At present, I sit to write for the first time after an entire summer of new experiences and unexpected changes. The lack of words I have produced this summer does not, however, indicate a lack of thought or learning. To the contrary, my growth, happiness, capacity for love, and levels of contentment are at a new height. As such, this post is a way to finally mark and celebrate the months that have led me to this place in an ongoing journey that is still characterized by numerous big unknowns. Fortunately, the angst that I typically experience in light of such unknowns has been quietly dissipating.
Since January the plans for my life have felt quite unsure. Looking back, a short review includes how a year-long relationship ended and then, after another season of effort and frustration, ended again. My dissertation started with the new year but by May the progress I had made in writing abruptly stopped and took on a new direction, which still has yet to develop in any significant way. Plans to relocate to another city for my final year of grad school were thwarted by numerous external forces, and the summer grant that I had applied for didn’t come through leaving me without a teaching assignment or a source of income for a couple of months. At the end of May I went back to Idaho for a week, and as usual, it brought up some difficult emotions. The hardest of them arose when I learned that one of my longest sources of feeling the security of “home” wasn’t actually where I thought it had been for so many years. In terms of things falling away, then, I felt vulnerable and insecure from the inside out. Relationships with partners and my most inspiring philosopher-friends no longer felt close. The places where I knew or thought I would be most comfortable where far away ( in terms of geographic locations and even classroom spaces given that I took a teaching-release last semester to write my dissertation and haven’t taught a class since last fall). Six months prior to the start of June I could not have anticipated that I would be single and wary of having any new love interests, that I would have no usable pages of my dissertation, or that I would be waiting tables in State College, Pennsylvania. Such is the case, I guess, when one is struck with a period of floundering.
Looking back on my posts from the winter and spring, the predominant theme is that of letting go and gracefully wading through the unknown turns of each passing month. Strangely enough, it has become more apparent to me this summer than ever before that many, many of my friends are also “floundering.” Of course, Facebook assures me that plenty of people with whom I went to high school are married, having babies, and buying homes (as if such things are mutually exclusive from the experience of floundering…). I can also see that it is possible to finish a dissertation, earn that PhD, and even get a job at some university (I know a small handful of people who have actually done it!…though I’m skeptical that this alone prevents them from being flounderers, too). But I also know slews of really smart and talented people who are reluctant to go to the top-rated graduate program that accepted them for this coming fall. I know a lot more who are already in school and reluctant to finish, or if they plan to finish, they don’t have any intention of pursuing the career that presumably follows the degree. I have friends who have quit their jobs and moved to different cities. After a few months, some of them moved right back to where they were. I’ve seen people pick up a trade, start their own businesses, create their own niche, and promote the shit out of their homemade goodies on their personal blog. I’ve watched people my age and others who are well into their thirties and beyond stay single, stay in obviously dissatisfying relationships, end seemingly working relationships, start new ones, call off engagements, get married, and get divorced. Sometimes kids are in the mix: people marry and have kids, they get married with kids already in the picture, they parent children who are not their own, or they hold off on having kids all together. The theme now and again: Life, work, and love are not necessarily linear in their progression.
As the summer wanes and I prepare for another academic year (I hesitate to say “my last academic year” for I do not know for sure where I will be this time next year) I am setting to begin writing another first chapter to my dissertation and will soon begin reviewing the syllabus I wrote for my fall classes. I am in the same house that I have lived in for the past three years in the same town but I am accompanied by one of my best friends and my boyfriend (the one I was reluctant to fall in love with at the beginning of June). I have committed to love and be loved by him for every day that I am, and we are talking about plans to someday have our own restaurant. The rest of the story is not simple by any means but I’ll save the details. In short, six months ago I couldn’t have ever guessed that I would be right where I am. I wouldn’t have expected to be smoking again. I couldn’t have anticipated the things that I worry about now. I didn’t expect to lose touch with and then reconnect through a heavy sort of conversation with so many of my also-floundering-friends. I would have been disappointed beyond belief in myself by the fact that I haven’t gone dancing in almost two months. At the same time, I wouldn’t have believed it possible for me to feel this loved, understood, supported, and appreciated, especially not after the May that I had (or, let’s be honest, after the many years that I’ve had in relationships). I didn’t know that there were so many wonderful people already around me whom I would soon be eager to call “friends” and “family.” And I could have only hoped that I would be so blessed to fill my days with such great food, great conversations, great hugs, and great moments of trust, compassion, love, and genuine excitement for each day that has been, is, will soon be, and are yet to come. I didn’t know that in spite of so many unknowns that are still ahead and how many things still feel out of my control that I could be so deeply fulfilled and happy.
|filled with happiness and cheese|
I’m thrilled to feel so good and safe in my situation right now, but getting here was hardly by my own doing. Without a doubt, the lessons I’ve learned this summer have been inspired by the complexity of the experiences of those closest to me. By seeing how others have moved through the past years and months, these thoughts have occupied the forefront of my mind all summer: Fortunate things like meeting someone truly incredible, feeling uplifted and inspired by what surrounds you, and being able to do what you absolutely love for a living do happen. At the same time though, unfortunate things happen, too, like accidents, jail sentences, identity theft, layoffs, infidelity, debt, disease and medical emergencies, death, divorce, addiction, bankruptcy, and even the stuff that we really can’t anticipate like corrupt institutional scandals that undermine the well-being of entire communities, violent hate crimes, and movie theater massacres, just to name a few from recent weeks. Maybe my heightened exposure to the lot of difficult life-things is a product of the poor economy and the negative messages that saturate our news media. Or, maybe I’m hanging out with the wrong crowds, the ones comprised of indecisive, unambitious, confused, and perhaps even slightly masochistic folks who don’t know the difference between the good and the right decisions and the bad and the wrong ones (though I highly doubt this). Or, maybe it’s just that the veil is finally starting to lift and I’m beginning to see more clearly how hardly anything in life works out the way we were told it would or expect it to. Maybe that means that life is hard or that nothing in life works out at all. Or, maybe that’s just how life works.
As my awareness grows to how much I haven’t known about the “adult-things” of real life thanks to my youth, my path so far, and no doubt to my own privilege and concomitant ignorance, I am gaining a much greater respect and admiration for those who continue to approach each day with strength and resilience, even in the face of a long list of unfortunate twists and turns that have shaped who and where they are today. I’m impressed by those who can continue to plan for life with a sense of optimism and hope despite how their experience has already proved to them that things will often be more difficult than they are easy. My guess is that, at times, this optimism is probably supported by a deep appreciation for the fortunate things that do of course happen in life (yes, the big things, but especially the small things, too), but also from an appreciation for the fact that even unfortunate circumstances can give way to really terrific things; the proverbial lotus flower grows from the muck and mud. Perhaps most inspiring, even if a bit counter-intuitive, is the possibility that those who have maintained their resilience through adversity are more in touch with their strength and trust enough in themselves and in life to rest assured that whatever comes their way, they will be able to make it through.
Appreciating the challenges that other people face, and not to mention taking into consideration how content I am right now with where I’m at, I feel silly and slightly embarrassed about how worried I was for the first half of the year and how frantically I wanted to secure where I would be, what I’d be doing, and who I would have around me. Of course I know it’s foolish to deny that things change, but I think the redundancy of my writing over those months was a reflection of just how hard it can be to openly accept each day as it comes. With respect to each of those factors in my life that felt so out of my control, I had to heighten my response of graceful patience precisely because, deep-down, I wanted so much for them to stay on one predictable course and run in one predictable way even if it meant that I would ultimately be doing things that I didn’t really want to be doing or would be in situations that weren’t really good for me. Now, I think about my friends who are struggling in light of their own floundering. Some are staying in relationships and ultimately settling for someone who doesn’t appreciate them rather than taking the risk that they can be happier with someone who is yet unknown to them. Some are really apprehensive about their commitment to an academic program or a job rather than considering that an opportunity for something that engages their passion and interest has yet to present itself (or they have yet to see it before them already). In other words, loads of my friends are too afraid to see what can be found if one really flounders.
No matter how corny it sounds, in situations like these it might be helpful to remember that life changes everything and everything in life can change. We will encounter unexpected challenges so we don’t need to make it any harder by keeping ourselves in situations that are already difficult and unhealthy. It might behoove us to save our resilience for when we really need it. On the other side of that same coin, though, is the point that we don’t need to be be afraid of choosing a healthy change for ourselves. Rather than merely crossing our fingers and hoping that it will happen somewhere along the way, we can take the risk for something different, something better.
A line that I always repeat to myself, my friends, and my students is, “Something will happen.” After this summer, I’m realizing that one can also add, “No matter what happens, something will come of it.” Those two seemingly vacuous statements become more meaningful once we learn to appreciate that “good” and “bad” are only relative terms that take on new meanings and new appearances with each passing day. We just have to be patient enough, and strong enough, to make it through.