I Tend to Come Apart on Trains
I tend to come apart on trains.
There's something about the liminal space of them; that in-between, not quite anywhere feeling that nourishes my reflective (and overdramatic) side. Throw in a sunset or a rainstorm, or any kind of weather that feeds my ability to wander the full spectrum of my emotions; add my headphones and a Starbucks Christmas takeaway cup, and you've got the recipe for a dreamy, introverted girl's fall-apart-on-a-train kind of situation.
I'll read a book whose world overtakes mine, or blog posts that make my heart ache; I journal about how lost I feel and text friends the kind of unfiltered messages I would normally backspace. I listen to sad playlists that make me want to cry, and thank God that I'm still capable of feeling something, after another week that's left me numb. I huddle in corners of freezing cold stations, hands cradling that Christmassy cup, and I tell myself that this is romantic: the girl you see on movie screens, buried cute beneath woolly hat and scarf, about to face the world's challenges with fierce independence. I tell myself that this is exciting, that this is adventure.
But really, this is running away.
This is me doing what I do: disengaging with life, because life is hard and I don't want to take responsibility for it. This is half-committing to everything so I can turn away when I can't make things perfect. Running away to a different city for the weekend, the distraction of old friends pulling me back to that past world, so I can ignore this current one for a while.
I'm more inclined to flight than fight. My every instinct is retreat: away from social engagements that require more energy than I have; away from lending a helping hand that would cost me a little too much comfort; away from academic responsibility that both bores and frightens me. I withdraw. I run away, or I become hibernation girl, safely retreating to my room, “Gilmore Girls” on Netflix, "just to switch off for a bit." I'm concerned that I'm switching off too much. My habit of disengaging when life doesn't match up with “perfect” has trained my mind to flee so far from reality that any dreams I once held for the future have given up and gone to sleep.
I want to reengage.
Graduation is coming (with the minor issue of final year still standing in the way), and I've been blanking on the future. I want to be able to choose the path that will make life make sense, but I can't do that, and if it's not perfect then I don't want it and so I'll go back to “Gilmore Girls,” thanks.
When you've spent your whole life learning to flee the moment things become uncomfortable, it takes more than one well-intentioned day to rewire those systems. Reengaging is scary: it means taking responsibility again, facing up to the gaping hole that is post-graduation and thinking honestly and carefully about what I want to fill it with. It means allowing myself to accept a future that won't always be perfect, or free from boredom, uncertainty, or just hard times.
If I want to reclaim my future, I have to wake up to it.
On a good day, I'm so excited about the post-grad world opening up to me. I could do anything! I could go anywhere! I'm entitled to pursue any job that takes my fancy, or to take a year off. I could move across the world just for the heck of it. I could be applying to grad schemes or grad schools right now (which I'm totally not, but oh well). I could get a job at a coffee shop in the same city I live in now. I could move home, if I really wanted. I could become a hermit on a remote island and write poetry for the rest of my days. I could go big, or I could go small: it's all open to me! I'm lucky for that and I'm grateful. But I'm also in need of big shiny arrow to point out the right direction; what's the point in options if I can only choose one?!
I know this sounds ridiculous, like all subconscious thought processes do when you give them airspace. If I'm aiming for a future where I never doubt the choices I make, I know I'm likely to be let down. I want to trust myself more. To be brave enough to face up to the gaping hole, consider my options and trust myself to choose one. To think about what I want, what I'm good at and what I care about, and allow it to lead me to something. And then, commit. Not forever—but for a little while, and see what happens when I focus my energy into one thing that I believe to be good for me.
Maybe I'll commit to this little university town after I'm done studying, to see what else we have to offer each other. Commit to my church, my neighbours, my community; forgoing “adventure” in place of loyalty, sticking around and honouring this place that's seen me grow the last few years. Or maybe commitment means something a little scarier: choosing a dream and chasing it, across the country or across the world, and trusting it to be meaningful enough without constantly thinking of everything else I could be doing. Forget about the thousands of options for a little while, and focus on the one that ends up in front of me.
Chances are, I won't be perfect at whatever I end up doing after graduation. Life will still have its bad days, as much as that pains my idealist-brain to face up to, I have to accept it. But I hope I at least take the risk of being less-than-perfect, because the only alternative is not showing up at all. Wherever I end up, I hope I am engaged with that place.
So the next time I'm on a train, blanketed in knitwear against the cold, with that vanilla latte in hand, I won't think of it as running away. I will think of it as adventure.
I won't be perfect. But I'll be there.