It dawned on me earlier today just how eclectic and malleable my life is, even more so than the average life, I would think. Take one month ago, for instance. Last month I was still living in a flat in Glasgow, Scotland and touring around European cities whenever I pleased. Right now, I'm living at home with my parents in Queens, New York, and my day-to-day life consists of a full-time paid internship for a big company in or around Wall Street (I wish I could be more specific, maybe someday). And to top it all off, in only about two and a half months, I'll make a long-awaited, triumphant return to a teeny tiny town in Pennsylvania where I'll be taking an introductory level poetry course, a screenwriting workshop, and an independent study on creative nonfiction with a widely respected professor who has published many books and whose son is the guitarist for the band Breaking Benjamin. At this rate, I can only imagine that I will have visited outer space by the age of thirty. Seriously, if you consider each of those three sentences separately, doesn't it sound like they should belong to three different people? The difference in tenses is the only thing hinting at the truth.
So I'm thinking about this on the subway today, which was running at the pace of a leisurely snail with nowhere to be, and the Bright Eyes song "I Must Belong Somewhere" starts on my iPod. You can probably get an idea of the theme of this song just by reading the title. "Everything must belong somewhere," Conor Oberst sings in the refrain, "I know that now, that's why I'm staying here." Now, get me right, I'm not going to begin to tell you that wherever I stay for any period of time, even here at home, I feel like I don't belong. I'm hardly going to give you Zach Braff's speech from Garden State about when the house you grew up in stops being your home or whatever whiny indie monologue he was wistfully delivering that time. (That's not fair, I liked that movie, and I still do. It's just become such a mockable cliche to see Zach Braff making a little speech about home or identity or ourselves.) That's melodramatic and would only serve the purpose of offending my family. If I've had any problem with this shapeshifter of a life, then it's just the opposite of poor Andrew Largeman's woes. I feel like I belong in all of these places!
I sure as hell belong in New York City. I grew up here, most of my family is here, I went to high school on the Upper East Side, I've got a new job here for the summer which may create opportunities in the future, and the list goes on. And yet there's something missing from that list, isn't there? Oh right, friends. Occasionally I keep in touch with friends from high school, and even more rarely I see some of them, but people came from all around the five boroughs and beyond to go to this school, so it's hard to get people together. And nowadays my closest friends are the ones I've made at college, and I'm lucky if I get to see them off campus. Not to mention the fact that I've been a student in some way, shape or form for the vast, huge, overwhelming majority of my life, so of course Academia might be where I feel most comfortable. (I said might. Please remember that, yes, I feel at home at home and I love my family.) And maybe it's just by virtue of the amout of time I spent there, but of course I started to feel at home in Glasgow, too. Talk about independence, having that bedroom with an attached bathroom all to myself, living in an apartment with three roommates who I hardly spoke to outside of the occasional awkward run-in in the shared kitchen. On the one hand, on lonely nights of hours spent sitting in front of the computer, I learned that I never want to live alone ever again. And yet, isn't that the best way to experience a semester abroad? Over five months I came to think of Glasgow as a fine home away from home, a city I could really get used to, a place I hope to return to someday years from now.
I can talk all I want with confidence about the immediate past, the present, and the near future; but what about a year from now? Where am I going to belong then? Never in my life have I had so much uncertainty when presented with that question. "I'll be in third grade," I would've once said with a toothy grin and a crew cut. "Regis High School," I would've answered years later with a pretentious aura that would make your fists clench. "Abroad in Scotland," I would've replied a little over a year ago, trying to prepare a decent answer for when you inevitably ask why. Ask me about a year from now. "I have no clue." I'm going to apply to some graduate schools, but I've yet to research which ones would be a good fit. I've got to take the GREs soon, which I haven't scheduled yet. So far I really don't have anything in the way of a backup plan if I don't get accepted into a single grad school, which, let's face it, there's a good chance of that happening. I've seen way better writers than myself turned away from their choices of grad schools, and it's gone to show me that, even with loads of talent and hard work, you just can't predict how these things will turn out. All this uncertainty about the future worries me a little bit, but reflection on the past gives me hope that, wherever I end up a year from now, I'll learn to feel like I belong there.