Street Smart Chicago

A Ball of Baby Snakes: A Victorian Love Story

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary Add comments
The coiling byzantine “arc” of my collegiate career is often thought of, by me, as something not unlike a ball of writhing baby snakes slowly finding their way out of the heat and discomfort of the nest and into the space of the open world. It began when false promises of an athletic variety delivered me to a tiny, haunted Catholic campus on Philadelphia’s Main Line, an alien amongst astronauts (the school ran thick with admittedly gorgeous girls who, when freed from the monotony of their fantasy-fueling Catholic school-girl uniforms, would overcorrect and swaddle themselves in sweatpants, thighs once exposed between pleated skirts and bobby socks now covered by comfortable heather gray and emblazoned vertical brands demarcating where they came from, Prendie, Ursuline, Sacred Heart, that they would tuck in to any manner of expensive Ugg boots—that is the astronaut part—which were adored above near all other possessions for their ability to provide individual statement to the aforementioned uniforms; (North Face fleece tops, hair wraps, designer sunglasses and Burberry scarves often completed the uniform) and buried in the demands of an exercise science degree, most notably the dreaded A&P, which required that one not only learn both anatomy and physiology and participate in a lab, but was a two-semester course so that, upon completing one half of it, one went home for the holidays with the chilling notion that, stacked like textbooks in black garbage bags, preserved cats, chest cavities gaping like pink, fleshy clutches, awaited you.
A transfer to the wide-open Niagara Frontier and the brutal, beautiful cold of my Western New York upbringing brought with it a feeling of relief from the claustrophobia I experienced outside Philadelphia. Aside from literally being on a more expansive campus and having sight lines freed from hills, mansions and woods to instead lay luxuriously on the long, flat lines of Lake Erie, a switch to the sport management side of the SPMG/EXSCI spectrum removed the heavy science load and allowed me to take a variety of interesting philosophy, business and psychology courses. I would also move into sportswriting, a move the importance of which should be self-evident right now.
The ultimate academic freedom came in my fifth year, when mop-up duty allowed me to take classes unrelated whatsoever to my major. Victorian Literature, which I took on a whim to satisfy a humanities credit, ended up becoming far more than just a notch on the liberal arts bed post: It became the favorite course I ever took.
While I despise most Victorian fiction, and let Dickens, Eliot, et al. have it early, often and with great venom, I was enamored by the poetry of Browning and Swinburne, and by the sheer beauty and irreverence of Wilde and the Aesthetes. I was both intensely inspired and sickeningly envious of their constructions, the pulchritude of their words, the timelessness of their works. I studied, read and theorized; developed a reading of Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” my instructor found fascinating, wrote a thesis paper tracing the inhumanity of the Victorian Age to its logical conclusion in the Whitechapel Murders. The class both reinforced my own beliefs in my writing talents and made me feel woefully inadequate, a combination that has driven me all the way to Chicago.
And like those writers and poets whom I so admire, perhaps my favorite aspect of Victorian Literature class is a purely Aesthetic one; a lengthy treatment of Ke$ha’s “Warrior” for a London music outlet aside, it has been, for the most part, completely useless. (B. David Zarley)

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