Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

It’s been real, and it’s been fun…

<ir="ltr">If I knew then what I know now, I’m not sure if I’d have shown up to that first late-September ‘tonian meeting nearly four years ago.  Don’t get me wrong – the paper had its moments.  I got to talk to lots of interesting people on campus.  I made friends and found camaraderie.  And – particularly after I took charge of the paper halfway through sophomore year – my confidence in my place at Carleton grew substantially.   

Still, as I sit now to tally up the credits and debits of my four-year relationship with this publication, I’m not sure the balance is positive.  The flip-side of confidence was an ego trip that seems laughable in retrospect.  The friendships I formed sooner or later all fell victim to the stresses and strains of weekly deadlines, annual budgets, and mutually swollen senses of self-importance.  And hours spent in that windowless office in Sayles became hours not spent writing papers and doing readings, applying to internships and writing fellowship applications.  Really, the ‘tonian became a sedative: why should I worry about anything else when it gave me routine and meaning and purpose?

Maybe this would all have been worth it if we were putting out a fantastic product.  Four years of sacrifices would have been a cheap price to pay for participating in well-reported, factual, thoughtful student journalism.  But, unfortunately, that’s not what it was.  Much as I railed against our critics at the time, they were on to something.  I tip my hat to the passionate, hardworking women and men who’ve filled the pages you hold in your hands.  I also acknowledge the baked-in handicaps – the ten-week terms, the utter lack of institutional support, and the unpredictable transformation taking place in journalism itself – that make putting out a “B” product a huge victory.

So, at more cynical moments, this all seems like a giant waste of time.  Most of us probably feel that way about something at Carleton: classes, majors, friend groups, friendships, relationships.  Why? What was the point?

I would, as they say these days, like to push back on that notion.  Sure, because we learned something.  We had new experiences and found out what we *didn’t* like at the very least. We learned something about how other people work.  More importantly, we learned something about how we work.

That approach alone, however, seems more than a little reductionist.  I’d like to think my skills in certain areas have improved vastly over the past four years. The ‘tonian helped me with that.  But if I was a lesser writer, or lesser leader, or lesser friend, I wasn’t less of a person.  What we felt and thought as freshmen – our hopes for the goals we set, and our willingness to try again after getting our asses kicked – remains just as real as it was then.  Our previous selves deserve respect.

However, even saying “It sucked, but I was just dumber then” doesn’t quite capture it.  It’s just not true.

One of my favorite poems from high school was Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” The eponymous hero, lately king of a small Greek island, has grown bored with his duties.  He yearns for new adventure: “I am a part of all that I have met; / Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’ / Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades / For ever and forever when I move.” Just the stuff to fire a teenager’s imagination.  But buyer beware.  The grass, the narrator lets on, is always greener on the other side of the fence.  All that we’ve done before just tells us what shade of green it is, how high it’s grown, and what the fence looks like.  Our years of experience have added nothing.  We’re just better at articulating why we’re unfulfilled and why, if we just do this one thing, we’ll be satisfied.

A little deeper dive – a “more subversive” reading – tells us that our hero was actually a narcissistic tool.  He’s bored and wants to leave.  Queen, kids, subjects be damned.  How immature.  But he’s reached this point because he’s cynical: “Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole / Unequal laws unto a savage race.” He has let pessimism about the imperfection of his accomplishments overwhelm the fact of their achievement.  Devoid of meaning, they can be discarded.  On to the next great challenge, the one that’s truly worth the cost.

Which is to say, we may be older, and we may be wiser, but only by half.  My impulse to reduce and dismiss the ‘tonian – our impulse to reduce and dismiss the seemingly pointless battles we fought here – is maybe a necessary part of moving on.  So our jaundiced pronouncements don’t represent hard-won insights.  They’re value judgements just as subjective to our place in time as was our wide-eyed approach three years ago.  

It would be a lie to say that these past four years have floated by like a lovely dream.  It would be equally disingenuous to laugh off the drama, the squabbles, and the sleepless nights as rattling and banging inside one very expensive playpen.  The challenges we faced were real enough at the time, and we overcame them.  More important, we were earnest about it.  We had no choice: the struggles were fresh and we knew nothing better.  But even now that we do, I’d like to hang on to a piece of that earnestness.  It was real, and there’s not much you can say that about.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *