We sat down on the back porch in the wicker set my mom had refurbished. The air was warm and sweet. The small farm we lived on was blooming into a luscious summer. I felt nervous that night but also invigorated.
“I’m not going back to school in the fall,” I said.
My parents were as quiet as I explained how I wanted to be a writer, that I’d already written half a novel. I showed them the papers I had my best friend print out for me earlier that day. My dad looked them over as we talked. They hid their disappointment and offered me gracious support instead. I knew they wanted me to finish, and I knew that my mom was crying in the garage that night. Still, they read my shitty first draft and let me do what I wanted to do.
I was twenty then, fed up with Anthropology classes forced on me by the Gen Ed system and the math class I kept dropping. I would sit in class writing stories to wave my rebellious flag. Throughout my two years of education, I had flip-flopped between Social Work and an English major, thinking I wanted to be a writer but I also didn’t want to be selfish. I was a spinning compass that couldn’t land, so dropping out felt like direction. Jack Kerouac was the new goal.
Well now I’m twenty-six and I start my first class tomorrow. It has been almost seven years since I stepped foot in a college classroom and I am paralyzed with anxiety to return. However, I am too tired of the life I settled into when I threw college out the window.
When I was twenty, I thought within my new found freedom I would blossom into something real and raw and that I would make art to move souls. In reality though, within that freedom, I have only been keeping up with life while continuing to hope on the side. I still dream, but I dream alongside a part-time job as a retirement home waitress and photographing weddings on the weekends. I dream alongside vacuuming my apartment floor and stretching a pot of chicken soup a few days. There’s more keeping me grounded to survival methods than there is to writing a book. Or whatever it is you want to do- if you’re more than halfway through your twenties, you probably know that your weeks are made up of more Gen Ed. anthropology classes about the importance of horses in the Eskimo community than they are writing poetry in a sunbathed coffee shop.
Most nights, I get home tired. My feet are aching and I smell like a stove when I take my apron off. I make a note to get to the laundromat so I can wash the stuffed shells off of it. I make a quick dinner. I take a shower, think of the things I forgot to do while the hot water asks to soothe me. Then I fall asleep on the couch watching Netflix. When I wake up finally to turn it off and move to the bed, I think in the sweet darkness of night about the book I want to write one day. In reality, that has been the life I have made since ditching school. Not invaluable, but not all I want.
From twenty to twenty-six, I have learned that life will ask you to make dinner and make money and make trips to the laundromat. But it also relentlessly asks you, usually in the sacred middle of the night, to make something meaningful. Sometimes, you have to step out of the life you settled into prematurely to do that. Returning to school is not necessarily the answer. I think the answer is realizing I can start over and do that meaningful thing.
So return to school.
Or quit your minimum waged job.
Or break up with that guy.
Or move to Boston.
If you want to start over, start over. Each morning with a brand new day, life tells us that starting over is good and possible. We are allowed that privilege. So if you want to, start over.