I’m looking down at my sunburned skin. It’s peeling a little bit because I forgot to put on sunscreen yesterday… and a couple of weeks before that. My hands are cut and scabbing over a little bit. So are my arms. My face it tan but things are a little lighter on my forehead where my bandana has consistently blocked the skin from the sun. My legs are little tight and sore; my knees ache a little bit from the wobbly-kneed descent I made yesterday down a ridgeline.
I’m sitting outside right now. Frankly, I couldn’t be bothered to stay inside any longer. I have a homework assignment that was really due about two hours ago… that I didn’t start until this morning… but I’ve been inside all day and couldn’t stand to think about it any longer. By contrast, I spent well over ten hours outside yesterday, and a good chunk of the daylight hours outside the day before that. Right now, I’m longing for that. To be back outside all day. To feel a breeze instead of the steady, slightly chilling constant stream of air that emanates from an air conditioner. Right now, I’m longing to be back on top of that mountain with 360-degree views where you could see the horizon if it were for the mist steadily settling into the valleys all around.
I’m kind of living in two worlds right now. In one, I’m outwardly this person I’ve been describing: tan, rugged-feeling, desirous of simplicity, eager to live in my body, use my muscles, be cold, hot, sweaty, smelly, check my phone not for missed calls or email but for a topo map that I downloaded that time when I last had cell-phone service, healthy, clear-headed, stressed by real things like water, food and shelter, alive and aware and free. I want to farm, grow food, lift heavy things, have animals, walk, be in the woods, and have silence. Sitting up on that mountain the only thing I could hear was… something way in the distance. I’m not even sure what it was. The only road was miles away.
In the other world, I’m supposed to be a graduate student: eager, careful, and attentive to detail; excited to study the minutia of my field, a field that every time I mention people go “what’s that?” After a long-winded explanation, which is actually the shortest one I’ve been able to come up with, people usually respond with a mildly disinterested “oh… cool.” I haven’t had the heart yet, but I want to openly agree with them. “Oh… cool” is about how I feel about what I do.
I’m torn. I know where I want to be. I know what I want to be doing. I know which world I want to be in: the peeling skin, wobbly-kneed, long days and cold nights world, but I haven’t had the heart yet to walk away from everything I’ve worked for to get to where I am now. I wear a radiation badge and have a lab coat with my name embroidered on it. That’s cool right? Isn’t that what I wanted? It was a year ago… maybe.
I get butterflies when I think about later this summer, when I’ll be out hiking for 2-3 weeks straight. I get flutters of excitement when I ask myself the question of “what if I just didn’t come back?” Those flutters also come with a lot of apprehension though. A lot. It’s not as simple as just packing up and walking away. And despite the excitement I feel at the prospect of packing up and walking away, what if this is just a case of “the grass is always greener?”
How would I make money? Where would I live? Would I even be able to do the things that I want to do? And what if it all fails entirely? It all sounds a little trite when I write it out here, but that shit’s for real. Right now I have enough balance in my life to be happy: “work” during the week and then go outside on the weekends and do the things that I really want to do, but as soon as Alex leaves I have a sinking feeling that the balance will disappear. This wonderful, exhausting, yet very real and living balance will fade, and I think that my time here will conclusively be unhappy.
In the life out here up to this point I have been stressed about petty and unimportant things, I’m not very interested in the things I’m doing for school (in fact, I can’t stand the “school” part of it and the research is pretty boring and unexciting too), I find it difficult if not impossible to do the things that I really want to do, I have a hard time meeting friends, I’m not free to do what I want, and my time is easily monopolized by others, I’m not near my friends or family, and… my apartment doesn’t get any direct sunlight. Haha. I’m also surrounded by people who aren’t interested in the same things and they’re all guys… which sucks (sorry about how eloquent that statement is). I see groups of people who walk around together with headphones in and cellphones on and no matter how hard I try, I just feel distant from it all. Just so damn distant.
But what are the pros of being here: the prospect of a solid, high-paying job when I’m done, the merit associated with a Ph.D. four years from now, living in Los Angeles is exciting in a way (but that statement has a lot of caveats). My parents are proud, I’m doing “what I always wanted.” … I have a steady “income” right now.
More telling than anything though is that I’m actually kind of out of ideas after just writing those couple of things.
I’m not really happy here. Since Alex has gotten here I’ve been happy and mostly stress-free, but she’s really the reason. Not just her, but her presence (and realistically the presence of her car) has opened up doors to get AWAY from all the stuff here. That’s what making me happiest: NOT doing what I’ve been doing and NOT being where I’ve been. All week long I slog through the bare minimum of work so that I can get to the weekend, or the nighttime when I can plan and think and escape to the world of long-distance trails, and worm composting, and good dinners. And I know that packing up and going somewhere else isn’t going to only result in those things, but also a lot of other challenges and with its own hardships… but maybe it’s worth it.
Maybe it’s worth it.