It’s been a season of monumental change for me, and I can feel myself stretching already to fit it in ways both jubilant and painful—there’s always something ugly in laying to rest what once was, no matter how glad we are to leave it behind. I’ve said before I’m sorting through the pieces of my life, and that’s still true: it’s an awful hard bit of accounting to measure and weigh everything we are, all that we have, and decide what serves us. It requires an honesty with oneself that I sometimes shy away from. It is easier to be comfortable, and complacent, than to push ourselves forward into a life of meaning and brightness and truth.

I left a job that wasn’t right for me in the long term, even though it was a good place for the four years I spent there, and I’m spending a few months recalibrating before I start an MFA program in the fall. I can’t say how relieved I feel in the meat of me that I’m going back to school. I’ve missed academia more than I thought possible when I left Tulane four years ago—I didn’t know how much I thrived on the challenge of new ideas and creative discourse that the right classroom can bring. I’m looking forward to that, but also settling into a routine that affords me the luxury—the real absolute luxury—of time. It’s been a fast-paced start, after a whirlwind week of dogs and writing and getting ready for a big trip, I went on a big family trip! It was a harkening back to the road trips of my real youth, and I think sometimes I feel more at home in a car speeding down a freeway than anywhere else because of those trips. There’s a freedom and a familiarity to living town by town, forest by forest, that I hanker after like nothing else. And now? A few trips of my own making, some time to hunker down and get my own work done, and then onto the next great adventure: teaching and writing. I can hardly stand it, I’m so excited.

Did you know what I realized this year? It took a conversation with a friend I consider my closest kindred spirit—a true soul friend—to crystallize exactly how I was feeling, but basically it’s this: I have so much more agency in my life than I thought. It’s that simple, and that hard. It’s simple, because it is—you get to decide what your life will be like. You decide what you value, how you will shape your future. You get to decide who you’ll marry, if you’ll have kids, where you’ll live, what job you’ll work. You decide if you want to travel or wear nice clothes or eat out every night. You decide everything! For some reason, it’s taken me a long time to really have that sink in. For a long time I thought things would just shake out, and that there was a point in the future when I’d have a husband and a family and live in a house somewhere and have a job, and that would be it. I thought it would work out that way, without much input from me. Maybe it would’ve, who knows.

But I see so clearly now that that’s not true at all. Eventually something would happen—I would end up somewhere, in some version of that—but unless I decided what I really wanted, unless I created a vision of a future that I could settle into, it’s a life that could take shape in a way that didn’t suit me at all. It has required asking myself, over and over again, what do I want? What do I value? What will I look back and regret, more than anything, if I don’t do?

I can feel myself wrapping the reins of my life around my fists, taking charge in a way I wasn’t sure how to before. It’s mine, I keep reminding myself. To love, or hate, or waste, or change—this life is mine. I will make it mean something for me, I’ll live the truth I know. I’ll make something I can believe in.