Thursday, July 3, 2008

quarter life crisis

So the phrase "quarter-life crisis" kind of irks me. I've come across it in some mid-tempo song lyrics, a few quickly canceled television shows. And it's always rang a little false to me, a little on the side of self absorbed, a term coined by anxiety ridden twenty-somethings who just want to complain about life. But today it hit me like the proverbial Mack truck. If there's any phrase or label or description to apply to my life as of late, it's a major quarter life crisis. Without delving into the whole drawn out tale, I've sort of changed things up recently. Let's just say that my life was neatly heading one way, and I freaked out and shoved it into an entirely new path. I didn't join a cult or the army or start handing out pamphlets on street corners. But I made the decision to stay in Charleston, at least a little while longer. Now this may not seem all that big of a deal but it has had ripple effects already. All of these little plans I've made have sort of been delayed or transformed or gotten rid of completely. I had this perfect little path all planned out, college then Americorps them graduate school. And it all sounded great, but gradually and kind of all at once I realized I was tired of having a perfect little path in my life. We spend our whole childhoods and young adulthoods with our futures meticulously planned out. And every few years there are these "big choices" like what high school to go to or what college to go to. But even these "big choices" are deliberate and carefully calibrated and expected. We're always following straight lines. And Americorps was just a continuation for me of that straight line. It should be obvious but it took me twenty two years to realize that I can make my own decisions, and that I can make messy and stupid and unplanned decisions. I can take a zig-zag path for a while. I don't have to map out my life for the next five years. I don't have to map out anything. And I'm not tossing Americorps out the window, far from it. But I am delaying things. Because I think I need to just give in to this crisis or breakdown or whatever it is I'm going through right now. For once in my life I want to just give in to my inner indecision and confusion and uncertainty. I want to screw up and be underpaid and fall below expectations. I want to fall of the life-plan grid for a little while, stop thinking all the time about what's best for my future and start living full time in my present. And more than all of this, I want to stay in Charleston.

I remember when I applied for colleges I put up a little poll on my buddy list info about what school I should go to. I asked my AIM buddies if I should 1) follow my dreams (Boston College-way too expensive but at the time it was my dream school) 2) follow my head/logic (Mary Washington-close to home and a good, small, state school) or 3) follow my heart. And of course my heart was Charleston. From the moment I stepped foot here, my heart has always been Charleston. I went home to Richmond a couple of weeks ago, when I was in the midst of panic over deciding whether to go ahead with my Americorps plans or defer and stay on in Charleston. I was packing some things up to take to my home in Richmond, in case I did decide to move away from Charleston. I picked up this Saks 5th Ave. snow globe that I got for Christmas. Inside is a miniature version of Charleston, complete with a little bridge, a little rainbow row, little churches. I took the snow globe and sat on my bed and stared into the tiny , artificial snow covered version of the city I know so well. And I tried to make myself understand what it would be like to be hundreds of miles away for good, when the closest I could get to Charleston would be that little snow globe. And the more I tried to wrap my head around it the less I could. I've been fighting all year with the sense of ending. I've been grieving for the loss of this town. And I know eventually I'll leave, at least for a little while. But if I can stay in this beautiful, lovely little city for a few more months, then who am I to turn away from that. I realized that I am in no way ready to leave the confines of my Charleston. Over and over again I kept hearing the words, coming from somewhere deep inside of myself, "I'm not ready, I can't, it hurts too much." We spend our lives being strategic. We make pro and con lists. We analyze and deliberate. But for the first major decision in my life, I decided to be emotional and messy and rash. It's a rare thing to be completely comfortable in a place, to feel at home in your skin somewhere. And for me Charleston is the only other city besides Richmond where I've found that. And so after all the stress and emotion and anxiety, it came surprisingly easy. My heart took me south and my heart is simply unwilling to let me leave. It may end up hurting me more in the long run, but it's a done deal. I'll take a little more pain, a little more heartache as long as I can get a few more months of Cooper river sunsets and a "skyline" of steeples and Spanish moss. This city has gotten to me. It's not logical. It's not smart. But right now, staying here, it feels right.

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