Freedtopia

….it just might exist

College Was Not My Option

By the time I moved to New York most of my friends were moving into their junior years in college. Every time we spoke it was like hearing a public service announcement for Why to go to college.  All I heard in their voices was clean, unadulterated opportunity. It was annoying.

Three years removed from the boring tan stucco walls of my California high school, college was still not my option. For me, the narrative was just a bit different. Instead of the West Coast sun-kissed halls of higher learning, it was the old, cold, dark halls of the Mid-Manhattan Library that attracted me. That was my option. That was my college.Image result for mid manhattan library

For some, there are places that just click, that make more sense than any other place. Who knows why.  Maybe it’s a previous life; maybe it’s a familiar smell; maybe it’s the purpose with which you approach that place that determines your level of comfort. I’ve never really stopped to think about why the New York Public Library on Fifth Ave at 40th Image result for Tell it to the mountain novelStreet made sense to me. That said, there were the books…and oh, did I love books.

So….I will finally get to the prompt: If I had to reimagine my life without college, I am almost 1000% certain that I would find a job – probably with the MTA….I love the subway – doing something that would allow me enough money to keep up a decent-sized apartment in a decent neighborhood, and give me a lot of time to go and read and write at Mid-Manhattan. Image result for walt whitmanI think life would be tough when it came to having nice “stuff” – and I definitely would not have children or own a car or take vacations where the water is turquoise and you swim with the dolphins – but having the freedom to go and sit on the third floor and read Whitman and Cather and Shakespeare and Baldwin (should I keep going?)….would keep me happy until I keeled over at the ripe old age of 90 when I somehow wandered into the “Self-Help/DIY” section and read the dust jacket of 2067’s New York Times Bestseller How to Update Your Brain Chip.

 

.

 

 

FREEDMAN’S EXIT INTERVIEW: MOM

First off, I have to admit that I have been assigning “The Exit Interview” for almost 10 years, and for almost 10 years I’ve been interviewing someone different each year. It’s been fun…I’ve interviewed fellow teachers, old friends, the woman that sells me coffee, dead literary figures! However, I’ve never interviewed my dear, sweet, darling mother….and that left me with a profound sense of guilt! To give you an idea of who my mother is, I need only utter two words: “loyal” and “loving”. Deana Kalman Freedman is intense, devoted, sincere and intelligent; she is the type of person who will always consider your question like it’s the only thing in the world at that moment. She is also an ex-teacher, so she is religiously prepared and rarely does anything without a goal in mind. When I was a teenager, she was always there to listen, but she was also there to act as well. Deana Freedman has never lived life from the sideline….she is always in the game.

So, a few days ago I texted mother Freedman (“Bubbie” to her grandchildren) and asked her to let me interview her….and, of course, like the doting mother she is, she immediately texted me back with the sweetest of replies:

 

See the need to be prepared!?

Jump forward to that evening…post dinner, post children’s homework, post soccer practice…the plan was to record the Facetime conversation on my son’s phone. My expectations were low (concerning the technology of this plan)…and I was pleasantly surprised.

Being who I am (verbose <- SAT word), I prefaced my questions with a loooooong reminder of how it went when I graduated and quickly moved out.

Her answer was perfect mom – a sprinkle of nostalgia, a splash of the old testament, a dollop of realism:

My follow up got her thinking about how I understood and applied her message…whether she feels it got through…and how moving out, college (and life in general) was influenced by it.

I concluded with a simple request. I wanted something specific and directly aimed at my seniors…something they could take with them.

Reflection:

I loved this experience (even though my kids bugged me through the whole thing!).

If I’m being truly, truly honest, unlike the other ten times I did this, there was a deeply personal obligation to really hear my subject, not simply nod and listen and “get the gist.” There is no fooling my mother – not that I tried to fool her or my previous subjects – and that informed not only what I asked her but how I asked her. She’s my mom….I suppose there are only so many ways I can speak to her without love influencing me. I loved her advice; it was smart and sensible and definitely true to who she is and how she lives her life.

It is funny: it doesn’t matter how old you get, how many arguments you’ve had, how many birthdays or anniversaries you’ve missed, your mom will always be your mom….and moms always love their kids….and speaking with her for this assignment was truly one of the perks of being her son.

 

I WENT TO THE WOODS…(AKA PRESENTLY)

When I was a kid, I wanted to live my life recklessly, irresponsibly, defiantly…because I thought that was how one eventually lived peerlessly.

When I was 21, I wanted to live my life unconventionally, autonomously, misanthropically…because I thought that was how one eventually lived artistically.

When I fell in love, I wanted to live amorously, fervently, vulnerably…because I thought that was how one eventually lived happily ever after.

When I realized I wanted to be an educator, I wanted to live intellectually, authoritatively, pedagogically…because I thought that was how one eventually taught.

When I began gardening, I wanted to live organically.

When my children were born, I wanted to live paternally.

When I began getting middle age chubby and sedentary, I wanted to live calorie-less-ly and aerobically.

When I…when I…when I.

When the world began to turn on itself, to stop listening, to continue killing, to ignore the promise to pursue truth and instead commit to righteous ignorance, I began to live silently, distrustfully, cynically…because I thought it all too much…

When I knew there could be no more when…I learned to live.

THE BEGINNING OF FREEDMAN’S END

Image result for you're lateIt began when I woke. The thick, oppressive eyelids of a long, summer hibernation. The feeling that a lead apron had been dropped over my face. Then, limited focus. Not a blur, but the unwillingness to wake and be conscious. Then, the heavy head. Then, the inhospitable air. Then, the face, not mine – unsmiling, though not angry – muted with the look that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That face, that look…that was my mother. It was the first day of my senior year, and I was late.

The first day began inauspiciously: late to Mr. Waxdeck’s first period biology class, one black dress sock and one purple rugby sock, summer assignment incomplete, no believable excuse at the ready. I had been warned about this, too: Mr. Austin, guidance counselor, smiling in disbelief as I performed my “no college, only travel” monologue at the end of my junior year. “You know, Matt,” he said with that irritating “I know what’s best” look, “the pursuit of college will keep you in line your senior year. Without that Grail you will be without purpose. I don’t recommend it.” First off, I don’t like Holy Grail metaphors on a Spring day; but here he was comparing my senior year, which had not even begun, to the search for the cup Christ supposedly drank out of, and it really hit home….and not in a good way. “But I’m Jewish,” I blurted, and shrugged my shoulders, and walked out.

Image result for sleeping in class black and white photoSo, sitting in Waxdeck’s class, listening to him drone on about his precious syllabus, the California fog rolling in through the Eucalyptus trees, the first period of the first day of the last year of my high school career, Austin’s words echoing in my head, I began my “pursuit” in a slightly different way than Sir Launcelot: I fell asleep.

I would like to say that after that imprudent and unpromising start that I pulled myself together, screwed my head on straight and banged out the last nine months of high school like an academic rock star, but I can’t. My senior year was hard! Unforgiving! And seemingly never-ending!!  And to this day I still remember the mistakes I made in 1988 as if they were an unappetizing snack from an hour ago; and to this day I still remember the apologies uttered and the looks of disappointment I earned from my teachers and parents and friends who pleaded with me to right the ship and finish. That, I won’t lie to you, was not fun to bear.

And now for the happy part: 

I graduated…(yeeeah)….and with a hideous dent in my overall GPA…(boooo); but….I graduated wiser, more mjfgradconscious of how I dealt with stress, challenges, expectations, closure…the whole bag. I learned way too many things about myself that year to consider it a waste or a failure. And to this day I gladly share this story with my 12th graders because at one time or another over those potentially dangerous last nine months of high school, their senior year will challenge the complete human, not simply the academic, and finding themselves in that middle ground between those two identities is the best graduation present they can give themselves.

Image result for testing your knowledge