“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
It is much more difficult, and far more painful, to rewrite than it is to simply have a good first draft. I do, I think, mean this even more about real life than in writing. You see, it hurts terribly to take a crumpled page of your life, full of all that time and effort, blood and sweat, and throw it forcefully and violently in the trash can. Sometimes letting it go, with all its carefully chosen adjectives and dreadfully idealistic plot, feels like throwing away a page of yourself.
You can say all the awe-inspiring things you want about, “getting knocked down, but not out” or talk to me about “the beauty of picking yourself up off the mat”—but at some point, when your face has mat burn, and your body is exhausted, and your wrestling uniform is giving you the world’s worst wedgie… you would just like to stop being knocked down.
Well, just picture me in a black one-piece leotard, because I feel like I`ve been pinned so many times this semester that I don`t even know which way is up. I`ve reached the point where I can pretty much count on life going exactly contrary to how I expect it to go. Like last week for instance, about 5 days after I sat in my English professors office and told her I wanted to grow up and be a writer, she handed back my essays… and there it was, flashing like a neon sign of incompetence, in blood red pen:
Yes ladies and gentlemen, my first C. C as in, “Can I still transfer to Community College” or: “Can I Curl in a Corner and Cry?”. But, all melodrama aside, I sat there for a moment; stung. The piercing red ink swimming before my eyes—wondering what it was I was doing there—sitting in that chair, pursuing something I seemed to be terrible at, loving friends who didn’t seem to like me, pouring my life into a school where I didn’t seem to fit. But, then it occurred to me, what it is God has been teaching me these last 6 months: which is what it means to fail, and to fail valiantly.
And he poked and prodded at my injured pride, until I knew just what it was I had to do… I had to go, with my apparently illiterate tail between my legs, back to my professor’s office, and let her know I wasn’t done just yet. And, ask her to rewrite the papers. Ask her to begin again.
I’ve never been good at being raw and vulnerable, or well, being bad at something. It’s hard to not let those failures define who I see myself to be— who that makes me. I’ve never been good at giving myself room to grow, or been very patient when I fail to be the person I dream of becoming: the person I wish I already was. But I’m learning, albeit slowly, to be okay with what Anne Lamont calls “shitty first drafts” and in my case, shitty second drafts, and third drafts. I’m learning the courage it takes to not let my failure, rejection, or inadequacy define me, and instead, to pull out a blank sheet of paper, and begin to rewrite. To start again, believing that, perhaps, perhaps there might be more possibility for integrity and character growth in failing then there is in winning.
Yes, it is much more difficult, and far more painful, to rewrite than it is to simply have a good first draft. But a good first draft, it seems to me, never ends up as well as a really, really, reworked 1987246th draft, as rough as it might have begun.
2:30am and that faint chime reminds me that Korea does in fact exist. “I had an epiphany today” my best friend tells me. And her words weave together a raft of branches and banana leaves and we meet somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Far from anywhere that either of us has ever been yet as always, in the exact same place. “I want to write” she starts. I am not surprised to hear my own voice exit from her mouth. It is not the first time. 6,885 miles and a sunrise apart and she still dreams my dreams, and I still learn her lessons.
I’ve been acutely aware of time difference for as long as I can remember. I’ve always known that the hour in which my clock turns is nothing more than a product of the latitude I inhabit— the time zone in which I am currently present. Even more than that, I’ve always been aware of the many faces that lay down to sleep as the sun creeps in my window; of the skies that the sinking sun races off to bring morning to. In our world of skype and social networking and fibrotic cable, sometimes hours are the only indication of how far someone truly is.
For the last two years I’ve felt the perpetual foreigner. Forever the alien, though no longer just in the colour in my pale skin, but instead, in that brief instance of silence between a punch line and the realization that everyone else at the table is laughing. Whole worlds lay accessible at my fingertips, eager to take form, to be painted; described. But I inhabit a world of foreign vocabulary, of the Jersey Shore and BBMs and 401ks, and I am proven mute.
But this year it has all begun to change, as my friends leave their world behind and explore a wealth of experiences formerly unbeknown to them—the life of aeroplanes and entry visas, and nights spent on trains—they begin more and more, to speak with the worlds I remember from a former life. Vocabulary I learned so many years ago: culture, jet lag, shock. Different, alone, invisible… lonely. The use the words “I understand what you meant now”. But with this expanded vocabulary comes the accompanying repertoire of questions.
Like what it means to belong, and how after almost three years here at Colgate, I still don’t feel like I do. Like how perhaps there is more to home than stamps on your passport, or golden stars on a map. And the question of much miles really mean, when tonight I came crying to my best friend in the world, who is 6,885 miles away, and she still made it better.
Robert Southey said “No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth”, and the more I think about it, the more I think he might be right. Maybe, home isn’t a place at all, maybe the miles don’t matter that much.
I have to write an essay that I don’t know how to write. A pretty standard issue for the common college student, I know. But the problem is, this essay isn’t about literature or foreign policy, and it doesn`t even have to be written in Spanish or French. No, in all respects this essay should be a breeze. In fact, it isn’t even for school— It’s for my Geneva visa application. Within the next 24 hours I need to write a short essay on what it is I want to do with my life after I graduate. In all honestly, I think I would rather be writing a 50 page Spanish paper on microbiology than writing this, and, it would probably end up being more accurate.
I had a mid-major crisis a few weeks ago while I was sitting in the middle of my Living Writers class. I’ve seen a lot of famous people come speak during my time here at Colgate; I’ve heard from leading political scientists and politicians, economists, world leaders, and leaders of some of the best non-profits of our time. I’ve soaked up every opportunity, attended almost every lecture. Waiting, I realize now, to look at them and to see me: get a glimpse into the future, to say to myself “I could do that”, to believe that I was in the right place—that I was going in the right direction.
I never expected that to come from the English department. But sure enough, there I was, sitting in class listening to a middle-aged African American, a 60 year old female short story author, and an Asian playwright. When I suddenly came to the realization, that believe it or not, they all looked like me. It happened each time. They had nothing in common really, with what they wrote about, or how they wrote. But they all got the same glazed expression when someone finally asked the inevitable question—why they wrote. They might have answered in a million different ways, but when it came down to it, they all said the same thing. They write it seems, according to Deborah Eisenberg, that she began to write because she had a terrible itch that only writing could scratch, and because, Colson Whitehead said, writing is the only way he feels whole.
And there it was, this dialectic mirror through which I suddenly saw myself, heard my ownvoice speaking from their mouth; saw for a brief moment a place in myself I had never quite named, that was suddenly sitting right before me. And for the first time in my 3 years here at Colgate, it seemed to make sense. How nights like tonight I leave the windows of my homework minimized, and instead write words that will never be graded, and will most likely never be read, except for maybe by my Mom. Suddenly I wasn’t the only one who felt like I had words that would sometimes tap on the inside of my brain until I let them out—until I put them down on paper.
And so now here I am, 3 years into my IR major sitting in my English professors’ office talking about MFAs and grad schools and creative writing minors; about workshops and conferences and well…. about writing. And it all seems crazy, crazy that is until I read an essay by Andrea Barret, until she says “in the end we write out of our deepest selves, the live, breathing, bleeding place where the pictures form, and where it all begins”, and something within me, some breathing, bleeding place, sees itself.
So dear Genevan consulate. I don’t know quite what to write in this essay because I don’t quite know want to do, or who I want to be. But I’m working on figuring it out. I would still love desperately to come to your country, to roam your streets and soak up every single experience that those 6 months have to offer me.And I promise, I won’t remain in your country, work illegally, and steal your socialist health care… if that’s what you’re really asking. I may however, write a few too many blog posts along the way. But that’s okay; I think I may be a writer.
Trust me. I know what you’re thinking. I can see the incessant eye rolling and hear the plaintive ‘Already?’s as I write. And believe me, as I sit in my apartment on a rainy day in Hamilton New York, with my ducky slippers on and my cup of tea in hand, Geneva feels a million miles away. Well, 3861 miles if we’re being exact. So why in the world, one might ask, am I beginning this blog now? Perhaps, most realistically, it is yet another way to avoid doing the Spanish homework that lies untouched beside me, or to continue to hide from the rain that is so indicative of this unfortunate Hamilton climate. It may also have a lot to do with the fact that so many of my friends are off all over the world having fantastic adventures and my most recent excursion was a late night trip to the price chopper to buy groceries.
But quite possibly, it is mostly to begin to get myself used to the idea that a brief 18 days after I finish this semester I will be boarding a plane to France. And, considering that my French 101 class has so far only taught me to successfully introduce myself and order a glass of wine, this fact seems a tad unreal. (Though, now that I think about it, perhaps that’s all I really need to have a good time in Europe anyway).
When I first arrived back this semester I honestly wondered if I would be ready to go when the time came. I’ve done my fair share of relocating and know that it is not always without its own set of cons. A fact made all too clear to me this morning at 8am while I walked to the hospital in the rain to get my blood tested for a parasite I seem to have acquired somewhere during my last year of tropical adventures. Nevertheless, a few weeks ago, when I walked into my apartment after a long day in case, and found my apartment mates singing Mulan and Jesse in my apron baking 8 dozen chocolate chip cookies to avoid econometrics, I felt that leaving this all behind as I had just found it would be utterly impossible. But, as the days wear on, the school work increases, and the weather grows ever more miserable; the itch has begun again. I have been bred, by both nature and nurture, to be a relentless wanderer—unable to stay in the same place for more than a few months without growing restless for change and for adventure (perhaps this is why I dye my hair so often).
And thus, we have reached the real reason I have begun this blog now, months before itineraries are printed, bags are packed, and goodbyes are said. Because I must learn to live where I am now, and not where I am going to be. To enjoy the wealth of opportunities that Colgate offers me this moment (which, in about an hour, is class and dinner with a Pulitzer Prize nominated author, nbd). Because “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and, C’est la Vie, Aujourd’hui.