Wayward Youth: An Outtake from a Memoir in Process
The year 1968 failed to liberate me from a stifling childhood. Despite graduating high school and escaping the over-controlling parental unit for what should have been the freedom of college 840 miles away, I was too conscientious about studying, too without wheels, too opposed to drugs, and too allowance-challenged to live up to the wild child wannabe image I had of myself. Plus, it was a women’s college, so opportunities were limited. Quel dommage.
My intention upon entering freshman year was to major in music and become the next Barbra Streisand. There was one problem with that plan. My voice was decent enough, but Babs wasn’t ready to move over as head pop diva. A second problem was that she wasn’t just a singer, and my stage fright was worse than hers. Being too self-conscious to show up for my improv final in drama class ended that ambition, and put me on academic probation.
Second year, a really great professor with a cocktail shaker cut vertically in half and mounted on a plaque in his classroom – captioned Shake Up Your Categories – enticed my interest into the improbable field of political science. Philosophy seemed a natural, compatible minor, and mostly fun for an over-thinker like me. But by the end of that year the realization that neither of these fields of study guaranteed a way to make a living, I took a journalism class.
That changed everything. If I may not-so-modestly tell you, I was great at writing, along with design and layout of the printed page. (Hopefully still am.) Third year felt right as a journalism major, feature editor for the campus paper first semester, editor in chief second semester. That’s when the exceptionally misguided wild child made her first college appearance.
The smart ass side of my nature got the better of me when the anthropology department brought to campus three Native Americans from Florida, if I remember right, to talk about the important issue of the vanishing tribes of North America, those who can’t get federal recognition, which means they can’t get economic and legal assistance that helps them survive. I wrote the story to sum up the tribe’s dilemma. Then I used terrible judgment and wrote what I thought was a clever headline: Where the Fugawi?
I swear that was their name, although I can’t find any trace of it now on Google, so maybe they did actually vanish. Or perhaps the Universe was waiting for the gleam in Al Gore’s eye to blossom, for -- at the time -- I wasn’t aware of what was soon to become an internet joke.
Either way, the college president was not amused. I put on my best midwestern look of utter innocence and tried to explain how the issue of losing their identity and culture was what the headline meant. He didn’t quite buy it, but wanted to give me the benefit of the doubt. I got a reprimand wrapped in a lecture, but kept my position as editor.
LIFE LESSON #1 as an almost adult – indulging the wild child impulse risks damage to credibility.