This is my last post.
I know, I know, it’s days after my graduation, technically I probably shouldn’t even be posting right now, but I wanted a better sense of closure than I really provided in my last post. For the past two and a half years, this blog has been a big part of my life — I know that for you, dear readers, it probably hasn’t been more than a set of occasionally diverting words on a page, but you’re also not the ones who have spent two and a half years thinking, “Oh, I could blog about this!” And you know what, I like to think I’ve left my mark — mostly in the fact that some of my ridiculous tags show up in the “most used tags” thing on the sidebar over there.
Writing for you has been a blast, ducklings, even if most of the time I don’t actually know if anyone is even reading this. (If you have been, though, and you’d like to continue reading, feel free to keep up with my twitter, @alasallama. If I set up another blog, I’ll put it in my twitter bio.)
More than that, though, my four years at Wesleyan have meant a lot to me. But you know what, even that sounds like too much of an understatement. Certain songs mean a lot to me. Todd VanDerWerff’s reviews of season 3 of Community mean a lot to me. When friends of mine specifically seek me out to talk, it means a lot to me. Wesleyan, in contrast, has structured the past four years of my life. I have lived in Wesleyan, made friends with Wesleyan students, eaten at Wesleyan, taken classes at Wesleyan, worked at Wesleyan, been influenced by Wesleyan faculty and staff, watched plays that were funded by Wesleyan and performed in Wesleyan buildings, railed at Wesleyan policies, applied for internships through Wesleyan. For better or for worse, Wesleyan was my world, even when I was at home for break. And now, it is a place that used to be my world.
So what do I say to wrap up something like that? It’s been two days since graduation, and I’m not entirely sure I know. For a while, I thought about taking all the buildings on campus, and listing the best memories I have from each of them. Or maybe, I thought, I would take the question they asked the senior commencement speaker applicants to answer — “What has your Wesleyan experience meant to you?”, in a neat 200-250 word package — and write my own spin on it, like the commencement speech I could have given if I had bothered applying to be a commencement speaker in the first place.
And I started writing that, and then I started again, and then I started again, and then I gave up for a little while and went to sulk on the sofa and drink tea and try not to cough up most of my lungs, and then I deleted most of what I’d written and wrote other stuff about Wes being my world and my difficulty summing that up in prose form, which has gotten me this far.
[Under the cut: I try to figure out this whole “closure” thing. Also, pictures of fluffy animals.]
I spent a fair amount of this weekend feeling vaguely detached and more than vaguely grumpy about it. I wanted to feel miserable — not cry-in-public miserable, but miserable nonetheless — because I sort of hoped that at least then I would be able to get some sort of catharsis. Instead, nothing felt real; people offering me congratulations were just as incomprehensible as people starting to get sniffly about leaving. I hung out with my friends but couldn’t connect, which just irritated me even further, because intellectually I knew that I wouldn’t see them for a while and damn it, did I want that to be the way I left?
On the day of graduation, I slid into something of a regretful funk. All of the little things that I’ve mentioned here and there this year — things I never did, friends I never made, and my envy of other people who had done those things and made those friends. And I was leaving, and I’d never be able to make those decisions over again, and, and, and —
“You are all going to die,” Joss Whedon told us in his commencement speech.
Not just that, he went on, but our bodies want to die, on a cellular level. They want us to procreate and carry on the circle of life, no matter that most of us have other things that we’d really rather be getting on with, like making art or making cookies or living up to the grand and glorious ambitions we will only sometimes admit to having. And that just goes on. We’re never going to be able to unite every single part of ourselves; there’s always going to be a voice of dissent, a regret, a part of us going in the opposite direction. Our body is always going to be trying to die while our minds are trying to live.
“To accept duality is to earn identity, and identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just ‘who you are,’ it is a process that you must be active in,” Joss Whedon said. And, later, “If you think happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace.”
My mom and I had a conversation about his speech in the car on our way home on Monday. She felt ambivalent about it; I loved it. It was what I needed to hear, on Sunday. I will always have regrets, and part of me will always want to be a different person than I am, and I will never get anywhere by being a hermit because life happens in the interactions between people, and we change the world just by existing, because the world is in a constant state of change. It’s a great speech. You can find the transcript here, or a video here.
And somewhere between dinner with my immediate family and seeing my friends on Sunday night, the detachment ebbed away. My packing was done, my graduation was done, and I finally had the chance to remember that despite my regrets, I’ve somehow managed to keep around a few, important people who mean a lot to me. And yes, I will probably always want to be an extrovert, and I will always be envious of other people’s starfish ability to give away bits of themselves in full confidence that they will grow back — but I’m not, and so far I’ve managed to make things work anyway. I’ve been so happy, so much of the time. The idea of losing it wouldn’t make me so unhappy, otherwise.
And even if I’d joined this group or met these people, or somehow managed to force myself into being a different person, I’d still have regrets. It happens.
Hanging out with my friends on Sunday night reminded me of what I had wanted to say, originally, in the commencement speech I never wrote — namely, that my Wesleyan experience wasn’t really about Wesleyan at all, or at least not the permanent aspects. Some of it was, sure — classes, professors, my job and my boss, Second Stage shows, the scrambled eggs at Usdan brunch, Weshop’s lack of toffee chips, finals stress, the view from Foss Hill. But most of it was about the people I met, and how that changed me. And that list I wanted to make, of my favorite memories in each building, that was about people, too.
I’ve enjoyed Wesleyan, but in the end it’s mostly a collection of classes and professors, buildings and administrators and policies, start dates and end dates and chalking bans and traditions and architecture. In the TV show of our lives, it’s a setting. And like the best TV show settings, it has its own particular personality and quirks, but people don’t watch Parks and Recreation purely for the weirdnesses of Pawnee, IN. They watch it for the characters and their shenanigans.
I don’t want to write about some abstract concept of my “Wesleyan experience.” I want to write a love letter to my friends, who are smart and funny and put up with my abuse and mock the hell out of me in return. Like every single other aspect of the past four years, they’ve made me smile and made me want to scream, often at the same time, because contradictions are messy and far more common than we sometimes want to think they are.
There are a million other lives I could have lived and a million other choices I could have made, and like Joss Whedon says in his speech, some part of me is probably always going to be vicariously living them. And maybe that’s for the best, because regrets and internal dissent give us a sense of perspective. But in the end, I’m also happy that I’m here, with these friends, with these things that I’ve done — because I have done things, and gone places, no matter how useless my regrets make me feel.
I didn’t want to cry on Sunday night, but I did anyway, because someone I love dearly is a jerk and started crying and I completely lost it. It wasn’t as cathartic as I’d been hoping it would be, and now, at home, I still feel weird and unfinished. (Admittedly, that might partially be because I feel like my throat is trying to strangle me from the inside out. Housemate Katie definitely infected me with something.) I feel a bit like I’m trying to squeeze myself back into a coat that’s too small in the shoulders — it’s still the right length in the arms, and I remember when it was the most comfortable coat I owned and I never wanted to give it up, but it’s not a perfect fit anymore. My kitchen is organized the wrong way. My room is full of stuff I haven’t cared about in ages. My housemates aren’t within shouting distance.
And all that stuff? It sucks. It sucks a lot, and it hurts more than I imagined it would, and I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to keep in contact with my friends when I’m so horrible at communication. I keep hoping that I’ll properly cry about it at some point, and then I’ll slap myself in the face and clean the shit out of my room and carefully unpack all the things I haphazardly tossed in boxes. And maybe a little while later, I’ll look at this post and hum thoughtfully over some of it and laugh at my own melodrama during other parts, and I’ll move on.
For better or for worse, my college career is over. My friends are scattering all over the world, and we’ll never have what we had again because we’ll never all be living the Wes Life again. And you know what, part of me will probably feel a lot of nostalgia for that time when Wes was our shared world, and will compare everything happening now with everything that was and everything that could have been. And right now, I’m scared that I’ll lose touch with the people who mean a lot to me, and they’ll make newer and shinier and better friends, and everything I managed to grasp on to will fade away. And cellularly, I’ll always be dying. It happens.
But part of me won’t be dying. That happens, too. And it’s possible to be both parts, the dying part and the living part, at the same time.
So thanks, Wesleyan, for being the setting for four really good years. Thanks, Joss, for writing a speech that resonated with me far more than any sunshiny, “Go out there and change the world and surpass expectations!” speech ever could have. Thanks to all the people I met — friends, acquaintances, professors, coworkers, people I didn’t like and people I did — for shaping my so-called Wesleyan “experience,” which was really my Wesleyan life.
And thanks, ducklings, for listening to me not just for the past almost-2000 words, but over the past two years. It’s been fantastic. Have some pictures of adorable fluffy animals.