The Future Mr. Changeling

The Engineer and I are getting married!

Remember when I said our spring break was lovely?  That was a bit of an understatement.

At his insistence, I had gone up to visit the Engineer’s house on the peninsula, even though I could only stay for one day.  We went for a walk on the beach at Salt Creek, which was nothing unusual; since it’s one of our favorite places, sometimes we go there every single day of my visit.

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Once a group of college students left, we had the whole beach to ourselves.  It was a delightfully “west side” type of day, a little breezy and overcast but nothing like the freezing weather we’ve been having in our little college town.  We meandered down the beach and back again, chatting and pointing out pretty rocks or a bird on the water.

I didn’t notice at the time, but the Engineer was making sure to keep me on his right side and wouldn’t hug me too closely, because the ring was in his left coat pocket!  He wouldn’t even let me put my hands in his pockets to warm them, as I sometimes do; he just held my hand and kept choreographing our movements so I wouldn’t notice the box.

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The log I decided to Instagram right before he proposed

Finally, when I stopped to take an Instagram picture peer through the tunnel formed by a driftwood log, the Engineer followed me with something slightly more than his usual amused expression on his face.  He hugged me, fumbled in his pocket for a moment (“Don’t be ridiculous, it’s just his phone,” I told myself), then pulled away and got down on one knee (“That is not a phone.”).

Holding up the ring, he asked if I would marry him.

“Of course I will!” (Then I asked if he was serious, because it’s good to check, apparently.)

We walked back along the beach, both grinning, when a family of bald eagles flew overhead.  Two of them landed in the top of a nearby tree and started squawking to each other.  They stayed perched there for nearly an hour while we sat on Our Log (the log that we sit on every time we go there, where we first had a conversation about getting married years ago) and talked.  The solitude of the beach gave us a bit to process what had just happened and enjoy our shared excitement before we had to start telling people.

We still had another week of grad school visits ahead of us before going back to school, so we spent the next few days calling friends and family and swearing them to secrecy so we could tell certain people in person when we got back.  Those reactions were well worth the wait, most notably the Commodore, who was in town for her spring break as well, setting down her coffee in order to scream and jump up and down; my current roommate, who sent her parrot on a panicked circuit around the room when she leapt up to hug me; and our other friend C., who took a full ten minutes of small talk to notice the ring before stopping midsentence to stare, count my fingers to be sure that yes, it was the correct ring finger, and jumping up and down.  (A lot of jumping was involved here.)

I’m very excited for our newest adventure to start.  Can’t wait for September!

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He chose well!

Gallivanting Between Grad Schools

The Engineer and I are trying our hand at the travel side of adulting: namely, booking our own flights and transportation to all the grad schools he plans to visit before making the final decision about where he (and I) will live for the next five-ish years.  So for most of the month of March, we’ve been traipsing around the country.  For the week before spring break, we visited two schools in five days:

Purdue

At my boss’s urging, I scheduled a visit to the Purdue Writing Lab, from whence came the amazing resource that is the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) that we use for virtually every tutorial involving MLA, APA, or Chicago style citations.  Needless to say, I nerded out a bit.  Although I plan to find a job off-campus after this year, it was interesting to see how another writing lab operates.

The student union building is basically a castle.  There are stone arches and stained glass windows and double staircases and a hall where people nap on couches that look like they belong in a museum.

Also, we found the not-at-all-sketchily-labeled “Tunnel to Phys. Bldg.” on a door that looked like it should lead to a bomb shelter.  Sure enough, despite some pipes sticking out of the ceiling and a few random sets of stairs that led straight into walls, we found ourselves in the physics basement!

Though I spent most of the days in the hotel or at the Panera next door, the Engineer brought me along to the final dinner with a few professors from the physics department.  One of the profs asked each of us at the table about our area of study.  “Astrophysics.”  “Nuclear.”  “Creative writing…”  He was a tad confused.

The Ohio State University

The day after the Purdue visit ended, we rented a car and road tripped to Ohio (which was weird, since we’re used to much longer trips just to cross our single state, and also when did we get old enough to rent a car unsupervised?).  I was looking forward to this visit even more than the Purdue OWL tour, because I got to hang out with Bird!  The Engineer was whisked away on physics department activities, so I met up with my beloved sister for the evening.  She bought me chocolate covered coffee beans and we talked for hours, as we tend to do.

On our second day, after a slow start thanks to our travel-related exhaustion, Bird and I got breakfast while the Engineer saw the physics research building.  When we went back to her dorm, Bird was shivering and yawning, so I sent her to take a nap while I got some work done at her desk (leading 2 of her roommates to greet me with Bird’s name when they came in the door…for some reason people think we look alike).  Turns out she had a fever, so the Engineer and I told her to go straight to sleep and just got dinner ourselves.

The Engineer and I explored while Bird was in class the next day (she had slept for 16 hours and her fever was gone, so that was good), and then he flew home.  Bird wanted me to go with her to Bible study and a praise and worship thing at church that night, so I stayed an extra night.  It was great to meet everyone at her Newman Center – one of her friends actually ended up giving me a ride to the airport at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, having extended the offer after 5 minutes of conversation!  Sleeping on a dorm room floor for about 4 hours isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it was well worth it to spend time with my sister.


The next week was spring break, so I actually saw Bird a few days later after a brief return to our own college town.  The Engineer had gone to North Carolina right after Ohio to tour another school without me, so his spring break was a bit abbreviated.  Our vacation was lovely (more on that in another post), but at the end of the week we flew straight out for another round of visits:

Santa Barbara

We’ve agreed that the next time we go to Santa Barbara, we’ll just fly straight in to their airport rather than taking the cheaper-but-much-longer-and-more-headache-inducing route that involves LAX and a 2-hour shuttle ride.  California was pretty, but I was under the weather during our one full day there, so I didn’t get to do much exploring.  On most of these visits, the Engineer and I have sort of tag-teamed it: he goes on the academic, scheduled tours, and I try to get out and get a feel for the surrounding area, since I hope to live and work off-campus for the majority of the time he’s in grad school.  Then we compare notes on our general impressions.  Santa Barbara was fine, I guess, but I am not a warm-weather person.  (As Bird once put it, “We are of strong Norwegian stock.  We were built for 6-month winters and icy fjords.”)  Since the visit was only one day, it was most whirlwind of our visits.

And then we had another 2-hour shuttle ride to get back to LAX.

Boulder

After one full day at home (well, my home, the Engineer’s being 3 hours away), my dad dropped us off at the airport yet again for our final trip: University of Colorado, Boulder.  I got a tour guide of my own on this trip, too, since the Commodore lives in Colorado!  She was kind enough to shuttle us around, bringing us from the airport to our hotel and meeting up with me while the Engineer was busy even though she lives an hour away.

The Commodore and I being bookworms, we spent our first two days wandering around the downtown area of Pearl Street and perusing multiple bookstores.  I limited myself to only two books this time, despite the Commodore being a blatant enabler when it comes to spending money on literary pursuits.  (To be fair, I was equally encouraging of her desire to get yet another book about Tolkien.  But it was one she hadn’t read before!)  We also just hung out in our hotel room and talked, which I’ve missed doing with her since she moved.

Our departure from Boulder was weirdly scheduled, thanks to the Engineer realizing that he had to be back at school on Monday for an unavoidable commitment after we had already booked separate tickets.  My flight was Saturday night, so the Commodore came to pick me up and took me to see her new apartment, where I finally got to meet her guinea pig, before taking me to the airport.  The Engineer stayed in Boulder one more night before I picked him up Sunday morning and we both drove back to school.

The visits were definitely beneficial and will help us make our final decision, but for now both the Engineer and I are just excited to stop hopping time zones and stay in the same place for more than 3 nights in a row!

Peace Is Not What We Should Pray For

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”… Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

“For peace in our nation.”  I paused.  “We pray to the Lord.”

The congregation, slower in its responses here than in my home parish on the other side of the state, mumbled, “Lord, hear our prayer.”

It’s not my job to improvise the intercessions – lectors just read, we don’t write – but at that moment I wished I could add something to the single, well-meaning, inadequate line of that particular prayer.

Because peace alone is not good enough.

Peace is easy for people like me to find.  Peace is what we get because we are white, and heterosexual, and cisgender, and above the poverty line.  Our peace is not truly disturbed by the reports on TV of violence elsewhere, of fear elsewhere, of hate crimes elsewhere, because, if you noticed, it is always elsewhere, not next door.  And even if it is next door, we can draw the blinds.  We can change the channel.  We can shuffle to and from our cars and listen only to radio stations that agree with us and read only the same old books we have always read and we can do this because we are the ones who are represented in those places.  We have the option of shutting ourselves off from those different from us.  And when we cannot ignore what’s happening outside our comfort zones, we can at least use it to reinforce the mentality that allows us to shake our heads gently and think, “At least We are not Like Them.”

Peace is easy for people like me to find.

But it is a “negative peace which is the absence of tension.”  The things that might bring us true peace, a “positive peace which is the presence of justice,” are more complicated.  And it’s not a terribly peaceful process.

Probably the writer of that intercession was hoping for a deeper peace, not just peace of mind or the bliss we speak of that comes from ignorance, but the peace we are promised in the Gospels, the kind “that surpasses all understanding,” which is good because a lot of other things right now surpass understanding.  But we are creatures who need the process spelled out for us, the true meaning defined and articulated point by point.

So this is what I’m praying for.

For peace and protection of marginalized groups and minorities as they face growing violence and aggression on top of the daily struggle of navigating a culture in which they are not the group in power.

For peace and communication between opposing views, that they may allow themselves to be coaxed toward a middle ground in which they can recognize the humanity of the Other standing before them.

For peace and humility in our leaders, that they may recognize their responsibility to those they represent and to the world as a whole.

For peace and true justice as we continue to work toward equality and a more perfect fulfillment of the American vision.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Purpose

the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal
determination; resoluteness
As the Engineer waits to hear back from grad schools and I wait to hear what part of the country I’ll be living in come September, I itch to start a job search.  But not just any job search.  At the risk of sounding like An Entitled Millennial, I admit that I want a job that gives me a sense of purpose.  I wouldn’t mind working as a waitress, a barista, a data entry person – at least, not at first.  There are many necessary jobs that make our society run smoothly in the ways that we are used to, and I respect the people who fulfill those needs.
But it turns out that I am the kind of person who, if she is unsatisfied in her job, is unsatisfied in general.
I blame some of this on my brain’s deeply entrenched habits.  I’m already much better at exaggerating negative emotions, consequences, and difficulties than celebrating and remembering victories and little happy things.  And if I spend a week writing down good things for my Gratitude Jar and journaling every night and Naming and Recognizing My Emotions, I do notice that life is not quite as Blah as it seemed the week before.  So I do try to do that.
The problem continues, however, when I try to make my job relate too closely to my passion.  I have already figured out that I don’t want writing to be my career in a traditional sense, at least not now, so I thought working at the Writing Center would be a good way to earn money while sticking close to the field that already provides me with a sense of purpose.  So I spend several hours a day showing students how to better put words into sentences, and then I come home and I open my laptop and I open my own Work In Progress…and the last thing I want to do is put words into sentences.
I read an article in a magazine a while back about the concept of “reservoirs of energy.”  The gist was that everyone has three reservoirs: Mental, Emotional, and Physical.  A full day at work might deplete your Mental reservoir, so coming home and being asked to figure out what the heck is wrong with the refrigerator because it’s making that high-pitched noise again is only going to demand Mental energy from an empty reservoir, making you feel more exhausted.  The trick is recognizing activities that might drain one reservoir and not pushing yourself past your limit in using that type of energy; for instance, you might exercise after work because your Physical energy is still nearly full, giving your Mental and Emotional energy a chance to refill in time for dinner with your family.
I think working too closely with writing on a daily basis does something similar.  I think it depletes my Writing Energy (more probably just Mental energy, but humor me).  This, of course, wouldn’t be a problem if my job were only focused on my own writing projects, where I could finish the day tired but satisfied at a job well done.  But right now, I’m so focused on helping other people with their writing that I still feel dissatisfied with my day’s work because I so rarely manage to make progress on my own projects.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “A vocation is a terrible thing.”  He was talking about the call to one day join God in Heaven, to go through the difficult work of preparing for that kind of relationship, but I think the quote applies equally to those of us who know what we are meant to do on this earth but don’t know how, exactly, to go about it.
Writing, it has long been clear to me, is my God-given purpose.  It is “the reason for which [this person, Grace] exists.”  But while this gives me a long term goal, a desired result for my life (fantasy books, and maybe a historical fiction or two), and though I have been determined and resolute in this goal for years (despite every unoriginal snarky comment in the book), that leaves a bit of a gap in my daily life.  Because I’m still trying to figure out how, exactly, I’m supposed to find a job that gives me a Daily Sense of Purpose without sapping energy from my Big Picture Purpose.

NaNoWriMo Declaration

Today is the first day of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.

For the past few years, I have promised myself I will “win” NaNoWriMo by meeting the goal of finishing a 50,000+ word manuscript.  The idea is not to edit, not to get a book published, but simply to write down the whole damn thing and get that first draft to exist at all.  The new year is the time for revising and querying.  November is for writing furiously, frantically, every single day, in an effort to get that draft done.

But I haven’t won.  I’ve abandoned all my past stories after a few days.  This year, though, relatively soon after NerdCon: Stories and with my PNWA and feminism publishing connections behind me, not to mention a bunch of free time on my hands, I’m swearing to at least write something every day this November.  I might not finish my manuscript.  It would be nice if I could.  But I will put words on the page once a day for this whole month.

Or at least I’ll try!

Convention

a meeting or formal assembly, as of representatives or delegates, for discussion of and action on particular matters of common concern

a rule, method, or practice established by usage

“So L. told me you do creative writing?” my coworker said/asked.  I looked up from my lunch in the workplace kitchen, slightly startled.  This coworker had always scared me a little.  But I’m always happy to nerd out a little about creative writing.

“Yeah, I want to be an author of long-form fantasy novels.  And maybe some historical fiction.”

She nodded, “That’s awesome,” and suddenly I found myself answering a lot of questions.  What was my writing schedule?  What podcasts did I listen to?  Who were my workshoppers?  What was my plan for getting an agent?  What was my timeline for finishing my novel?  What conferences had I been to?

“Actually, I’m going to a conference next weekend,” I said, and described it.  She waved a hand dismissively.

“Too many academics there.  You want to network at WorldCon or something like that instead,” she said.  “That’s where L. and I met Professor T. and A. B. – you know who that is, right?”  I could only shake my head as she barreled onward, completely overwhelming me with instructions as to how to make writing my career.  By the time she was done, I felt utterly hopeless.  How on earth was I going to educate myself on all these aspects of the publishing world?  And how had I ever thought I could be a writer when I was so ignorant?  I needed to catch up!

Then last weekend I went to that conference I told my coworker about.  My coworker probably wouldn’t have thought much of it.  I didn’t get any business cards, and I didn’t pitch a book idea to any agents or editors.  I had lunch and sat through panels with friends I had made the year before.  I chose seminars based on where I am in the writing process (very, very early stages).  I asked questions about things that interested me.  I nerded out about Anne Boleyn with a historical fiction writer.  Perhaps it didn’t do anything to greatly benefit my fledgling career, but the conference definitely benefited me.

Since announcing my intention to stay in our Small College Town and work on my writing while the Engineer finishes his degree, I’ve received a lot of advice about how to network (a terrifyingly vague term that still makes me cringe) and “start a career” despite my remote location.  But that’s never been what writing is about for me.  Yes, I’d love to write a bestselling novel, because it would mean other people wanted to read the same kinds of stories I’m interested in writing.  Taking time to write every day is more about seeing what I can do than about building any type of career.  I want a network of fellow writers and readers more than I want to memorize a roster of Who’s Who in Writing.

I do understand and appreciate the intentions of the people who ask me about my networking plans.  In many industries, connections are vital, and the earlier you make them, the better.  I realize it must seem like I’m approaching things a bit sideways.  This isn’t how convention says progress is made.  But I’m starting to value progress in my own head over progress on a society-based timeline.  At that conference, for example, one panelist said that his own shift in perspective came when he started calling himself a writer, even though he still had another full time job.  “Writer” was who he was, not just what he did.  That makes sense to me.  That is a step that feels concrete and real to me, even if my coworker might give me a pitying smile and say that until I can put it on my resume, I’m not really a writer.

I know that I am.  And that knowledge will give me the energy to keep working so the world can know it too.

So today I bought my ticket for NerdCon: Stories in October.  I’m going to meet up with the Commodore and talk about stories – written, filmed, recorded, sung, pantomimed, or any other kind of story – for a weekend.  And I’m extremely excited.  Maybe I’ll meet a future employer.  Maybe I’ll just have a really good time.  But I’m okay with either outcome as long as I can come home and write about it.

Adulting: Why Not Celebrate Small Victories?

Two friends of mine are getting married next weekend.  Though I’m not in the wedding, they asked me to lector, so I’m driving 3 hours to the rehearsal dinner the day prior to the actual ceremony.  Since I didn’t want to drive another 6 hours round-trip between the rehearsal and the actual wedding, I booked a hotel room.  As soon as I received the confirmation email, I took to Facebook:

Just made my own hotel reservation for the wedding of two friends.  Am I adulting?

Normally I cringe at words like “adulting.”  Innocent nouns should not be pressed into service as verbs unless absolutely necessary.  But the verb form of “adult” is one I will allow for the simple reason that it is the most expressive word for the situation at hand.  “To adult,” according to Urban Dictionary, means “to do grown up things and hold responsibilities such as a 9-5 job, a mortgage/rent, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grown ups.”  Frequently appearing as a hashtag on social media, it can be used ironically (“Goldfish crackers and prosecco count as dinner, right? #adulting”) or seriously (“Checkbook balanced, apartment cleaned, laundry done, and dinner in the oven. I’m adulting well today!”).

The term has come under fire for its celebration of everyday chores.  Some who are already proficient at adulting (or like to pretend they are) say that everyone has to do these things.  You’re not special for cooking a real meal or running a vacuum.  A recent Cosmopolitan article argued that emphasizing the basics of grown-up life undermines real accomplishments like career growth, adding that this probably stems from Millennials’ “extended adolescence” because “growing up may feel optional” nowadays.

While many young people do benefit from still living at home and the perks of having their parents do most of the grocery shopping, this actually makes adulthood more scary, not less.

I was fortunate enough to have parents who insisted I learn to cook some basic meals and keep a bathroom sanitary before I went off to college.  They gave me a larger allowance in high school with the understanding that I would use it to purchase my own clothing, coffee, etc. so I could learn to manage income and savings on a small scale.  Though I’m sure I rolled my eyes at these lessons (sorry, Mom and Dad), I’m grateful for them now.  But no parent can teach their kids everything, at least not specifically (“Today I’m going to show you how to call the insurance company for a quote and where to find your policy number on that stupid little card”).

Many of us also grew up hearing that we could do anything, be anything we wanted, follow our dreams, etc.  And those are wonderful things to hear when you’re a kid.  They are also very broad, sweeping encouragements, with little to say concerning the nitty gritty of how to support yourself while chasing those be-anything dreams.  Again, I was lucky; both my parents were happy to help me pursue my love of writing, and at the same time they made sure I would be qualified and capable of holding a day job until that passion could become a sustainable career.

But guess what?  Adulthood is still really freaking scary.  Yes, the big career moves are nerve-wracking, but it’s also the little things that no one tells you about, like having to put towels down when it’s too late in the evening to call maintenance.  Even when you have a potential safety net at home, couldn’t you feel a certain amount of pride when you stop being complacent with letting your parents do everything?  If I lived at home, I would be proud when I made dinner for the family.  And now that I don’t live at home, I still like to send my mom pictures of the flowers I potted or the art I finally hung up on the walls.  These are small accomplishments, yes, but they’re still symbols of independence I am still learning to claim.

Perhaps this is nothing new.  Perhaps every generation up to this point has felt the same way as they’re thrown into the deep end of Grown Up Life.  But we have social media now, and ways to connect internationally with other people who are experiencing the same thing.  The only difference between us and the young adults of the past is that we can be much more public with our anxiety, and we can cheer each other on through the victories, big and small.

So I will keep on adulting, thank you very much.

 

Sifting Through

Tidy as I have always believed myself to be, sorting through my belongings at my parents’ houses as I prepare to move to my Small College Town full-time has resembled an archaeological dig.  Each layer of stuff reveals a piece of someone I used to be.

There are the comics, only four panels long, because I didn’t realize how much longer drawing took than writing and it turns out I can’t really draw anyway and the jokes really weren’t that funny.  Bird laughs at one Cast of Characters list, where I have drawn passable cats and labeled them with their names: Ringo, Fluffy, Sophistikitty…and Tracey.  Which she thinks is hilarious.

There is the blue dolphin lamp on its springy stand.  It probably came from Limited Too, where all the cool kids shopped among the clashing neon colors and dyed fake fur.  In middle school, dolphins were cool.  I remember the texture of its almost sparkly, rubber skin under my fingers and I can picture the room I wished I could build around this one piece of décor, one that would have bead curtains and one of those bowl chairs.  It would have been the epitome of coolness.

There are the meticulously labeled sketches and stories in fits and starts that never got fleshed out because I lost them until this moment.  One is about elk with bizarre sounding names.  According to the date, I was 11 years old when I wrote this double-spaced paragraph.  My keysmash phase for coming up with names, where my strategy was to pick something cool-sounding out of gibberish.

There is the pass to the front section of the football game where the Engineer saved me a seat freshman year, before we were dating.  I forgot I had saved it, but I remember now, how I tucked it away before he ever asked me out, just to savor the giddy feeling of having a cute guy sit next to me at a football game.  (Bird says I have to keep this forever and starts making a pile of Engineer-related memorabilia.)

There is an absurd amount of fuzzy slipper-socks stuffed in a drawer, ones I’m not certain I ever wore.  I set these aside to keep my feet warm in the Small College Town winters, which are unforgiving on that side of the state.  And there are the t-shirts from my Jesuit high school homecomings and special events.  Bird holds up the one from our Candyland-themed dance, the one with “Welcome to the Candyshop” across the chest.  “I still can’t believe they let you guys make this,” she says.

There are the letters I wrote, filled with too much angst to fit in my normal journal, speckled with capital letters and places where I wrote so heavily the pen made holes in the paper.  Skimming some of these, I want to go back in time and give my past self a hug.  She had no idea how things were going to turn out.

I don’t keep all of it.  I remember, looking through all of it, how big everything felt.  Yet, “You don’t necessarily need to feel those emotions again,” Bird points out.  I won’t try to gloss over the unpleasant stages of becoming who I am now – but I won’t get bogged down in them either.

I’ve quoted William Morris before: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  At this point, as I start to build my own life beyond school, I get to choose to keep only the things that are useful in reminding me how far I’ve come, and beautiful in showing me that some part of myself has always been good.

Gonfalonier

When Saturday dawned, though I’d slept poorly from nerves, I was honestly more anxious and emotional about my friends’ graduations than my own.  I was proud of them, and excited for them, and a little bit sad, but my own arrival at this academic pinnacle didn’t quite seem real.  I got up early to see the Southern Belle and the Commodore (who carried the gonfalon!) at the 8 a.m. ceremony.  I teared up several times, and I clapped and cheered wildly when my two best friends walked across the stage to receive their diploma covers, and I took many blurry, zoomed-in pictures from my faraway seat because I was determined to capture the moment.

I met up with the Engineer and his family, who were in town for his brother’s graduation (having earned a master’s degree) at the next ceremony.  I walked back to my apartment in the sun, meeting soon-to-be graduates in their regalia going the other way, and I still couldn’t quite think, “Me too.  I’m graduating.”

For most of the day, Bird and I read quietly at my apartment, with brief flurries of activity when the Commodore’s and my own family descended for visits and hellos between events.  Rather than wrapping my head around my own reality, I escaped into the adventures of The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden (highly recommended, by the way).

Then it was time to start getting ready.  Rented gown, a stolen stole (borrowed from the Commodore, signifying that I had studied abroad; I didn’t get my own because I never bothered to get my Fancy Summer Institute in Nottingham credits transferred to my own university), honors cords for my major, honors cords for a national honors society, a medallion from the Honors college, and the rented yoke.  Cap pinned in place (I had finally decided on a C.S. Lewis quote the day before – appropriately, the Commodore’s hat featured a J.R.R. Tolkien quote…in Elvish).  Tassel draped to the right.

Dad drove us to the coliseum and dropped us off, where I headed in through the behind-the-scenes passageway because I was carrying the Honors gonfalon.  What exactly is a gonfalon, you may ask?  Basically, it’s a banner.  A flag.  The standard behind which I will amass my armies as we ride forth into battle.  By virtue of my carrying this 10-foot-tall piece of fabric on a stick, my family was seated in the VIP section.  Bird, Mom, and my cousin all took pictures when they spotted me standing in the back.  I looked around the coliseum, all decked out in university colors, and took pictures with the deans in their regalia as my co-gonfalonier and I stood next to our banners.

When the band played “Pomp and Circumstance,” the Engineer caught my eye and made a swimming turtle with his hands.  “My turtle swims sideways, your turtle swims upside down…” were the lyrics he and his brothers sang to the graduation march.  Naturally it was stuck in my head all day.

Once all the other graduates had filed in, we hoisted the gonfalons overhead and strode down the center aisle.  I had expected, seeing as it was the whole College of Arts and Sciences graduating, that I would barely know anyone in the graduating class.  Instead, my friends and coworkers shouted out to me as I walked by with the gonfalon.  They made me smile, a realer smile than the one I had directed at the cameras lining the aisle.

The ceremony proceeded apace, with speakers and applause and occasional technical difficulties.  We gonfaloniers stood to be recognized and tried not to smile too awkwardly while the cameras stayed on us.  Eventually, an usher pulled us out of the front row to join our respective groups, and I squeezed in between two of my friends from English.

Had my picture taken with the prop diploma cover.  Handed my name card to the announcer.  Smiled into the camera as he said my (thankfully phonetically simple) name.  Walked forward.  Shook with my right hand, took the diploma cover with the left.  Walked across to the center.  Shook hands with the university president, who wished me luck.  Slipped out of the receiving line to return to my front row seat.  Smiled and posed for the Commodore, who had gotten a great seat and was snapping pictures.

When I got back to my seat, I held the diploma cover in my lap.  Never mind that it was empty, that I will get the real thing in the mail a few weeks from now.  All of a sudden it hit me.  College was over.  I did the Thing, the Accomplishment toward which roughly three quarters of my life had been aimed.  It was finished.  All done.DSC_6072

When I took this picture, I stepped up onto a cement barrier (in heels, no less).  Looking out over the campus, I had no visual cues to reassure me.  It seemed as though I were at the immediate edge of a cliff, even though the drop to the flowerbed below was no more than a foot and a half.  Logically, I knew I was safe.  Irrationally, I felt like I was about to fall.

But for a moment, buried in the jolt of fear, it was exhilarating.

This feeling returned as I looked down at the crimson rectangle in my hands.  But I couldn’t cry, not really, not in the front row, not as several hundred others made their way across the stage.  So I smiled, blinked away the welling emotions, and looked around for the friends I knew would be coming up in line.

Stood back up.  Moved the tassel.  Cheered as the confetti rained down.  Slipped a few pieces into the diploma cover, hoping my bittersweet tears wouldn’t dissolve it later.

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23 Days

Senioritis has hit many of us hard.  It’s difficult to continue caring about homework and exams when you’re steeling yourself for a Major Life Change.

The Southern Belle is leaving, heading back across the country for grad school.

The Commodore is leaving too, for Colorado and her own advanced degree.

The Engineer and I are staying here, in our little college town, until he graduates (yay, switching majors and having to go back and take a bunch of prerequisites), but this is only a year-long reprieve until we also leave, and a year suddenly seems very short.

Graduation is supposed to be the end, the part where nostalgic music plays as the credits roll and you are led to believe that everyone lives happily ever after, immediately and effortlessly finding themselves in the job they were always meant to do, meeting the right guy/girl.  That’s how it’s marketed to us.  College wants us to go out there and make it look good, so we’re supposed to focus on all the Magical Opportunities that await us as we start the Rest of Our Lives.

Except this isn’t necessarily the Rest of Our Lives.  It’s just another stage.

The Southern Belle and I were talking about this, about moving and making decisions and planning ahead while knowing that any number of things could change those plans.  She said it’s going to take courage.  She said doesn’t know if she has that courage.

“I don’t think you have courage going into something,” I said.  “I don’t think anyone honestly looks at the Big Scary Thing in front of them and consciously decides to flip some switch and just have courage.  I think courage is finding yourself in the middle of it and going, ‘Well, fuck.’  And you just plow ahead anyway.”

We have 23 days left until graduation.

Well, f…