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Thursday, December 23, 2004

A Choice and Ladders

My seventh semester has come to an end. This puts me at a precipice that so long has been coming - the descent into the so-called "real world." With nothing more than a few months and some time in a classroom theoretically separating me from release into the mainstream of the adult world, I've spent a lot of time tonight considering the person I want to become and the ways to get there, and the vague feeling, seldom acknowledged, has made itself heard in my thoughts in a way that has made it unthinkable to ignore.

I've tried to live my life in the way that made the most sense for me. I've tried to avoid the trappings of social and familial expectations, and the definitions of success which suck people into an ever more difficult ascent to some amorphous peak of personal achievement. Each ceiling one breaks leads to a new set of challenges - start with high school, get into college. From there academia can be your vector to a new form of graduate school or to get the job which, if you sell every moment of your waking life, will reward you with material and the promise of a slackening of the chains that bind your temporal soul. I'm not going to preach about the evils of material wealth, as clearly the comforts it affords are not unknown to me. But I can honestly say that strip mining the edifice of my own being, commodifying the product and as time drifts away, marketing it for the reward of stability is not something I can see myself enduring. It is possible that this is the optimism that is so oft decried by the cynical as a trapping of youth and naivety. It is possible that this is a lack of perspective speaking. But from where I sit, the first rays of hope for a future brighter than the tomorrows I see, uncertainly shrouded, in the weeks and months ahead came when the potential to break free of the monotony of the past couple years.

There have been moments. There have been times when, while speaking to a room full of people or sitting by the East river with a specific one, there is a sort of peace that makes me believe that I can be happy. But those moments have been fleeting, drowned out in the omnipresent cascade of insecurity and inadequacy that plague the life of the climber. I know many people who are truly content and none who have gotten that way by resigning themselves to the path that has been trod by so many weary feet before them. I know also a veritable roll call of those who are holding out hope for the system, depositing their quarter and hoping the next go round is more satisfying than the last. This doesn't seem like a way to live, it doesn't seem like a way to anything but cold comfort.

It is times like this, in my beleaguered state, that I find myself envisioning the cartoonish situation so many an animated protagonist has become familiar with. An angel on my right shoulder, a devil on the other, each with their own dialect feeding me their own personal take. "You," I can imagine the devil rasping in my ear, "have known nothing but privilege. Could it be that not working for what you have has left you unsatisfied? Maybe you should be grateful rather than petulant!" But the better angel opposite him reminds him that this is the problem. Transcending one's condition is never a product of the strict adherence to the rote, and the existential angst which may come as easily to the executive who finds her life empty as to the laborer who toils to no perceptible end is a clarion call that the lifestyle, be it of entitlement or misfortune, is a cage whose bars are sliding shut and from which one needs to abscond one's self.

I find the vision I once had of an academic career fading into dreams of something somehow grander, but requiring a courage I’m not sure I know if I possess. I’ve seen two winters through the window by my desk, and endured hardships with friends and alienation from the same. The trivialities with which I have concerned myself for too long have left too many open questions that I need to close, too many blanks and not enough answers. I feel as if I am ready to say something but don’t yet have anything to say, and if I don’t start moving now I’m afraid the will I possess will be sapped by the perpetual betrayal from the ranks of those who yet still see the world as a place to be changed, even if by some minor aesthetic, and I will find myself standing alone and without the capacity to live the life I want.

Maybe those of you who have felt this way have some insights. When I started writing this I was ambivalent about the choice, but I think now I recognize that it wasn’t a choice after all, but a reality I needed to accept. Wish me luck, I suppose.

cranked out at 6:29 AM | |

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