|A slightly more defined version of what I drew.|
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
I’m going to college! After nearly a month of stressing about where I’m going to go next year, I am excited to announce that I am officially a member of Denison University Class of 2019. I think I knew where I wanted to go these past few weeks, but I had to come to the decision on my own terms in my own way––with thorough contemplation, heavy analysis, and lots of symbolism.
My college mascots: Clifford the Big Red Dog (Denison's mascot is "Big Red") with the ever-faithful Olaf the Snowman, donning a new Denison pin. The two of them remind me of Snoopy and Woodstock.
Up until yesterday afternoon, I was torn between Denison University in Ohio and St. Olaf College in Minnesota. I had several moments when I nearly decided on Denison, but then I panicked at the thought of actually committing to one place.
I always imagined myself at a place like St. Olaf. St. Olaf is me in a college––group conversations about favorite soup flavors, warm sweaters, cozy spots by the fireplace, an Olaf stuffed animal, homestyle meals, a dry campus, heavy on the arts, and not so big on sports. Looking on the Facebook page, nearly every student was into the arts in some way, and that was enticing and comforting.
I never imagined myself at a place like Denison. I only applied because I attended the Reynolds Writing Workshop there the summer before my junior year and it’s my stepdad’s family school. I figured if my other colleges didn’t work out, I could see myself being satisfied at Denison. Denison is opposite of who I’ve always defined myself to be––more into sports, the more “typical” college experience (I certainly didn’t have the “typical” high school experience going to a small, project-based charter school), Greek life, and more outward with their accomplishments (as evidenced by their active outreach and promotion).
I recognized myself at St. Olaf. I didn’t recognize myself at Denison, and that was scary. By going to St. Olaf, I was more sure of what I was going to get, of who I would be. I couldn’t see that so clearly at Denison. From what I gathered, Denison was more diverse in student interests, and while I knew I would find some of "my people" (people into the arts) eventually, it wouldn't be as easy. By going to Denison, I feared that perhaps I was trying to be someone I wasn’t, trying to fit into a more university-style campus (although it has just over 2100 undergraduate students and is by no means a large school).
Yet there was something exciting about Denison. Before I visited three weeks ago, I was really excited to go on the trip, and I couldn’t understand why. While there, I didn’t find “my people” right away and I was worried about being able to find my place. Yet I liked walking around campus. It was more sprawled out than St. Olaf was. I felt free. It felt like college. I remember feeling somewhat out of body at Denison, as if I was watching myself from afar. I sought out help at the IT office to fix my water-logged computer. I sang karaoke at the coffee house with a Denison student. I talked for almost two hours to another prospective student on the plane ride home, and didn’t even know his name until an hour and a half into the conversation.
If you’re getting lost in my yo-yoing pros of St. Olaf versus Denison, then you understand a taste of what’s been spinning in my mind these past few weeks. Ultimately, I knew that I could be happy at either school, but that each school would offer me something slightly different. I was trying to figure out what I wanted.
So let’s backtrack to Sunday, the first major step in my college decision. I woke up feeling deflated and helpless. My inability to make a decision was clouding my focus and making it difficult for me to be present or accomplish anything. I was anxious to get out of the house and get a change of scenery. I messaged my friend Maiel, who is always ready for an adventure, and asked her along for the journey.
We originally planned on hiking Mt. Monadnock, but as the morning slipped away, that plan got downgraded to Mt. Wachusett and eventually Walden Pond in Concord, MA. We both still had our full hiking gear, complete with backpacks, plenty of water, a day’s worth of snacks, first aid supplies, sunscreen, bug spray, and hiking boots. We were both eager to get away from civilization, which was harder at Walden than if we were climbing to the top of a mountain. We ventured deep into the woods though, eventually finding a stream and following it into an open field by another pond. We sprinted across it, feeling full of life and also slightly rebellious. Ignoring the “No trespassing” sign, we wandered around the pond, and eventually just lay in the field debriefing about life, which naturally for me, involved talking about college.
“The way you’re talking sounds like you want to go to Denison,” Maiel said.
“I don’t know, I can’t make a decision,” I said, and we soon started our trek back home. On our way, we came across railroad tracks.
Maiel, who also enjoys symbolism, took a poetic approach to them. “You know, railroad tracks are kind of romantic,” she said. “They represent the confinements of society. Society tells you to stay within their rigid path.”
Continuing with my rebellious feeling, I plopped myself down in the middle of them. (I recognize that to most, my “rebellious” actions of the day may sound pathetic, but they were freeing for me.) Maiel sat down next to me, and we started throwing rocks at the tracks, first one by one, seeing if we could bounce them off the track, and then by the handful, letting them fall where they fell, every rock another decision that we weren’t going to give a damn about and just let happen.
“Alright, now what you’re going to do is take this big rock, and throw it up into the air,” Maiel said, drawing a line with her foot in the tracks. “This side is Denison, and this side is St. Olaf. Wherever the rock lands, is where you’re going to go to college.” She hid behind the fence a good ten feet away so I wouldn’t impale her with the symbolism, and I threw the rock.
But the story doesn’t end here, because the rock fell on the St. Olaf side. (Besides, while I may have been feeling freer than usual, I’m not someone who can just let what could be a coincidence make my decision.)
“How do you feel?” Maiel asked.
“I don’t know!” I exclaimed. “I could be happy at either place!”
And I ran off the tracks and we continued our journey home, venturing off the trails some more, climbing trees, and trying to get as much outside ourselves as possible.
As we started making our way back to the car, I plopped myself down in the sand by the pond. “I don’t want to go home until I make a decision,” I said. “At home, there’s too much external influence. My mind is too cluttered.”
I was absent-mindedly playing in the sand for awhile when–"Stop!" Maiel shouted.
“You just made a D in the sand,” she said.
“You were starting to make an O, and I was about to say, 'I wish D’s and O’s didn’t look so similar,' but then the O went away and you started to make a line and then you made the D.”
“I think it’s Denison,” I said, suddenly feeling sure.
“Yes. But I can’t go home, because I know I’ll start second-guessing myself. I need to stay out of my house.”
We went back to her house and made dinner, and characteristic of me, over the course of the next few hours I started questioning my decision. It was 10:30 at night, and I was once again feeling stuck.
“I’m not leaving your house until I can call my mom with a decision about where I’m going to college next year,” I said.
“Do you need some wine? Do you need to get drunk to clear your head?” Maiel joked.
“No. I need fresh air,” I said. We went outside on her porch and I leaned over the railing, trying to imagine myself at each school and seeing how I felt, like what Mom used to make me do when I couldn’t figure out which stuffed animal I wanted to buy in the store.
“What’s your soul telling you?” Maiel asked after a few minutes.
“It’s telling me that St. Olaf is comfortable and is warm sweaters and my cousin Rachel and an Olaf stuffed animal. And Denison is scary and new and exciting.”
“And what do you want?” she prompted.
I left as quick as I could after that, anxious to call my mom before the doubt kicked back in. I called her in the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot, not wanting to risk the doubt that might sink in when I got home. I told her my decision, my tone scared, confident and excited.
That night, I felt the lightest I’d felt in a long time. I found my Clifford the Big Red Dog stuffed animal in the attic (Denison’s mascot is “Big Red”), and threw on my Denison sweatshirt. I danced, skipped, and ran around my neighborhood twice, smiling so much it hurt and crying because it was the first time I could really see my future. I laid on the grass for awhile, looking at the stars, and slept a sound 10 hours that night.
And then I woke up in the morning, panicked. All day Monday I was mopey and unsure. I started reconsidering St. Olaf and was leaning more towards there, even though we had a “Denison celebratory dinner” with burgers (Ohio has lots of farms and therefore good, grass-fed beef) and fries and chocolate shakes. On Tuesday, I went for a run with my childhood friend Coltin around Walden Pond and then out to breakfast, and I talked both of our heads in circles about which school I wanted to go to. We went back to his dad’s house and he was fixing his car. There was part of me that said I should get back home to work on memorizing songs for the musical Rent, but there was part of me that just wanted to stay and watch him work on his car, because that was new and exciting. There wasn’t much for me to do though, so I ended up leaving.
On my way back, I passed a flower stand and decided I really wanted flowers. What I originally wanted was magnolia flowers, a la the line in Carrie Underwood’s song “Crazy Dreamer,” “Hello you wild magnolias, just waiting to bloom.” But magnolias grow on trees, and even if I had the space to plant a new tree, the flower stand didn’t have any magnolia seedlings. I realized what I really wanted to do was plant something, so I went to O’Connor’s Hardware Store and bought a packet of wildflower seeds.
It’s then I made my decision. I would go to Denison, where I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get. I chose this particular packet of wildflower seeds for two reasons: one, because it didn’t specify the types of flowers that even could grow, and two, because of the line on the back of the packet,
"The large selection insures that many varieties will grow and prosper wherever planted and reseed themselves each year."
I, too, will grow and prosper wherever I’m planted, and I like the idea that I’m not sure what I’ll look like in full bloom.
I bought the seeds and drove home blaring Taylor Swift’s song “22." Luckily no one was home. I ran upstairs to my room, grabbed my checkbook and Denison acceptance packet, looked up how to write a check, and got out of the house as fast as I could to drive to the post office to mail my $300 deposit before anyone could get home and see what I was doing.
When I got to the post office, I slowed down my brain enough to fully recognize what I was doing and accept that. I didn’t want to make a rash decision, although I was purposefully keeping myself moving forward to stop myself from going into another circle of indecision. I asked a nice man at the post office to look over my deposit check and make sure I signed it correctly, and he told me to add the two 0’s over the 100 after the words "Three hundred" to indicate that it was $300 even. After quadruple-checking the check and enrollment card, I sealed the envelope, and dropped it in the blue mailbox where I couldn’t reach in and change my mind.
Turning around, I saw a girl I used to sing in the choir with that I hadn’t seen in years.
“I just mailed my deposit into college!” I said, eager to tell someone.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Denison University!” I exclaimed. She was the first person I told.
“Congratulations! My friend’s a junior and he was just touring there today,” she said.
I drove to Bedford Farms ice cream to get sugar cones because we had chocolate coconut-milk ice cream and chocolate Jimmies at home, and I wanted a celebratory ice cream cone. The girl behind the counter gave me six cones for free, because she couldn’t find a button for “just cones” in the register. I gave her a nice tip, and then turned back at the door to say, “I just enrolled to college!”
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“My friend will be a freshman there this fall and will be playing baseball!” she said. I was ecstatic––two people within a half hour who knew someone either attending or looking to attend Denison.
I wanted to share the joy. I drove back past my house to Market Basket to get a gallon of chocolate ice cream, and then finally drove home. I nonchalantly put the ice cream and cones away, and asked my stepdad where I could plant some wildflowers. I planted my seeds, digging my hands in the dirt and getting it under my fingernails, usually not one to enjoy dirty hands but loving the fresh earth scent. When my mom finished with her client, I gathered my family in the living room and announced my decision, and we all had ice cream cones. Shortly after I went for a walk and called my dad to tell him, and as I was finishing my walk I passed my childhood friend Bella’s house. Eager to tell someone else, I knocked on her door but didn’t wait for her to let me in.
“I’m going to college!” I shouted. I stayed for dinner and we hung out for almost two hours, which we haven’t done in a long time.
I’m writing all of this today, the day after, because I needed the time to process it all for myself. I didn’t post my college decision on Facebook yesterday, or tell all my friends and family. I didn’t wear my Denison sweatshirt to bed or drink out of my Denison mug. It would’ve been too overwhelming. I actually avoided packing a lot of red for my New York trip this week. I had my initial excitement, and now I need to process it. It reminds me of how I felt after my first date freshman year. I had my initial giddy excitement when I was first asked on the date, and then afterwards I was more quiet but feeling very content and fulfilled. That’s how I feel now.
I had another moment of self-doubt last night, questioning whether I'm trying to be someone I’m not by going to Denison. I don’t know what I’m going to get at Denison, like I don’t know what’s going to grow in my wildflower garden. And I feel okay. I will bring my sweaters and stuffed animals and love of theatre to Denison, but I will also be given the space to grow in an environment where I'm not surrounded by my familiar tastes.
I usually like being in control and knowing what's next, but I also like what happens when I’m out of control. I let myself be free and let what happens, happen. It’s how I fell in love this year with a boy two years my junior. It’s in those out of control moments that I surprise myself. I venture outside of who I’ve defined myself to be, and I grow.
Friday, April 10, 2015
There are days when I can't wait to leave high school, to leave home, to go out into the world and start defining my life. Then there are days like today, those "Oh my God, high school is ending" days. Suddenly everything feels rushed. I don't feel like I have time. I have to move on and leave some of my friends behind, where they'll continue being in high school without me. And while I know that I don't want to stay in high school, the comfort of it can be appealing. So I want to capture all of high school but I don't feel like I possibly can, and my schoolwork seems so insignificant compared to the people I want to see, the things I still want to do. It all piles on and I'm left feeling really overwhelmed.
I tried tangoing with friends to make sure I didn't isolate myself amidst my overwhelmingness. A run helped clear my head. Sex and the City and The Office were good mind-distractors. Chocolate frozen yogurt and peanut butter cups never hurt. But it always comes down to Lin-Manuel Miranda––composer, rapper, actor, lyricist, and playwright. Watching interviews with him and listening to his work never fails to remind me of the direction in which I'm headed.
Before I performed Miranda's Tony-award winning musical In the Heights my junior year of high school, I knew I wanted to study theatre in college. But studying Miranda's musical intensified that passion for me. While preparing for In the Heights, I watched every YouTube video imaginable about the show and Miranda. I soaked up every interview, every backstage tour, every promotional video.
If I were to say who my idol is, it would be him. He, along with those he has brought with him in his artistic endeavors (Alex Lacamoire, Thomas Kail, Christopher Jackson) are spearheading this next generation of art. Miranda doesn't just create art––he creates timeless art, as evidenced by the stories he chooses to tell. (His new musical Hamilton, which I saw back in February at the Public Theatre, tells the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.) His art already spans generations.
Tonight, watching videos of Hamilton was what relaxed me. I just want to soak up everything Miranda says. His genius of turning a 800+ page biography into a hip-hop musical astounds me. He said in an interview with CBS (warning about spoilers in the video) that by the time he had finished the second chapter, he was looking online, saying, "Someone's already made this into a musical. How could someone not make this into a musical?" That sureness, that clarity of vision, is the most incredible feeling. In my limited directing experience, the best way I can describe it is like wearing a different pair of glasses. Everything looks clearer. Unnecessary muck is blocked out of my sight. I see the stage, I see what's in front of me, and I start to construct my vision.
The underlying message of Hamilton is, "Who lives, who dies, who tells your story." Miranda is telling the story of Alexander Hamilton. He is bringing Hamilton of the late 18th century into the 21st century, making sure he lives on. Art tells stories. It crosses bridges between social classes and generations, creates this universality. I want to tell stories.
I still don't know where I want to go to college next year, but I know that I want to end up where Lin-Manuel Miranda is. I'm ending one chapter of my life and moving on to the next. I feel like I can see what I want five chapters from now to look like. Now it's just a matter of figuring out how I fill in the ones in between, what will best get me to that target chapter.