Often, when talking about their time at Reed College, you'll hear people say that coming to campus was the first time they'd ever not felt out of place. Suddenly, while they were still weird, it was OK, because so was everybody else.
To some extent, I felt that way, too. There were definitely things that it was OK for me to be at Reed that it had never been OK for me be before--and some of them were fairly major. Being able to show those sides of myself was absolutely freeing. After awhile, though, I felt out of place at Reed, too. Not because I was too strange, but because I was too "normal."
Everything that had always stuck out about me seemed so moderate at Reed. My outlandish clothes were suddenly humdrum (and hey, I wore clothes!). My burgeoning depression was nothing compared to the actual psychosis around me. My sex and drug mores were absolutely conservative. And I was still smart to the rest of the world, but at Reed, I was barely average.
More than anything, though, being at Reed faced me with my own complete lack of creativity. My matriculation happened to coincide with my giving up all hopes of writing fiction, and honestly, there just wasn't a lot of art in me. I had loved theater in high school, but I knew I was out of my league in college and didn't even try. I felt surrounded by this intense creativity. It seemed like almost everybody I knew had it pouring out of them. Two of my best friends were biologists who were never without their sketchbooks. My boyfriend had big plans to turn a recently built campus building into a giant Eye of Ra. I sometimes I went to sleep the sounds of a midnight guitar session featuring another scientist and an economist.
One of the ways that I comforted myself when I was feeling the brunt of my averageness was to tell myself that it was temporary. After all, this was the early-20s super creative time. I was just growing up faster, I told myself--these people would eventually get to be just as boring as I was. They couldn't go their entire lives being able to lecture on the Medicis but not knowing where to buy a stamp. It just wasn't possible.
Fast forward nearly a decade and tonight Mark and I were having dinner with a friend from Reed who always has all the gossip about people we all know. Lots of it isn't surprising--I've gotten used to these people who I used to think of as colossal fuck-ups going straight and being successful; the first acid tripper to turn into a doctor is surprising, but after that it's less so. What gets me, as we work our way through the list, is the people who are still, at 30 or just beyond it, outside the norm. One person is a puppeteer. One is a contact juggler. One is, I kid you not, an actual rock star.
I am still an average person among the greats. I'm not as smart as the friends who now have Ph.D. or M.D. after their names, as successful as the ones with six figure incomes, or as artistic as those who are still committing themselves to creative pursuits. I haven't expatriated or had babies. I haven't written anything worth reading in years. I go to bed early and take vitamins and take care of my dogs and go to my regular job and live my regular life. Most days, that's enough. I know I should just consider myself lucky to have known these odd, brilliant, fucked-up people. But ten years later I'm still sad not to really be one of them.