Now that I have broken out of “the system,” am a “free woman,” and can do anything that I please, the possibilities that lay ahead seem more like an overwhelming nebulous blur than a clear illuminated path to my ideal future. My philosophy of keeping doors open has always translated into a mental image of white poufy clouds, each carrying a door with a beautiful golden handle with golden sunshine rays pouring in, beckoning me to all the possibilities my future holds. Now that I have the opportunity to take those golden sunshine rays up on their offer, that mental image is different. I see a long hall with terrible red velvet carpet, flickering gothic sconces, doors laden with thick wrought iron handles, and a chute to an abyss on the other side.
So, when I close my eyes these days, that is what I see. But I shake my head and open them, and tell myself I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to come here, to fulfill at least what I thought was my dream the moment I said “I’m going!” Taking responsibility for my actions has become a theme lately- that translates into me telling myself, “Well, kid, this is what you wanted, so you better get the best out of it.”
Fear not, my friends- I do not hate life over here in Beirut. Quite to the contrary. I happen to have just watched My Sisters Keeper, can barely see through my swollen, teary eyes, and am having a moment of introspection. Sappy movies about valuing family, friends and life in general always reel me into some serious thinking about what I am running away from. Or towards? Or, am I just running for the sake of running?
When I think about what I am going to do when I graduate with my Masters in Urban Planning and Policy in June 2012, I always think first about the people I want to surround myself with. I think of Northern California and being in my Mothers kitchen, leaning up against the counter and seeing a room full of women that mean the world to me. Friends I have known since pre-school, friends I have traveled the world with. Friends who are falling in love, having babies, living their lives- all with out me. I get email updates, I see them once a year if I am lucky. It is always as though nothing has changed. Same faces, same kitchen table, same love.
I also think of DC. In DC there is a group of young, brilliant people who choose to be in this particular city because they are driven to shape the future of our country. A group of leaders and mentors who supported me even though I was different. People who think like me, and even better, people who don’t. Friends and old colleagues who I became an adult with, who challenged my perceptions, who encouraged and supported me when I decided to drop it all and walk away. Friends who I could not have made this choice without.
And oddly, the place that exists in the fuzzy allure of over-exposed vintage film fantasy is Indiana. When I think of bliss, I think of an old country road to a lake in southern Indiana that I’m not sure I have ever been on. It is a fantasy of simplicity, bass fishing, flannel shirts, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. It is watching drive-in movies, running through corn fields, and shooting the shit with my college roommates under the stars. It is the warm glow of 4460 Broadway street, and watching the fireflies twinkle as I dance on the porch to old records with my grandfather.
I think of all these people and places, and I can’t figure out where I want to be. I can’t figure out where I need to be. And worst of all, I actually need to decide. It is time to grow up, and it is time to decide where this life is taking me. Or, I guess this is the point where I say: It is time for me to decide where I am taking this life.
Do I apply to USAID and bridge my old career with a new one, live in DC and work for a mission which flies an altruistic banner that I can stand tall under? Where I can travel the world, have long philosophical conversations about politics and war, and go to Nationals games? Give James a break from Maria by going shopping, enjoying fall leaves and eating at the newest restaurant we have salivated over? What will I do about my serious misgivings about the greater political context in which aid is given?
Do I move home to the Bay Area and work for some urban planning company and let my life revolve around car turning radii, increasing public space in housing developments, and calming rush hour traffic through transportation infrastructure interventions? Babysit while Celia and Bob have date night, go to Napa with the girls and watch another one of my friends bite the dust and get hitched? But after the places I have been and the things that have become a part of me, can Marin keep me happy?
Now translating Indiana to a future is the tough one. What makes me want to go to Indiana as quickly as possible is my Grandmother. When I was leaving Indiana in August, I said goodbye to her. I said goodbye being quite sure that she would not be sitting in her chair by the time I got back. If my Grandmother is still alive when I come home, my decision may be made.
Where am I in all of these equations? I can’t separate myself from the prospect of being with the people I love. But I love people in all of these places. So peeling back the next layer still leaves just me. I want it all. I want all of these things, and I want all of these people to continue to be a part of my life. Asides from being a wandering nomad, I am still at a loss on how this all works out. I feel like all of this running has me coming to an edge- a sea cliff perhaps, one I have no interest in going over. Or maybe I am running up a big mountain path, and when I get to the top, I will have to come back down. I can’t expect anyone to keep up with all this running, especially when I don’t know where I am going.
I’m having trouble with the mental image of my end point- what happiness and satisfaction will look like. For now it is me with my eyes closed, smiling and feeling content. On a porch- somewhere. Surrounded by friends- which ones, I am not sure. But for sure I know that this smiling me has made up her mind, and she is content- and this contentment doesn’t mean giving up dreams, friends or family. Now I just need to figure out how I find this porch and I’m sure the rest will fall into place.