The worst part about being a junior in college is that it is the beginning of the countdown. You are past the halfway point, and everything from here on is a two year exit. You are no longer going into the forest.
Most of what dominates my mind these days has been on the subject of my future. Who I'm becoming, what I will be doing, and who will be around me when it happens. This is all an assumption that I'm around to see the future, but that's not really what I loaded up the browser to talk about.
I got an e-mail from the past around New Year's.
See, there's this website, futureme.org, where the whole idea is to send a message to your future self. You type it in, put in an e-mail that you will hopefully still have, and then the machine will store it and send it out during the date you assigned. Apparently, I had told the site to send the message to me in one year. So, in the closing days of 2007, I recieved a message to myself from the closing days of 2006.
I saw the subject line and, although I didn't remember what I said, I was a little bit scared. It could say anything. I was sitting on a bed in a hotel room in Seattle, surrounded by friends, wondering what the hell I would say to myself in one year. It could be incredibly private and personal or a throw-away joke. It could be tremendously disappointing. I clicked the subject line, "I Am From The Future" with caution and expectation.
I won't say what exactly I wrote, but it was affecting. I started with some small talk, ("What's up? How's your GPA?") before diving into the murky, squirming, depths of my insecurities. It was a uniquely disheartening moment as I read a list of, not goals, but simple hopes, that I had set for myself. In exactly one year, I had fulfilled almost nothing. Twelve wasted months, now dead and gone. So I got back on the site and sent myself another message, the contents of which I have already forgotten, but I look forward to seeing in five scary years.
I saw Joyce Carol Oates speak yesterday. During the question & answer portion, a lot of the people coming up to the microphone to speak were almost all young people, even though they were the minority in the crowd. They were like me. They were lost, hungry, young writers looking for the magic words from the old guard that would help them make sense of everything. She told us of the difficulties they all still go through, which I already understood, but those anecdotes lost much of their healing power months ago. She told us of the wondrous writer's life and faith that is so rich and full of love of the craft, which disheartened those of us that wonder if it's okay that sometimes, just sometimes, we don't feel like writing. Whether it's laziness, or self-hatred, or other priorities, or lack of inner strength to face the challenge in your head.
But then she described our lives, our early 20s, as being incredibly malleable. We are not yet "finite" as she says, and therefore, it is expectedly hard to do such writerly things as create a novel or establish a writing work day. Our world is changing, so we do not need to worry if we are not yet Pulitzer Prize winners. It was a comforting sentiment, but one that leaves the question lingering in your mind like scotch sloshing in a glass: What steps do I take to become this person?
I'm not good enough, not yet, to get published in any of the national journals. I'm still submitting to college based journals, since I think those have a little bit of lowered expectations, but I don't think I can submit to any of the big names yet like Zzyzva. My workshop is consistently my favorite class, and it really gives me perspective on where most of us young writers are. Yeah, there are pieces that are so good you feel inferior, but for everything else, it's nice to know that no one writes like Joyce Carol Oates yet.
So I'm going to be a writer and it's going to be a hard life. I'm going to work some menial normal job to support myself while I write whenever I have a free moment, and submit the decent to journals. With luck, I'm going to get an agent and then I'll be published, and I'll acknowledge all the inspiring teachers I've had on the very last page, and hopefully parlay that into a whole career of writing for movies, magazines, tv, comics and whatever else will have me. Hopefully.
But for every "set" game plan like that, there are more uncertainties. There are the people I surround myself with. There's almost a morbid quality to looking at who's going to be in your life when you leave college. There are people you know you won't talk to anymore, not because they're bad people, but just because you don't know them that well. Your bonds are porous, bendable, poseable. They stay intact by virtue of proximity. So you look around at all the great people you've been lucky to have in your life, and you know most of them are temporary. Most of them are there for the ride and will get off at the same station you do. And it doesn't bother me.
But there's also the issue of who I'm going to become in the future. As Oates said, our lives are not yet settled. We are wet cement and some ruffian could come by to poke his name into us. We are wet clay waiting for an embalming brush. Part of me has been the same person for the last 6 years or so. That's the inward part that talks to me everyday in my head. It's the same thoughtful, naive, needing, reclusive part that has made notes on my life for years. But there's so much of me that has changed just in the last three. Leaps and bounds and leaps again. It's the part of me that isn't afraid of meeting new people, that cares less about what people say and can't fathom the traps that I used to put myself in.
But then I wonder if it's enough. The moment of change in my life, that pivotal moment that opened the clouds and revealed a whole awful galaxy of living to me, came halfway into high school. I do mean moment in a very shocking literal sense -- mere seconds. It was a moment that I decided that I was so miserably tired of the stagnant hopelessness of it all, and that all these chains were self-imposed. It clicked almost instantly, and it was built on the mantra that I take the risks that had always cowed me before. That I be who I didn't think I was.
Everything changed, but is that enough today? There are still risks to take and lines to cross. There are still uncertainties in my head about what I can be and what I should be doing. So I can't take solace in my victories when there are still battles ahead, but they are so much harder because of how wonderfully rewarding being complacent has been. I am no longer fighting these battles out of reckless desperation, but out of pure willpower. Pure willpower out of the mere idea that I am not who I am going to become. The hardest thing is that victory here is vague. There is no validation, no pats on the back and no signs of progress. When you win you'll know it, but until then it will feel a lot like losing.
I'm voting for Obama's policies and promises, but on a purely aesthetic level, I've always been absorbed by the myth and back story that's been successfully marketed to us. I've always been a fan of stories about legacy and destiny, and Barack Obama's rise has been astounding. It must have blindsided him. It had to have felt great to realize that the country's highest office was actually within reach. That you, a community organizer could somehow advance through the ranks and attain not just the presidency, but a historic American moment. Who would have imagined a destiny so great for such a normal person? I mean, a community organizer. I know people like that. I've worked with them. To imagine that one of them could ascend, past the Washington insiders, past the family legacies and the predictions of pundits is mind bending. Did he think that he was on the path to such goddamn world-changing when he was just 20 years old, counting down his way out of college?
On some level, I want that feeling more than anything. I know that's exactly the kind of egotistical, overly-ambitious, fame-obsession that my generation gets flack for. Or maybe it's a real will to help people, or maybe I just want to make the old folks in the Philippines proud. I don't know yet. But all that I want for my future is some kind of destiny, something bigger than me and all the problems and uncertainties. I just want to have something in line for me that will help me change a landscape, a community, a consciousness, a nation, or a world. To aspire for something major and powerful. In my most reclusive nights, I want to be something so great that I can look back on all this doubt and sorrow and wonder why I ever thought it would turn out any differently.