IMR: 2000: October: 13 — Friday, 9:17 p.m. HST
Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i

"You'll be okay," Jen said, as I bit off my last fingernail and headed out the door. "Thirteen is a lucky number for me, baby."

Were I only her...

I went up to campus this morning, to Keller Hall 301, to see a Ms. Barbara Watanabe about graduating. It was time, at last, for the infamous GRAD session, where you shuffle a lot of papers, check off some boxes, add up some numbers and see if you're ready to wear that silly hat.

I'm not ready. Not by a long shot.

Right now I'm just numb, and a fair bit disgusted with myself. But when I was sitting there in that little room, as the cold, stomach-churning truth descended on me like a thick fog of bleach fumes, I thought I was truly going to fall apart. The walls leaned in, time slowed, I couldn't breathe, and I looked around at some other horrified, panicked faces and again wondered what a plane crash was like.

Around me, other dreams were being obliterated, extinguished by a handful of flimsy pink and yellow forms. Plans for The Future were instantly derailed and matter-of-factly deferred for another semester. Maybe two.

Or in my case, four. Maybe five.

"You might want to consider taking some of these at a community college," Ms. Watanabe offered helpfully.

The inelegant but never-more-apt monosyllabic response "FUCK" immedately started throbbing in my head, and I had to hurry down the stairs and out onto McCarthy Mall to let a few escape my lips.


One of the advantages, I learned today, of almost never cursing, is that it feels so goddamned good when I actually do. (Typing it is pretty invigorating, too.) And I had quite a bit to vent out of my system before I eventually went home, buried my head in a pile of pillows, and chewed on my fist for the rest of the morning.

Even Katie — whose love for attention and play is so great I often wonder if she'd notice an atomic blast — seemed earnestly concerned.

For all my cynical, wise-ass talk, I had actually sunk into a beautiful delusion, a genuine belief that I was in the final stretch. In fact, I know exactly when I first allowed myself to hope -- April 17, when the Journalism Department determined "I have one class, three credits, left before graduation."

So for the last six months, that was my reality, my foundation on which to build both realistic plans and ridiculous fantasies. Just a little longer, I thought, and my world would change, something both exciting and terrifying.

And oh, how other things seemed to hint at the same. My two-year anniversary at my job came up, in itself cause for reflection and evaluation, heaped on top of a mess of other changes and challenges that have been making a career change seem like a growing possibility. There was the shift in my mother's finances, which of course directly affected our financial base, prompting heady talks and overdue efforts to get Katie into day care and Jen back to work. And then there was my momentous trip last week, half of which was spent in Portland, basically feeling the place out, as if — gasp! — I would actually remotely consider leaving Hawai`i to put down roots somewhere else.

Today's advising session, for better or worse, ended up a pivot point for me, for us. As much as I tried to act, or feel, otherwise, that stupid little ritual with black ball-point pens and cheap calculators obsessed me, overwhelmed me. And damn, for sheer kick-to-the-head value, it didn't disappoint.

I knew immediately how much I'd changed, how much I'd long ago stopped joking about being a "professional student," when I looked at the blank lines on my "core requirement" worksheet and found myself right on the brink of tears. (Okay, probably a little beyond that brink.)

Because where the journalism department went wrong, and where I've happily wandered in ignorance all this time, was in the assumption that I got the basics out of the way long ago. If the department was all there was to school, man, I'd have a B.A. in December, no problem.

But, tragically, the department is part of a bigger bureaucracy known as the College of Arts & Sciences, which wants to make sure I can both compose a decent lede and draw the structure of a water molecule. Which insists I take Hawaiian Studies 107 even though I've already taken Hawaiian Studies 390. Which "admires" my 153 total credits racked up across two campuses (especially since you can usually graduate with 124), but insists a chunk of them are essentially useless.

Totally my fault, I'm quite aware of that. I'm only pissed off at myself. I never paid attention to this stuff, the categories and levels, so instead of one required class each in A, B, C and D, I have five in A, four of which were redundant. And heck, even Ms. Watanabe could tell just by looking at my transcript that I changed majors more than a few times (she spotted English, Geology and Political Science right off).

The real bitch of it is... I was clearly, deep down inside, taking the silly hat as a given. I fooled myself into thinking my choice was between graduating and living here, or graduating and pushing off into the great unknown (a.k.a. the Pacific Northwest). I agonized over it, Jen and I debated it, turning it into the decision of the century. Oh, the arguments we had! They were beautiful.

And that's why I enjoyed Brezsny's horoscope yesterday so much. It seemed to say, "Give up the melodrama and go for it already. It won't be that bad."

Suddenly the question is, go for what?

So. I can keep working full-time and take one or two classes of semester to dig through the fifteen fucking credits left between me and a diploma, anchoring my restless family in Hawaii for another 18 months, meanwhile sending Katie off to school (which we dread so very much) and Jen back to work (likely back in retail hell). All for a degree in a field in which I have no real interest, let alone surviving skills, and certainly no decent career prospects. This while a myriad of opportunities dry up, while what I love about my job eventually turns routine or annoying, and while what few friends I have left can't help but move on without me.

Or. I can say screw it. Take my fancy title and freelance portfolio and move everyone to the promised land, hopefully getting a better job and lower rent so Jen can continue raising Katie at home... hoping of course that that's even possible, and if it is, that I won't ever get fired, because without a degree, job movement is only horizontal... or worse. Hoping that I can even adjust — the typical naieve and cowardly local boy I am — to life outside of these weird but wonderful islands, and that the change is worth throwing away eight years of higher education, and way, way too much of my parents' hard-earned money.

I really liked pondering the "stay or go" question better.

© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 11 October 2000 · Last Modified: 26 October 2000