• Kaleb A. Brown

My College Seasons | Lyric Essay

Updated: May 30


An overhead shot of University of Michigan's Diag during the spring
The Diag in the Spring. Photo courtesy of Lars Jensen of http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jensenl/

Spring

I tried not to expect too much in the Spring. I tried not to get too attached to what I imagined my seeds could grow into — simple greenery, juicy fruits, beautiful flowers, or perhaps nothing at all. I tried not to get too attached to the hypothetical: after all, imagination breeds expectation, expectation breeds hope, and hope breeds disappointment when that hope doesn't pan out. Yet a boy has to wonder; it's only natural, after all. I wondered if I'd come to have a lovely little college life. I wondered if these would be years to remember down the line. My curiosity wasn't unique to me. Many teens, with gleans in their eyes, approach the green of collegiate Spring, unable to ward off the pest that is expectation. This pest wasn't warned against, oh no, it was advertised. But we didn't procure this promotion from a brochure nor poster, no, it was beamed into our minds by culture itself. Movies, television, books, school, and parents all talk about university as a mythical, sublime time of self-discovery, of youthful bliss before the real world would rears its ugly head and kisses our exuberance away. I didn't want to get caught up in hope, in a solid idea for the future. But before I realized it, I began to hypothesize it: about friends, about love, about revelry, about getting a leg-up on my writing destiny. But such fantasy was not to be, as I soon had a taste of reality. For one, my school wasn't far from home; it feels less like a brave new world when a trip home's just a hop and a skip, a car or a train away. Next, I was to begin in the Summer, perhaps because the University didn't have confidence in my abilities. My Spring had begun woefully early. I attended my first, half-semester as part of a program, but in a development that would become all too common, I didn't make much connections to speak of. Hope was alighted on the first day when I met someone who I thought would be my friend, but they quickly blew away in the wind. My first roommate wasn't much solace either; he'd often leave with friends, having the fun I thought I should be having. I thought I was doing something wrong. It felt like the only thing I had were assignments. The cultural advertisement seldom mentions work, despite how crucial it is to University, given its prime reason for being. It's something all students must do. But it brought the blues for me. Because from my view, everyone had a better life-to-school balance than I did. My roommate would leave to hang out with friends. I'd leave to spend my entire day doing assignments. My computer lab soon became my home away from home. I'd get so sad I'd cry. But it would be a lie to say it was all bad. I began regularly jogging during this time. I began working through my love of writing, finishing a manuscript that I intend to revise and publish someday. I fondly remember playing games on my computer. I happily recall putting songs on my iPod. I attended Kendo, and for a time, I thought I'd stick with it. And of course, I'd go to the arcade. For just a few dollars, I could dance to my heart's content on DanceDanceRevolution, losing myself in the arrows, the lights, and music.


Months later, Spring proper began and it felt like the weather was warming. My garden was upgraded from Couzens to East Quad. Lucking out with a roommate who shared my interests left me elated. I remember going to a pregame with him and his friends. I didn't drink, but his friend slammed so much liquor in a minute you'd swear he confused it with water. Then up it went — went all over my roommate's back as we made our way back to our dorm in the night. It's a gross memory to find funny, to hold onto, but we can't control what blooms in our minds. Everything seemed like it would be all right. My journalism class and Japanese class interested me. It seemed like I had a balance. The April showers had given way to May flowers. I remember going to Insomnia Cookies for pieces of that gooey, hot sweetness. I remember my roommate would often order a personal Chicago-style pizza from Pizza House nearby. He'd throw in a pickle to reach the minimum order amount. I'd always get one, too. Looking back, it was always deceptively expensive, deceptively filling, with cheese so stretchy you'd choke a bit trying to eat it every time. But then the air turned frigid, my flowers killed. We're in Michigan, after all. Winter takes its sweet time leaving and Spring tricks you with false starts. At home, tragedy struck that rocked my life, as much as I tried to ignore it. At school, the work piled on and I began to resent trying to learn a language that once interested me. I became dejected as clouds rolled over and I struggled to stay afloat in class. I talked to my roommate less as I began spending every waking hour working and studying, doing everything I could to pass. I toiled. I boiled with envy at my roommate who seemed to study less but get the same grades as I did in our class. My freshman year, my lovely college life was already soiled, my plants felt like they were wilting. I'd eat alone, always alone. It was a cold rain, though there were moments of dryness, eyes of the storm — my first piece was published then, my friends gave me a surprise visit that warmed my heart. In the end, I passed, somehow passed, always passed, but I began feeling like my life passed me by.




The University of Michigan's diag in the summer months
The Diag in the Summer. Photo courtesy of www.artfaircalendar.com

Summer

I ripped off the page of the calendar, letting it flutter to the ground. Gone but not forgotten. Never forgotten. I wasn't looking for a new beginning, a new life, just a new day, a new light. I didn't expect too much in the Summer. I decided to stop journaling. In theory it was a way to log everything that had grown from what I'd sown; a way to notice the breeze in the heat. In practice, it just became a way to stew in bitterness at the pests that had come to chomp at the crops. So I packed it up; sadness and anger need no reminder. Besides, if my college life finally decided to come into my space, I didn't want my face buried in a notebook. Not expecting, mind you, just prepared. Ever prepared. In the Summer, you could say that I came onto my own; still in the same garden, minus roommate. Same manure just a different day? With the land long having forgotten the chokehold of frost, there comes a certain freedom in the Summer months. In Spring, my academic career began and ended with Japanese. The flowers that sprouted in my Photography and Narrative Journalism did nothing to calm me in light of the approaching wildfire that was Japanese Proficiency. But now I could begin approaching academia on my own terms, plant what I wanted to. In the Summer, I began sharpening my writing tools in both fiction and poetry (as you can see, years later, there's still room to grow), I learned about the stars, I began analyzing films. I always knew I wanted to write, but it was here that it became clear that I wanted to delve into history and movies, too. In the Summer, I started writing the reviews that I'm happy to say I continue writing to this day. In the Summer, I wrote a story that I'm dead set on publishing. But it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. With the sun comes heat, a heat that might just leave you feeling beat down like a dog. Classes might have been a blast, but the social, a stem most vital to the college plant, was in a spiral. I began slowly but surely dipping from my clubs, for I felt alone in a crowd. Loneliness and regret gripped me; experiments gone awry in the night. I shuffled to and from classes alone and the friends I found were fleeting. In contrast, the eternal struggle between the social and academic came to a head at the end of Summer, when I decided to toss all modern connected technology to the wind and go to the woods with forty other students. But why in the world would a lad want to go into the woods, you ask? Well, it's a question of masks:


One of my wishes was that those dark trees,

would speak to me through their voice in the breeze,

that they'd speak in a way that cities can't,

that they'd confirm to me all that I am.


I wished to join that birch community

and discover all I could hope to be.

I might find myself metamorphosized

into a mystifying butterfly.


I expected those trees to bring relief

and offer a brave new world in a leaf.

On the shores of that lake, in my mind's eye

I spied me shedding my skin with a sigh


But I found the trees wailing in the wind—

confirming that I was (only) all I had been.


I wouldn't say that I came onto my own, only discovering there wasn't much to come onto; my mask slipped only to reveal that I wasn't wearing one at all. Keeping it real means there aren't a great deal or secrets. It means going to the woods hoping to find friends but mostly finding work because that is who you are and you find it disingenuous to pretend otherwise. Yet I can't pretend that my time in the woods of Lake Winnipesaukee was black with doom. There were truly breathtaking moments perched atop mountains. I returned to our standard world of metal beams and screaming cars in June. Next thing I knew, my leaves had dropped from their trees, fluttering to the ground. Before I had known it, my Summer had tripped into



University of Michigan's Diag in the Fall
The Diag in the Fall. Photo courtesy of Lars Jensen

Fall

I don't know what I expected in the Fall, in the Autumnal twilight. In the perfect vision of my hindsight, it was beautiful. Or, at least, it was beautiful relative to the coming ugliness of Winter. I'd regularly be able to eat with a friend, I got to attend a silent film festival, and I fell into a regular rotation of clubs that I stuck with for the rest of my time at university. Perhaps they weren't the crops I expected, but if I'm being truthful, I must admit that something did grow.


I remember the leaves fluttering down in the Fall.

I liked the golden rays from the sinking sun.

I look back at that time with a smile.


Memories spun down like helicopters from the tall

trees; flying for a time before they hit the ground.

I remember the leaves fluttering down in the Fall.


After the searing heat from high noon,

before the chilling cold of the midnight,

I liked the golden rays from the sinking sun.


In the face of the tomorrow of today;

yesterday's beautiful, a snippet of perfection;

I look back at that time with a smile.


Poems aside, I must stress that I confess that I didn't wear this smile at the time. Oh, yes, I'm sure I had a perception that things weren't as bad as before. I can't deny the fun ride I had as me and my friend decided to try every dining hall on campus (the worst is Twigs at Oxford, the best is probably a tie between MoJo and South Quad], and the hidden gem is Markley). I won't lie and say I didn't enjoy sharing my stories with my club. But just because things aren't all good mean that they aren't all bad and I'd probably have laughed if you went to the past and told me that I felt good. After a relatively stress-free sophomore year, schoolwork piled up higher and I recall pulling off a rare all nighter to finish my papers. During this time, the beautiful Hatcher Library became one of my most frequented spots on campus because it gave me the quiet I desperately needed to finish my assignments. All that said, I think I had fun overall. Though, again, it might have just been my proximity to the Winter, a Winter that I'd share with the rest of the class of 2021. In the Fall, I'd never have known that it would be my last opportunity to have in-person classes, my last opportunity to have a college experience with a semblance of normalcy. I wonder if I’d do anything different if I knew what was to come, and if so, what. Of course, we know not what the future holds, and so I was none the wiser of the blizzard that would come. When the first flurries started, I thought it would just pass over. Then the snowfall began to intensify and I tried my best to stay in place in the dorms.. But my denial couldn't change reality: those who could travel home were ordered to do so and I finished my semester virtually. The transition from the Autumn to the next season was choked with anxiety. I look back to the days before the storm fondly. You don't realize what you have until it's g o n e.



University of Michigan's Diag in the Winter
The Diag in the Winter. Photo courtesy of Lars Jensen

Winter

My final season and the coldest by far. The uncomfortable, intense heat gave way to a languid chill with a forecast of snow as far as the eye can see. As to not make light of the plight that countless have gone through, I'll make it plain that the pandemic, the likes that most of the world has never known, is the horrid snow I speak of. Public safety would dictate that in-person classes remain suspended, sporting events cancelled, frat parties postponed. But whether or not health warranted it, many schools decided that the show must go on. They had to, because they sold their students on a dream. As if accosted by a fast-talking swindler, students were sold on a fallacy, a not-quite-right reflection of reality. Students brought into the idea of a unified college experience where they'd live on an opulent campus and have a magnificent caterpillar-into-butterfly coming of age with their peers. There'd be countless friendships that would last a lifetime, there would be drinking, there'd be sex, there'd be smiles that outweighed the tears. The students who bought this dream of "The College Experience'' believe that it can only be achieved by living on campus. It was perhaps best described by the words of a now long-broken mug I received Freshman year — something along the lines of "Do dumb things when you're young so you can have funny stories to tell when you're old." College is said by some to be the best time of your life. So why would you let anything keep you from those days. It's the type of thing that compels students to gather in large groups under the rallying banner of "You can't eat ass with a mask on;" the type of thing that compels students to wait in a long line just to get to a bar, kicking off an outbreak. But I'd be a hypocrite if I pretended I was much better. I'd be a hypocrite if I pretended I wasn't also trying to chase that dream. I'd be a hypocrite if I pretended I didn't try to ignore the impact of the snow in my own way.


I went back amidst the biting snow in search of normalcy,

amidst bitter reality.

But what is normal?

Why

is normal?

Who?

Why?

Do I care?

Care enough to try and brave

the cold with bare feet

to tell myself

things can go back

to the way they used to be;

the way they never were.

Normalcy is a fantasy

because I am me

our experiences make us unique

yet we seek

a unified heaven

and when we lack it

we weep.

I went back to grasp

what had escaped my hands.

Not knowing the storm

may have been a test

to evaluate what I had.


And so, I decided to return to Ann Arbor for my Senior year, not to the dorms, but to a co-op. I had opted in as a last gambit to connect with others, to live with people and try and fulfill the College Experience the best I could. had no in-person classes, so those in my co-op would be the only people I saw. For a time, it was nice, getting to eat with people every evening. I desperately needed the break — virtual learning didn't seem to work for me at all and my schedule was absolutely packed. Doing assignments was a nightmare and I felt like I felt stretched thin very quickly. My psyche threatened to snap in two, my nerves were frayed and very little soothed me. The workload got better between semesters but not the social situation. It was determined that we shouldn't eat inside, and thus any in-person interaction I had was shot. I had grown used to eating alone over the past few years, but now when I had a reason for eating alone, I felt gripped by loneliness. My attempt to try and connect with people ended in failure. Instead, faced with people who had "pods" to eat with, I found myself once again straddled with the feeling that, compared to others, I had done things "wrong" and had squandered my experience. Staring out into the Winter, I wondered if I could have done something different in the Spring, in the Summer, in the Fall. Yet a man has to wonder if his experience ended up being just right after all. It's not like I don't hold onto things. On my final night at my co-op, on my final night of being on campus in a metaphysical sense, I decided to pull out one of the co-op's DanceDanceRevolution pads and play the game on my computer. Afterwards, I ordered Insomnia Cookies for pieces of that gooey, hot sweetness as well as a personal Pizza House pizza, with cheese so stretchy I choked a bit trying to eat it.


As one cycle ends, a new begins. I walk into a new Spring, hoping that the best is yet to come.



The poem found in "Summer" is derived from "Into My Own" by Robert Frost, the first poem we had to memorize in my NELP class.


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