by: Johnny Gall
Some people—and pretty much the entire film industry—like to say that your freshman year of college is when you really find out who you are. They’re full of shit. In my experience, discovering one’s identity takes a bit longer than a year, and it happens all of college, and from what I’ve heard, pretty much all of your 20s.
Instead, freshman year is when you finally, gradually put to death the person you were in high school. Only once that’s completed can you really start to build an identity. So, as a tribute to the person I became afterwards, I want to take a moment to look back on the ways I was a little shitbag my freshman year.
1. Being in the closet
This one is particularly poignant, given my undergrad institution. I went to NYU, which is still consistently ranked as the most queer friendly college in the nation. This is why, all these years later, I don’t really remember why it took me eight months there to finally put on my gay boy pants. I remember being terrified that someone would tell my parents, which is ridiculous. They were in Tennessee, and it’s not like any of my college friends ever actually talked to my parents. In any case, by the time I finally worked up the nerve, I was way behind the curve, in relation to my peers who started queering it up the minute they reached campus. So many lost opportunities.
2. Not hanging out with the kids who smoked weed
Like some other writers at IOW, I used to be pretty straight edge. I have a good reason for this: the kids I went to high school with who drank and smoked weed kinda sucked. They all lived for high school sports, and spent most nights drinking Miller Lite in fields and doing naked cartwheels. I didn’t want to hang out with them, and so I didn’t want to participate in the same activities. 
I still don’t regret not smoking weed. It’s just never interested me. But you know what? The kids who smoked weed in college were way cooler than the kids who smoked weed in high school. I really should have given them more of a chance instead of lumping them into the same category as the jerks I used to know.
Anyway, it’s not that I regret spending my weekends watching Good Burger with the other three kids I knew who didn’t smoke or drink, but I do think I missed out on a lot of friendships because it took me too long to realize that not wanting to engage in substances doesn’t mean you can’t hang out with people who do.
3. Trying to disown Tennessee
I had to hate the South when I lived here full time. Because I was a teenager, and I was going to be angsty about something anyway, and living in a red state seemed reason enough. But while folks down there may be interested in hearing about all the ways my hometown was miserable, folks in New York, understandably, don’t give a rat’s ass. So my constant whining was really not cute at all.
And anyway, by focusing on the things about Southern culture that are actually pretty cool—Waffle House, bluegrass, Sweet Tea, and a superior understanding of fried foods, in that order—I was actually able to interest people in my roots a little more. Because everyone knows the South has problems; but not everyone knows about the spectacular breakfast specials they can take advantage of if they’re willing to sit in a booth adjacent to surly truckers late at night.
And anyway, people learn a lot more about you from the things you love than from the things you hate.
4. Trying to buddy up with my professors
There is a right and a wrong way to make connections with your professors, and those connections will pay off when you need to apply to grad school. Going to office hours to discuss matters in the course that are of interest to you and where to look for similar information is not a bad strategy. However, going up at the end of the first class and introducing yourself as a student in that same class is an awful one. You’re not telling them anything they know; everyone in the room is in that class. It’s like going up to a cute person at a bar and telling them that you like the bar you’re both at.
You endear people to you by finding similar interests. Do that if you need to find an academic mentor, and you’ll avoid a lot of awkward inter-departmental head nods in the future.
5. Trying to be a poet
I have been a writer since as early as I can remember, but it took me too long to find the right medium. I have to write stories — because I think in stories, relate to people through stories, and generally see the course of my life as a story. Poetry is great, but it’s not my strong suit because it relies on a kind of non-linear thinking I’ve never been able to perfect. 
However, calling oneself a poet allows for a certain narrative to be crafted that simply calling oneself a fiction writer does not allow for. Poets are sexy; they’re counter-cultural; they see things other people don’t. And I wanted to be sexy, counter-cultural and gifted with extra sight — so I tried to be a poet. That was stupid.
The moral of this particular story is that you should build the story of your life from the things that are true about you, instead of trying to force yourself into a mold made by other people.
6. Majoring in English
We’ve been over this one before. Now, I love literature, but the best way to learn how much you love something is by studying it intensely for four years. In my case, I love literature not quite enough to enjoy spending four years breaking it apart.
There is pressure (especially for students like me who are economically disadvantaged and don’t want to spend forever paying off loans) to figure out what you want a degree in early and focus on that. But now, I can’t help but think off all the things I really love that I didn’t get to study. I still want to be an actor. I still want to study vocal performance. Reading three novels a week did not change any of that. And though I never lost my passion for writing, going to a school which didn’t offer it as a major hampered things a little bit.
In retrospect, I should have explored my interests a little bit before going all eyes-on-the-prize with my degree.
7. Hanging out with that one guy
It’s inevitable that, after moving to a new city where you don’t really know anyone, you will be friends with at least one complete jackass without realizing it at first. The trick is to realize it as soon as possible and stop hanging out with that jackass.
This can be rough, because there will also be a temptation to have a really close friend. And sometimes the person you bond with most will be that jackass, and you won’t realize it until everyone else is all buddied up.
And sometimes, if you’re me, the guy you bond with most after you’ve gotten rid of that first jackass, will also be a jackass.
I wish I’d gone into college better able to recognize when someone’s a jackass, and I wish I’d known not to hang out with that guy so much.
8. Not hanging out with that one girl
Likewise, in the orgy of freshman friend-making activity, it is inevitable that everyone meet someone, plan to hang out with them, and then never do it. In my case, her name was Keri. We bonded over our love of The Pogues on Facebook, and we totally planned to be best friends once we were both in the city. We had one conversation, near the end of the year, sitting on the sidewalk, while she was drunk and I was eating a calzone.
Then five years later she was in my Queer Lit class, and as it turns out, she was totally awesome. She majored in gender studies, she knew where all the best thrift stores were, and she still loved The Pogues.
I guess my point here is, I wish I’d gone into college better able to recognize when people are really great, and I wish I hadn’t been too busy hanging out with jackasses to actually spend time with them.
9. Not having library sex
Maybe it’s a weird kink to have, but I have always wanted to have wild sex in the middle of a bunch of shelves of books. But, having been even more sexually conservative then than I am now, I did not take advantage of the wild everybody-has-lots-of-sex time that also inevitably happens during freshman year, and now I realize that it would have been my best chance of actually making that happen.
10. Not going to Staten Island
I lived in New York City for four years, and I’ve still only been to four boroughs, which bothers me. Likewise, I’ve still never eaten a Magnolia’s cupcake, never been to one of those phony psychic people and never visited the Cloisters.
I wanted to do all of these things in a marathon during my last week in New York, but instead of that, I ended up dating someone during my last week in the city, and I spent all my time with him instead of doing that stuff I had never done.
It’s not that I think my life is awful because I never took that ferry ride. I just wish I’d made more time to do all of that stuff when I had more time to do so, instead of walking the same block every night, pitying myself because I was caught up in a boy who was obviously straight, even if I didn’t want to believe it.
I really should have been smart enough, even then, to value new experiences over routine.
Johnny Gall is so, so very close to completing his B.A. from NYU in English and Creative Writing. He has hopes of moving on to seminary, and then to ordained ministry and works with several groups which advocate queer equality in the Methodist church. He is a feminist, anarchist, person of faith, part-time librarian and an all-around good guy.