First-Year Seminar
R. S. Williams


Boys are a waste of time. Men are less so, but you will not really need them for another fifteen or twenty years. If you like neither boys nor men, you aren’t missing anything. But neither have you escaped love and loss. Along with everyone else, you’ve entered a whole new universe of possibility, of ways to hurt and be hurt.

In class, absorb everything you can.
Out of class, absorb everything you can.

Question and doubt your parents. They lied you into adulthood. Not to figure out where and how and why they lied is a waste and a sin.
If this is already starting to dawn on you, don’t you dare go back to sleep now.

There is only so much one liver can take.
Pace yourself.

As soon as you walk down the hall, the conversation turns elsewhere.
Live accordingly.

Get used to answering hard questions.
College is just the start.

There is no shame in knowing when to quit.
There is no shame in not knowing when to quit.

Making money helps. Ask yourself, though, whether your soul is too high a price to pay. Many are the lawyers and doctors and consultants and stockbrokers lying awake at night with bowels frozen in perfect searing panic at what they cannot admit: how much they hate what they do, how much they hate this shell of who they used to be.

Character counts.
So does the casual cruelty of the young.
Choose carefully.

Stupidity is a luxury only the dead can afford.

Bringing another person into the world does not obligate him or her to love, or even like, you. You are valuable and worthwhile, whether or not you ever pass a watermelon through a keyhole.

Starting out, aim for a C.
For those playing along at home, that’s a high school A.

At some point, we all have to put our neuroses aside and get things done. “I didn’t feel like it” rings worthless and petty when others’ lives depend on you—and they always do. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Work for a living: real work.
Get your hands dirty. Lift the elderly. Run the drive-thru. Clean.
Know that no cubicle job can ever break the body like physical labor.

There is beauty, dignity, and honor in all work.
Know this in the marrow of your bones.

If the class assignments don’t make sense, try reading them out loud. Words on a page come to life as they ride your out-breath.

While you’re at it, read all those English papers out loud, too, before you turn them in. If reading your work to the ethers at 3:48 in the morning is the worst thing you ever do to your roommates, they should consider themselves lucky.

Frat boys are lousy in bed. They grow up to be the kind of men who drone away on C-SPAN, dishonestly dapper in red silk ties and navy suits and cloisonné American flag pins, in love with the sound and smell of their own bullshit. Avoid them at all costs and make the world a better place.

Artists, too, are lousy in bed—when they’re young. Avoid them until they’re at least 50, then jump on that thing and make the world a better place. That is all I will say on this subject.

Everything is here to wake you up.

Loved ones leave us without warning—talk Tuesday, dead Thursday, funeral Sunday.
The last time you see someone may be the last time you see someone.

But living with the constant hushed refrain of “cherish and hug and keep and never ever let them go” is a crazy-making way to live. It keeps those we love tethered to us like dogs on tie-out stakes. It is a love that forces us close and cuts into our necks, a love that strangles and slices. If you don’t believe me, just look what it did to your parents after 9/11.

Life is not about “like,” but rather about “learn.”
Bear witness to this wherever you go.

That said, “like” and “learn” often coexist beautifully, when we least expect it.
Bear witness to this wherever you go.

Your experience does not create the world. Nor is it meaningless in the great roiling sea of human banality.

Even the Oracle of Delphi had to cite her sources.
At least once a day, try walking across campus and thinking of the people you meet as human beings. Look them in the eye. Imagine what they had for breakfast, what their parents are like, where they ache. Imagine what expectations they carry with them from home. Note how this practice changes your heart.

If this practice does not change your heart, get help before it’s too late—before you go marrying that Beta Tau Kappa Delta Rho Phi Chi who smells of Old Milwaukee, roofies, and willful ignorance. Yes, that one, who even with his engineering degree couldn’t calculate how to sneak up on a glass of water. He’ll be in Congress before you know it.

Find a healthy balance where you can. Let the rest fall away.

In a few years, you will wonder why you ever thought you needed 5,500 square feet of McMansion in a sardine-packed Jacksonville suburb, where the neighboring houses sit so close to yours that you can practically piss on them. Try not to be horrified when your toddler tries pissing on the neighbor’s house. You’d be surprised how far a stream of urine can travel under the great pressure exerted by the average three-year-old’s bladder. This includes little girls’ plumbing, too. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Ditch the sycophants.

The person you marry may or may not turn out to be a complete turd. You may or may not see the warning signs. Do not feel badly either way. It is not the end of the world. In a craven, perverse sense, your soon-to-be-ex is setting you free again. Unencumbered and new, it is up to you as to what you create with your precious freedom.

You have a story to tell. For the love of all that is holy, tell it.

Notice small things: leaves, wrecked birds’ nests, the smell and sound of snow. Pay attention to moldy azalea blossoms, snake skeletons, reindeer moss, orange sherbet fungus billowing from the roots of a red oak. Nature wants you joyous.

Do not feel sorry for old people. You will be one of them before you know it. Sometimes you will even stand beside yourself in line at the Dairy Queen or the DMV or the communion rail and ask, “Who is this old woman, and why does she keep following me?”

We enter this world naked and alone.
We leave this world naked and alone.
We share this across time and space.

There will be a quiz.

 

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