Tomorrow-Lands: Oh, The Places I’ll Go

I have always held court with overachievers. Ever since my first year of high school when I realized resume building was considered an Olympic sport I’ve been ceaselessly doing stuff. This summer I’m working part-time, volunteering in a lab and assistant-coaching my high school cheerleading team, while still making time to go to the gym every morning, see friends, and blog. When I told my best friend about all my commitments he understated the situation by saying, “Me thinks it’s a little too much.” Don’t be fooled- I want to be doing all these things (I’m too close to having “to adult” to be doing meaningless resume building), but the truth is I’m getting old(er) and I can already feel my body starting to disapprove.

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Now, if you are a person who is always doing stuff, there’s no place for you like New York City. For one, there’s never a shortage of things to do. For another, no matter how much you think you do, it’s a pretty safe bet that the person walking past you at the pace of a light jog is doing more. And if you’re not careful, that’s all New York can become- a race. People here race against time, colleagues, the stock market. The ambition of the young outstretches the cold, metal buildings they work in. New York is a life-scale model of supply and demand; every inch of the city struggles to cater to every need of its overpopulated streets and, when it cannot, chews up and spits out the unlucky along its sidewalks. Of course, I am generalizing the city, stereotyping it sometimes in the most crude and unjust ways, but this stereotype comes from the truth of my own experience . The city can be beautiful and exciting- but it can also be tiring, dirty, and overwhelmingly gray

It would seem that NY and I are a perfect fit- and we were. But here’s the catch- I believe we are all products of our environment to a larger extent than we’d like to admit. When I finally began waking up to life- when I stopped trying to always go somewhere or do something (this summer being a clear exception), when I learned to be comfortable in stillness and began to see how much of all this motion is actually running- from fear, from uncertainty, from death- it became a whole lot harder to be a girl who likes sleep in a city that doesn’t.

As the “Misplaced” before “Millennial” indicates, I do not belong here. And that leaves me with the question- where do I belong? In Europe? India? Australia? On a farm? Another city? A fucking rainforest? Somewhere people greet you as you walk past and actually want to know how you are doing. A place where life is slower, calmer, and more peaceful. Where nature is not fought back into a twenty-some block park and asking a stranger for directions doesn’t feel like walking into a freezer.

So my goal is to go- on adventures with friends, on retreats, on study abroad trips, basically using any resources I have. Where to? I’m not entirely sure yet. But you can bet that I will be writing a post the second I get there.

Until next time,

*\o/*

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(Title based on Tomorrowland and Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss.)

A Brief Autobiography

Every day since I was little, I have watched my father’s eyes yellow. His crow’s feet  grew deeper with every year that his skin lost its fight against gravity and countless nights spent grading papers under a desk lamp. I learned the dance of the small, rectangular scar on the left side of his forehead from when a puck hit him in a careless boyhood game of backyard hockey. I saw it rise when the three creases on his forehead followed the corners of his mouth into a laugh, saw it stretch when he  ran his palm over the backs of his eyelids. I watched my dad come home and let the black bag that created sweat stains up and down the back of his dress shirts thud in surrender on the hallway floor, already ready for the next morning’s train ride.

Every day since I was little, I watched my mother wander the streets of Brooklyn in a cloud of depression, not knowing where she was going, who to ask for directions, or how. And in the same one-bedroom apartment I watched myself grow up in our bathroom mirror, the edges beneath its surface fraying ever so slightly with each passing year.

My mother once told me that when she was young, her hair was the same golden color as mine. As she entered her final years in high school it slowly morphed into the dull-brown shade she now dyes over every month. Since then, every night before bed I would look at my reflection to check that the gold had not yet fallen from my hair. I would stare down the life reflected back in the solid blackness of my irises to make sure that the light had not gone out and renew my promise to find whatever it was my parents seemed to have lost on their plane ride over the Atlantic.

The Great Awakening (Or, What I Actually Learned In College)

College- the best four years of your life as mandated by your debt collection agency. You will be hard-pressed to find a more confused, lonely, and disillusioned bunch than college students. And it’s no wonder- one minute, we’re finishing high school without a care in the world and the next we’re worrying about things like paying tuition, doing taxes, and where we fit in a world we know nothing about.

First term freshman year, I was a complete train wreck. I was so stressed and high-strung that I broke about half the cutlery in my dorm and knocked over the rest. And yet that state of utter confusion was beautiful because it drove me to think, to push, to question my beliefs and the beliefs of those around me, as well as the quality of my life and what to make of its insignificance.

Here is a small, but significant, part of what I learned:

You are not your accomplishments

Your grades, your extracurriculars, the amount of medals you’ve won or money you’ve made, the places you did or did not see, the people you do or do not know- none of these things define you. I used to cling to my academic success as a sign of my worth- my experience, as well as those around me, had spent a lifetime dictating that good grades are central to a student’s identity. But over the past year I’ve come to see that letting your identity, your whole sense of self, rest on numbers is a recipe for disaster- not only is it such a superficial and unstable way to see yourself, but it is such a small, limiting way to define the vastness and depth of who you are.

That’s not to say I don’t do well in school- I still believe the pursuit of knowledge is one of the most honorable acts possible- but I am also an education-oriented person (something, I’ve also learned, not all people are- and that’s okay too). So I still study and learn to the fullest, but I do so because the acquisition of information brings me actual, deep joy. And I’m much calmer about my methods; I know that no all-nighter is worth the extra points, no amount of coffee is worth my health, and an hour spent talking to friends is much better for the human condition than an extra hour flipping through index cards.

There is no answer (everyone is just as confused as you are)

Remember when we thought grownups were superheros? I know I’m not alone in thinking that there was some exclusive “grownup club” that had the answer to things like making money and curing the flu, and once I was worthy, my parents would hand me an initiation letter and it would contain all the world’s secrets that I was too young to understand.

Lo and behold- I’ve grown up to discover that no one actually knows what the fuck is going on.

Of course, most of my illusions about grownups were stripped away slowly throughout high school, but the first year of college removed any last bit of age-disillusionment like that last block in jenga before the whole tower collapses. I think we all know by now that grownups don’t really have all the answers. What that leaves us, younger people, with is a more justified sense of presence. I have always believed that wisdom comes with age-and I still do- but now I know that my opinions, ideas, and beliefs hold just as much authority in the world as any adult’s. They may not yet be as polished or age-tested, as that of my elders, but they deserve to be heard, discussed, and, if needed, refuted, as much as anyone else’s. Call this growing up if you will, but it’s a relief to know being old doesn’t make you right- being right does.

Very few things actually matter 

When you are stressed, when you are nervous, when you become angry at the world, when you race against time, when your lungs do not get enough air, when there are not enough commas to separate all your worries or enough periods to punctuate all your sentences- stop. It’s rarely easy, but the second you feel that first round of tension in your body, that first tightening inside your mind, know that you will need to overcome the inertia of your thoughts if you are ever to find peace. Sit down on your wooden floor with eyes closed and being to listen. Let the nagging child in you insist unabashedly that you have other things to do, that you are wasting valuable time. Let your self be worried, uncomfortable, uncomprehending of buzz inside your brain, and let that be the time when I remind you- I’ve learned that nothing is more important than hearing the sound of passing trains or feeling the breeze inside my pores; because whatever it is I think I am running towards that is worth forgetting the way air vibrates through my lungs when I breathe is already here, waiting for me to come back from searching for it.

Over time, it becomes easier to go about my day remembering what’s real. It becomes effortless to be present with friends rather than mulling over a term paper because I remember love, to walk slower and breathe deeper, to choose sleep over stress, compassion over anger, and life over movement. Immediately, all my complaints vanish, my anger disintegrates, and my tension disappears, because I remember that the only things that matter are saying “Yes” to love, and what a beautiful thing it is to be alive.

Are You There Internet? It’s Me, Val

You know when you just do stuff? Like when you’re not hungry, but you know you’re still going to eat that third ice cream sandwich. Or when you have an exam the next day and you decide to have “girls’ night” with a pitcher of wine the night before. Well, this blog is much like my personal pitcher of white wine. I don’t know if starting it is a good idea- but, oh, what the hell, right? (Right?!)

Why start a blog now? To be honest, I’ve flirted with the idea for years. I just love the significance my words take on when they’re shared with other people. When I used to write in journals (a thing I only do now in times of extreme existential crises), I fantasized that one day my work would be published, or that the human race would uncover it some hundreds of years after my death and my ramblings would become invaluable artifacts. Writing is the best way I know how to be heard- and I think I’m ready for people to listen.

My biggest hope, of course, is that something I say will speak to you. It isn’t yet, but want this blog to be a chronicle of my growing up, a record of aging and the observations, revelations, and mistakes that crop up along the way. Because as everyone will tell you- growing up sucks. Taxes suck. Debt sucks. The job market sucks. But my point is- it doesn’t have to.

Who am I? I’m a college student with a 3.9 GPA who gave up on being schooled. A girl who wants to change the world, but can’t even decide what to have for dinner. A dreamer so big she is already building empires from scratch in her mind but has serious trouble hanging her clothes up at the end of the day (the chair is just right THERE). I am intelligent, articulate, and incredibly aware, while still managing to be confused, misguided, and always just a little misplaced. I have no idea what I’m doing trying to be an adult, but I do know that I want to figure my life out with a presence of mind and an openness of heart, and if you want to do the same- well we can probably work something out.

(title based on Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume)