(To be read while listening to “Genesis” by Justice on repeat.)
During a break (fall or winter, I can’t remember which) during freshman year, I attended a Princeton Club of Chicago mixer.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
I only remember speaking to two men because of the way they made me feel. And why I’ve suddenly recalled this memory now must be because nearly four years later, I feel the exact opposite.
The first was a light-skinned black man wearing a tweed jackets with vest, glasses, and balding with a tuft of gray hairs. He told me: “Have something at the end. Have some goal, be it a Rhodes, or Marshall, or Fulbright. Just make sure you have something you’re working towards.”
2010 Erisa figuratively rollers he eyes at this piece of advice and utters an internal gutteral “DUH.” She is pre-med and thus working towards matriculation to a top-tier medical school. Her mother would prefer Harvard.
2014 Erisa is slumped over her laptop as dawn breaks through the windows of the Eno Hall conference room. It’s April 28th, she hasn’t slept in over 24 hours, and although her friend is in the room working too, it’s been hours since they exchanged words as both are devoted to the task at hand: completing the senior thesis. Erisa is repeating the mantra – again, internally – “It doesn’t matter. Just turn it in. Just turn it in and graduate.”
If the two time slices of myself stood next to each other, I imagine 2014 turning to 2010 and asking: “Does working towards graduating count?”
2010 Erisa LITERALLY rolls her eyes and shakes her head.
You see, 2010 Erisa died. And I think Princeton killer her.
At no time was this more apparent to me than several days ago when I figuratively ran into an acquaintance from high school on the El (elevated train for those unfamiliar with Chicago Transit Authority).
She was a freshman when I was a senior, so she had just completed her freshman year at the University of Chicago. I asked her about her summer and she said she was working in a genetics lab at the University of Chicago. So I inquired further and learned she as probably going to major in biology.
I didn’t want to ask her “what are you thinking of doing after you graduate?” because (LOL) I’ve graduated and I can’t even answer that question. So I asked, “what are you thinking of pursuing?” And she responded – as I predicted, maybe that’s why I asked – going to med school. And then I asked “why?” and she responded something along the lines of “I’m good at biology and I like it, so…”
I think I used to answer the same way, with an addition: “I like the human human body, so…”
Can you imagine getting married to someone and when they’re asked why they’re marrying you they respond: “I want to get married and I like people, so…”
(I’m not implying my acquaintance is disingenuous, or that I was when I used to answer this way Just that a lot of people don’t know why they’re doing the things they want to do. Sometimes this is OK, but sometimes it is not.)
So… long story made only slightly shorter, I did not apply to med school, despite the urgings of my father and the nice lady at Health Professions Advising.
And, as previously mentioned, this is Princeton’s fault. Firstly, Princeton’s Integrated Science curriculum made me re-think this whole “I’m good at science” complex I had going on in high school.
Also, the availability of creative writing and film studies classes – which were offered at my high school but would’ve lowered my GPA because of the weighted GPA system – were like my version of Robert Lebrun. (That was a reference to Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, but that’s OK I had to Google it to remember the character’s name. Also, it’s sad when you enter “The Awakening” the first hit on Google is the 2011 horror film…).
Essentially I realized there was more than just a few career paths I had previously seen as possible in my life.
So three fourths of the way through senior year I remarked to a friend: “I’m jumping off the train. I’m going to LA. I want to try to be a screenwriter.” (Film has been an obsession of mine since childhood – watching, making, talking about film.)
“Jumping of the train” – in addition to being a frequent action of the Dauntless in the Divergent universe – in this instance was my metaphor for straying from a more traditional career path.
But after several weeks, I realized what I really wanted jumping of the train to mean was abandoning ALL paths. If you want to bushwack through the jungle you take a map, compass, and machete. You know the train tracks will always be there. You know even if the trains not running, you can follow those tracks to your desired destination. (Have you stuck with this metaphor?)
I don’t know what I want out of my life, and for the longest time, I thought I had to know. For the longest time I thought life was supposed to be lived like a well-written essay: have a motive and then write and organize all your paragraphs based on that motive. Only recently did I realize most lives (including “successful” ones) are lived like this blog post: a ramble supported by the loose connective tissue of overlapping themes.
So I am letting go of my desire for a clear path. I am jumping off the train. I am bushwacking through the jungle. I may legitimately end up in a hobo jungle because I will be, by definition, a hobo:
“Tramps and hobos are commonly lumped together, but see themselves as sharply differentiated. A hobo or bo is simply a migratory laborer; [s]he may take some longish holidays, but sooner or later [s]he returns to work. A tramp never works if it can be avoided; he simply travels. Apart from either is the bum, who neither works nor travels, save when propelled to motion by the police” (H.L. Mencken’s The American Language).
I will be roadtrippin’ through the American West (not to be confused with “catching the Westbound”) applying to seasonal outdoor jobs and squatting with family and friends, and people who will let me sleep on their property in exchange for menial labor.
This blog will be that experience.
The End (Or should I say, The Beginning?)
No. I will not end this post with something that disgustingly cheesy.
Also, if you’re good at reading comprehension, you’re probably thinking: “Erisa, WTF?! At the beginning of this post you said you had an encounter with TWO men at the Princeton Club of Chicago, but only told us about ONE! And you went on to describe, at great length, how this man’s comment and your reaction to said comment then and now have flipped, and how Princeton killed 2010 Erisa because you no longer see life as choosing a clearcut path, but as something that can be wandered and explored, so that makes you a hobo. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE SECOND MAN? WAS THAT JUST A PLOY TO GET ME TO KEEP READING?”
No, dear reader. The second man does exist. He was a recent graduate (Class of 2010). At the mixer, he told me he was envious that I was a freshman and had 4 more years at Princeton. That he wish he could go back.
At the time, I wanted to say “please, be my guest.” Because at the time I hated Princeton. The obstacles to my happiness – the touch classes, the social scene, my own lack of community – seemed insurmountable. I wondered what alumni were talking about when they called Princeton “the best old place of all.” I would’ve happily swapped places with this dude and exchange what I expected to be 4 years of stress and agony with a diploma right then and there.
But I laugh now because I feel exactly as that Class of 2010er felt. I love Princeton. Sometimes I sing “Old Nassau” to myself as a happiness booster. Obviously, papers, tests, Blackboard posts, and the other “hoops” of academia will not be missed greatly, if at all. But engaging in discussions with professors, acquaintances, and friends helped create the 2014 Erisa who is proud to call herself a hobo.
So I’m glad Princeton killed 2010 Erisa and made 2014 Erisa. But actually it’s more like 2014 Erisa ate 2010 Erisa. You know, like endosymbiosis a la the origin of mitochondria.
There. That’s a better way to end a blog post.