It’s so much easier to walk with your head down than to look up and see what you’re missing, says the coward.
Exactly this same time last year, I mocked a close friend of mine for pursuing a life of boys and bottles all in the name of YOLO and prided myself in “knowing exactly what I was doing.” Today I’m realizing that whatever dosage of rationality I thought I relied on was more like morphine, so that it wasn’t level-headedness I possessed but fear of feeling at all. As two of my closest girlfriends were at the brink of a whirlwind romance, both dating unconventional, older men, they ran to me, hoping that I’d inject them with some reason. But as I stared at their terrified faces, I couldn’t help but feel so happy for them, because what I saw was exhilaration not fear. No, fear is the cowering, whimpy feeling I’ve been living with. So I told one of them, “There is no such thing as bad opportunities, only lost ones.” As I spewed “fuck it, you’re young” and other sorts of articulate encouragements, I found that I was no longer talking to them, but myself. I said to her, “10 years from now, if you asked yourself why you gave up on this opportunity to be with him, and you replied with these reasons, would you accept that?” Ten years from now, if I asked myself, why did you play it so safe those years that you should have flipped the world off, what would I have to say for myself?
The first year of college, I could blame it on being busy settling in, being sick all the time. My second year I was fighting to figure out my major. But now that that’s all said and done, what excuse do I have?
As I wait in limbo on three different jobs, I find myself terrified of making the “wrong decision.” I hate not having the next five years of my life planned out on paper, never mind this summer. I hate not being in control. I hate not feeling safe. I know that my job with a professor will gain me the most credibility as a reporter, I know that my job at a wine magazine looks best on paper, I know that my job at the girly online magazine will be the most fun. So I should pick the one that’s most important right?
The novelist John Barth was a professor at a college in upstate New York. The student movement was in full swing in the 1960s; riots, protests and strikes broke out at his college. A reporter asked John Barth what he thought of the protests. He said they were “important but not interesting.”
There are so many things that are important things in life, sleeping, working, keeping yourself alive, but they’re not necessarily interesting. Sometimes what’s interesting is forsaking what’s important, in the drunken, borderline hallucinatory escapades you embark on in the wee hours, in the jobs that barely bring a crust of bread to the table, on the cliffs that bring you so high that breathing, or lack thereof, could kill you. These are the moments that make life worth living.
A completely functional family never made interesting people, the same way calm seas never made good sailors. Safety only goes so far until it becomes the single most dangerous thing to live with. It is those nights that I don’t even have the energy to turn off the lights as I lay utterly exhausted on my bed that I feel the most accomplished. So how could I be content living my entire life, wide awake at night regretting all the things I haven’t done? It is these moments of exhaustion that make the weekends more valuable and vacations more worthwhile. Nobody enjoys a vacation knowing they’ve done nothing all year. So how can I expect a bouquet of happiness to appear without embracing the rain?
And so as I chew on this newfound realization, I’m struggling to figure out what I can do to make these last two years count. I mean, I’ve been working out and cooking, both of which are things every breathing mortal can do but I’ve only just come in contact with. And yes they’re giving me temporary satisfaction the way every one-paged writing gives me 36 hours of peace. But what I’m looking for is something to compensate for all the dance marathons and sororities I didn’t join, something that I can say, “SUCK IT BITCHES, I DIDN’T DO DRUGS BUT I _______AND FOR THAT MY COLLEGE CAREER IS COMPLETE.” Something to call my own, to exhilarate and exhaust me, something to thoroughly scare the shit out of me.
A relevant poem from one of my favorite poets:
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.