell no—there is just no way I’m succumbing to becoming a double-chinned lard freshman year state of mind. Ha. That was me in denial mode—me flat out lying to myself. That happens a lot. But you have to do the 2 a.m. pizza splurges…Especially in Wisconsin where indescribably appetizing vulnerabilities like mac and cheese pizza and cheese curds are in abundance. Another caloric piece of information (spare yourself the trauma and Do. Not. Do. The. Math.) is that a shot of vodka packs about 100 calories. So like…six of those cringe-worthy swigs mixed with sugary liquids like cranberry juice and soda can amount to something daunting (slice of cake style—or the whole pie, depending on your tolerance and elegance). It wasn’t too long before I learned that I would have to be that girl and order vodka sodas instead of vodka cranberries in order to cut a shitload of sugar. That was just one of the things I had to learn on my own as the button on my jeans began dangling by a thread and I realized that if I didn’t strut my stuff on a treadmill, things would get ugly. Unfortunately for my genetics (DNA is a noble scapegoat), I realized that even by incorporating salad and exercise into my daily weekly life, my magnetic relationship (the most serious one I’ve been involved with to date)—to alcohol and carbs facilitated my upward spiraling of weight gain. Oops. YOLO?
More notable information to swallow: take the summer after freshman year to work on your figure. Freshman year is your time to go HAM —you can work on your inner Barbie after your bingeing spree—but please, don’t forget to live a little. Curves and bellies are only temporary, but memories are eternal...? Evidently, I am the ultimate Shrinkspeare—the perfect marriage of a poet and psychiatrist. Spoiler alert: I was able to lose all the weight I packed on the summer after freshman year. Yes, I had to overdose on vegetable soup, reward myself with mango and commit to solitary confinement in a gym full of meatheads and individuals who are having an affair with their bodybuilding trainers, but I can give you those tips another time. Also, I regained the other half.
Okay, so you probably knew you were going to gain weight going into college. Mom isn’t around anymore to make you grilled chicken and vegetables so you befriend new monsters like fast food and overdose on frozen yogurt (or just go for the free samples...sorry, Jews + free samples = given). Don’t let these habits pour into the other years—those should be filled with wine (resveratrol and antioxidants come in flavors like Bordeaux and Riesling), quinoa and kale. And bagels and lox on Hangover Sunday. You will eventually learn to snack on things like 100 calorie kettle popcorn and cans of hearts of palm and you are golden. Also, Jimmy John's has lettuce wraps (they also taste like...not bread sticks). Just don't freak out. I did of course. But remember the keywords: temporary and fuck it?
Words of Wisdom
Enough about the weight gain situation. However, before embarking on my college adventure my mom gave me some sacred advise. “Ale, no sweatpants or leggings for everyday. Those garments grow with you. Stick to jeans; they are the salvation.” And Christina Aguilera thought she was a genie in a bottle. No girl. I’m proud to announce that although I did make a huge hole in
several one of my jeans, I still made sure to allot about six minutes of my getting ready time to pulling up my jeans over my thighs and making sure the button wouldn’t explode and excavate someone’s eyeball—a very rational fear. Anyways, those were great words to live by. Had I not played dress up with my denim a couple of times a week (followed by a series of squats), I would have become an ever-expanding walking canvas of spandex. And sorry but leggings are not cute (unless your ass looks like Gisele's, or you are going on a run.) So...thanks mom.
There’s more. Being the chronically emotionally stressed (fun fact: stressed spelled backwards is dessert) and anxious
wreck human that I am, my mother also engraved the “day by day” philosophy into my cranium in hopes of injecting some sanity in me. But really, who the hell is sane and balanced these days? No idea. Living in the moment and one day at a time is a philosophy to carry in your soul. I learned that the best plan is no plan. I’ve taken up the “go with the flow” method and found that not giving a shit is a pretty good system. Until shit’s must absolutely be given, in which case, give them.
There are exceptions of course. The only thing I plan (caution: this is slightly sad and pathetic) are my meals the night before. Coincidentally, 99% of the times my plan fails. It’s not a big deal. I planned to have egg whites in the morning and than realized that I was craving oatmeal and would rather push off the egg whites until dinner because I don’t have anything else to defrost and I don’t want to eat a dull plate of quinoa, so I would probably want to throw a fried egg on it, but if I have this omelet for breakfast and a fried egg for dinner, that’s probably one too many eggs. But than I had planned to have that egg white omelet the night before so I could avoid eating carbs for the day, so now that I was having oatmeal for breakfast, I might as well pack the granola bar as a snack because I already fucked up and had 30 grams of carbs in four minutes so why hold back now? And since I was having the granola bar, I would have to mathematically estimate how long it would keep me full so I can start planning what was on the agenda for lunch and whether or not I could stretch my allowance so that I could buy a cheap lunch and still afford a cheap bottle of wine that I could amplify and disguise into sangria so I wouldn’t process how shitty it is. But the truth was that I had to start thinking of whether or not I had fruit at home to make this sangria because then I would have to make time to go to the supermarket and that just wasn’t in the plan. I exhaust myself.
That’s why plans don’t work. You just never know. And when you plan too much and get too specific with what you want and the plan deviates (it often does—that whole “fork in the road” cliché...except my fork is more like a rake), than you may end up disappointed and confused (eternally). There is a difference between a plan and a goal. Stick to goals and live in the moment. Sometimes life has this funny way of working out (but then again, that’s not always true).
Coffee, Alcohol and Cocaine
Let me spare any family member who just read this headline the anxiety that probably gave them a blood pressure spike or minor heart attack upon gawking over the word cocaine and just reassure all that it is not my thing—never tried it, I promise. Moving on. You can breathe.
When I got to college, shit got real. I’m from Miami, I’ve seen it all, but still…Xanax and vodka became the new coffee and creamer and intricately rolled up dollar bills and mirror scraps became snorting utensils. At first, I was like what the fuck? I thought this shit only happened in the rich white boy movies (the cocaine part, not vodka, obv) and like, let me get those dollar bills yo. I also thought everyone was an idiot because they are getting that messed up to go to the Kollege Klub, a lackluster college fratstar (frat boys who carry the false notion that polo shirts and Sperry shoes are panty-droppers. Sorry, no.) sports bar with no windows and all-encompassing body odors. I was also like shit, no wonder all these hoes are skinny...they're cheating the system and this stairmaster is giving me shin splints--I give up. But also, you just spent $70 on a gram, wouldn't you rather have a fat grilled branzino with an epic bottle of wine and a shitload of truffles or something? Also, I hate to judge but it made me sad that my own friends were cutting chunks of their brain on the regular. I feel so blessed to have a mojito addiction.
In the beginning, ecstasy was reserved for the neon-wearing individuals who were music festival fiends and wannabees. And then, people starting popping that shit like Vitamin C all the time. To go to college bars. Everyone looks innocent. They wear floral tops and crimson lipstick with manicured nails and are actually your best friends that have picked up some shady habits. It was just kind of bizarre I guess.
Fortunately, coffee was my kryptonite along with the holy trinity of insomnia, dark circles and being a moody bitch from the lack of sleep. It’s okay—I learned that this is all just a vicious cycle and my moodiness subsides as soon as I down another shot of espresso. Eventually, through trial and error, you will learn that overdosing on caffeine past a certain hour means you will be counting sheep for days while you lay in bed with eyes wide open and regret drinking that last cappuccino at 6 p.m. This is when I plan my next day’s worth of meals because why the hell would I want to lie in bed counting sheep when I can fantasize about omelets and oatmeal? Exactly.
Oh, and the alcohol part. Yeah, that shit becomes your BFF real fast. It’s almost like love at first sight (I’ve only experienced that with Nutella so I really know what it’s like). Anytime you need someone to listen, you can sit there and spill your guts to a bottle of tequila. The only time these rituals betray me are the following mornings, when I sometimes wake up and feel like I got hit by a fast train carrying a bunch of cattle and piles of shit. Other than that near-death feeling, I would say alcohol is the closest thing to vacationing that I have experienced in college (reminder: I am in Madison, WI). Instead of actually having to go through airport security and being felt up by a complete stranger, you can just have seven shots of vodka and you literally forget where you are—that same blissful sensation you feel when your toes are frolicking the sand on some remote island. The learning part here is in regards to your tolerance, etc. After you wake up with an entire bruised leg because you heard you fell off a table while dancing (it was a Steve Aoki concert), you should start backtracking and maybe eliminate a drink or two the following night. So yeah, alcohol is a good friend and temporary problem solver. Until it wears off. Than you are screwed. But aside from pickle juice and coconut water, they say alcohol is one of the best hangover cures. Just saying.
Shit Happens. Life goes on.
That’s another encouraging piece of advice I inherited from my mom; she is my go-to for everything in life. This ranges from the debate of whether or not I should wash my hair (Ma, does it look too puffy? Can I wait until tomorrow? Does it look like a weave?) to how long I need to defrost my salmon for. But really, "Shit happens, life goes on" is our family motto, I think. It’s the truth. Things are temporary—they happen, we freak out, but eternal dwelling is futile—eventually, we must move on. Boom—me being Socrates again.
More than just substances and weight gain (I’m not that shallow and hopeless…I think), there are more significant lessons I have mastered along these past four years. Among the candid run-in with reality I encountered upon realizing that laundry did not wash and fold itself, I realized the importance of strong friendships. One more thing about laundry—I recognized the hard work and brain power it takes to dress a duvet on a comforter. That shit is not a single person job—it’s a serious struggle and quite frankly…ain’t nobody got time for that.
Right, friends. Maybe I am some kind of hyperemotional sensitive human with too many ups and downs to account for (I keep forgetting to buy waterproof mascara so I usually look like a drag queen during my 3 a.m. emotional breakdowns), but I definitely would not have survived my college career without certain people in my life. Family is a given for me. I talk to my mom approximately six times a day (when I wake up, on my way to class, lunch break, during dinner, before bed, etc.) My friends are my rocks. They listen with no judgments until my nerves are calm and my stability has been recollected. I don't know where I would be without them.
The thing about the “best four years of your life” cliché that many attach to the word college is that not everyday is filled with smiles and serenity. Far from it. It can be very lonely and confusing. I realized that I am still on a quest to discover who I am. I spent a lot of time trying to look inward and find myself. I'm still doing this inner excavation; the digging seems eternal. I overthink everything. I am always anxious, stressed and self-conscious. I take everything out on food. I am still single as fuck. About that whole “finding your husband in college thing,” yeah…no. Too many Long Island schmucks thinking they run things around here (who made you feel so entitled?) I mean... I'm taller than you (and my sneakers are cooler).
And...when your game is: "Hey, what are you drinking?" Me: "Vodka soda." You: "Want a shot of Fireball?" Me: "Fasho." You: "What was your name again?" Me: "Bitch, please." That just means I'm down for a free shot...not cheers to tonight's 2 a.m. booty call (unless I decided to shave my legs on that particular snowy winter night, than potentially. Or it was a Thursday. Because everyone shaves their legs for Johnny O's). But ultimately, I became more independent because college is also a time to get your shit together and fend for yourself because if you don’t do your thing…no one else will do it for you.
Last thing, if you have the chance to study abroad, RUN FOR IT. Spending a semester in Paris was the best thing I have ever done for myself. Before you judge the city as a cliché romantic black hole filled with unfriendly French people and special body odors, it was the one experience that finally turned me into a person after 22 years. The city of croissants and PDA and in the midst of all the sappy love in the air, I finally learned to love myself. And eat. I learned how to indulge with no regrets.
Not to be confused with “in conclusion” because god forbid I’m actually able to reach any kind of finale in my life—I was made for rampages, being weird and Instagramming everything I eat. (I do it for my blog). If there is anything I can pass on from my unconventional college education it’s that things are not as easy and graceful as you may expect. When you feel like life around you is falling apart, just find those people who help keep you together. They exist. And once you locate them, hold on to them forever and ever and never let go. Remember that everything is temporary. Live in the moment. Explore. Live a little.
Also, be spontaneous. Senior year was my time to let loose and bucket list anything and everything and just go for it. Naturally, the majority of my list consisted of exploring new cocktails and cuisines, but that does it for me. I ventured out of my bubble, met new people, picked up a new bourbon infatuation (potentially nominating myself as an AA candidate...Madison does that to you. Go with Bulleit bourbon), went on some dates (those don’t exist in college by the way, so it was a colossal accomplishment), made out with a tattooed man (I thought it was kind of cool; none of the Jew boys can get them without being excommunicated by their gefilte-fish loving mothers) and made incredible friends. It just so happened that some of my best memories (and meals) were crafted just at the very end of my college adventure, but it left the perfect hint of unforgettable memories to reflect on and replay in my mind. I still stress, go on late night pizza tours (there's also a new pancake place in town which has become the death of me), plan my meals, and than regret doing so), take that last unnecessary shot of tequila at bar time, and miss my family more than everything. But in the end, going to school in the middle of nowhere (sorry, coming from Miami was a little bit of a trek) was the best decision I made in life. I got educated in every way--from French classes to exploring writing and mastering happy hour specials. And there you have it, I am living proof of survival.
Shit happens. Life goes on.