As graduation season rolls around once again, the ratio of meaningful life reflections to “It’s Gonna Be May” Justin Timberlake memes scattered throughout my Newsfeed peeks at an astonishing 5:1. These personal progress reports, ranging from the 140-character tweet (respect) to the facebook note novella, spark pre-mature nostalgia and prompt me to reflect on my own collegiate transitions. For one, I can no longer imagine an existence without the aid of Google Calendar, those merciful colored blocks, and the illusion of order they lend my life. For another, I finally mustered the courage to retire an outmoded, social and self expectation-fueled dream in favor of my true passion.
A year ago today, I was lying in my bed in sweatpants, wide awake for the 54th consecutive hour and surrounded by cyclohexanes (some of them printed on sheets of notebook paper, some ingrained in my vision). I was seeing chair conformations on the plastered ceiling, in the bathroom tiles, in the shape of my chicken finger. I was wasting time typing my nightly 2 am Word document ramblings, wondering why it was so difficult to face each day even after I managed to fall into a coma-induced stupor. Wondering at what point along the way I had misplaced my motivation. Wondering why I was afraid to allow myself a moment to think.
It’s difficult to change. It’s difficult to re-examine a 3-year-old’s penchant for taking temperatures, white coats, and carefree assertions of “I want to be a doctor, mommy,” and as strange as it sounds, it’s difficult to realize that a different person now exists, one who has found more healing in words than in prescriptions. It’s difficult to remember the words “You can do anything you put your mind to,” to confront the new edge of disappointment in those same voices, to realize the person you’ve grown to be and accept is no less for being of a different mind. That first phone conversation in the Woodruff parking lot, a week before the end of the semester, was the most difficult fifteen minutes of my life. In those fifteen minutes, I struggled into existence.
A year ago today, I wiped the slate clean of 19 years’ meticulous planning, stared into the terrifying blankness, and made the first mark. “I want to be an English major.”
Today, after a year of papers, novels, ideas, and reflection, I’m lying here on my couch in sweatpants reading an acceptance letter from Emory’s 4+1 BA/MA English Master’s Program over and over until my eyes burn from the light of my computer screen (and a few delayed tears, let’s be real). I’ve spent all-nighters in search of the perfect line before poetry work-shopping day, sleepless nights burned away in a frenzy of excitement rather than sunk in weighty lethargy. I’ve completely re-written assignments 5 times, out of sheer joy in the exploration of essay prompt options. Last semester, I enrolled in 22 hours of course credit, wrote over 40 papers, read upwards of 500 pages a night. I can imagine no greater privilege. I’m still ambitious as hell, but I’m happy. I’ve allowed myself the simple pleasure of doing without any peripheral thought of my resume. I have a future again, but I also have a present.
In the wonderful words of Dr. Otis, “People ask all the time why study English, but we all inhabit stories of some kind. It’s important to realize what narratives you’re living out, to think about your own conceptions and understanding of reality, so that you don’t get swept up in someone else’s.” Even as my own conceptions of reality continue to alter drastically, literature remains my equilibrium. Reading is pure creation.
Only when the last page comes, can I flip to the beginning and realize that there’s more to know and more that can never be known. Only when the last page comes, can I re-discover who I am.