Little Square Boxes
There’s something wildly intimidating about the unknown, yet, we’re so drawn to it. In a nutshell, that has been the past 3 years of my life. Internally, the unknown is like defying gravity, that’s how I’d explain the rush, but to the naked eye, it’s much less impressive. In case you haven’t caught the drift, I’m talking about risk. Everything we do is risky, really. When we put things into a box, something today’s society loves to do (i.e. categorize, structure, format, outline), anything that doesn't fit seems drastic. For me, that was college.. College just didn’t fit in my box. College wasn’t the only thing that didn’t fit into this preapproved, invisible, structured format of life that was given to me, given to all of us, upon arriving into this world. Sometimes it felt like I didnt even fit in my box, the box that was created for me, meant to take care of me, educate me, and deliver me to the doorstep of success like an amazon prime package. Turns out, I’m not something that can be fit in a box, aside from being 140 pounds and having the shape of a human body (which, to be fair, is a pretty square body), I shouldn't have to fit in a box, none of us should.
I have distinct memories of being in 7th grade, when the guidance counselors introduced us to “career pathways,” which were meant to aid us in scheduling our classes for high school. I was 10 years old, but wise enough to know that I didn’t know anything; I hadn’t seen much of anything outside the walls of my house and the cement brick walls that made up the school I spent the majority of my time, so how should I have any clue which career path would satisfy my raging creative mind for the rest of this life I had barely even begun? It confused me and, quite honestly, isolated me from the kids around me, who so confidently clung to titles of “doctor,” “lawyer,” “nurse,” careers I knew such little about despite having relatives and even parents in these fields. I knew enough to know that I didn't know enough; I only knew that I wanted to see more, experience more, and live more, before I had to settle on a career I was too young and naive to understand. Maybe some of that childish rebellion is what led me to cling on to the title “actor/actress” for so many years, because no one could make that fit into a box.
My mother introduced me to acting. What started as a 4th grade summer camp, ended with a “career path.” I began participating in my high school's drama club, working on the sets, preforming alongside other equally confused artists who weren’t ready to settle for a cookie cutter outline of the rest of our lives. Obviously, as senior year approached, I realized that more of the people on stage next to me had come to terms with their reality and enrolled in colleges with majors that seemed more realistic, majors that guarantee stability and structure, which makes sense, but to me, I was still confused. Eventually caving, I too enrolled in a state college (University of Kentucky) as a theatre major, convincing myself that my confusion was related to the people I was around, the town that I was in, and the school that I attended.
The fall of 2016, I moved away from that small town, the people I had known for the last decade of my life, and the safety and comfort of all things familiar; But, this wasn’t the fix. I folded myself and my dreams neatly into a little square box and moved 350 miles away just to unpack that little box in a new place, without disposing of it.
My stepdad once asked me if I enjoyed being stressed, I laughed assuming he was joking but the laughs subsided as I realized he was serious. We all know people who are always stressed, but I’d never considered that they might prefer it. I am not one of those people, but I am someone who prefers to be overwhelmed than underwhelmed, because as long as you’re busy, you don’t have time to think about those real, raw, dark lingering questions you’ve been suppressing. Am I happy? When the chaos of college, classes, midterms, football games, and sleep subsided, I asked myself that question. Am I happy? I’m healthy, I’m attending a great school, I have exceptional grades, I’m making friends, how could I be unhappy? I didn’t want to admit it to myself, as if it would mean I had failed at the one thing everyone seems to share equal adoration for, the glory years, college.
I think I have a tell, when I’m unhappy. I start to count down the days, instead of living them. I'm not talking about “Ugh, I hate Mondays,” I mean I would stare at clocks during class and count with every second the arm ticked. I would count down every day til the weekend, not because I could sleep in on Saturdays but because I didn't have to do anything this societal box requested of me, no class, no structure, no plan. I would count down the months until I’d see my family, which no longer seemed to present as healthy homesickness, it became the only thing allowing me to survive the day. I broke. I was unhappy.
Let me tell you, every parent has a list of phone calls they never want to get. After you pass “call from the police department at 3am” and “gynecologists voicemail regarding your recent exam,” there lies the very call I made to my mother and father.. The call that starts with a big knot in your throat and tears on deck ready for their cue. “Mom, I’m dropping out of college.” Five words that shouldn’t be so heavy, but are the very weight tied to your ankle at the bottom of the ocean, the most freeing words that have come from my mouth. Instead of the cinematically cliche response “what the h*ll are you talking about?! You’re not dropping out, are you crazy?” my mother very calmly responded, “ok baby, I’m with you. What’s our plan?” Step one of the plan was “ tell dad,” and shockingly that went just as well. (For that, I am eternally grateful, thank you mum and dad)
Spring 2017, I folded myself and my dreams a little less neatly, a little more freely, into a more worn box, that had been stretched, torn and taped back together again, and I moved to Cincinnati, OH. Cincinnati was still 350 miles from home and 100 miles away from my new “familiar,” in Lexington, Kentucky; This time, I was less afraid, more curious, and far closer to myself than I had ever been. You never spend more time with yourself than when you move to a new city, alone. (A piece of advice to those of you considering it.. Do it, and listen to every little thing your soul is trying to tell you) Cincinnati was limbo to me; it wasn’t my forever place, but it was the place between. I had learned my lesson about counting down time, because when you live like that, the time you’re wishing away really does pass. When I moved to Cincinnati I promised myself, knowing that I was in limbo, that I wouldn't wish away prescious minutes, I would accept the lessons it would teach, greet the people it would introduce me to, and live out the experiences it would give me. Cincinnati - limbo - this was where I found myself. Am I happy?
I didn’t even have to ask.
Summer 2018, I threw away that little square box, and my dreams rode shotgun 700 miles away from all things familiar.
“Welcome to Atlanta”
(Disclaimer: I am not urging anyone to drop out of college, nor am I suggesting that if you attend and/or enjoy college, you are doing anything wrong! We all require different things to satisfy our needs. For many, the answers won’t be found in a 4 year degree but for equally as many, those answers won’t be found by packing up your bags and moving to Cincinnati (but hey, for me, it was worth the shot). This is a personal journal entry that is a reflection of my own independent experiences and opinions. So you get that degree boi. Cheers! *natilight cans clinking together*)