Many are familiar with the crippling, chronic illness known as Senioritis – in which an individual at the senior level in academia endures tremendous bouts of apathy to the most extreme degree. It’s a thing, trust me. I looked it up on Web M.D. But sadly, many more are unfamiliar with a rare and equally crippling strain of Senioritis – it is one that plagues juniors, typically in their second semester, and is, more simply, the fear of becoming a senior.
I finally watched the pilot episode of HBO’s Girls, and I hate the show already. No, that’s not true. Of course I loved it – it’s funny and smart and real and everything all my twenty-something female friends (and obligatory gay male friend) told me it would be. But I want to hate it, because watching Girls is like looking in the mirror. I graduate William & Mary in about 18 months (no, I’m not counting [yes, I obviously am]) and I am already hyperventilating every hour, on the hour. I worry about getting a job that I’ll like, but at the same time one that will allow me to survive on more than tortilla chips and Dr. Pepper. I worry about being able to support myself, wherever the heck I’ll be living. Virginia? Back in Florida in my parents’ basement? (Well, I at least know the latter won’t be true, since Florida is at sea level and doesn’t have basements. AHA!) Mostly, though, more than anything else, I’m worried about making the four years that will have preceded me count for something, and not simply flopping on my face with only an expensive paper diploma to cushion me.
In watching one episode of Girls, a long-repressed thought of mine has been confirmed: I’m scared to graduate. I don’t wanna do it. Hi, my name is Laura Marina Elena Manzano, and I have Type Two Senioritis. For me, the first month of this semester has been so full of rejection and disappointment and setbacks – some of which I’m still getting over, weeks later. Junior year has taught me, more than anything else, that the more you put yourself out there, the greater chance you have of getting hurt. A big part of me can’t shake the fear that here, now, in college, where I’m supposed to be building my resumé and gaining all this experience – if so many of my attempts have been unsuccessful, what’s to say that the infamous “real world” will be any different?
I’ve decided I’m not going to watch Girls anymore, for at least right now, because it makes me think about all those things at four in the morning, when the whole point in watching is to submerge myself in that mindless, animal-cracker-crumbs-on-your-shirt kind of TV-watching experience that you take part in when you’re trying to forget about reality. I sometimes think about what all the people I know who watch the show have in common. I suppose a lot with each other, and a lot with Lena Dunham. Typically female, English/American studies/LCST majors, maybe a tattoo or two or seven, social smokers, coffee drinkers, Woody Allen lovers. Budding Lena Dunhams, essentially. The same principle applies to the question of why my mom is into Parenthood right now. She’s a parent. It’s relatable. (Pure entertainment value will explain why my thirteen-year-old sister watches Cake Boss on Netflix like it’s her summer job.)
Last fall in my film class, we read an essay by Laura Mulvey which said that for a long time, women faced some difficulty identifying with the characters present on screen. The protagonist was almost always male, and the female character was almost always used primarily for visual, sexual appeal. Women watching movies were rendered immobile. They couldn’t relate to the main dude, of course, and Lauren Bacall was just too sexy and mysterious for the average American woman to think, “she’s just like me!” I’m certainly not claiming she’s the first to do so, but Lena Dunham is a great example of recent success in re-energizing that young female demographic which has been slowly defrosting since the days of which Mulvey writes. My collegiate friends watch with an excited intrigue (or in my case – an equal mix of intrigue and terror), as they see themselves in Dunham and her friends in cleverly written 30-minute episodes. For me, Girls is everything I don’t want to watch right now, because it’s also everything I don’t want to confront right now. Granted, I’ve only watched one episode. I had a friend tell me that as the series progresses, you find yourself feeling proud about the quality of your life, because it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, anything is better than doing cocaine in a nightclub bathroom while wearing a mesh tank top. Or something like that.
At William & Mary – or any college, really – it can be hard sometimes to look up. To look outside of the bubble we’re in: of classes and problem sets and tests and essays and readings and internships and resumés, resumés, resumés. It’s natural, I think, or at least has become second nature at this point in our lives, considering the entirety of them thus far has been a series of schools – first pre-school, elementary school, then middle school, then high school, and finally college. Sometimes even grad school. Academia is like climbing a set of stairs. You walk confidently, knowing exactly where your foot will land next until you reach the top, and you’ve exited the bubble, at which point you find that open ground is ahead, and your options are seemingly limitless. It’s the freedom that scares me so much, I believe. It’s that terrifying moment when your professor says, “write a paper on anything we’ve covered so far,” and you sit at your laptop for forty-five minutes, forgetting how to use the joints in your fingers. I’ve never really thought of myself as a particularly structured person, but right now, in the (distant) face of graduation, I realize that structure is what has been holding me together all these years.
I have a very clear memory of when I was in fifth grade, during winter break. I was sitting beneath the Christmas tree, crying to my mom because I was nervous about starting 6th grade – it was a whole different building in my school, the teachers were intimidating and had large mustaches, and changing classes was going to be way too much to handle, for sure. She said to me, very matter of factly, as I’ve always loved my mom to be: “Laura, fifth grade isn’t even over yet. Relax. When you get there, you’ll be ready.” Who’s to say I won’t fall on my face when I get to the top of this proverbial staircase I just made up? I guess the lesson in all of this is that I just have to believe that by the time I finally get there, I’ll be ready. Or something like that.