Perhaps unsurprisingly for a Greek, I spend a lot of my time thinking about debt. The debt in question at the moment is a narrative one. Is there a shelf life to the stories we haven’t told, but wish we had? Is it best to consider them told, wipe the slate clean, and start the new story right where we are?
I have also been thinking about our capacity to write. As I have learned this year, I can produce words, hundreds of words, thousands of them, almost on command (and caffeine). But I can only produce one type of thousands of words at a time. When my capacity to write is entirely consumed by footnotes, the more reflective, personal words do not flow. And thus this space has been gathering cobwebs, as I have been caught between hesitancies: I am hesitant to write the this-is-what-I-had-for-lunch posts, orthe my-life-is-sparklier-than-yours posts. In many senses, this has been a time of constants: I am still relearning how to walk. I am still recovering, still grieving. I am in awe of spring and blossoms every time I walk out my front door, and even more in awe of the fact that I can indeed walk. Writing comes with a pressure to report on the rupture and when those ruptures are more private or oblique than the continuities, their stories remain untold.
Here we are, then. In the middle of the story.
The parts that came before: Writing, ceaseless writing, of the footnoted kind. Books making their way back to the library shelves, leaving my home feeling empty, but for the post-it flag notes they left behind. Gabo dying, taking a piece of my young adulthood with him. Making maps. A Presidential Award. The Ladies Who Law. Ladies who law making flashcards together, ladies who law debating legal cases, ladies who law on a boat. Synchronized gardening because that is how Boston engages in all its seasonal sports: coordinated leaf-blowing, followed by synchronized shoveling, followed by the day we all garden in sundresses in 40-degree weather as a silent pact that it is finally spring. Dancing until the building shakes, then icing my foot the morning after. Round upon round of nostalgia for grad school, and the people we shared it with. Nostalgically formatting more footnotes, nostalgically dancing, nostalgically walking home, nostalgically going through the motions of graduating. Caps and gowns and tearful family members, and the surprise realization that happy occasions do not always feel lonely for the grieving. Further realizations that, in the US, graduation means barbecue and young people recklessly on boats. Thoughts about the families we make and stumble upon, in addition to the ones we were born into or lost.
And the parts that come now: reconstructing the everyday life.
I had not anticipated reconstruction to be a process (which, trust me, is equal parts remarkable and embarrassing for someone who works on conflict and post-conflict issues…). The rest of the world moves fast on the Monday after graduation, because it is another Monday. The facilities crew take down the tents, the vendors fold away the chairs, the field is used for baseball again. There will come a time to reflect on the many lessons of graduate school. Now, though, is the time for noticing the subtle processes of piecing together the next stage of life. This time of transition is one in which coffee is not an urgent thought. A calendar can be stripped of its colored blocks. It really is possible to meet you for breakfast on Tuesday, or lunch, or coffee, or dinner, or drinks — because I am free. All of the time. And yet, my mind wanders back to the unfinished projects, the footnotes not yet formatted, the stories not yet told, the big and little work to be done out there in the world. This is a space of yearning for sleep and missing the momentum of driven dedication; a space of mourning the loss of community and celebrating its transformation; a space of cautious optimism and utter fright about the future.
I have been here before. I graduated from college. I moved halfway across the world. To a war zone. And then again, and again, and again. I said goodbye, I cried on planes, I attached myself to people and places again, and then cried on the flights that took me away from them anew. I learned — in classrooms and in people’s homes, formally and unexpectedly alike. I broke myself, literally and metaphorically, and recovered. I learned how to learn and how to leave love behind, how to find inspiration and structure where there is seemingly none and how to cherish the lack of rigidity.
This is, therefore, a familiar space and one which, for now, I am navigating from memory. “I should eat well again,” I say, buying a juicer and stockpiling the kale (someone please explain to me how, while I was living in a footnote, kale became so trendy). I take a walk during the daytime. I rearrange the desk, shuffle the photos on the wall around. I should rest radically. Read for pleasure. Return those emails. I try to remember all those other times I had to build a life anew, as though I am recalling steps from a dance I once knew.
This is a period for re-reading: re-reading old emails and love letters, re-reading field notes from my very first ventures into this professional world, re-reading the underlined passages in my favorite books. I inevitably return to Joan Didion. She writes, in a passage about her husband’s attitude towards their trip to Paris: “He meant doing things not because we were expected to do them or had always done them or should do them, but because we wanted to do them. He meant wanting. He meant living.”
As Didion would have it, reconstructing the everyday lies neither in the should’s of a juicer and kale (no surprises there!) nor in the expectations of others for what shape this new life may take. Rather, it hides in figuring out what to want after this: what to want after all the effort has been channeled, all the feelings have been expended, and we are sitting here, out of steam but full of ideas, with our diplomas in our laps. Joan Didion’s husband “meant wanting. He meant living.” Reconstructing the everyday means revisiting the wanting and living questions and being prepared for the answers to be different than when I left Uganda, or Colombia, or Guatemala, or… or… or…
There is a social impatience for the ellipses. Every congratulations is followed by an exclamation point followed by a question about my future. For now, however, the ellipses feel like home.