Thursday, December 31, 2015

Going Out on a Limb

Eight months ago I sat in a tree overlooking Walden Pond with my friend Maiel. It was a day of adventures––philosophical conversations in an empty field, going off the path, throwing rocks defiantly across railroad tracks, and daring society to force us to conform to unspecified societal norms. For those of you who read my post, "...will grow and prosper wherever planted", you'll recognize this as the adventure I went on with Maiel in April, on a journey to decide where I was going to college. After an affirmative "D" drawn in the sand, I could hear my heart voice pronounce its need to go to Denison University in Granville, Ohio. Eight months later, after my first semester at Denison, I've had another soul-fulfilling adventure with Maiel that wonderfully captured my last four months at college.

Our "Adventure Trees" (Mine: Left ; Maiel's: Right)

Above is just one of the many crafts we made. The inspiration for these trees come from Windy Sunset's Creations. Windy Sunset's Creations calls them gem trees. We call them Adventure Trees, reminiscent of the monumental adventure we had back in April. For me, that adventure marked the liberating risk of choosing an uncertain future. Granted, the future is inherently uncertain, but as I reflected in my April blog post, Denison was more uncertain than St. Olaf. I chose Denison because I knew there were parts of myself aside from English and Theatre that I had yet to discover. As I wrote in my April post, "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 would bring my solid foundation to the unfamiliar soil, and allow new branches to grow. The result was much like my "Adventure Tree:" very unstable. 

I liken our trees to Banyan Trees. The Collins Dictionary of Biology defines a Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) as, "an Indian tree best known for the production of large aerial roots that are let down from its larger branches and, in effect, form secondary trunks which give extra support and allow the tree to spread." Maiel's tree is the main trunk of the Banyan tree. With its well-balanced branches and neat, evenly spaced out roots, it reflects 18 years of a developed foundation: strong relationships with teachers and peers, invested in her high school's drama program, and a developing romance. I could be describing her foundation or mine (they're similar in these three areas), although it's not for me to describe her emotional attachment to it. I can say that my own emotional attachment to my main trunk was strong––stronger than I realized. 

I didn't realize how comfortable I was with my tight knit drama group and established relationships until I started branching out. I brought my stuffed animals and sweaters and love of theatre to Denison. However, despite my initial romanticization of spending every free moment in the theatre and late night walks up the hill from rehearsal, I opted out of the first show for fear of overcommitting myself like I did in high school. Without a cast or a character to immerse myself in, and without my familiar teachers, friends, and environment, I felt like I was dangling in the tree. Unlike the main trunk, the roots growing from the branches aren't neat and orderly, like Maiel's tree. They're like mine––tangled and desperate to cling to something familiar. (I think this is why my first friend was someone who carried a briefcase––he reminded me of my friend Alex.) 

What I sometimes forgot was that this new limb was part of an already built foundation. It's the line I drew between "pre-Denison Megan" and "Denison Megan" that left me feeling so disconnected. It felt like I was starting my life over. When I finally realized that this new limb was attached to my main trunk, and would ultimately strengthen my total foundation, I was able to relish in the uncertainty of the ungrounded roots. I can objectively say now that not diving into theatre was the best decision I could've made for myself this semester. If I had gotten right in with a cast, I likely would've followed one group of people, and lost out on the opportunity to let my roots explore new territory. It's through dangling that I found myself in the Communications department so often, and engaging in interfaith dialogue at the house for spiritual and religious life. I'm clarifying what it is I love about English and Theatre––how they help people communicate. Most importantly, recognizing that my "two selves" don't need to be as separate as I thought opened up the possibility of a multi-dimensional self––a Megan Lovely larger than the theatre-enthusiastic, academic-driven, and self-controlled individual, including parts I don't like. 

As I realized sitting in that tree at Walden Pond eight months ago, going out on a limb is liberating. What's most significant about the Banyan Tree is that it's the trunks that grow from these limbs that strengthen the core foundation of the tree, and allow it to spread. Before going to college, I was in the habit of saying, "I can't make a decision." The growth I experienced during my first semester at Denison–a school I chose–assures me that I can make decisions. It's affirmative of the power of not just choosing, but embracing uncertainty. These last four months have given me the confidence and strength to keep going out on a limb, and spreading out to unexplored soil.