23 March 2011

strength through study

Last week was Spring Break, providing me an opportunity to reflect on the semester so far. And the reality is -- seeing the semester through to its end is going to be a battle. Tough choices have been made. But when hasn't university been a challenge for me?

I returned to college to pursue a Bachelor's degree nearly five years ago at the age of 30. (I received a technical college Associate's degree in Printing & Publishing in 1996.) As a first-generation, non-traditional liberal arts student, the learning curve has been steep. I've repeatedly stumbled and fallen in pursuit of my goal in the years since. Some of those scrapes, scratches and hits have been self-inflicted; I've bungled the financial aid process, over-reached myself academically, and lost sight of priorities. Some, though, have been out of my control; administrative mistakes were made to my detriment, physical health issues cost me two whole semesters, and a recurring anxiety disorder has complicated things throughout.


Please, know that I'm not complaining; I'm not a "woe is me" type of person and have absolutely no patience for self-pity in others. There's always someone somewhere who has it worse. And they're not whining -- they've accepted their lot in life and are living it. The way I see it: Life is a series of goals with countless hurdles along the way. Sometimes you clear the hurdles with ease; sometimes they take you down. If they take you down, your choice is to give up or continue. I'd rather reach the goal bloodied and crawling than not at all.

This semester, anxiety has really knocked me down. The root problems are perfectionism ("If I can't excel, I shouldn't even try at all") and feelings of inferiority ("I'm just a working-class kid who doesn't deserve college"). Irrational, I know. So, what's the plan? First, take advantage of the free mental health counseling that UW-River Falls has available for its students; I'm not a fan of "mental" counseling, but I know it'll help me and provide the documentation that I'll need to secure financial aid for next school year. Second, withdraw from three of my four classes; one I can and will take again within this same academic year as a Summer course, ensuring that the semester isn't an entire bust. Third, dedicate my energies for the next month-and-a-half to my remaining class; "strength through study."

Which brings me to FINALS. Spring Break also provided me the opportunity to do some comix reading. Will Pfeifer and Jill Thompson's FINALS originally came out as four issues in 1999; I would have purchased it then, but missed out due to my LCS closing. Thanks to Vertigo's "Resurrected" line, I finally had the pleasure of reading it in this new inexpensive collected form. An academia satire, the story follows five students in their final semester at Knox State University. KSU's motto -- "Strength Through Study" -- and mission drives its students to take their learning to extremes. Film Studies major Wally Maurer is making a "hyper-cinema verite" movie; Comparative Religions major Nancy Bierce has established her own cult; Criminal Justice major Dave Oswald has become a masked bandit; Theoretical Engineering major Tim Pike has built a time-machine; and Anthropology major Gary Skelton has gone native. It's a manic, thoroughly entertaining black comedy rich in concept, execution and detail.

I discovered Pfeifer's work via his 2004 AQUAMAN run; his CATWOMAN (2005-2008) made me a believer. He's one of my favorite serial-comix writers, exhibiting a real knack for telling fun stories with great characterization and cliffhangers. FINALS was Pfeifer's first major comix project, and it's clear that he's been delivering from the get-go. The opening "Thanksgiving Dinners" scene in Issue/Chapter 3 is especially clever in what it accomplishes. I fell in love with Thompson's art via 1994's BADGER: SHATTERED MIRROR; I've followed her career ever since. The draftsmanship-meets-looseness style on display in FINALS seems to bridge that of her earlier works and her more current SCARY GODMOTHER era projects. Thompson's repeated use of fish-eye perspective throughout FINALS adds a schizophrenic, paranoid edge to the reading experience. At 100 pages for only $7.99 US, the book is definitely worth tracking down.

My own university experience may not be as extreme as the students' at KSU, but it's been challenging in its own way. By being reasonable in my goals, approach and expectations, however, I have no doubt that I can -- and will (eventually) -- succeed. From FINALS:

"Now, go...! Go and carve out your place in the world!"

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* "Last Hurdle" by A. Jones.