It’s been that kind of a week. I know, I know: it’s only Tuesday (or probably super early on Wednesday, by the time I finish this). Still, here I am, staring at my computer from a faded blue armchair that’s older than I am. My first Christmas pictures were taken in this armchair. They’re kinda cute, I guess, but I seem to have drooled a lot during those days. To be fair, most six-month-olds seem to drool a lot. It’s probably not just me. Mom asks me occasionally if I want to get rid of it. I don’t. It’s one of the most comfortable chairs in the house, right after those beanbags that are so large we call them the planets.
Work is… well. You know how work is. It’s not that it’s dismal, or even particularly difficult. It’s that I don’t particularly like my job, and my boss can be rather… mean. Or maybe just odd. Today I asked him if I could bring in some pictures to liven up the rather dreary and derelict bulletin boards by my desk. Oh, he said. I don’t… I’m a bit of a fuddy-duddy. I mean, people come through here, visitors and professionals, and it needs to look—I don’t like music. Or personal decoration. He paused. I know that makes me a bit of a fuddy-duddy, but when people come through here—
We are a rather small department (maybe ten people, max). We don’t get a whole lot of visitors. I just nodded, told him I understood, and, well, my pictures of Dublin and Edinburgh and other fun European places will just have to live at home with me for now. How a picture of a bridge seems unprofessional is beyond me, but hey. I’m certainly not going to mess around with the rules. I just thought that the five-year-old Christmas card and four-year-old postcard from the Bahamas could use a little company, that’s all. They look so old and yellow, you know?
I’ve been living at home for almost three months now. That’s three times the length of any amount of time I’ve stayed at home since starting college. It’s been… interesting. An adjustment, certainly, and probably harder on my fam than it has been for me. I’m working up towards the pinnacle of adult-kid-living-in-her-parents’-home: cooking once a week. Grandmother said she’d be my sous chef, so all that’s left is to pick a day and have at it. And while I don’t always really want to be here—who, when they start college, says to themselves Wow, I can’t wait to finish this so I can live at home again? No one, that’s who. Or at least, very few people—I am also glad to be here.
Yes, it’s an adjustment. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s weird to not have my own space that’s not just a bedroom, and yes, it’s weird that my roommates aren’t… anywhere close to here. In the four years since I started college, my room became my grandmother’s room (2012), a housemate’s room (2013), and, finally, after the “Grand Rooming Swap of 2013,” my parents’ room (2013-present). I now live in what, when I last resided here, was the study. The cumbersome brown desks are gone (and so is the rather wonky carpet). I’ve got my old bed, my old desk, and this old armchair… and two of my walls are 60% covered by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.
Granted, these are mostly filled with my dad’s theology books (1.5 of the shelves), but I’m starting to stake my claim (0.5 of a shelf). Still. I’ve always surrounded myself with books, but this is a whole new level. I miss the wallspace some—I mean, the bookshelves mean there’s no way I can recreate my last wall decorations. That’s okay. Staring at the map would probably just make me more antsy, more ready to bolt out of this beautiful city and straight into the horizon.
It’s not that I’m unhappy here. I’m perfectly happy (…minus the job situation). A whole slew of my friends moved to my neighborhood recently—seriously, it’s something like eleven or twelve—and we’ve had a grand old time with movie nights, game nights, brunches, dinners. And for all its difficulties, I’ve loved moving home because it means I automatically see my family—ice cream dates with the sis, late night talks with the brother, family dinners and laughing with Grandmother.
Then there’s all the plays to see, movies in the park to watch, First Fridays to attend—Philadelphia is an amazing city. I love it here. I always say it’s the first place that ever really felt like home, and that’s true. I’ve never lived anywhere quite as long as I’ve lived here—eight years is a lot in the scheme of my short twenty-two years. So no, this mental itch that makes me want to drop everything and hop on the first plane to Europe doesn’t come from any particular unhappiness or lack of adventure.
Honestly, though, all of this just kind of feels a little loose: like I slipped into this new skin, this new space and it just doesn’t fit quite right. It’s been a while since I had this urge to get up and go—the last time was at the end of my first year of college, right before I flew off to North Carolina for the first of many (but never enough) delightful summers working at a camp in the mountains.
I haven’t seen the mountains this summer. I haven’t even seen the ocean. I’ve been in the city all summer, so I definitely haven’t sprawled out on the ground and gazed at the stars. Those three things are typically a staple of summer for me: I usually get at least two of them out of these short months. Maybe that’s what feels so off: I can’t remember the last time I got that tiny glimpse of infinity that shifts my perspective and reminds me that I’m small.
Maybe I’ve forgotten I’m not big, not in the slightest—not even middle of the line, really. I’m a tiny speck of a human in the eye of eternity and sometimes I need to be reminded of that because otherwise my ego gets too big. I start thinking of myself too much. I make myself up into something bigger than I am: someone who should have everything sorted out because honestly, isn’t that what college was for? I forget that no one has their lives sorted out. More and more I realize that we’re all sort of faking it till we make it, and if we dwell on that for one second too long our confidence in what all we have to do might come crashing down and who knows what sort of chaos would ensue.
Of course, sometimes staring too long at the abyss—or the ocean, or whatever spot of grandeur is in front of you—can be a bit too intimidating. I remember hiking up this narrow path above the Giants Causeway with Lis and getting to the top and thinking wow, this is… this is almost too much. Too much to take in at once. Too much to see, too much to admire, too much to shake you to your very core because look at this beautiful place.
Hold on to that thought in these next few days. Maybe this week will stay one of those, but maybe it’ll move up, passing not so good and meh to arrive at an agreeable not so bad.
Did you ever read Dr. Seuss? When I was growing up, my favorite was And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, which probably says more than it doesn’t. Now, though, I’m more of an Oh, the Places You’ll Go! type of gal. There’s this amazing section of the poem that addresses how easy it is to maybe get a little off-track and turn around to find you’re in “a most useless place/ The Waiting Place/for people just waiting…”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live my life in that “most useless place.” I don’t want to spend my day waiting to send my last e-mail so I can go home and go back the next day to send more. I don’t want to sit around and wait for things to happen. There are some times when waiting is good—necessary, even.
Take Advent. Even without throwing my religion into the mix, Christmas wouldn’t be quite the same without the whole season, would it? Or if you don’t like Christmas, take birthdays. They’d be run of the mill if they happened every single day without those other 364 (or 365!) days between ‘em. Waiting has its place. That doesn’t mean I’m always going to like it.
And honestly, I’m slowly becoming okay with that. If I feel a little off right now, there’s probably a good reason for that. I’ll keep looking at grad programs, keep writing in my free time, and keep reading more books than seems humanly possible. I’ll write more letters, send a few care packages, and keep trying to get my Etsy shop back off the ground… if I can think of any more designs. I’ll graft these spaces of creativity back into my life, try to remember to breathe, and for pete’s sake, woman, don’t whine. Goodness. You’re twenty-two, not three.
Yes, life’s confusing and complicated and curious all at once. You knew that already—you’ve known that for years. Hang in there. Keep fighting against that urge to curl up in a ball under your favorite blanket and pretend the world disappeared. You already know that’s not going to change anything. Change isn’t passive, hon—if it’s something you want, it’s something you’ve got to instigate.
So drive to the ocean sometime soon, for me. Or the countryside. Maybe take a trip to the mountains. Stare at the stars, walk at the edge of the sea, swing your legs over the side of a cliff and watch the clouds scampering beneath your feet. Look out or at or up into those small tastes of infinity and remember that we are so, so small—dust to dust, right? But then ignore the double negative and think about this:
We are small, yes, but not insignificant. What you do matters. Who you are matters. How you act and react to the people and place around you matters. Do you want to be remembered as the person who ignored everyone while she tried to figure herself out, or do you want to be remembered as the person who made ridiculous mistakes but kept her chin up high while she told her latest escapades to her friends?
That’s what I thought. I know you need some alone time—isn’t that what this is? But you need people, too. We aren’t islands. We’re built for community.
So make people laugh. Compliment their hairstyles. Talk about their favorite books (not just yours). Ask about their hopes and dreams and fears and actually listen to their responses. Share yours, too: friendship is a two-way street. Say thank you more often and mean it. Be sincere. Be grateful. Be kind and helpful and for the love of all that is good, be patient. I know you love that Emily Dickinson line that says dwell in possibility, but don’t forget to keep your feet on the ground if your head’s in the clouds.
A bit of dirt won’t hurt your feet, and be honest: your pedicure was probably ruined already, anyway.
Remember that journal Miss Thomas gave you for eighth grade graduation? One of the quotes she stuck inside was from Winston Churchill, and I think it’s a good thing to remember right about now.
That’s all I’ve got for you right now. Make some more tea and think on it for a minute, would you? Breathe a little. Be generous. Be fierce. Be true.