A little less than a year ago, I sat down with three of my best friends from college for one of our casual dorm room life talks. Usually we can all relate to each other’s thoughts, qualms, and questions regarding our majors, futures, social lives, and life in general – even when we disagree. But on this particular night, after I put on one of my favorite songs and remarked on one of my favorite lyrics, the disconnect was substantial. What I was trying so desperately to articulate seemed beyond the realm of articulation.
The song was called “Laminated Cat” by a band called Loose Fur – a side project of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche. And the lyrics were the following:
Candy leftover from Halloween. A unified theory of everything.
I get it. They don’t make too much sense at first appearance, so allow me to explain my passionate affinity for these words and the feeling I was trying to convey during that conversation.
My neighborhood was pretty big on Halloween. Every year I would go out with empty pillow case and come back barely able to lug it up to my bedroom. Thanksgiving would come and go, and on particularly good years even Christmas, with the bottom of the pillow case still covered by Kit Kats, Babe Ruths, Reese’s, and other favorites. For me, candy leftover from Halloween embodies my childhood in one mysterious phrase. The lyrics not only bring memories of Halloween rushing back to mind, but of all the idyllic joys and embraces of childhood, before college was even a question in my mind. And those idyllic moments, standing still in my past to recall another lyrics of Tweedy’s, seem to make up the pinnacle of human contentment and understanding – of being at complete peace with the world and its simple joys. Though I’ve been incredibly happy with how adult life has turned out so far, it gets harder and harder to attain that same feeling of absolute peace and contentment nostalgia haunts us with. So candy leftover from Halloween becomes a unified theory of everything – it’s life’s secret and mysteriousness in a nutshell.
So what exactly am I getting at here? What do these ramblings have to do with your coming college experience as you look toward your future and begin the application process? In short, I think it means that even amidst all this talk, speculation, hope, and worry of the future – be it colleges, majors, careers, etc., you must maintain a fond remembrance and honoring of your past, its glories, sufferings, and the people that got you here, wherever that may be.
My exclamation after those lyrics past by that night about a year ago – “THAT’S EVERYTHING” – must have taken my three friends a little off guard considering most of our conversations are built around what we plan on doing next, what the future will bring us. Sometimes we forget to talk about perhaps the more important question of what we will bring to the future.
We all have some version of what those lyrics mean to me – be it your own song or band, book, place, restaurant, family member. We build these associations that over time embody our own little versions of utopia, of idyllic peace on earth that we aspire to share with others, build for others, honor with memory and action. As you get ready to embark on your next stop in life – away from home, away from your parents and friends, away from your favorite restaurants and hang outs – it doesn’t mean you should forget them and march triumphantly toward your own individualistic future success parade. You need to build your future around your past – even if it’s just a little grain of it like Laminated Cat is to me. Until it’s created, the future is a fantasy realm. What has happened is a reality – one that can take up the same fondness and mysteriousness of a dream world if properly remembered, honored, and reflected upon. Don’t lose sight of this in the heat of the college, major, and career drama. Don’t lose yourself.