This year has been running away from me. Soon it’ll be Christmas, and then my birthday, which usually means I evaluate my life and find it lacking. Even though I just did my third half marathon, I know that inevitably, I’ll feel like I should be richer, thinner, and more successful.
Scratch that. I already feel like that.
Last year at this time, I was holding on strongly to my 5-6 year streak of not working out (regularly). I didn’t have a real job with benefits or a 401k. I was living in a tiny studio apartment with another 7 months on the lease. I was driving 45 mins to an hour (one-way) to get to work, and I could barely hide my contempt for Jason as he struggled to get a job. Every single thing that made me unhappy seemed to have no end in sight.
Somehow, everything worked out. None of the above is currently true.
But I’m not content.
I don’t have unlimited money and vacation time to travel where I want, when I want. I don’t have a couch. [This truly makes me sad, mostly because I can't cuddle up to Jason when we're watching a scary movie. What kind of horrible life is that?] [I hope you understand that I jest.] [Well, not about the being sad about the not-having-a-couch part, but about the severity of the "problem."] [I've also discovered that we're unjustifiably picky in our furniture. A couch is a couch, n'est-ce pas?] I can’t buy unlimited Christmas presents, and pay for everyone to come visit us. I can’t just enroll in a graduate program. I can’t even pick a graduate program to eventually apply to, or decide what I want to do with my life.
When it comes down to it, I think I’m still recovering from years of over-inflated expectations and less-than-stellar performances. It’s easy to play revisionist and pretend that if I had done everything right in college, my life would be exponentially better now. In reality, I might have been making more money, but I might have gone to grad school and be paying off triple the student loans. If I had spent less time dicking around, I may have been a better student, but it’s unlikely that I would have left Madison without Jason, and I can’t pretend that talking him into moving with me would have been easy at any time earlier than 2011. If I had left Madison without Jason, I highly doubt we’d be married right now. [And he's (one of) the best thing(s) in my life.] And the list goes on and on… Inevitably, playing this game is like yanking on a loose thread: you can keep yanking and watch the whole thing unravel, or you predict where it will lead and cut that shit out.
I know and understand that I can’t change anything about the past. I don’t get to a Mulligan. I get that. I just (sometimes) fall into a habit of pretending that rehashing (all) my previous mistakes will somehow change where I ended up. And all the blogs and pins and motivational posters can’t compete with the voice in my head telling me that I’ve fucked it all up.
The tricky thing with this business is that I’m sure I’d feel better if I did things (apply for a new job, run a marathon, clean my apartment, write a book, write something), but doing anything substantial feels impossible. And the longer I go without doing anything productive, the worse the weight becomes, and the more it seems like I’ll never do anything great again.
[So. This certainly illuminates why college sucked so much. I felt like this 75% of the year-- it's really a wonder I got through college in the first place.]
The other day, I met some people Jason works with, and in the usual round of pleasantries, someone asked what I studied. When I said “English,” one individual asked snottily, “Oh, so are you fluent in it now?” [To which I retorted, "Actually, it's not my first language."]
Never in my life have I felt so small. At the time, I was more stunned that anyone would say something like that to someone they had just met, but in the days since, I’ve rehashed and reworked that conversation in my head numerous times. It hasn’t made me angry… instead, I just feel humiliated. I keep thinking, He’s right. That’s not a worthwhile degree.
At times, I’ve had a hard time justifying it to myself– I know that I majored in English because I love the language, but I wonder sometimes if I simply didn’t feel competent enough to do anything else. I sampled classes in a huge range of departments, and every time I tried something new, I faced an internal dialogue that emphasized that I had screwed up everything else, and that I would fail this, too.
Yet. When I revisit my decision to study English, I remember that many of the professors I had as an English major were the best professors found in that school. Period. I remember that I wanted to study English when I was in high school, but initially eschewed it because it wasn’t glamorous or specific enough. I remember that when I finally decided to major in English, I felt relieved, I felt at home.
And that’s hardly something I can convey in a 10 second discussion of what I studied in college… nor do I believe that the jerk who said that deserves an explanation. It’s enough for me to remember — I studied English because it was hard, and it was awesome, and I loved it.
I guess not all history needs rewriting.