When in life

I was really excited this morning. I surfed the web for images and maps of campus. I gave Beth ten answers for every question she asked. Maybe one in ten were pertinent to the question. I found a picture of a room from the dorm she’ll be staying in at UF. Countless pictures of my dorm came to mind. There was so much excitement and nostalgia floating around it’s hard to imagine a better high.

Some may think I’m an unhappy person but I hope Beth has even a fraction of my good fortune.

Cheryl and Beth backed out the driveway and quickly disappeared. Cheryl will be back tomorrow, Beth next week. But it’s not hard to imagine this morning was a glimpse of the future… a future that’s sprinting to the present, where weeks become semesters and semesters become a new life.

I hope we’ll be ready.

Beth left with a grin, maybe even as excited as me. I hope she returns with a bigger one, with memories of her own and an itch to create a lot more.

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Beth, pride, and The Gators

My daughter has been been accepted by the University of Florida.

I am bursting with pride. As Yoda might say, “A proud father I am.”

I admit it’s a touch misleading though. Beth is just finishing ninth grade. She is not graduating early and she is not enrolling with the freshman class at UF next fall. She will be dual-enrolled in college courses next year, but they won’t be at UF (130 miles away). However, she will be one of forty or so kids living on campus for a week this summer to explore scientific areas of study, meet the professors who teach them, and see the research they do when they’re not teaching.

I think the concept of the program is fantastic. I think a lot more kids should have the same opportunity, but I also understand the desire to bring in kids who really want to be there and will get the most out of the experience. I think there’s a way to balance larger enrollment with high enthusiasm, but this isn’t a post about the responsibilities of our public institutions of higher learning – or where we place those institutions on our list of state priorities.

Good thing too – my temper has been running thin lately.

Although I thought Beth’s essay was pretty good (I couldn’t resist a few suggestions to make it better), her grades are perfect, and her letters of recommendation were glowing, I always assumed she wouldn’t get in. I think she’s a capable, confident, smart, and strong young woman who can and will do many things. But Florida is large and forty is small.

Maybe it’s a relatively small thing, but I feel like we won the World Series. I feel like looking up those teachers who treated her no better than the students who bullied her and telling them, “Look at my daughter and see what she has done. Now know this: she has done it in spite of you.”

Where once there was gloom, she is a bright, shining star.

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Here we go again

I’m in trouble.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s always great to be a Florida Gator, but I’m not sure my fragile nerves can take another deep run in The Show. Tell me, how many sleep specialists do you suppose recommend staying up past your bedtime with a sleep disorder?

Ha-yeah?!?

How many of those fine specimens of medical know-how would recommend engaging in stressful activities right before trying to go to sleep?

Hello?!?

The Gators made it to the Great Eight tonight. I’m a little scared. I’m worried I might misplace my sanity. I’m troubled what this might do to my productivity at the office.

Now, which sentence in this post do you think is a lie?

Billy D, what are you doin’ to me?

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In the UF years

People romanticize snippets of the past and I’m no different. If you listen to me talk about my UF years, you’d think:

1. I got straight As.*

2. I spent four years in Gainesville with Cheryl, a time overflowing with love, joy, learning, and fulfillment.

3. Ambrosia came with every meal. They only had enough to serve it as a side though.**

4. Classmates followed me on campus, collecting things my feet had trod.

5. Steve Spurrier begged me daily to join the team and solve his dreadful kicking game.***

6. I reigned over the Florida Gym like I was the king holding court, with stifling defense, dazzling dribbling, and a clutch, 3 point shot that would make Larry Bird get down on his knees and kiss my ring.

Obviously it wasn’t all that, to borrow a phrase from my daughter. I’ve got my finger on the pulse of teen culture, yo!

I had a theory about the good old days. I wasn’t just thinking about my good old days, but the concept – those periods in life we’re most likely to hold dear to our hearts. I won’t claim I came up with it first, because it turns out I didn’t. I only claim it occurred to me independent of outside influence – other than raw evidence. When I heard some of my private thoughts in class at UF, allegedly from people who had the same thoughts before I was born, I felt a little deflated. But go ahead, call me liar. I double dog dare you!

Lest I confuse or bore you further, here it is. Although we selectively remember the good times from our “good old days,” those days don’t become good and old unless there are a fair number of mostly forgotten bad days in the mix.

Forgetting those classes at UF for a moment (I did a long time ago), the only flaw in my theory (that I could see) was it relied on one study with an admittedly small test group and no control for comparison. Can I count that as one flaw or do I have to go with three or more? Some would even stoop so low as to call my evidence “anecdotal,” because it came solely from my personal experience – or my recollection of it after the fact.

Well! You do know you’re free to stop reading anytime you like, right?

I imagine “THE good old days” is a moving target, changing as we grow older, having more days in the sample for comparison. However, for the moment mine are my days in college – as I’ve suggested before, in this same post even! I “image” they are a moving target because at the tender age of thirty-nine, I have a lot more data to collect.

Emotional ups and downs filled my college years. I started dating and got engaged at UF, but I also spent some of the loneliest days of my life at UF. If you can believe it, Cheryl was actually dating someone else when we started school. (Yes, I was a rebound guy.) I had the closest friendships of my life, and I pissed each and every one of them away. (I think it’s why I’m a little dismissive when someone says I’m a nice guy. I have evidence to the contrary.)

For every moment of bliss, I can come up with it’s equal and opposite… if I try a little harder.

Do you know what you’re thinking? I know what you should be thinking: “Why the hell would you work so hard to remember the bad times? Can’t you just deal with a few fleeting moments of serenity and nostalgia and leave well enough alone? Are you one of those weirdos who enjoy pain?

First of all, believe it or not there are some personal things I keep private, thank you very much!

Mostly I’m just curious. I did spend the better part of four years studying the mind and how it works. Well, actually I studied what a few folks not named Freud THOUGHT about its mysteries. No offense to the Freud dude, who may have had more issues himself than he studied and wrote about. I did two research projects at UF focused on memory. The formation, use, and retention of memories fascinated me for some time, particularly after my grandmother with Alzheimer’s died (while I was at UF).

I wonder if good, even great can get bland – in a way. Say you have a great day. What does it entail? I’m not talking about vacations or events, I’m talking about real, every day life. How is it different from other good days? If you string a bunch together, is the difference enough to remember the specifics of a particular day for a week, 6 months, or years? I think the answer for most people is no. I think our mind makes short cuts whenever it can, building a construct of “a good day” from hundreds of good days. Our minds learn things which typically make up “good days,” and our recollection of the specifics fade – after they’ve been classified, ranked, and processed – added to the mind’s algorithm used to reconstruct a “memory” of a “good day.”

Now think back to the good times you had to work for, when life was a little more roller-coaster than merry-go-round. Those days have contrast, the memories like the after-image of a flashbulb in a darkened room. It makes me wonder if we have to suffer a little to find happiness with any depth to it, rich enough in emotional texture to stand out in our mind.

Study this post and you’ll probably find more holes than my memories. A four year degree hardly makes me an expert. I haven’t even tried to explain the repression of bad times in this post. In fact, I don’t believe all of them are all that repressed. But that’s ok. Light lacks contrast without darkness, and many (if not most) of us can choose to see more light than its alternative when we’re given the gift of time. It’s enough to make me think a little differently about my depression. A few times I’ve climbed out of the hole to find great memories ready for the making.

– – –

*Actually, that one’s true.

**I meant to imply the mythological definition of ambrosia, not “beebread,” or “a fungal product used as food by ambrosia beetles,” as a pesky dictionary might suggest.

***I was actually pretty consistent from 40 yards off a tee behind my house in high school, using our narrow, 8′ swing set in lieu of goal posts. However, I never played a down of organized ball. I was always the guy with the “biggest leg” on my soccer teams though.

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Friend request

You’ve heard me talk, countless times, about the posts in my growing pending pile. Many have never escaped. In fact, it takes a pretty strong post to dig itself free and find you here. Now imagine what I don’t post.

Well, as chance would have it I’ve been working on a post about nostalgia and the years I spent at UF.

Today, I received a Facebook friend request from an actual, pre-internet age… friend… from UF! It’s a rare, precious thing. It’s someone who went to my wedding no less!

The downside is you’re gonna have to wait for my essay on nostalgia. This little bit of emotional over-reaction will have to tide you over.

I know. I feel your pain.

UF vs FSU

A Gator’s perspective.

“Who cares about college football?”, you may be asking yourself. Well I’m glad you asked.

Imagine college football gameday. Its an image that comes easily to me. You are in a relatively small college town that seems to double in population six weekends every fall. On Friday, the school campus begins to resemble a K.O.A. Alumni and students gather to discuss past glory and the triumph to come. On Saturday morning you awake earlier than normal (for a Saturday), with anticipation not unlike a small child’s on Christmas morning. . . kick-off is near! You make your way to campus as the afternoon approaches. As you near your destination, more and more people join you on your chosen path. You arrive at the stadium, eager to see your school take on one of it’s bitterest rivals. You feel a combination of anticipation, confidence, and doubt; but you won’t admit to the doubt. From the moment of the opening kick-off until the final second has expired from the clock, each play is agonized over until its result is known. The agony of anticipation grows with each play as the game gets closer to its end, but the outcome remains in doubt. Suddenly, from the rhythm of the game arises the “big play.” Pent up nerves are released into the depths of despair, or the heights of exhilaration. Tens of thousands of people screaming in unison are either silenced in that instant, or released into joyous pandemonium as the outcome of the contest SEEMS to become clearer. But more often than not fate is not so easily coaxed from the closet, as the so called “big play” alternately plays the champion for each team, toying with the crowds emotions before the outcome is clear. And when when the last seconds finally tick past, the crowd is left either with the hope that next year will bring better returns, or bragging rights for another year.

That brings me to a little get together that happens in Tallahassee this year. It’s an attractive city to be sure, but it’s not a college town – in the purest sense. I can’t fault the fans. A fine school and a fine team share a north Florida city with our state’s capital. While our rivalry with them is not considered our biggest, it certainly has gotten hotter of late. Our fortunes against them never seemed lower than the “the choke at Doke.” However, a little contest that decided a national championship a few years back more than atoned for that sin.

I am young, my experience is slight, and my knowledge of the history of my alma-matter’s rivalry with FSU is shamefully lacking. But this I know: we have won more often than we have lost. I say this not because we should rest easy on our laurels, but merely that it is easy to do so.

The gauntlet has been thrown down. A line has been drawn in the sand. It’s time to play the game.