One month later; or, seeking nirvana

“…So you’re going to Yale. I used to want to go to Yale myself, once. Only I had to go where I could. I guess there is a time in the life of every young American of the class that wants to go to college or accepts the inevitability of education, when he wants to go to Yale or Harvard. Maybe that’s the value of Yale and Harvard to our American life: a kind of illusion of an intellectual nirvana that makes the ones that can’t go there work like hell where they do go, so as not to show up so poorly alongside of the ones that can go there. Still, ninety out of a hundred Yale and Harvard turn out but are reasonably bearable to live with, if they ain’t anything else. And that’s something to be said for any manufactory, I guess. But I’d like to have gone there…'”

—Faulkner, Mosquitoes

I went there.

When I graduated a month ago, everything happened at once: dark-blue gowns and cardboard packing boxes and parents. At night, there were clay pipes that we smoked and smashed on forbidden rooftops and lumps in the throat that wouldn’t go away, even when we sang and laughed and danced. Most people left in a rush—on to the next. I lingered, because I purposefully have no “next”, not right now.

In Mosquitoes, Faulkner’s character Fairchild—a talented novelist with an inferiority complex springing from his incomplete education—happens into a conversation with a young well-to-do man, Josh, who’s headed to Yale. Josh doesn’t much care where he goes; it’s not as though there were a choice, or as though anything different could have happened to him (and besides, he’s mainly interested in getting into a senior society). Fairchild only wishes had had the chance to go to Yale, even if the college is ultimately, as he says, “a kind of illusion of an intellectual nirvana.” It’s a nice snapshot of two men, separated by the birthright of class and money and reasonable expectations, yet both buying into the splendid myth of academia. Mosquitoes was first published in 1927, but Fairchild’s comment resonates with just as much bite and relevance today as ever.

No matter. The illusion—the myth—worked all its glory on me. And I know from experience that my friends were much better than “reasonably bearable” to live with. Luck shipped us all off to New Haven, and luck brought to us great people there who we learned from and grew to know.

But that was all a month ago. I’m home now, on the other, brighter coast. My friends and acquaintances are scattered far off in other cities, cultures, lives. The education from here on out is one we make, not one we take. The illusion of nirvana has ended; the quest for the real thing now begins.

 

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