How to be Miserable (Summer 2008)

“I hate that, it’s no fun.”  I can’t even tell you how much my skin crawls when I hear that.  If you insist on being negative and immature, at least have enough sense to use predicate adjectives correctly and say “it’s not fun.”  Yet, my disturbance does not end there.  Beneath the hideous grammar, there is an attitude of entitlement that I find particularly troubling, and I see it popping up more and more in today’s young adult.

At the risk of sounding like a cantankerous geriatric matriarch, I dare mutter to myself “kids these days, they have no idea of how to be miserable…”

Now, because I’ve already crossed the cantankerous geriatric matriarch bridge, I will proceed on to tell the story of how I learned how to be truly happy, how I learned to appreciate life, and how I learned to make anything fun.  I learned this by…being miserable.

It was my freshman year at a college I despised.  It was overwhelmingly large, cold, and unfriendly.  When I say cold, I am not simply referring to the social atmosphere either.  Located at a particularly high elevation in upstate New York, “cold” is an understatement for the type of weather I experienced during that especially cold winter.  I had three classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  The History of Modern India met in a bright room in a small building at the top of a hill.  The class ran through lunch time, and it took my most of the semester to get over the uncomfortable irony of eating a sandwich while learning about the starvation of thousands of Indians during the mid-twentieth century.  Needless to say that my own basic human need won out and soon I was munching away with less of a nagging guilt.

As soon as the professor bid us farewell for the day, I would gather up my belongings and make the trek to my next class, which met in a building with a sizeable auditorium, located close to a half-mile from my India class.  The half-mile would have been a somewhat pleasant reprieve from sitting if it was not a half-mile of steep decline down an often icy asphalt sidewalk.  I was obliged to tread carefully, lest I slip and my backpack become a sled, propelling me down the hill and into the road at a frightening speed.  Forensic Chemistry awaited me at my journey’s end.  At first, I was enthusiastic about Forensic Chemistry, as I had always been a fan of the forensic investigations I saw on television.  I realized that a season of CSI Miami was, in fact, an insufficient prerequisite for Forensic Chemistry, and I settled into my seat in that crowded auditorium, cracked my textbook, and studied.  Soon, I found a few friends, who were just as disenchanted as I with the class, and we began to amuse ourselves by comparing driver’s licenses from our respective states and drawing pictures of our dearly departed high school mascots.  With the girl next to me, I began to illustrate daily installments of “Mr. Bunny Goes to Syracuse University” where a small cartoon rabbit discovered the ups and downs of college life, a way in which I explored my freshman angst.

During this period of my life, I was also seeking to change aspects of my physicality.  I was weighing in at 195 pounds, and was beginning to see that my future shopping days would be spent in the plus size department of the local Target if I didn’t make some drastic changes.  My nightly ritual, which featured the consumption of a candy bar and a Code Red Mountain Dew, would have to be left in the dust.  I banished carbohydrates from my life, as well as all unnatural sweeteners.  I was happy, for the most part with my new nightly ritual, which now included berries in place of candy bars,

However, I did face my share of temptation, in the form of a extra large corn muffin over which I would drool ever Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at 1:00pm when I passed the snack kiosk located outside the auditorium where I was subjected to an hour and a half of Forensic Chemisty class with the professor who was daily conducting a love affair with the sound of his own voice.  I would sit there, day after day, hearing the sultry sweet talking corn muffin in my mind and doing my best to drown out its temptations by crunching louder on the obligatory baby carrots I had purchased in a desperate attempt to quell my desires.

Soon, the class would be over, and I was forced to face the most difficult moment of my day.  My last class of day, Statistics for the Liberal Arts, was located in the same building as my first class of the day, The History of Modern India, which meant that I had to retrace my steps back up the blasted hill I had just come down two hours before.  Not only was the half-mile now an incline, but as an added bonus, I was no longer traveling in the direction of the wind.  This of course meant, in the miserable winter months, that I would arrive at Statistics with an almost thoroughly frozen face.  I remember one day in particular, as I moved my feet with all the enthusiasm of one at a funeral march, the snow falling in big, fat flakes so fast that I could scarcely make out the ground in front of my feet, the corn muffin in my mind taunting me with its promise of temporary fulfillment, it was this day that I felt tears welling up in my eyes.  One tear did manage to escape, and as I felt it crystallize on my cheek, I realized that I needed to get a hold of myself before I suffered frost bite of the tear ducks.

Just as that tear crystallized on my miserable, chubby cheek, that moment froze in my memory.  It was the moment when I chose to keep walking when I felt like quitting.  It was the moment when I ate the carrots instead of the corn muffin.  It was the moment when I chose to make friends and make the best of my situation rather than feel sorry for myself.  It was the moment of choice that we all face no matter who we are, when what we want and what we have are so radically different that we want to stop walking and indulge in self-pity rather than keep moving, walking, and working in the hope of finding something better.

The thing is; I needed that moment.  I needed it because it taught me to choose joy.  I needed it because it taught me to choose tenacity.  I needed to be cold, fat and miserable in January so that I could appreciate when I was warm, thinner and joyful in May.  The last time I walked that half-mile, it was in the sunshine of Spring, which always comes after winter, you just have to wait it out.



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