Writing that, I think I should feel more out-there, wild, adventurous, even though I don’t actually feel different. Life feels more normal than it has for months, even though I’m in a new house, taking new, very different classes (I’m an astronomer now), in a new state, with new roommates. But instead of living with the fallout of a sense of interrupted reality, I’ve been so astronomically lucky as to be able to create a different reality, one that includes early morning breakfasts on a porch that feels like a tree house, Friday night stargazing to Fleetwood Mac, long Facetimes curled in bed that feel grounding and safe and loving.
This whole living-off-campus-like-really-off-campus-like-three-hours-off-campus thing has felt more like summer camp than moving or going to school or leaving home. I’m leaning into an older self I half forgot I was, the type who goes on long walks through the green mountains and touches all the jewelweed, the type who packs a trip day lunch, the sort who shares a shower with a spider because it was technically there first and therefore has dibs.
In a few weeks I’ll be (safely) on to the next location. New place, same me. That’s a good thing.
Time keeps jumping around, and I don’t know quite what comes next, life nor writing wise. Not to mention how inappropriate I would have felt creating content this past month that centralized anything other than promoting black voices, learning about racial inequality, and discussing news and necessary legislative changes. I’ve been doing that through other channels, but not here.
A few months ago I bought my first film camera. It cost less than a disposable, even with a three pack of 35mm film added. I shot two rolls of film at school, one at home. The disjointed-ness of it— photos of my college friends, a club-party-faux-prom, Cambridge buildings, with photos of my parents, New Hampshire sunsets, and high school friends a requisite 6 feet apart feel somehow more accurate than the photos I took digitally. Interspersed with screenshots of recipes and graphs and articles, those pixelated photos tell an overly complete story. If time is disjointed, any narrative without that stuttering start and stop falls short of feeling true, even if it captures the whole story.
There’s also the waiting game of film, which I’m learning to like. Not remembering what you shot, no expectations. I bought the camera initially for spring break (ha!), but best-laid plans have a way of going awry, and this was no exception.
I’ve taken thousands of photos of myself over the years, most of them embarrassingly available for everyone to see. These are just a few more, grainier, more color-warped, less posed than usual, of the place I’ve called home for so long, even when it’s not quite the right word anymore. Photos of “home” are hard not to make self portraits, even with the subject invisible behind the camera.
I just finished 14th grade, which means that I’ve been in school for the same amount of time it would take to grow a reasonably self sufficient person (14 being the age of irrational reason). When I was fourteen, I graduated eighth grade and made my way to high school. Now I’m living at home again and still wearing the same tee shirts and athletic shorts. The biggest change is that I’ve reversed my decision on tie dye: now I think it’s cool.
Last year, freshman year, I had an incredibly cohesive narrative for what I had learned: it takes time to be about time. Which is true! But something I learned this year, 1) is that sometimes you don’t have a narrative. Things just happen and there’s no story arc and a pandemic that probably isn’t sent from some super-villain to destroy the human race probably can’t be stopped with the power of friendship and definitely isn’t a plot device.
2) is that I can regress more than I thought possible! See above tee shirt and shorts uniform for proof. When I first got home, I wasn’t a good student, I wasn’t the best friend, I did a lot of sitting and getting headaches and not a lot of anything else. I don’t blame myself. Because 3) some lessons need to be learned, and re learned, and re learned, until they stick. And 4) sometimes things go wrong. And that’s okay! Not just okay because I’m saying it or that self help book is saying it or that instagram girl is saying it, but okay because literally everyone in the history of ever has said it and felt it. Also, I’m going to keep making mistakes my whole entire life. 5) This growth mindset is easier in the classroom, and much harder when turned onto one’s patterns. Which, conveniently for 6), can be relearned. Patterns don’t have to be forever.
One great pattern I broke brings me to 7) wearing colors is great! And 8) wearing white is great! And don’t be scared about spilling because of 4), and also 9), which is that tie dye is cool again. It’s also cool to create, 10), randomly and sporadically and constantly. Creation doesn’t need to be necessitated. It can be making edgy paintings in your room late at night, just because you can and because they’re beautiful. It can be doing that tie dye project with avocado pits, which, 11), turn things pink.
I can’t remember all of this year. When I try to ponder how I learned (and didn’t learn) my lesson, it’s hard not to focus on the last few months. Though some days are grey monotony, others are technicolored wonders. Which brings me to 12), it’s okay to focus on the good and not the bad days, to reconcile with mistakes and moments. It’s also okay to 13), replay every moment over and over in your head like you’re a stuck VCR. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to think about the past over this insane/ uncertain/ challenging/ life altering time, able to become the little old lady of 21 who sits in her rocking chair on the front porch. My story, whatever that really is, has been such a good one so far. It’s a story that in these increasingly long days, I can be happy to replay, one that I can always find something new to pore over. So 14), when I have the time, this is a reminder to lay down somewhere in the sun, play a nostalgic song, and let myself be.
Picture from a while ago, from a walk with a friend. Nowadays I’m going all Dixie Chicks, and looking gratefully for wide open spaces. So lucky to be amongst these hills.
Also: halfway done with college. If not time wise, as timelines tilt and warp in the future, but in classwork. It isn’t what I thought it would be, but if my semi-adult-semi-child life has taught me anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.
Nothing I say right now feels particularly new. I’ve been writing a lot, about empire and bodily constraints and inequalities in education, so maybe my words are all going there. Maybe they’re going towards little discussions with friends and family, not groundbreaking prose but the little words that fill up the space and build connection. I’ve never been good at making my academic writing sound academic. But right now, I’ll take straightforward, and carry it into everything else too.
It’s snowing now, a funny beginning to summer. It’s definitely appropriate, because this will not be a typical summer. It’s easy to fall into last years, to remember what it felt like to be finishing freshman year, to be moving to New York. Now I’m moving much slower, smoother?, sliding into this next chapter.
The immense gratitude to songs for being able to transport me to days past
Having to leave college in five days. Pack up, say goodbye to people, a place, a feeling that’s become as much a home as home can really be when you’re 20.
The bitterness over changed plans. Changed summers, changed semesters, changed friendships. I felt entitled to a certain sort of control.
The gracefulness and generosity of people around me.
How, even when the clock was ticking, we all collectively decided to spend several hours watching the sun go down and the stars come out. With no time left, it finally felt like there was time enough to linger.
How much I do not want to be wearing jeans. This is not the moment for 100% cotton raw denim. This is the moment for turtlenecks and sweatpants and oversized button downs and socks with slippers. This is the moment for slip dresses layered with college sweatshirts, leggings and favorite tee shirts.
How fast my relationship with technology could change. I am so lucky to get to take classes. So lucky to get to talk with friends, to spend hours on the phone, to be in group calls with people I don’t know, unified around the shared experience of wanting to talk with somebody. How much my head aches after looking at the screen, how I cling to headlines but feel a sinking sense of dread looking at Instagram stories, even when they show art and hope.
How delicious home cooked food really is. HUDS could never. To be fair, I saw this one coming, but I am continuously amazed.
How creativity ebbs and flows. One moment I want to make it all, write and sew and snap photos of everything. The next I’m under my covers in bed, not even wanting to respond to texts because it all just feels like too much.