After the Bubble Bursts

James Hall

Preparing a stock answer to the pesky question “What are you going to do with that major?” is one of the keys to staying sane at a liberal arts institution. Mine was always “Whatever I want!” which usually silenced the most irksome inquirers. Surprisingly enough, “Whatever I want!” has turned out to be an accurate description of my activities since graduation last year.
After finishing up at Lawrence, I needed to get away from Appleton (hard to believe, I know), so I moved to Vienna, where I had studied abroad as a junior. I took a half-time job at IES, the institution that facilitates a term of slacking off and heavy drinking for Lawrence musicians every fall. Think of it as a midterm reading period that lasts four months. It’s been fun seeing some familiar faces as various current students cycle in and out of the program.
In the meantime I’m performing regularly in three different bands, including my own conceitedly named quintet, “James Hall Group,” which performs compositions of mine in the dark, smelly corners of Vienna’s underground jazz scene.
Wednesday will be a highlight, as it’s my first appearance in Vienna’s famed “Birdland.” The tight pants and beret-clad culturephiles will surely be out in full force, smoking their Slims and smelling of schnitzel and B.O. That’ll be 18 Euros cover, please. Welcome to Vienna.
I’ve always made an effort to surround myself with people I admire. At Lawrence, I had my upperclassmen heroes that I consciously tried to emulate. Here, I’ve been rubbing elbows with opera singers, playwrights, vintners and jazz musicians.
Once you get out of Lawrence and discover that not everyone is a like-minded bedreadlocked rabble-rouser you realize that you have to create your own community, a practice that keeps you sane and makes you infinitely more productive.
Interesting communities provide interesting opportunities. One highlight from this year was spending a weekend at a friend’s vineyard, alternating between tasting wine and playing trombone duets in his wine cellar.
Another weekend found me in a palace ballroom participating in the first reading of a new play. In general, the words “free time” have lost their meaning to me, since I’m really only ever doing things I want to do.
Sometimes I get paid for doing what I want to do, sometimes I don’t, but either way it doesn’t feel like there’s a chasm in my life between “work” and “fun.” That’s something I’m proud of, and I hope it stays that way.
As every soothsaying graduation speechwriter foretold, the rules changed after Lawrence. More specifically, they disappeared. At college, you have some pretty well-defined guidelines to follow if you want to succeed: go to class, study once in a while, avoid the Delts and their parties, pick your nose in private, be nice to Nancy Truesdell and don’t date vocalists.
After college, life is a crazy, hedonistic free-for-all. If you put yourself in the right place, stuff will happen to you. Most of my jobs have come from random encounters with strangers. Go figure. If I wasn’t a predestinarian, I’d be dumbfounded.
A quick shout-out to all the folks still at Lawrence that I know: cherish the little things at LU while you can. I wouldn’t trade my current situation for anything, but I sure do miss dollar pints, free concerts, house parties, trivia, LCF, Shack-a-thon and microwaved Downer cookies.
You can bet that in a few short years I’ll be one of those unruly alums being driven around in a golf cart at reunions, brandishing my cane at river flies and reminiscing about the good old days of Rik Warch, smoking in residence halls and Alex Weck’s heroic rescue of the senior streak.
One last piece of advice: spend time figuring out what it is you want, so that when you’re free to go get it you don’t waste your time having an existential crisis. Get those things out of your system at Lawrence.