Leaving Neverland

Lean in close, dear reader, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m afraid to grow up.

Now, before you roll your eyes and stop reading, let me assure you this isn’t a post from a self-entitled twenty-something millennial who doesn’t want to deal with the lackluster responsibilities so often attributed to adulthood.  On the contrary, this is a story about how life, yet again, has me caught in a period of transition.

What is this transition you ask? Well, the first time in a long time I’m about to leave my Neverland, an island on which I’ve been a never-ending student.

Peter-Pan-and-Pirate-Ship-peter-pan-2106192-799-528I’m 24 years old, single, and a graduate student.  In other words thus far I have not really had to be responsible for anyone but myself.  In many ways my inner Peter Pan directly personifies my forgetfulness, self-centered behavior, and carefree attitude.  Does this make me simply a product of my generation, the so often stereotyped  millennial, a margin of young adults not yet wanting to settle down and give into former societal expectations, such as marriage, children, and a house to call our own?

Maybe, or maybe Peter Pan had it right all along.

This weekend, I will graduate from my master’s program.  I’ve spent the last six years on my island of Neverland, earning a bachelor’s and an advanced degree.  And, I don’t plan on stopping there; in the next few years, I want to start a doctoral program.  But first, I am stepping out completely, packing everything up from my sanctuary, and moving halfway across the world to work at a university in Germany.

The thing is, unlike Peter Pan, I am not as confident when faced with the danger of uncertainty.  If I let it, uncertainty, along with its partner doubt, will surely sail me straight back to my Neverland, and because I’m not a skilled sword fighter like Peter Pan, I don’t have the best means of warding those terrible twins off.  Honestly, I’m afraid to leave, even though I know I can’t stay here forever.

But what if I wasn’t afraid to leave?

What if, instead of being afraid, I use a combination of lovely thoughts and a little bit of fairy dust, and I learn to fly?  All make-believe aside, I think transition periods in life are needed for real growth to occur and I am ready for that next uncomfortable growth spurt.  Growth doesn’t mean I’m growing older, but rather, I’m gaining the courage and confidence to grow into the person I want to become.

During these transition periods, we all need a little bit of Peter Pan in our lives.  Perhaps fearlessness shouldn’t be associated with youth and childishness.  Seriously, have you ever considered what might happen if you had the audacity to follow your dreams?

You might fail, but then again, your dreams might come true.

tumblr_n4cjskJFGD1tsttfdo1_500As I prepare for my departure from Neverland, I’m thankful for the time I’ve spent here.  I’ve learned that the real secret is that we never really have to grow up.  However, we do have to put fear aside to accomplish our dreams in life, no matter how big or small they may be.  And, if I look at my little secret from this perspective, growing up doesn’t seem so scary after all.

About the Author

NoelleNoelle Ponasik is a Master of Science in Education candidate in the Student Affairs Administration program at UW-La Crosse and will graduate on May 10, 2015.  She has a Bachelor of Arts in History and German from UW-Stevens Point.  Noelle has studied and worked in Germany, and plans to move there permanently, or at least for the foreseeable future.  When Noelle isn’t plotting various ways she can spend her life in Germany, you can find her reading about higher education, watching ridiculous rom coms, drinking New Glarus beer, and trying to convince herself to go to her yoga classes.

Shrinking the Distance

downloadDating has changed a lot since we were younger. Long gone are the days of calling a girl’s house, praying to every deity in the book that her father didn’t answer, then inevitably having to ask her father if she was home and available to talk. Most of the time I was met with the reply, “Sorry, she is doing homework,”or, “She is grounded from the phone,”or, “God dammit son it is dinner time! How dare you disturb us!”(Megan Groneck seemed to be eating dinner at all hours of the day in fourth grade.) A very optimistic estimate of 25% of the time, however, I actually got to talk to that perfect girl I was calling. Now calling means something completely different. Then it was lying on my bedroom floor with my Garfield corded telephone, talking about how Mrs. McCord’s spelling test was totally bogus or how they only charged an extra five cents to mix the Icee flavors as of last Thursday. Now, it requires an Internet connection strong enough to register those eight distinct beeps followed by her face on the screen.

Skype and Face Time have shrunk the visual distance between us and our loved ones but I am starting to think it stretches our emotional connections to infinity.

Skype and Face Time are fantastic advances in how we connect as humans. Thousands of miles transform into the distance between fingertips with a simple click. You can look into someone else’s eyes and instantly witness what makes them smile. This increase in connectivity has made continuing long distant relationships easier for us, as long as you have a reliable Internet connection (step up your game, Charter).

Having a girlfriend that is pursuing her doctorate in New York while I am sitting in Wisconsin becomes just a little bit easier when we can see each other’s faces on a regular basis. Days I know we get to Skype are the best days of my week. I get to see her! Like actually see her face and not through Facebook stalking! I see the faces she makes when she laughs, when she is embarrassed, when she is sad. She is right there in front of me. The hours of conversations we get to have are the most normal hours of my week. We are instantly transported to a time when we are able to lie next to each other and discuss everything under the sun without any sort of limitations. We give each other advice and listen to each other’s problems, while simultaneously discussing Batman and The Bachelorette.

While the enormous physical distance between us shrinks to mere inches when we are starring into each other’s eyes, it fades off into forever when the computer goes black. One moment I can feel her next to me, the next she is nowhere to be found. My heart finds an uncomfortable place in my stomach and I am alone again, sitting in my solitary nine by nine bedroom. I stare at the black screen confused as to how and why some critical part of my genetic make-up got ripped away from me with the click of a button. This enormous high of seeing her face swings to the equally enormous low when it is time to go. I lie there hoping that sleep will overtake me quickly, but I know my mind will tirelessly transmission to racing along at a million miles a minute, always fixated on one point: her.

moneyIn order to continue on it is crucial to escape these empty moments; however, it has become increasingly harder to push these feelings away towards the fringes of my consciousness. I have to fight them off when I catch myself gazing at the shower floor as my mind escapes me. There is no other option but to turn a blind eye to her favorite cereal as I stroll through the grocery store. I cannot succumb to these moments. If I do they will overpower the memories of her smile when I tell a stupid joke. The feeling of my arms around her hips will be met with a bittersweet opposition. Instead of living in a moment with her, my mind would remain stuck on the days when the distance is wedged between us.

Every moment I get to see her, whether it is through the computer screen, or within our sheets we occasionally get to share, are without a doubt something real. I feel them within my chest, so they must be real. I hope to God, Yahweh, Allah, Zeus, Osiris, and Walter White that one day we will share a balance between the physical connection that is currently absent and the emotional connection that is ever present.

We realize though that this harmony is not something that will magically appear if we wait for it. It will only be achieved if we both work, if we both push, and if we both relentlessly continue on. I do not know what the future holds between the two of us. We both have dreams and aspirations that have been within us long before we met each other.

Nothing and nobody was going to get in the way of what I wanted until she walked in.

tumblr_mkdl6v9QiK1qborqqo1_500I never believed that long distance relationships could work and I always claimed I would never be in one. I am not fully convinced that this one will pan out. Yet, despite the uncertainty, I want it to, and so does she. While we still feel that powerful, invisible, emotional connection we felt when she was here, we can now only see each other through the pixels in our pockets or on our desks. Unfortunately this causes her voice to be unnatural and simply an audio interpreted by a system of wires and circuits that spit out something that sounds like her through my speakers. This is hard. I hope it gets easier. I believe how we chose to spend this time apart will determine where our relationship will end up. We may rise above the distance or it may all come crashing down on us. Despite the outcome, we owe it to ourselves, and to each other, to continue to pick up our feet.

Jeffery Jeffrey Morris

A man of many hats, you could say Jeffrey Morris does it all. Kid car builder by day, drink mixologist by night, and master of the questions every Sunday. Some would say Jeff is most comfortable in the water, but those who see him every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 6:30a.m for another grueling November Project Workout might disagree; saying there is no terrain to rough for Jeff as he points his camera at their sweaty faces and runs backward up Bascom hill (slight exaggeration). Ultimately, it is Jeff’s friends and family that help motivate him to be the best he can be. A Madison Alum, with an iron will, you can bet your Biddy that you haven’t heard the last of Jeffrey Morris.

Life in Gradual School

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  No, I am not talking about a tale of two cities; I am talking about a tale of two years of graduate, or rather, gradual school.

world_according_to_garpWhen I use the term “gradual school”people either get it and laugh, or give me a funny look.  I first became familiar with the phrase “gradual school”from the movie The World According to Garp, based on the novel by John Irving.  In the movie, Garp, the main character, describes gradual school as where you go to school and gradually find out you don’t want to go to school anymore.

As I near the end of my first of two years in gradual school, I developed my own interpretation of what gradual school means.  In the world according to me, gradual school has nothing to do with learning about school and everything to do with gradually learning about life.  The following are the two main lessons I’ve learned during my first year in gradual school.

1. It is okay to be alone.

Nothing-Wrong-With-Being-Alone-500x250We live in a society that is fixated on relationships and belonging.  It took me a long time, 23 years to be exact, to realize that being alone is, in my opinion, the most freeing and empowering feeling.

I wasn’t always comfortable with the idea of being alone, either physically or emotionally.  For example, gradual school is the first time I’ve ever lived alone.  At first, I was fearful of the very thought of living alone.  Surely, someone was going to break into my apartment in the middle of the night and kill me in my sleep.  When I finally overcame my fear (with a little help from anti-anxiety medication), I realized I love living alone.  While in gradual school, I quickly learned I am highly introverted and I get my energy from being by myself.  Now, when I walk into the peace and quiet of my apartment after a long day in class or at work, I feel immediately at ease instead of fearful and apprehensive.

I was also afraid of being alone emotionally.  When I started gradual school, I was in a relationship for about three years.  As time passed, I gradually came to realize that I needed to love myself before I could truly love another person.  I recognized the relationship that needed the most attention was not the one I had with my former boyfriend, but the one I have with myself.  I need time to be alone.  I need time to make mistakes, grow, and develop a better relationship with myself.  I want to do what I want, when I want to do it.  I now understand the secret of being alone: you are never really alone when you can learn to love yourself.

2. Figuring out what you do not want to do is just as important as figuring out what you want to do.

7f80fc74da944127_shutterstock_139773448.previewAfter a few weeks in gradual school, I sat in class one day and thought, “What is this bull $%!#?”  Put simply, what I was learning was not want I wanted to apply to my professional career.  After this realization, I began to play the guessing game.  Would I be happier if I had chosen a different program or a different school?  Was I wasting two years of my life?

When I finally stopped worrying about what I couldn’t change, I focused on what I could change. Figuring out what I didn’t want to do for a career was actually a positive experience!  Some people spend their entire lives figuring out what they want to do, and I had come one step closer by figuring out what I didn’t want to do.  Even though one door closed, multiple other doors began to open.  Gradual school provided me the space and freedom to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

According to Garp, gradual school is a time of gradually realizing you don’t want to go to school anymore (copious amounts of homework and earning little money are two obvious reasons that come to mind), but gradual school is much more than that.  The lessons I’ve learned in gradual school do not pertain to my homework assignments, but rather what I’ve learned about who I am and where I’m going.  Making the best of times out the worst of times and learning to love myself are two lessons I’ve gradually learned that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

About the author:

IMG_1123Noelle Ponasik is a Master of Science candidate in the Student Affairs Administration program at UW-La Crosse. She graduated from UW-Stevens Point with a Bachelor of Arts in History and German. Noelle has studied and worked in Germany and is excited to return on July 1, 2014 to work at Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences. Noelle hopes to live and work in Germany after finishing gradual school.  When Noelle isn’t plotting various ways she can spend her life in Germany, you can find her reading, watching movies, trying to learn French, and getting back into a running routine.

What is Missing in Modern Dating: The Male Opinion

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Proof Prince Charming isn’t always the best anyways.

As Spring decides to join the party (finally) the old adage comes to mind, “love is in the air”. What kind of love you might ask? Well in this day and age I’m not talking about the bushel of roses, suit-wearing, prince charming kind of love. This new, nontraditional sort of love,  has got an ugly side, and its best friend is the walk of shame.

Now I don’t mean to speak for everyone, and certainly I am aware that this isn’t the case for a lot of people, but our (ie. 18-25 year olds) version of “dating” has undoubtedly evolved from what you may remember from 90’s pop culture and even from the early 2000’s (our formative years, per se). I’ve gathered from my own personal experiences, as well as through conversations with friends, and coworkers that there seems to be a trend of first dates which are then preceded, or perhaps it is more accurate to say erased, by what we like to call “hookups.” In essence dating culture has both been melded and even eclipsed by the hook-up culture with which we’re all now too familiar.

What is a hook-up? Personally I hate the term and I’m not even sure how to define the term myself. If you polled a random selection of 18-25 year olds the definition would probably vary greatly between guys, girls and all other gender and sexuality categories. Does the definition boil down to strictly sex, or is it making out, something in-between, spending the night together? I honestly couldn’t tell you. Besides the fact that a one-night stand is definitely defined as “hooking up.”

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Did they even kiss?

This commentary isn’t meant to imply that dating in the true sense of the word is dated. At the same time I’m in no way shape or form frowning upon casual sex. Everyone should be free to do as they please and I’m not here to judge anyone, because even I am not exempt from these new norms. My concern is that there seems to be an emphasis on immediate gratification in terms of the physical aspects of a relationship. If you fall into the age range I’ve introduced earlier (18-25), how many true first dates have you had? (For myself, they could probably be counted on one hand) I’m not talking “oh we met at the bar one night, we went home with each other and then later that week we went to dinner.” No,  I’m talking 90’s sitcom style: we met, exchanged numbers, the infamous “3-day rule before I called,” and then went to dinner and a movie kind of first date. It just seems to me that that kind of dating and dare I say romance has gone by the wayside or at the least, it has diminished greatly. Perhaps it could be easily explained by the hectic college lifestyle, with all-encompassing classes, jobs, homework, other responsibilities, and social lives outside of romance; maybe dating has just become much more difficult to fit into our schedules.

Then there is the “fact” that a little liquid courage can be a “performance enhancer” when it comes to approaching the opposite sex. The bar scene becomes increasingly synonymous with hook-ups as alcohol level increases and inhibitions decrease.

Choose-the-Right-PhoneThe rise of social media and technology has also changed and influenced communication between friends and acquaintances, making it become increasingly impersonal. Text messages, Tweets, DMs, Facebook, and Tinder messages replace daily in person social interactions and the flirtations one might have encountered before you were able to have your whole social life in your pocket. One can simply walk down the street on any given day in Madison, Wisconsin and see three quarters (generous) of people walking down the street with their headphones, and heads down focusing all attention on their cellphones. I would venture to say that it’s become almost a social crime laced with awkward, if you dare to approach and strike a conversation with your peers in otherwise social settings such as a classroom, coffee shop, library, and for us Madison citizens the Memorial Union Terrace. Maybe that’s a non-issue but it’s really something to ponder at least. We get so caught up in what the digital world thinks that we forgot about the personal relationships that make up our livelihood and help us grow as human beings.

We have been able to forget the relationships we create on normal dates. Successful and unsuccessful dates should help us grow and understand ourselves, while at the same time giving us the chance to learn about and understand people on a more “real” and personal level. We seem to get lost while inebriated (or not) at the club/bar scene in the physical and sexual aspects of ourselves and others where the end result lasts only for the night. Everyone deserves to indulge in casual sex every once in a while if both parties so please, but I think we’ve been losing that personal side of ourselves and losing those basic connections we make through more real interactions with our own species. I’m not trying to downplay the carnal side of our own beings because after all we are all animals in our own right and have needs.

I will leave this disjointed post with a quote from a conversation I had with a friend very recently that accurately describes a piece of this new culture we find ourselves in:

“I think for me the biggest perspective on the problem of dating/hook ups is people struggle to understand that just because someone desires you doesn’t mean they value you.”

-Ben Zeece

1622817_10152242070530609_910967471_nBio: Benjamin Zeece hails from Minnesota and is a true Viking Fan through and through. On his way to a Bachelors in History he spends his Sunday’s analyzing the similarities between Game of Thrones and European History. With a growing collection of Nike shoes, and a notebook in his pocket, Ben has plans to share his fashion forward style and “dope” rap lyrics with the world (or at least the Madison area).