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Posts tagged ‘future’

Trophies

The word “nostalgia” comes from the Greek nóstos meaning “homecoming” and álgos meaning “pain.” It directly translates to mean “the pain of coming home,” and, for centuries, it was considered to be a disease characterized by melancholy and sadness. But since then, the word has evolved to describe a wistful longing for the past, often caused by an inability to let go.

The flat, concrete overhang reads: Anthony L. Fricano School. The building is predominantly brick with occasional stretches of windows and tan concrete. From one end to another, the complex spans almost a mile as it morphs from the elementary school into the intermediate building, the middle school, the high school; all of which are connected by occasional juts and protrusions that give it a modern appearance. It is a state-of-the-art facility. One wing of the elementary school extends perpendicularly from the other, and a playground spans the width of that second wing.

A few cars remain in the parking lot after hours, abandoned by owners that are nowhere in sight. Ghosts of children run around the soft-top covering of the playground, giggling as they run with joy to chase their friends. Imaginary teachers linger around the borders, eyeing the children closely, waiting for a discrepancy, and, occasionally, exchanging idle gossip between one another. When I blink, they all fade into the dark backdrop of the night, though children’s laughter is still hauntingly audible, floating on the gentle breeze that sneaks in through gap in the window.

Suddenly silence. Before me, the playground shifts into one that is more familiar, more comforting. The soft-top cover dissolves into a bed of woodchips, and the equipment transforms into its antecedent. Older ghosts take the stage. Children spring across the wooden structures, keeping their feet well above ground level. They rock back and forth on wooden platforms and cross monkey bars in single-file formation. The winner of “Do Not Touch the Woodchips” earns bragging rights for the rest of the day. To the left, a small girl grasps a metal triangle as she jets across the shiny blue beam to the other side. When she lands, she spins back around to do it again, but this time more boldly. The other children urge her on as she jumps up and latches her arms around the beam, declaring that girls can do it, too. She propels herself forward, one hand over the other, swinging her feet furiously and perching her lips in fierce concentration.

She nearly makes it to the other side before her hands slip, sweaty from the strain. A stark cry follows the heavy thud, and a teacher rushes forth, dissipating the crowd that surrounds the girl. The pained cry turns into a purple cast. When the doctor suggests pink, she turns up her nose—pink is far too girly. The sun rises on the next day, and the class is back on the playground. This time, the girl clutches a black Sharpie marker and retells the story in exaggerated form while her friends all sign the trophy.

Middle School hits, and a group of pre-teens stumbles over to the playground from a friend’s house down the road. It’s dark and they have the playground to themselves, running for the equipment as if it were the elixir of their youth. They jump off the swings at the highest point. Tackle each other to the ground. Run full-throttle because the world’s trying to catch up. But they won’t have it. They’re quicker, sharper, more youthful. So they run faster, reckless in their shouts of joy. And if the cops come—so what? They have the world at their feet, and they’re hungry for a confrontation. The night is theirs.

The group fades out, and three teenagers sprint by the playground, following their coach’s orders. One girl, two guys, and temperature below freezing. A dusting of snow covers the playground, and the runners are bundled in hats and sweatshirts, moving fast just to keep warm. Already a few miles in, and they’re breathing heavy against the cold. They pass a mound of snow, and one of the boys stops in his tracks. He shows no hesitation as he shoves the girl down into the snowbank, smiling valiantly before jumping in after her. The third follows, and the deepest laughter rings out straight from their stomachs.

When the snow fades, the grass grows tall, and the stars dance upon the sky. Below the palette of light, two new graduates lie next to each other on a grassy patch outside the playground, searching, with all their concentration, for the Little Dipper. The Big Dipper is easy to find; but the Little Dipper is trickier, more ensconced. Not that either of them really want to find it. Goodbyes linger silently between them, neither ready to face reality. Next week, she’ll move on to college in some small town miles away; and he’ll stay here at a local university, making other friends and starting a new life. But for that moment, all either of them can think about is how close their hands are to touching and how much they already miss each other.

Two years later, they meet back at the playground. Summer break. Two different people with a shared past. They run for the swings as they tell each other wild stories about parties they half remember and new friends they swear never to forget. The end up lying back on the same patch of grass as the night whispers between them. She mentions a new guy, says it could really be something special. He smiles and tells her to be careful, then briefly mentions the latest name in his life. They move on quickly to more comfortable topics, leaning on inside jokes from the past that nearly slipped away.

It all fades out, and I’m sitting behind the steering wheel of my car, looking past the memories at the scene before me. A new playground has encroached on the old with strange metal equipment standing where my beam once stood. The bed of woodchips has faded back into the soft covering that makes it safer for kids to play on—or so they say. My heart longs for the safety, the comfort, the promise of adolescence with all of its trophies; to set back the clock on my childhood. But the past always emerges in a stilted rendition, tricking us with its deceptive lies.

In my head, I play through the past years. The aloofness of family and friends after years away. Estrangement. Loneliness. The newly discovered friends who turned into family. Bold promises made in the dead of night, promptly broken by the break of day. And vice versa. Reckless nights followed by lazy days. Breakfasts at the diner in the town over. The excitement of falling in love with a set of golden eyes. The comfort of lying in his arms in my dorm room, in his dorm room. The paralyzing pain of letting go. Leaning on friends. Leaning on family. The confusion of a lifetime of emotions reaching their apex. Growing up. Learning. Experiencing. Changing. Growing.

One day, the pieces will come crashing together.

But for now, I throw the car into drive—my headlights shining brightly on the path before me—and move forward.

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Reassessing the Dream

Four years ago, I firmly planted my feet on the starting line with hundreds of other competitors. Adrenaline surged through my veins and my body leaned forward slightly in the hope that it would give me a slight edge. When the gun rang out, I took off and never looked back. For years, I didn’t stop. I didn’t question where I was going, just kept at it. Then I reached the finish line and was greeted in a whirlwind of confetti and graduation gowns. I stood back and watched my peers rush past the finish line, just as I did. When I looked around, I realized that I hadn’t reached the final finish. There weren’t stacks of money lying on the floor to greet me. There wasn’t an executive in a fancy suit waiting to hand me the keys to my own company. My education came with no post-graduation luxuries, just a piece of paper with my name on it. The path I had just emerged from seemed tumultuous at the time that I traveled it, but from the vantage point at the finish line, it seemed to be nothing compared to facing the next step. Staring the opposite way, toward the future, the path was endless, the horizon hazy and undefined.

One of the shortcomings of our society is that it encourages people to rush through everything without ever stopping to look around and take it all in or figure out where they want to end up. Life’s a sprint to get through the next milestone: get through high school, tackle college, find a job. Run, rush, sprint. When I came back from college, a sense of dread filled me when I realized I didn’t have the summer job I had always had when I returned from college. I was unemployed and no longer a student. In a panic-driven craze, I sent out cover letter after cover letter, praying that someone would take pity on a recent college graduate looking for work, at least temporarily while she figured out what she wanted to do with her life. After all, that is the next step after college: to find a job. Finally, a temp. agency landed me a position at Bryant & Stratton College as a receptionist who also does data entry. It’s definitely not a position that I went to college for, and at first that fact gave me anxiety. Was my education a waste? Will I ever find a job in my field?

As the weeks dragged on, I realized that the position wasn’t so far off the beaten path. It was–and still is– a chance to break into a professional work environment and make a steady source of income. I work nights, which leaves my days free. Working at Bryant & Stratton has given me a sense of security. It has allowed me to write in my spare time and to halt my wheels and assess what I truly want from life. For the first time in years, I have had a chance to pour through novel after novel, wrapping myself up with characters who embark on great journeys and overcome impossible odds. I find myself with my head in the clouds, contemplating characters’ actions and examining story lines from an infinite number of angles. When the fire simmers on one story line, I pick up another book and repeat the process. Not one of the books I choose is assigned reading, and it feels liberating to read at will as opposed to as commanded.

This has given me time to contemplate what kind of novel I would like to one day write (though I’m hoping to make that one day happen relatively soon). I’ve been pooling my favorite novels and jotting down which aspects of each I enjoy the most. Not surprisingly, strong female characters top the list, as do novels set in an alternate universe and novels based on an epic journey of sorts. I read to escape reality, but by the same token, I write to understand it. I write to understand life, society and myself.

Much like writing, being home has stimulated this desire to understand my situation in life. I find myself wondering who I really am and where I’d like to be in ten years from now. The question that adults asked me as a toddler seems to have resurfaced and is now more pertinent than ever before: What do I want to be when I grow up?  In this phase of life, however, it seems more appropriate to say: Where do I want to be in another year? In another five? In another decade from now?  Ideally, I could see myself settled down in a city like Washington D.C., writing for National Geographic Traveler and traveling the world in my spare time, writing stories. Realistically, I will probably be living in a city in a small apartment, struggling to get by. Such is the curse of the writer, and it has been a possibility that has terrified me for years. But the more I think about it, the less it actually scares me. I’ve come to view that kind of lifestyle as more of a blessing than a curse, because, at very least, I’d be doing what I love: writing. What better blessing can a person have than to live a life filled with the sole thing they love the most?

I have stressed and fretted and questioned the future until I was blue in the face. I have consulted numerous professors, professionals and parents on which path they believe to be the best for me. That included questioning of whether or not graduate school will be worth it. Some said yes, others blatantly stated, “What are you crazy? A Master’s degree in English will get you no where!” Maybe it won’t. Maybe I’ll end up paying off student loans until I’m in my grave. But in my defense, I will never turn down the opportunity to learn more. Education will never work against me, and in this particular instance, I will have the chance to learn from renowned faculty members with incredible stories to tell.

Recently, I completed my second interview for a job as a reporter for the Springville Journal. I’m still waiting to hear back about whether or not I got the job, but I did have the honor of meeting with a very inspirational woman who happens to be the editor of the newspaper. She went for her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing, while simultaneously working in the position I applied for. A few short years later, and she is now managing editor of the paper, as well as a creative writing teacher and a published author. She teaches a class for National Geographic which has given her the opportunity to travel, and she is currently awaiting the publication of her first book. Essentially, I see a reflection of myself in her, or at very least, the self I wish to be in five or ten or even fifteen years.

So maybe I don’t have everything figured at the ripe age of twenty-two. At very least, I have a passion and motivation. Even if I do struggle, this lifestyle will provide the pleasure of meeting more inspirational people such as the editor of that paper. The economy is working against me, and there’s a very likely chance that I will never write anything that will receive the attention that F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Orwell, David Benioff or even J.K. Rowling received. But for me, it’s enough gratification when my cousin accidentally reads my essay that she found resting on a stack of papers and says, “Wow, I felt like I was reading a real book.” I don’t need to be world-renowned, as long as what I write means something to at least one person. That, to me, is the mark of a successful writer.

Here’s to hoping that my words make even a fraction of a difference to someone. Even if they don’t, at least I’m living my own version of a dream.