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Graduate, now what?

Graduate, now what?


I'm three months into a semi-adult life and so far, it hasn't exactly been the stuff of my Ralph Lauren ad-esque dreams. This is probably good, as so many upturned polo collars and chiseled cheekbones would be disorienting, not to mention intimidating--but still, a girl can hope for better things. As it turns out, I'm still me--two inches shorter than I'd like to be and squeezing the toothpaste from the middle, for better or worse. I won't say my fears about entering this next phase of my life were unfounded, because believe you me, they weren't. Lots to be concerned about over here, but hopefully getting a little bit better every day. I've given up trying to think about leaving New Orleans and moving here--of leaving the world I made, leaving the friends and the familiar places, to be here. I'm saving that for later, another time, when I can face my mourning head on and without hesitation. Right now I can only tentatively move around the periphery of that sadness, can only grasp blindly at a target that is always just out of my reach. Denial, my old friend, is here again. I never quite learned how to be happy in the present while thinking about the past, and maybe I shouldn't have to. Life is a series of trade-offs, you know, so if I'm to live happily here I cannot dwell there. I can't, or won't, until that complex tangle of emotion lives only as a momentary dull ache in my chest when I walk into a bar that reminds me of Cure, or smell something cajun-y, or see a magnolia tree.

Every now and then I roll a sentence around in my head that I made up a long time ago--I never wrote it down but it comes back to me sometimes, like a song lyric or a mantra. It's Portland raised me, but New Orleans made me. On paper it doesn't look good, it's an ungainly sentence that's too obscure to keep in any piece of writing that's quality. But it does sound good in my head, and really, I think I like it because it's been the best way to remind myself that even though I leave somewhere, it will never leave me. You can never stop being the accumulation of all the people you've ever met and all the places you've ever seen, you'll never stop being the sum total of your experiences. That's what that says to me--Portland raised me, this city I've been a part of for so many years. Portland gave me my easy-going spirit, my Northwestern heart. But New Orleans made me--made me understand things a little better than I used to, with a little more compassion, and always, always with a drink in hand.

When I say I'm still me, it comes with a feeling of relief. I told my little sister once--I think we were talking when I got home from Senegal--I told her that I'm not afraid of being alone, because I always have me. I'll never do anything, go anywhere, without the comfort of my own company. I rediscover this in every new venture, and I think is part of the reason why I seek out change every few years or so, as a challenge. In a way, I'm seeking myself out. It's too easy in my every day life, I think, to become complacent in the company of others. I think being alone is one of the more challenging things in life, and the most rewarding. It is something I haven't been doing enough of--you can always tell, because I don't write hardly at all if I'm not by myself. Now that I live with my older sister, though I love her so, I am shadowed--or I am shadowing, I'm not really sure which. Either way you slice it, it doesn't exactly lend itself to introspection.

Today though, after talking with my two best friends from school, and a nice long afternoon of me, myself and I, I thought, well I should write a blog. And so I did. My Dad said that I'll have too much to catch up on, too many months to cram into one post. But I won't try and rehash, I don't think, only move onward and upward. Everything will resurface in time, I'm sure. Probably when I'm least expecting it, and when it's most inopportune. But then again, I won't even be surprised--of course it will be, I'm still me, after all.

xoxo, Lauren

May the Fourth

Hey, as it turns out, 22 isn't so bad. The sun is out, I've eaten a lot of really delicious free food in the last five days, I just found a really great Pandora station, and I'm about to start the last week of classes I might ever have. I realize, also, the title of my last post may seem a bit melodramatic to the untrained eye, and though I normally favor the cryptic when it comes to that kind of thing, I don't know if anyone will get it--that's distressing for me, not because I'm afraid people will think I'm standing with one foot off the edge, but because it's the name of one of my favorite songs that briefly mentions being 22. It's by the Alabama Shakes. I also happen to have it on good authority that my Aunt Anne, who I think is a really spectacular human being, likes them too. Bless my heart, bless my soul, didn't think I'd make it, to 22 years old! Must be someone, up above, saying come on Courtney? you gotta hold on! 

I think Courtney is the lead singer, and I feel like every time I hear the song, I say you know what, we're in this together, sister. Except you're a wonderfully talented musician and I'm just crossing my fingers I can get a job through September. Tomato, tomatoe. Also I'm a little ornery when it comes to song lyrics, so it might not be Courtney at all, but I'm too proud to go look them up and find out what her name really is. I have a mostly useless talent for learning the lyrics of songs incredibly quickly, but I feel like it's cheating when I find them online. I can't really explain it but it feels like betrayal of the highest order against my own brain.
Anyway, if the first day of my 22nd year wasn't the best, the rest of the week made up for it--I relived my glory days at the Boot, a place I find myself frequenting less and less as I age*, but it was 50 cent night and there was a nice tinge of nostalgia to the cigarette scented air, so who can complain? A pack of the seniors in my sorority were all there together, and we know the DJ, so he spun us some classics from back in our hey-day. All I'll say is that Britney Spears and my girl Queen B were on repeat, and we danced and danced and danced like the girls we are and no one even looked for one second at the boys on the floor, it was just all us, all at once together, without any of the insecurity and fear and longing that plagued us as freshman. So that was a pretty good thing. Thursday the same pack of sorority seniors went down into the Quarter and ate way too much bananas foster at Arnaud's, and I read a letter that I wrote to myself as a freshmen,which was almost the impetus for a major breakdown. Luckily I was able to keep it together enough to really bring down the house, but you know. It was close.

I don't want to toot my own horn here too much, but I've always had a way with words--I can bring even myself to tears. So that was embarrassing, although I was somewhat prepared because the same thing happened when I was graduating high school. I've consistently had good advice for myself which is incredible because rarely is my advice that good, I think. Normally I'm on the go for it! side of things. Ask my roommate Erin. She's made a lot of purchases that she had to rethink because I was the only one she was shopping with--if Lindsay, our infinitely wiser and more practical roommate, is there, it becomes a battle of shoulder angel like you wouldn't believe. I may or may not be the angel. Hint: I'm not. The other piece of advice I like to toss out is do what you feel! which is usually not the best course of action--I am, wholeheartedly, a believer in my own gut instinct, but, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, other people just don't have that same internal compass. The moral of the story is that if you're considering making a large investment purchase or debating the various moral consequences of a choice, do not, under any circumstance, ask me for help.

If you are, however, graduating, and you need a little pep talk, I'm your girl. Or at least I was four years ago. Now that I think about it, it's not exactly rocket science--a little you're great, always have been, keep doing you goes a long way. But I was particularly eloquent in this letter, and I can't remember now exactly what I said but it was really nice, and it was exactly the pat on the back I needed. From myself. That's key. I think when you're in the middle of a crisis of self-doubt it's important to hide unexpected notes of encouragement in the most unlikely of places, so you remember that you are tough, smart and worthy of much happiness! It was great!

And now that I'm on the other side of that mini-crisis, feeling much saner and self-assured, things have been looking up. I got a job! Kind of. I got an internship that could potentially turn into a full-time job, but it's a step in the right direction. I have a beautiful house to move into, I still have two weeks left in wonderland, and the sun is out. My friends are here and there, and my whole rowdy clan will be back together in just a little bit, and that's more great news. And then soon enough I'll be back with the little piece of my heart that lives with Michael, and that reunion will do my body good! So you see, I'm finding out things are never quite as dire as they seem.

xoxo, Lauren

*There is an old saying that goes something like, If you're old enough to be at The Boot, you're too old to be at The Boot. But there's another saying that goes something like, The Boot: where your college career begins and ends. We'll see which proves more true...

Fleetwood Mac

If the gas station attendant thing doesn't work out (it won't), and if I end up being too opinionated to be a trophy wife (likely), I have discovered a third option that might suit me as a possible career: retirement. If you were to say, that's ridiculous, you have to do something to retire from it, I would say, a very fair point. But it's my Post-Graduation Plan brainstorming session, and I'm going to make it as good as I want. Listen, when someone asks you, what do you want to do for the rest of your life? sitting at a desk isn't my first answer. It just isn't. Being retired is my first answer. I got a taste of that lifestyle not long ago, and I will not lie to you, my grandparents have it made. A lifetime of driving ranges and pool side service doesn't sound half bad to me--toss in the ability to drive everywhere in a golf cart, and I'm sold.

Realistically, I won't be able to retire until I'm 80 because I will probably end up as a barista for the rest of my life. But, what is life without dreams? And in my dreams, I am retired.

No, not really, in my dreams I'm usually playing with pups. For example, last night, I had to take care of three pups. I don't remember much, but they were climbing on chairs and they were very squirmy. I loved them. And yes, I did wake up smiling. No, not really, I woke up cranky because I went to bed too late. But I had an internal smile on.

I've been thinking lately (a dangerous pastime, I know), about what dreams mean. Erin and I googled "dream meanings" because I'd been thinking about dreams so much, and we found out that because I dream about puppies I'm playful and because I also dream a lot about whales, I'm calm and serene. Not sure I buy it, but it was an exercise that sparked more serious thought. And the serious thought had to do with me identifying what it was that I dreamed about when I thought about the future, because I have thought about it before in a non-panic attack inducing way. The post-graduation black hole theory hasn't always been there. It's just been there for the last year, which to my pea brain has felt like an eternity. I must get back to dreaming positively. I'm returning to the mountain and I'm embracing the tiger. I'm finally taking my mother's advice! This is progress.

When I think positively about the future, I'm in the rainy city that raised me. I'm drinking good coffee again. I'm wearing wine colored pants. My hair is shiny. I get to see my family a lot and I get to eat their food when I don't have any at my house. And when they don't have any food I'll go to my Aunt and Uncle's house. On a related note, my grocery bill will go way down. I get to live with Kelley and my sister because we always talked about living together, and we have a warm and cozy girl nest with lots of framed pictures because I finally got around to doing my Projects with a capital P. I go on wine night dates with my Mom and my sister and my Aunt and I get to tell them stories about my job which is not in an office setting that has blues and greys as their main color scheme because I don't fit in that world. I get to write a lot. I talk to Erin and Lindsay at least once a week and we have a trip that we're all going to take together because we really need something to look forward to. Sometimes I really miss New Orleans and I cry when Wagon Wheel comes on--but maybe that's the alcohol talking, because I still get to go out on Friday and Saturday nights. Speaking of alcohol, I will have finally figured out what my signature drink is! It's been a long time coming. Maybe at some point I'll have a dog that I get to walk a lot. I'll finally be a good runner. I'll be the kind of runner that goes to Forest Park. I'm traveling. Maybe not the kind of traveling I do now, where I get to leave the country once a year, but still traveling to new places and seeing new things and meeting new people. Because that will always make me happy. I'll probably be working hard and still kind of poor, but I'll be happy and healthy and live a balanced life. It's not retirement, but it's better, I think. Too much pool chlorine dries my skin out.

If I visualize the possibility of a life beyond my life here enough, I start to believe I can make it real. Part of the problem is that I'm getting to be the age where I thought I would already have it all figured out. When you're 18, 21 and 22 seems like the age when you get it together. And I don't really feel like I have it together. But I feel like I could potentially get it together--and by get it together I mean stop waking up twenty minutes before I have to get somewhere and actually leave enough time to eat breakfast. I think maybe I just need to readjust my expectations of what my life should be, and realize that I can't turn into a well-adjusted person overnight. I mean I've been working on it for awhile, but perhaps part of life is being able to constantly evolve and stretch and grow. Maybe part of the slump I feel like I've been in is because I have stopped thinking about my life and my choices as much as I normally do--that could be the reason for it all. I've heard an unexamined life is not worth living. I've also heard suicide is illegal. It appears that thinking about myself more is the only way. On that note, I've been toying with the idea of making a personal pact to write every single day on here for a year. It might be impossible. I'm a very busy dancer. But I think I will try.

xoxo, Lauren

Something Everyday

I have made a terrible error in judgment. I am actually physically sick right now thinking about it. My stomach is hurting intensely. That could also be the 24 hour's been going around my humble abode for about a week and I'm the last one standing. I was hoping the Swedishness of my room could somehow protect me from germs--all those clean, simple lines can inspire a person to believe that no illness could possibly have the audacity to infect that sterile-looking environment, but it appears there's a good chance they can. And also that I will be very sick for the next 24 hours. Regardless, I've got a bad belly and a heaviness weighing on my conscience. Here's the thing: I just had a conversation with a pseudo-friend of mine who I don't consider that smart or motivated. She told me she had started seriously looking for jobs and hoped to have ten applications out by Thanksgiving and another ten out by Christmas, and hoped to have something secured by at least March. Normally this kind of statement would get a knowing smile, a that's so great for you! and a secret eye roll out of me. Maybe that reaction should be actually what is weighing on my conscience? Adding it to the To Ponder list. The bigger problem here is that I started to do those things and then I thought, wait. What does she know that I don't?

I selectively hate not knowing things. There are a few things I'm ok with not knowing that much about: traffic laws, numbers, the rules of cricket and all of Jung's theories. Until recently baseball was on that list, but then too many forces of the universe converged and I had to face the facts: I will become an MLB expert in the next six months...or else. Those few things aside, knowledge is my favorite form of power.

Which brings me to the crux of the issue with my pseudo-friend and her future, and why I feel like I might throw up: I do not know what a person does after they graduate. I am not joking. This is not me being funny and sarcastic. I honestly don't understand how the switch happens from college student to adult. I've heard that legally I'm considered an adult, which is confusing to me, even though I often use "I'm an adult" as justification for my actions. Not really justifications. When someone asks me a question about my behavior and I don't feel good about a real answer, sometimes I'll say, I'm an adult. And they'll usually say, what? And then the problem is solved because now we can engage in circle speak, my favorite method of distraction.

I'm confused because I thought that the Lauren Turns 20 program had transformed me into a put together individual, somebody who enjoys mornings and having painted nails, and has life goals and peace in her heart. It appears that somewhere along the line I fell off the wagon. Or I was only fooling myself into thinking I had succeeded, when really I had only barely scratched the surface of all the things I don't know but should. My biggest issue with my own perceived failure is that I knew this day would come and still, I ignored all the signs. If this were a court of law and I was able to put myself on trial as both the defense and prosecution, I would easily be able to put myself away for life on the highly incriminating paper trail I left. Four months ago I said I needed a Lauren Is (Probably) Going to Graduate Program and I have done nothing! This loss of potential is an outrage, a crime against self.

Part of me wants to cut myself some slack. That's the line I take as my own defense--you are still young and you have time, things will work out like they always have before. But you can see it in the jury's eyes, which all look suspiciously like my own, that they aren't impressed. You will have to do better than that. Unfortunately, as my own jury, I know in my heart of hearts was the desire to not change, to not choose, and to look at the ground under my feet instead of the horizon before me. I am my own harshest critic, this I know. But if your method of assessing your own decisions was to imagine a courtroom scene consisting of yourself as each player, you too would live in fear of the judge. I have condemned myself to the task of tireless self-growth. I have given myself no other choice--I must force myself to find out what it is that happens after graduation, and I have to develop a plan. The verdict has been handed down. It's time to get cracking!

It has actually taken me a week to write this. I started it last Friday, and I'm finishing it now. I still feel sick, but it's because I have a cold and not a stomach flu. Still concerning, but less of a dire emergency. And in the past week I have come to a conclusion about why this run-in with my pseudo friend has been so disconcerting for me--it's taken me a week of introspective thought, a variety of breakdowns on other topics, and a niggling thought in the back of my mind that something is not right with me to arrive at the place I am now. It is not that this pseudo-friend has been applying for jobs, or even that she knows how adulthood works. I know, in theory, what should happen. What is really bothering me is that she knows what she wants, and I don't. It is that simple. I don't know what I want. And I always know what I want.

Now that I have considered this at some length, it's becoming clear to me that I have been feeling this way since I came back to school in January. Everything makes sense now. I am in the midst of a hard year and I didn't even know it, but I did also know it--that in the quiet forest of my soul I was unsettled and unhappy. I have been living in an uncomfortable shade of gray, feeling like the edges of my self have been blurred. This is why I have been tired, this is why I have been battling the dark, this is why I have been lashing out, and this is why I have not felt like writing. This is all making sense. And I am relieved.

Well big deal, you might be thinking. Get over yourself and get on with it. An easy thing to say, but not always an easy thing to do. This is a big deal for me because I am not a shade of gray, not in any sense of the color or awful faux-literary publication, I am a black and white kind of girl. I am single-minded to the point of recklessness. I am particular to the point of being stubborn. I know who I am and I know what I like. And I used to know what I wanted, and I don't anymore. But now that I know that I don't, I can start finding out. Step one in the Lauren Will (Probably) Graduate program: find what I want. Not big, existential all-I-want-is-to-be-happy kind of way. More of a what-do-you-want-to-do-tomorrow kind of way. And then I can say, what do you want from this year at school? And then after that I can say, what do you want from the next year of your life? Already I feel better. I have a plan. I have questions to answer. I will prevail. And if I'm not happy now, I will be happy soon. Because I will find a way to live at home in myself again. I am sure of this.

I am also finding that I am beginning to become quite adept at being my own therapist. Which is delightful for me and less delightful for the therapeutic industry, as they soon will have to start planning on a different method of sending their children to college other than me and my neuroses. Never fear, dental industry, I have not yet learned how to do my own dental work. Unless I decide that's what I want. In which case, start shaking in your boots. The ones my mouth probably paid for. I'm just saying.

xoxo, Lauren

My Friend, the Man

The slump is over, people. However, I'm now spiraling down a different black hole--I feel like my whole life may have been a lie. Before anyone jumps to conclusions, there aren't any paternity tests involved. I just had the rather unsettling experience of being told in class that I was part of a system. Now, this might seem blatantly obvious, but before we start pointing fingers and accusing me of being a dim wit Libertarian, I will acknowledge that I am knowingly a part of the college system, the American governmental system, and the Panhellenic sorority system. Not necessarily in that order. I guess I just never really realized I was also a part of a class system. I'm young and green. So what. Anyway, I was forced to face the facts when my professor pointed a finger around the room and said to us, do you really think you deserve a seat at these tables more than anyone else? Do you really think you earned it? You're a part of a system! 25 white, upper middle-class faces looked around doubtfully. Well. When you put it that way...

I hate it when my intelligence is called into question--almost as much as I hate it when cockroaches crawl on my arm when I'm washing dishes, which is another thing that happened the other day. Of course I handled it with grace and aplomb, and with not a single curse word, but it wasn't the most enjoyable thing I've ever experienced. I had a heart-to-heart with the pest control guy a little later that verged on a nervous breakdown, but that's neither here nor there. So I hate it when I'm told I may not be as smart as I think I am. I'm less concerned with not earning something, because hey, where's the harm in a little easy come? It might not go! But to be told that I wasn't picked to be at Tulane because I was smart, but rather because my parents read to me as a child and I could afford to take the SAT and because I didn't have to fill out a FAFSA? That's hitting a girl where it hurts.

I'm being slightly facetious. I am well aware of the incredible opportunities I've been afforded in my life, due in large part to the magnificent foresight and business savvy of my dear Grandfather, who is currently taking a jealousy inducing tour of Turkey, and to my parents, who somehow managed to hammer some kind of sense into this rather thick skull of mine. However, recognizing that we're all operating in classes that will most likely recreate themselves for generations to come is extraordinarily depressing. Personally, I'm happy to know that my current middle class standing will probably produce middle class children who have lived the kind of life that I have thus far. Actually, there are no guarantees I'll stay middle class. Because that would require, at some point, a well paying job after college, and so far my post-graduation plans consist of a euro-trip and a job as a ranger in Denali National Park. So maybe I'm speaking a little prematurely here. Regardless, I'm forced to ask--why me? Not in a self-pitying way, because I'm really not into that. Self-pity isn't my style. Buck up already is what I generally tell myself when I start feeling sorry for myself, and sometimes I tell other people that too (it doesn't make me many friends). So when I say why me? in this context, I guess what I really mean is, how did I get so lucky?

I don't have an answer to that. Good looks, charm and cunning wit are tough to come by all in one person! That was a joke. I really don't know how I lucked into such a great family and a great school and a great life, and last but not least, a moderately functional brain. I'm questioning something much larger here. I feel like I won't have a good answer anytime soon. Probably ever. I'm too good at critical analysis to ever settle one way or the other--thanks for nothing, college. Thanks for showing me how to see every side of an issue! Not!

I should also put a sidebar in here and say that this is my third late night at the library in a row, and things are not looking up. Have I hit the wall on one too many papers? The answer is undoubtedly yes. I know these are the best days of my life, but at the moment I feel like it might land me in court-ordered therapy.

In other news, my Mother, Father, Aunt and Uncle will be soon be joining me here in the Big Easy. Fun will be had by all.

xoxo, Lauren