last, last, last

There’s a strange climate around the talk of “lasts”: the last home basketball game, the last round of midterms, the last spring break, the last semester of university, you get the gist. Oh sure, people will laugh and pump their fists when they speak of these lasts, taking inspiration from the finality of the whole ordeal to prompt themselves and others to live it up, reminding everyone that, you know, YOLO. And then people will laugh at the use of the phrase, “YOLO,” probably make fun of the individual that said it and go on smiling and joking and pushing the actuality of the lasts to the backs of their minds.

Truthfully, lasts are kind of scary. So whenever someone brings them up, I do the laughing, joking thing and pretend like it isn’t actually the last time I get a week off of work to hang out with my friends or the last time I’ll ever cram for a midterm or the last time I’ll ever get to start my day at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

Crossing my fingers that that last one isn’t entirely true.

But the truly strange thing about lasts is what it does to our ideas about how these last things should go. It shouldn’t, but these lasts make the events attached to the word carry more weight than they usually would – suddenly, we find ourselves burdened with the pressure to make this last year, last semester, last spring break, last week of school the best that it has ever been. Any diversion from the plan of perfection makes our already unstable senior mental state plummet as we search to place blame on non-existent reasons to explain why life went differently than how we thought it should.

What a pity.

Even being aware of the effect that the dreaded word has on me does not shield me from the harrowing results of the L-word being uttered. It starts innocently enough, with a well-intentioned adult asking me how my l*** year of university is going and suddenly my palms are sweaty, my mind is racing and my mouth is blurting out unfiltered words like “internship” and “find a job” and “hopefully”. This seems to appease the adult crowd well enough, as I’ve found that anything having to do with you conducting an “aggressive job search” are the key words that they need to hear so that they smile approvingly and leave you well alone, their fears of being related to a backpack-laden, couch surfing, jobless youth assuaged.

Yet this is not how I want to live out my… er… final year of university – shielded behind shallow words and mindless conversations with adults or jokes and hesitant laughs that deter the reality of the impending moment where we trade in our sweats for suits and our red cups for black ties. Surely not realising that it is over until it’s, well, over is worse than accepting it all now and living as though the word “last” was nothing more important than a word paired with “call” at 2 o’clock in the morning?

Indeed, the idea of lasts only exists in a bounded mind-set. While this may be the “last” time we enjoy a spring break – a time for freedom, friends and travel – this is surely not the last time we encounter those elements associated with spring break. And while we may be saying goodbye to the precise experiences of cramming for tests and cohabitating with friends and winning trivia night at your local pizza bar, it is definitely not the last time we will feel the emotions, thoughts and feelings that accompany those singular events in our lives.

This kind of thinking is how I, at least, find a way to stop myself from rambling and blabbering and laughing and joking when I hear the word “last” describing an experience this year. To remind myself that ending my time here at Gonzaga is not an end to the beautiful things that have happened because of it. It is not the last time I will try to think profoundly and discuss things deeply and laugh at something way harder than need be and make jokes that no one laughs at whatsoever and feel love and kindness and harmony. For these sorts of things, the word “last” does not exist.

Phew.

the greatest thing you’ll ever learn…

Questions and uncertainty about life after Gonzaga is the most beautiful gift I could give myself.

I can’t even explain to you all how many times I’ve been asked, “So, what are your plans for next year?” Every time an adult aged 40 years or older finds out that I am in my last year of university. A slight jolt of fear runs through me as my mind whispers to me, “I don’t know yet!” But then I compose myself and go on to tell, with much gusto, of the internship I’m currently interviewing for, all of the industries I’d like to see myself in, the kind of work I’d eventually like to do.

As I walk away from conversations like those, I feel the strange ache of falsity. Indeed, I do want to work in the arts somehow and I am interviewing for a great internship and I do want to work with passion in my future, but somehow spilling it all out like a rehearsed pitch to strangers and family members alike makes it seem like less of my own desires that I am fervently blabbing on about and more what I believe these people want to hear me say I want in my future, my job, my life.

While I eventually do want to reach all of the points that I speak about to those who ask me just what I plan on doing after I am released into this big, bright world, I find myself holding back from the ultimate truth. I want to tell them that I don’t have it all figured out just yet and that I’m okay with this and that, yes I’d like to land a big job with a big company one day, right now I’d just like to travel and write and explore and learn.

But as soon as this slips out, as soon as I shrug my shoulders and say, “I think I’ll just hop around Europe for a bit,” the smiles seem to slip and the eyes seem to widen and their next answer is usually sugary sweet and accompanied by a big smile, “Well, isn’t that nice?” And then they slink away, not daring to be seen with the second semester senior who hasn’t quite got their life squared away.

I’ve gotten used to this and, while it hasn’t made me rethink what I’m planning on doing, it does make me wonder about all the paths that lay in front of me as February ushers in March, who welcomes April, whose rainy climate begs on May to come and save us all. As I set down my last pen on my last final that first week of May, the one road that I’ve been steadily rolling down comes to a head with another. This other road has fancy adverts and withered postings and alluring offers that all plead with us to choose that one or this one or those ones. The risks and benefits are never fully drawn out and one has to choose their road based on the influences that life has breathed down their necks: you’ve got to travel and see the world while you’re young, while you can, while there’s nothing else in your way! Or This economy’s tough, you need to get a good job, pay off your loans, start saving up, be responsible. Or Just listen to yourself and decide what you really want to do, what do you want to be?

Each path, each decision carries with it the weight of every voice that has ever told you how you should choose your own future and what that decision means. From our parents to our professors to our culture to our peers, it is incredibly easy to forget that we ourselves have the most important voice when it comes to our futures. Advice from others is calming and invaluable at times, but in the end it is I who gets to buy that ticket, live that life, find that truth. As I look ahead to my life after Gonzaga, I see my future lined with big question marks, big dreams and fantastical ideas. To me, that is the most beautiful thing I could ever hope to see.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spokane Mind

On the role of fate, chance and choice in life and how to go from there

On Saturday, I watched Run Lola Run. On Sunday, I watched the Super Bowl. Together, they helped me understand the supposed workings of this world – of the role that chance, fate and determination play in the living of one’s life.

The German film Run Lola Run (Tykwer 1998) begins by comparing the living of life to playing a game and asks the question, “Is life a series of determined fateful encounters or can one use one’s free will to carve out their own path?” As we focus on this question, the film opens on Lola, who has twenty minutes to find one hundred thousand marks for her small-time criminal boyfriend, Manni. Three times, Lola is able to relive a failed attempt to retrieve the money. In each scenario, as Lola bumps into people in her rushed twenty minutes, we are given insight into these people’s lives – each future different as Lola encounters them at a slightly different time and place. Some people, however, seem to be destined to live out their initial fate no matter how differently Lola encounters them. The film’s answer to its initial question is that life is a rather complicated combination of fate, chance and choice.

This was my second time watching the film – a frenzied action film that makes it impossible to be doing anything else except to closely watch the movie to see how large of an effect microscopic temporal changes can have on the characters’ lives. Also it’s a German film, so you have to check out the subtitles to keep up. As the credits began to roll, I thought about the philosophy that the movie purported: that life is really a toss up between fate and free will, some outcomes can be avoided, while others cannot. All in all, a film where the main character is able to hop backwards in time and change her own and others’ lives makes for a message that is a bit hard to fully wrap my head around as I exit the filmmaker’s world and re-enter the real world. I went to sleep still pondering the meaning of the movie and all of its implications – for, if some things are irrevocably fated, how should one know when to stop fighting this fate and focus on the things that can be changed?

After a rather philosophical night, I awoke Sunday morning ready to eat some Velveeta cheese dip, analyse the famous Super Bowl advertisements and watch some guys bump into each other and throw a (hopefully properly inflated) ball. After a couple hours, a few chipfulls of cheese dip and an oddly depressing Nationwide commercial, the Seahawks were primed to win the Super Bowl. A call, a throw, a tenth of a second and an ill-placed player brought that outcome crashing to the ground. And in the hands of a Patriot, no less.

Though those couple hours after the game were filled with what-ifs and why-thats, after my emotions subsided, I began to realise that nothing quite illustrated the points of Run Lola Run like the football game that we had just watched. A perfect, if not disappointing, mix of fate, chance and choice was at the root of it all. Sure, it’s all orchestrated and strategy plays into the game, but in the end, why did that Patriot run one way and not the other? Why was the call made to pass and not to hand off? Why did that ball go exactly there when, were it thrown a tenth of a second earlier or later, it would have been a decidedly different outcome?

Herein lies the point of the film, which football helped me to understand (this makes sense, as the beginning of the film draws parallels to life and game). Life, as a large empty skeleton, happens as it should, as it is fated to. Life’s occurrences, the bits that add substance to the skeletal structure, are co-created by chance and choice – things happen and we are faced with a choice about how to push onward. As Lola got three chances to rewrite her story, so are we given multiple opportunities to push toward the outcome we desire.

Life may be the larger skeleton of it all, but it is us who are given the opportunity to decide what to do with such a large and empty space.

eternal sunshine of the spokane mind

The art of walking with nowhere to go and nothing to see, perfected.

“Want to go for a walk?” I’ve found myself asking this question more and more frequently in the past week – to my roommate, my cat, myself, anyone who will listen, really. I’m not sure what it is about it, but there is something refreshing about taking time out of a day crammed with homework, classes and other nonsense worries and just ambling about with nothing in particular to discuss and nowhere in particular to go.

It is here that I find myself, in the middle of a walk on the Centennial Trail with my housemate beside me, my hands bunched up in my pockets and my shoulders shooting up to protect my neck from the cold front. But somehow, the cold does not really matter after a couple of minutes and I find myself blissfully and slowly making my way forward, nodding at strangers, gazing into the cascading river waters and placidly discussing the oddities and singularities of life as a student, as a senior, as those who aren’t quite sure what life after May is going to look like.

Along the way, I see other people walking (usually matronly couples about 50 years my senior), more dedicated people running, either in packs or alone, businesspeople taking a lunchtime stroll, discussing strategy and office gossip, an elderly man walking an absurdly tiny dog in a pink sweater, a solo walker who appears to be lost in a daydream or else solving an impossible mathematical equation in her head. There are couples and big groups and families and people who are walking alone. Some of them smile, others just look and most keep staring at the concrete folding out in front of them.

As I’m rounding the carousel, I can’t help but think of the story that each of these people carries with them, each a swirl of humanity captured in one smile or frown or pair of averted eyes. The merry-go-round spins and echoes of screaming laughter permeate the grey quarters of Spokane in January. I look over and the laughter turns the corners of my lips up into a smile, it does the same to my housemate, a smile and a laugh joining the echoes. The man with his tiny dog smiles too. The couple with their heads together, whispering a rushed and urgent conversation, turn their heads toward the carousel and crease their foreheads at the sound.

A brief moment: a smile, a laugh and a frown. We don’t know if it means anything at all, but we spend the rest of our walk discussing the events of our walk as though it was a delicately directed scene from a film. But that was exactly the irony of it – we can find definite meaning and underlying themes in a movie scene because it is scripted, written, acted, vetted, edited and screened to an audience. And critics and audience members alike get to pick it over until there is nothing left but a clean list of themes, scenes, lines and Academy snubs.

Life, however, is exactly the opposite – a chaotic crashing of moments, stitched together to make sense of unscripted, unedited, unscreened events. Nothing happens because a director off-screen calls, “Action!” or “Cut!” Stuff happens because I decided to get out of bed this morning, put on some warm clothes and go for a walk. And it seems a lot of other people decided to do that too. And together, our decisions created the crashes, the clashes, the stitches that comprise what we call a day.

My friend and I reach the end of the loop, still pouring over the stitches of our day. We decide that we need another go around to fully make sense of it all. We have nowhere to go, nothing to do and nothing, really, to talk about, so we keep walking and walking, our minds on the lives we’re living instead of the pile of homework and unread books at home. As it should be.

a weighty issue

LONDON – “And they say English food isn’t good.” We think we’re being hilarious, defying the widely held belief by stuffing our faces full of perfectly delicious English food. Fish and chips, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, with the added diversity of London ushering dishes from India, Lebanon, Holland, France, Spain, Italy…In short, you can trust me when I say that the food here is utterly divine.

And twelve weeks in I can tell you something else about it. Something we all whisper about when our friends go abroad and what all of us over here joke about, pout about, fret about, eventually decide to do nothing about.

Pounds. And I’m not talking about the currency.

At first, I tried to ignore it. Then I was justifying it – “it is my second week abroad, after all”. And slowly, slowly I couldn’t ignore it anymore. My jeans were getting decidedly smaller and belt notches had to be reversed.

As with most things, it was joked about a lot. But underneath my self-conscious jokes lay real anxiety. My lifestyle had been completely uprooted when I came across the pond. I’d climb often and do yoga twice or so a week, had an entire gym and riverside trail at my disposal, my meals were well planned out, and I had a comfortable university schedule, complete with a car, a ten minute walk from home to classes, the works.

But that kind of activity simply couldn’t be kept up here. A gym membership was £40 a month, a climbing one similar. I didn’t even bother looking at the prices of yoga classes in my posh Chelsea neighborhood.

To be fair, I did try to be active when I got past the “denial” stage. I’d do yoga from a free app on my iPhone (thanks, Starbucks!) and climb at a place that took me an hour to get to and cost me £7 each time I went.

But every time I’d have to block out time to climb or do yoga, I’d be missing out on a fun London trip with my newfound friends. It was a choice between fitness and friends. And I chose friendship. I chose experiences and sightseeing and discovery.

That choice didn’t come without a cost. As vain as it sounds, gaining weight isn’t an easy thing to come to terms with. And it’s something that we’ve been taught to fear – tainting occasions such as going to college with labels like the ever-ominous Freshman Fifteen.

But I didn’t choose to study abroad to be comfortable or to have an easy path. I wanted a challenge and I got it. Even if it is my own mindset.

As I see it, London is a town marinated in culture – it is all around. From the narrow towering town houses to the gold covered statues to the hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant with specials on weekdays from 5-8. Culture is not merely holed up in a museum or encrusted in sculptures, it lives and breathes and, coincidentally, eats on the streets of London.

To truly live here, to call this place my home, I found I have to treat each inch and pound as a souvenir.

Because, really, it is.

What is the St. Patrick’s Day parade without a Guinness or two (or three) or a hard day of work without a biscuit to dip in my tea at tea time or a football match at the local pub without a cold pint to accompany me as I pretend to understand what’s going on? What is a stroll through Borough Market without picking up a sample or two (or three) or a day walking in the rare London sun without an iced coffee from our favorite French café or a visit to Shoreditch without checking out its frenzied food stalls?

To fret and worry and stress about a couple of extra pounds is to deny myself a true cultural experience. And while I’ve managed to find more balance here – I do try to use that yoga app after work – I don’t tie myself to it over an experience that can truly only be seized here and now and with the people that I’m with.

Friendship, culture, life is more important that an inch or two (or three). I promise.