On Finding Joy: Moving, Writing, and Reading; Changes, Phases, and Beginnings
Moving is exhausting. Both mentally and physically. I read somewhere once that moving is in the top five most stressful things that a person can experience in their life. Over the course of the past month and a half, as we have been settling into the apartment I took a hiatus from writing on this website because I’ve instead devoted almost all of my time to organizing the new apartment and, of course, looking for employment. As much as I love writing on this platform I don’t actually get paid for it, and so what I do here is a labor of love rather than profit.
That said, I do think that writing is very much something that I need in my life. I’ve gone through long periods where I didn’t write, and those were some of the worst of my life. Writing is a form of release, whether I am writing about the actual struggles that I am going through or I am writing fanfiction about how the Thirteenth Doctor is secretly Luna Lovegood’s mother. Books and cleverness have always been my strength, and it is when I walk away from them and my writing that I feel at my weakest.
I’m told that it is perfectly natural to wonder about one’s path in their twenties, and to be unsure about themself and where they are going after college. There are some things in my life that I have serious questions about, and I have recently acknowledged parts of myself that I never gave voice to before. It’s almost as though a dam broke and suddenly all the things I had hidden away about myself started to flow freely for the first time. I’m not currently in a headspace where I can share all of these revelations, and some of them are not exactly mine to share, but I suppose the least controversial of them is that I am now a vegetarian.
One of the most frustrating things about being a young person and making these big decisions about my life is that I frequently get feedback that dismisses my choices as being a “phase.” As though what I am going through is temporary and to be tolerated until it ends and I return to my previous state of existence. My main issue with this is that calling something a phase as a tactic of delegitimizing my experience is not only hurtful, but inaccurate. This is for two reasons. Firstly, on a scale of the inevitable heat death of the universe, everything is a phase. But secondly, and more importantly, just because something is a phase, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value and that it doesn’t need to be treated seriously and with respect. It’s not the length of an experience, but the content that matters. I grant that not everyone who calls what I am going though a phase does so in an intentionally harmful or delegitimizing way, but nevertheless that is the effect that doing so has.
The thing is, I’m still young, and I’m still a beginner at a great many things. Yes, I have a master’s degree, and I am skilled in quite a few areas, but there is still so much more to learn and so much more to see in this world that I don’t even know what I don’t know. I love to write, it’s one of my favorite and most cathartic activities, but more than that, I love to read. I love to explore new texts and new ways of thinking to broaden my understanding and think critically about the ideas of those who have come before me. This is perhaps a contradiction to what I’ve said before about being well-read, but I’m not so sure. I say this because while I do think that there are a decent amount of areas where I can hold down my position in a conversation, there are a great many more where I need to rejoice in my role as a beginner and look for the ways in which I can learn more and learn better.
This doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop writing as I read—I firmly believe in the idea that I will learn better if I document the ways that I interpret materials. And I never want to stop learning. I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to get my PhD after I completed my MA, and the truth is that while it was partially because I wrinkled my nose at taking the GRE, it was also because I realized that I don’t need to have a doctorate to be a lifelong learner of all things interesting and some that’s not. There are so many resources, both online and in books, and I don’t need to be enrolled at a university in order to learn from them. True, relationships with professors can be amazing, and I have many that I adored (and continue to think of affectionately) at Brandeis. But I also think that self study is something that I am capable of.
I don’t think education ever really stops, especially not if we embrace every experience as a learning opportunity, and every role as a chance to improve. Any time that I have to overcome a hurdle, my mom always tells me a variation of the same mantra: anyone can do anything for ten minutes/an hour/a week/a month/a year. When I was growing up she said that “can’t” was a swear word, and if I faced what seemed like an impossible task, she would say “it’s a hoop, jump through it.” I often found this advice quite frustrating, and I often pushed myself to exhaustion, but the consequence of it all is that I have accomplished a great many things that, looking back, I am proud to have done and I know that was the only way I could have managed them.
There is something to the idea that forcing oneself to complete a task despite how hard it seems and how discouraged we feel makes us come out of the other end stronger. But honestly, I came out of grad school feeling like a wrung out towel that had been used to dry too many dishes. I barely gave myself a break before throwing myself into working just as hard while at Columbia this past summer. Again, looking back on it, I suppose it makes perfect sense that coming home, into this new space that is my new home, that’s when the dam broke on all the things that I had been hiding from myself.
It’s odd to think that, even as it feels like the world is ending and crashing and burning around me, in my personal life there is nowhere I would rather be, and I’ve never felt more comfortable or at home with myself. I’m somehow both lost and found all at the same time. The tension of relaxation and stress is electrifying and soothing, filling my mind and body with a sort of painful joy. And I wonder what this all could be in another time and place. When you think about it, beginnings and endings are often blurred things. Life is often described as a cycle, but really, it’s more of a spiral, sometimes tight and sometimes wild as we look for meaning in reflection and hold on to hope, sometimes craving connection and sometimes cutting it all away. In the spiral of my life, I’ve held onto books and knowledge and learning as a form of satiation for my curiosity, as my purpose, but it has always been people who have grounded me, and it is in those that I love that I have found meaning and joy, even in a world that can sometimes feel like it is working against me and what I love.
This has been a meandering post, but I suppose that if I had to sum it up, I would say that despite everything, I feel like I’ve finally found joy in my life.
Note: this post was heavily influenced by the fact that I was listening to the album Doom Days by Bastille as I wrote it. Another heavy influence was reading the article How to Be a Better Beginner by Thorn Mooney on Patheos Pagan.
One final note: Today (September 20th 2019) is the first day of the Global Climate Strike, so if you haven’t already, head over to https://globalclimatestrike.net/ to find out what is going on in your area and what you can do.