Monday, May 26, 2008


On this day, in 1991, I graduated from college. May 26, 1991. Literally a lifetime ago.

I had absolutely no idea what awaited me, out there in the "real world." I had no idea how things worked. No idea, really, how my life would evolve -- friends, relationships, romantic partners, parents, siblings, work, marriage, having children. In the end (meaning today, 17 years later), I did wind up with good friends (several of whom I met in college), a wonderful marriage, work I care about. But the path is one I never, ever, ever would have anticipated. Never.

Was I even capable of looking forward then? Could I ever realistically plan out my life? Can anyone? I remember exchanging greetings cards with JK, saying "42 days till the real world! No more homework! Free nights and weekend!" Who was that child?

If I could go back and talk to her, I don't even know what I would say. Maybe something to the effect of "you are stronger than you think you are. you are more capable than you think you are. go do something that scares you." But the thing is, I was doing things that scared me -- I was scared of everything. I don't know.

In high school and college, I never understood why graduation ceremonies were called Commencement. Didn't "to commence" mean "to begin"? This ceremony marked the end of something, didn't it? Over the years, I have come to understand how much that ceremony really did mark the beginning of the "real world" for me, the real world lived as a bird leaves the nest. I was still a child, both chronologically (not quite 21) and emotionally/psychologically.

But I went out into the world and I started to grow up. Again.

Right around the time I met C, I had just had a "growth spurt" of sorts, emotionally. I had begun to really find myself, writing, making friends, exploring the world. That summer, for my birthday, my brother gave me a collection of poetry by Charles Buk.owski. One of the first poems in the book struck me; I have a copy of it hanging in my cubicle (the one I never use) at school. I used to think of it when I was pregnant, the last few lines in particular would roll around in my head. Both for me, and for my sons.

The Laughing Heart

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

-- Charles Bukowski

I feel like I've had another commencement. A new life, developing a new me. Who am I now? Who will I become. What will this next part of my life look like. I just don't know yet.

What would you tell your 18 or 21 year old self, if you could go back to his or her "commencement"? Would you have listened?


Julia said...

I got married two weeks after college graduation. There is only one mistake I made since then I feel I could've avoided or might have listened to advice about. But at that point it was still over 3 years away, and I am not sure how I could've phrased the warning for that far in advance to be specific enough. The rest? I don't think it would be good to know. I don't think knowing about the shit coming down the pipeline would've made it better, or even more bearable, or made my reaction to it any better. Except maybe for one thing. If I could tell myself to seek treatment for the depression that would hit after the death of my grandfather without putting it off... but I don't know how to have done that either.

It's a striking poem. Thank you.

Antigone said...

Too many things.

Ya Chun said...

It is a new chapter in our lives. MAybe not a chapter we wanted in our book, but it's there.
I would tell my old young self to slow down. I was always in a hurry to get to the next stage (which had never included kids, btw). I worked too hard, and I don't think it really paid off.

Tash said...

TAKE! A YEAR! OFF! TRAVEL! I know the economy sucks and none of your friends can find jobs and everyone and their mother is going to grad school cuz there's nothing else to do, but WAIT! GO HUNGRY! Go when you really want it!

When i was finally a TA in a position to tell undergrads these things, this is what I preached. I might have done something else, something I wanted more, something I got through quicker. Something I could use now.

c. said...

I'd tell myself to go slower. Don't rush things so much. It's not a race. I could stand to listen to that even now...

G$ said...

Guys named Chris or Kris will turn out to be losers and will suck the life and money out of you. (sorry to all the Chris' out there, just sayin' this was the case for good ole G)

k@lakly said...

What 18 or 21 year old would listen?? They all think they know everything right? I know I did or at least when folks would tell me what to watch out for I still had the blissfully ignorant idea that the bad shit would blow past me and land on someone else...I guess that's what I would tell them tho, the bad shit at some point will land on you and that's when you will really find out who you are and what you are made of, so be prepared to find out because you may not be who you think you are at all and that may not be a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

On the day of my high school graduation, one of my teacher told us to look around, because this would be the last time we would be together. There were only 36 of us, so we rolled our eyes ... naievely thinking that we would all see eachother again soon. That fall one of my oldest friends and classmates died in a car accident. She was right, we would never all be in the same place again.

If I could go back to that day, I would tell myself to look around, and enjoy your last moments of childhood ... things were going to change fast, and not all of it was for the better.