I wrote most of this a while ago and never posted it anywhere, because it seemed out of place on this mostly-not-super-personal blog--and because I was already planning to make an unusually personal post that covers some of what's in this. But it hasn't left my mind, and now that I am currently on an amazing multi-country trip with two of the most amazing new friends a girl could ask for, I figured there was no better time to express some of these thoughts.
Seven months and one week ago, as I was scrambling to finish one of the most
hectic and stressful and WONDERFUL semesters of my college career--one
where my readings were never quite done, where almost-all-nighters and
dashing off short assignments just before class were commonplace
practices, and where I was constantly frustrated not so much by the amount I had
to do but by the fact that I loved absolutely all of it and just didn't
have enough hours in the day to give any of it the devotion I wanted
to--I learned that upon graduating I was going to receive substantial
monetary awards from two of the departments in which I'd studied. It was
the last day of classes and just a few days before my birthday, and I
can't imagine a better present for either occasion. I cried tears of joy
all afternoon, and I think my advisor must have thought something
terrible had happened when I burst into tears AGAIN in her office at the
end of the day.
Disclaimer: I don't believe that I deserved either
of those awards. I don't think I excelled in either department. That's honesty, not modesty. There
were always classmates who were smarter than me, and I never worked as
hard as I probably should have at anything because I always wanted to
learn and to do everything and was always spread too thin. I worked hard, but
in the sense that it it took effort for me to do enough to get by in
everything at once. I guess I was more successful at it than I felt, but
I still think my professors let me get away with an awful lot.
money allowed me to pursue the internship of my dreams full-time, for
the whole summer, without having to depend on my parents and/or kill
myself finding and keeping a minimum-wage second job at night. I spent the whole summer dirty and
sunburned and mosquito-bitten, digging in the dirt, talking to tourists,
sorting through piles of animal bones in the lab. Even the bad days
were good days, because I was surrounded by the most wonderful crew of
people I've ever had the privilege of working with--people who made me
feel included both on- and off-site, who were patient with my mistakes,
and whose camaraderie and good humor never failed to make the time go
faster even when I was already having fun. In my free time I went
hiking, made the rounds of other historical sites, and yes, voluntarily
studied eighteenth-century ceramics. My first two and a half months as a
"real adult", post-college, were among the best in my life. I don't
think I'd ever before been so consistently aware of how wonderful life
is or so grateful for everything and everyone around me. (And it must
have shown, because someone called me "perky" last summer for what I
think had to have been the first time in twenty-two years.)
I'm a teaching assistant living on the Western coast of France.
Everything about that sentence sounds ridiculous to me, but it's true. I
write lesson plans, have awkward off-campus encounters with my
students, and marvel at the irony of being an authority on learning a
second language in a place where my mastery of my own second language is
constantly (and rightly) called into question. And when I tell people
I'm an archaeologist, or at least that I'm GOING to be an archaeologist,
it feels like I should preface the statement with "Back in my real
life..." In fact, I've even begun to consider following another path, at least for a while, making my life even more divided... but more on that later.
I guess in a way it's true that I've lived a
bit of three different lives in the past seven months since I opened that award letter on a rainy Friday afternoon. Three dramatically
different occupations in three dramatically different places, and I
wouldn't trade any of them for anything else. As much as they feel like
three entirely disparate experiences, they're all part of me and none of
them would be the same without the others.
And a year
ago, I had just returned from Ireland, where I simultaneously rediscovered a past self and
embarked on an assortment of new adventures. I was still a student, was
still trying to grasp the fact that I'd just applied to graduate this
year, still hadn't decided yet whether to apply for a job in France or
an archaeology internship for the summer. I was too busy learning to be
self-reliant, pondering what it means to become an expat, and finding
the nerve to do things I'd never even dreamed of doing, from going to
pubs alone and talking to strangers to going zip-lining and learning to
fight with a spear.
So, four lives. Four places.
known for a very long time that I was going to be a nomad. With four
moves (and several road trips) in the last seven months and six in the
last year (plus several more road trips and not counting the fact that
I'd moved TO Ireland in the first place), I guess I'm there. I am
practiced in the art of living out of my car, out of a suitcase, out of
my backpack; the vast majority of my possessions are packed away in
boxes in my parents' house waiting for me to be settled long enough to
have a use for them.
Sometimes it's frustrating to
think about those things sitting there waiting for circumstances that
might not come, for all I know, for years. It's stressful to be always
moving on, leaving behind what's become familiar and loved. It's painful
not to see and sometimes not even to talk to my family and friends for
long stretches of time. It's even more painful to lose friends in all the moving, and of course to feel alone, to be
aware that if I needed help or a favor or a shoulder to cry on, there is
not always someone physically close by that I could call. True, I am always meeting
new people, but too often it's because I'm starting over somewhere
where I don't know anyone. To be constantly uprooting oneself like that
must be stressful for anyone; for someone pathologically shy and
glacially slow to make close friends, it borders on masochistic.
appreciate home more than I did ten years ago. I miss my hometown more than I could have imagined as a teenager. But it's not
that simple. I also miss Oberlin more than I anticipated (although I
did anticipate correctly that what I would miss would be the people and
the atmosphere rather than the place). I miss the place I lived last summer, too. I
miss Cork so much sometimes it literally distracts me from getting
things done. Perhaps, next summer, I will miss Brest. I know I will miss the friends I've made there, probably for the rest of my life. It's the price one
pays to wander. I can't stop, because there are too many places I want
to see and too many things I want to do before I can think about
settling down. But along the way I fall in love with everywhere. I meet
wonderful people (and sometimes I fall in love with them, too). I amaze myself with new discoveries about what I'm
capable of doing on my own. It's a blessing and a curse: the world is
amazing and I want to know it all, but that means letting go of things I
love time and again. Sometimes it doesn't even seem like there's a
reason I should have to let go. Often, even usually, I don't want to.
But there's always something else to do, somewhere else, and I can't
stop until I've satisfied the urge to keep moving. Right now, I can't imagine when or even how that's going to happen.
spend a lot of time walking. I walk as a simple mode of transport, to
get from place to place. I walk to explore, because I think the best way
to learn a new place, both to get your bearings and to gauge its
personality, is on the ground. I walk because I like it, because a
couple of hours of hiking brings me a kind of peace that nothing else
does. And sometimes I walk simply because it hurts not to, because I
need to walk until I'm too tired or my feet hurt too much for me to care
anymore why I was sad or angry or upset before I started walking.
Whatever the reason for a given walk, I have long held the philosophy
that if you get lost, the only thing for it is to keep walking. You can
keep walking forward until you eventually come across a map or a
signpost or at least a bus stop and a way out. Or you can turn around
and go back the way you came until things start to look familiar and you
can find a different road to take. Either way, you have to keep moving.
You can't just sit down where you are and hope that somehow you'll stop
being lost. You pick a direction, and you put one foot in front of the
other until you figure it out.
I couldn't have
articulated it that way at the time, but I think that's why I started
college at the traditional moment in time like everyone else I knew. I
wasn't sure that was the right direction, but I didn't know where else
to go, so I moved forward. It's also why I left college after my first
semester, when it became clear that that was indeed the wrong path (or
rather, the right path at the wrong time) and staying on it right then
was going to get me nowhere fast. It's why I all but drowned myself in
college when I went back the following year, after a friend of mine died and my world was turned upside down.
It's [very consciously] why I started trying to build a new life for
myself--new friends, new hobbies, new fearlessness--after my ex-boyfriend and I
broke up (though there's no denying I did sit still and feel sorry for
myself for a long time first).
And it's why I'm in France this year,
doing something so far removed from everything else I was doing before. A
lot of people observe that this teaching gig is not particularly
connected to my original career goals. I've often explained it as being my plan
to put off making plans--I came to France because I'm not ready to make
big decisions about the future, and this temporary job is an excellent
excuse to live abroad for a while before I have to make those decisions
and then get too settled in my life to have another chance. It's
something I needed to do. Maybe I needed a break. Maybe I just needed to
prove that I could do this. Maybe I'm not exactly lost; I'm taking a
detour. The scenic route to real life. Who knows, maybe it's going to
end up taking me down a different road I didn't know was lurking there,
out of sight. And maybe it's just going to loop around and drop me right
back off where I started, but I certainly don't think I'll be any worse
off for it. I'll have everything I saw and learned and found and became
along the way to help me figure out which way to go next.
It's why I retitled my blog "Seeking El Dorado". "'Ride, boldly ride,'/ The shade replied/ 'If you seek for Eldorado!'" I don't believe this year is going to be the only detour.
don't know what I'm looking for, exactly, but I do know this: I really
do believe that every day is an opportunity, and when I sat in the lab seven months ago trying not to get tears all over my award letter from the
history department, I was crying because I was overwhelmed by how lucky
I am. Not just about the money or even the internship, but for the same
reason I moved through my whole summer in awe and the same reason I
sometimes pause on the sidewalk in Brest to cherish the cold wind off the sea or the
smell of wood smoke in the air. Because life is awesome and I want to
love every minute of it.
"Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?"
I try. I acted in that play (Our Town by Thornton Wilder) the same semester I applied to college, and every word of it rang true to me in the midst of my seventeen-year-old self's existential crises. And I started trying to do just that. Sometimes, I almost do.