I’ve just opened my rejection from the Fulbright Fellowship. I close the e-mail and open it up again. Twenty minutes go by. An hour. Two. I have never been rejected before. Not ever. I had hoped to spend the year writing about Borges in Argentina, but instead, I’m in a daze, searching through my inbox for the e-mail of the woman I worked for last summer.
When I find it, I immediately ask for a job. She e-mails me back letting me know there’s been a hiring freeze, sorry. I panic and apply to teach in Spain. Everyone gets into this program. When I open yet another rejection e-mail, I find myself staring at my computer until the screen goes black, five half-eaten chocolate bars scattered around the desk, wondering what I’d do next.
Jobless and with no plans, I do the only sensible thing someone in my position would do: I ask my boyfriend to marry me. A few weeks before graduation, he told me that he was on his way to London for a master’s degree, and I figure marriage is the ideal way to get a visa into the country so I can spend nine months writing in the same library as Gandhi and Karl Marx. He seems to like the idea but just not yet. Instead we decide to spend the summer living with his mother in Colorado, where I try nearly everything I can to find a profession that fulfills me.
While living in Colorado, I wrote articles for a non-profit hospital, translated for a German artist’s new media installation, and even tended the brief hope of professional weightlifting, but I felt unfulfilled by all of them. Not knowing where to go, I took an unpaid internship at a publishing company in Minneapolis. If I couldn’t write a book, I could edit one! It turns out the process of editing a book was more painstaking than I thought, so, dissatisfied with my publishing life, I decided to study to become a psychologist.
School wasn’t what I hoped for either. I didn’t have the talent for psychology. I even tried joining a yoga group, but it turned out to be a poor fit. We spent every night together eating the same food, breathing the same breaths. My breaking point was when I had to walk around campus giving hugs to students, who probably thought my kindness was part of a 12-step program.
By the time spring exams rolled around, I found myself in a therapist’s office for the first time in my life. While he talked to me, I wanted to listen. I wanted to think his explanations would help fulfill me since everything else I tried had failed. As I was about to give up hope that anything he would tell me could help, he stopped speaking and looked at me. After a long pause, he set aside his paper and asked me what I was searching for.
There comes a point in the Return of the King when Frodo is pretty sure he’s journeyed as far as he can go. This isn’t like the countless other times he’s been dragged down. It’s the worst of the worst. He’s close to Mordor, suspended, pale, depressed, lost, and all he wants to do is get back to the Shire, have a cup of tea with a hunk of country cheese, and take a good, long nap.
I suppose it’s too simple to point out that the Shire speaks to me not because of its delectable cheeses or rosy plump hobbit ladies, but because it is Frodo’s imagined love. He wants it bad while he’s away, but when he goes back to it, he finds his passion lost, his search for Mordor taking him to a place inside himself that he never imagined; he could never plan.
The afternoon I came home from the therapist’s office, I looked out at the drab Wisconsin skyline and admitted to myself that I did not know what I was searching for. I had always thought I needed only one perfect decision to make everything else in my life fall into place and when things didn’t go the way I planned, I began to think that nothing would. But my journey took me somewhere I never imagined I could go. My needs and desires changed, and I soon realized that my search for a job, an important and meaningful one, was really the evolving, messy process of searching to find out what made me tick.
Sitting at my computer once again, shaking the mouse so that the screen turned from the dark reflection of my face to the dull illumination of the desktop, I looked up the meaning of the word search. It just so happened that one day, a long time ago, it began as the Latin word for circle.