Turned Upside Down

by Janelle A. Ruley | 11/4/97 6:00am

I've Got Issues ... with being turned upside down. Everything I knew to be true and right and simple just isn't anymore. Life has become complex and multidimensional to the point where I feel as though I can't keep up; I am overwhelmed. Suddenly, there are so many ways to look at situations -- new perspectives, new information, and new considerations. Ideals and concepts that I fundamentally believed in have been questioned and challenged; I have been turned upside down repeatedly since I've been at Dartmouth.

Part of the issue for me is the paradox that is Dartmouth College. Some clarification before I continue: for me, the paradox of Dartmouth is that while I love this school passionately and with every fiber of my being, existing here continually tears me up inside. Not a week goes by that I escape feelings of inadequacy or extreme frustration or relative lack of intelligence. Yet still I cannot deny that I love Dartmouth and just about everything associated with it.

I think that part of my predicament lies in the fact that I am endeavoring to broaden my horizons while simultaneously striving to define myself. I have begun to ask a myriad of questions -- tough ones, too -- much to the chagrin of my closest friends. These questions, from my perspective, are intended to give me a more expansive frame of reference to draw from before eventually resolving to either settle on a decision or compile more information. Asking these questions has provided me with some unexpected answers, and some answers that are difficult to swallow. Thus I am turned upside down. And shaken and stirred too.

Increasingly often, I find myself inundated by a wave of purposelessness. Appearing from an unseen and intangible locus, this wave steals up on me and violently yanks me back into the depths of a bottomless emotional ocean. When I was in high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish, I went after it, and I achieved it. Simple as that; simple as walking on a sunny California beach. I realize now, of course, that coming to Dartmouth expecting to do the same was clearly a mistake. At least for me it was a mistake. Part of my problem is that I don't know what I want to accomplish, either here or in the "real world," as it changes almost daily ... or every time I talk with someone new.

Sometimes I decide that the most important thing for me to do with my time at Dartmouth is to foster solid friendships with the amazing people with whom I have been lucky enough to surround myself. I know that in ten, or twenty, or fifty years, these individuals will still remember me and that we will continue to be connected by the bond that we nurtured here at Dartmouth, whether it was via late-night dorm bathroom chats, over coffee at the Dirt Cowboy Cafe, playing Frisbee on the Green, eating in a Dartmouth Dining Services establishment, or just by simply hanging out.

Maybe my purpose is to make lasting bonds with individuals and contribute a special and positive element to their lives. Or, maybe my purpose is to do something through the Student Assembly or another organization to affect campus-wide change. Is it my purpose to set policy or initiate a new precedent here? We were all told that we could change the world -- does that sentiment then imply an obligation? Right now, I just don't know. And this purposelessness eats away at me; it constantly turns me upside down.

I also feel directionless. Again, this is something which came easily to me in high school. I was steadfast in my plan of graduating from high school, going to Dartmouth for four years, getting a teaching credential, and then going right back to my high school and giving back everything I got out of it. That idea lasted for about two weeks here. Three years of dreaming were erased in two weeks. Since I have been at Dartmouth, I have considered a multitude of careers. But, I'm just a Sophomore, right? No need to worry about this yet.

Despite this supposed truism, what concerns me is the indefiniteness that sets in once my name is read on a dazzlingly brilliant June day in the year 2000. With Dartmouth diploma in hand, I will then be compelled to go DO something. And to do something good. All my life, my direction has been governed by definite blocks of time. I had four years to accomplish something in high school. This term is ten weeks long. Life should be so easy when it is segmented neatly before you; direction simply falls into place. What frightens me immensely is that I feel a lack of direction even in the midst of a definite time period in my life. What is going to happen when I step on the platform at graduation and still have no direction? That thought alone makes my stomach churn.

Ah, the traumas of having issues. So I'm turned upside down by Dartmouth, nearly every day, and in so many unexpected ways. While this process certainly does exhaust me, it has also created in me a new sense of openness: an openness to new ideas and practices and suggestions. My willingness to question, in addition to my openness, has allowed me to recognize in myself so much that I had not previously seen. And I am fortunate to be able to say that I am pleased with who I see.