I live in the same city where I went to college. Still. It’s a small city, with one Main Street where all the college kids flock to for a drink or Homecoming weekend. New restaurants open up every week, it seems, and parking fees have gone up since the time I started illegally parking. Today, I took a walk through campus. I like doing that from time to time, because the campus energy hasn’t changed, even if the buildings have. That’s a weird thing to notice – energy. I get that. But what I notice is mostly weird even to myself, so I just go with it.
The heart of our campus is on a stretch of lawn called The Green. It’s the greenest lawn in the city, no matter how many dogs poop on it. If you stand on the end of Main Street looking out towards The Green, you’ll see Memorial Hall at the very end, it’s ascending stairs leading up to the great white doors that I’ve opened a million times from 2006 to 2010. Alongside Memorial Hall, lined up perfectly, are other buildings I’ve walked past – both as a college student and as a nostalgic non-student: Wolf Hall, where I took my Psych class with a girl who wouldn’t stop talking about her one night stand; Gore Hall, where I only went in to pee because the bathrooms were nicer; Mitchell Hall, where I went to see a string quartet play right after one of my Shakespeare classes one night; and two or three other Halls that were mostly Labs, that I passed because they were of no interest to a nerdy English major.
I used to walk the length of The Green towards Memorial Hall for all of my English classes. I took every course I could, and if I could take them again in a given semester, I would have. That’s how much I loved being an English major. In my four years of college, I never looked past what I was studying. I didn’t pause to question that what I was giving my time and attention to would ever be of practical benefit once I left school. I was always in the moment, presently in awe of Keats and Gilmore and Poe and Bronte. I even fell into a complicated fascination with adverbs and correct conjugations, making Venn diagrams of nouns and verbs and all of their connecting extremities. After class, I would find a nook in Gore Hall – after peeing, and only because it was the nookiest nook in all of campus buildings – and cuddle into my oversized sweater and shawl with “The Yellow Wallpaper,” highlighting each line and scribbling my analytical notes in the margins. Nothing else mattered but the captivating prose I was diving deep into, and no matter whose words I read or what sentence I was grammatically dissecting, I was all there.
I had friends and friends of friends who didn’t understand my fascination with literature, or why I wanted to pursue English as a course of study. In the back of my mind, I was acutely aware that life after college – in that sketchy period where you’re supposed to find work and shit – was going to be hard. I wasn’t cut out for crunching numbers or analyzing data. I didn’t have a fancy internship lined up with big banks or known investors. In fact, I wrote press releases for my internship, and folded brochures. But I could stand tall and still recite Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy that I learned back in high school, and that to me was the biggest gift. Words, strung together like stars in the sky, coming from the soul in sounds uttered.
In my present moments of study, I birthed a passion for art. As four years of college unraveled, I fed that passion, and in return, it nurtured me. I began this path of appreciation for everything beautiful: words, pictures, sights, and sounds. Art. People, even. Maybe some logical side of my brain understood that practically speaking, I couldn’t live off of art. Art wouldn’t pay my rent. But here’s where I see I’ve made a different choice, both as a college student and a wise non-student: I pursued this art solely because of how it made me feel as a human being. No strings attached, no financial gain, no long-term plan to profit from it. All I wanted was to feel each word a poet on his deathbed felt, or an artist wanted to soulfully portray through each brushstroke. These moments of placing myself into a body of work by simply being so engaged with the material was the highlight of my college experience. I think it gave me this skill to seek out the beautiful in everything around me. It built a new sense in me, to so often pause and stand in the simplicity of art that is all around me. That has created parts of me – parts that are now forming a writer and a teacher and a passionate individual. So it turns out, art creates pieces of us, just as long as we allow this internal creation to begin.
I could have been so many things – banker, adviser, accountant, biologist. And I’m not sure I am really much of anything, even now, 7 years post-grad. And I realized that today, as I took my walk through my campus. I am aware. I am passionate. I am in awe of how the leaves fall and give me this quick surge of inspiration to write a poem. I am a writer. I am an observer of language and people and energy of a campus I love to this day. I am someone who walks the length of The Green and smiles for no reason that I can logically explain, only that smiling makes me feel alive in that moment. And to be aware of that? It’s a gift. I could have been so many things, but what I am right now is needed in this world. Art, language, and the ability to joyfully live with the two is what I bring to this world, in its time of need. At the end of the day, art is needed. And people who see that art are the ones we’ve been waiting for. It feels nice to be around people who seek out organization and order. But it feels even better to be around people who seek nothing at all that makes logical sense, and to see that magic unfold in their presence is what reminds us all that we’re maybe a little bit of magic ourselves.
What I do for a living is not what defines who I am or what feeds my passion. I haven’t failed because I didn’t align my job with four years of crash-course study. On the contrary, I found depths within myself that have only grown stronger since college. I always remember da Vinci’s “Renaissance Man.” A man who knew and wanted to know a little bit of everything. I hope one day, there’s a major in that. Because it’s not always about sticking to one path to funnel into a living. Sometimes, it’s wrapping your arms around a bunch of awesome, soul-filling things, and just experiencing the pleasure of how that manifests your life purpose. If it weren’t for my desire to know everything beautiful, I wouldn’t be this wisely aware writer today. And I think the world needs us writers and artists. In fact, I know the world does.
There is art and beauty in a drop of water. Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it serves no purpose to the ones who can’t wait for it.