On hunger; or, an open letter to the Class of 2014

Dear Class of 2014,

Congrats! You’re a week out, and it probably feels pretty good. Now humor me: I want to tell you something, just like everyone else and their mother (and father, and brother, and cousin… We all just want to help!)

You’ve most likely already figured out your next step, but even so, here’s the deal: you have three choices about what you do post-grad. You can move to a place for a job. You can move to a place for the place itself. Or you can move to a place for the people, or to be near a person.

Choose wisely. Know yourself when you make the choice. Know what makes you tick. If you’re lucky, all three will come together, and it’ll be an obvious decision. If you’re not lucky, then it’s one of the first hard decisions you’ll have to make. Make it independently. Make a mistake, and a few months or a year or five from now, fix it.

It was beautiful while it lasted, wasn’t it?

I don’t believe in a metric of “success” (it’s different for everyone, but the word has connotations that are a bit too cut-and-dried for me at the moment). I do believe in a metric of satisfaction. Your days are either full, or they are empty. It’s not about filling up your time, exactly; your time can be full, and your days can still be very, ruthlessly empty, as I’ve learned.

So choose to go to the place that will fill you up. God knows you’re hungry; we all are. Every day I’m hungry for more.

Then, use that hunger. Use it to learn more. Use it to work harder. Follow your taste buds, and follow your stomach. Let your hunger tell you how to balance work and play, and play more and harder (if that’s where your appetite leads you). Use it to recognize when you’re unhappy—and use it to revel in your happiest, most gluttonous moments. Use it to step out of your own expectations of yourself, and to disentangle from everyone else’s expectations. Don’t let others judge you for what you want to pile on your plate, and how you want to consume it. You are what you eat. Eat the good stuff. Do what’s delicious.

In college, we often complain of never having enough time. This is wrong, of course; we’ll never have more time. I let that fact bother me for a while after graduation. In my first year out, I wandered, trying to see what time would do with me when I didn’t have an agenda for it. The wandering bored me. That was the first lesson—for me. Find your own lesson.

As everyone else will also tell you, post-grad life is just… different. But the hunger is the same. On days I don’t satisfy my cravings—when I do less, when I am less, when I settle for less—I miss college in a way that almost hurts. I feel directionless; I feel lost; I feel alone. But on days when I expect more of myself, when I don’t let the mundane stuff—missing my subway, staying too late at work, cleaning the bathroom—get me down, when I find a great new song that makes me smile, when I let my curiosity drive the way I think: that’s when something clicks. I’m satisfied, if only for a moment.

As they say, happiness is fleeting. As they say, it’s worth chasing.

So 2014: chase it with me. It’s a marathon for sure, and it will last the rest of our lives, and I’m the last one to say I’m any closer to it than I was this time last year. But damn it if it isn’t an endlessly exciting game to play.



Come play with me.

One month later; or, seeking nirvana

“…So you’re going to Yale. I used to want to go to Yale myself, once. Only I had to go where I could. I guess there is a time in the life of every young American of the class that wants to go to college or accepts the inevitability of education, when he wants to go to Yale or Harvard. Maybe that’s the value of Yale and Harvard to our American life: a kind of illusion of an intellectual nirvana that makes the ones that can’t go there work like hell where they do go, so as not to show up so poorly alongside of the ones that can go there. Still, ninety out of a hundred Yale and Harvard turn out but are reasonably bearable to live with, if they ain’t anything else. And that’s something to be said for any manufactory, I guess. But I’d like to have gone there…'”

—Faulkner, Mosquitoes

I went there.

When I graduated a month ago, everything happened at once: dark-blue gowns and cardboard packing boxes and parents. At night, there were clay pipes that we smoked and smashed on forbidden rooftops and lumps in the throat that wouldn’t go away, even when we sang and laughed and danced. Most people left in a rush—on to the next. I lingered, because I purposefully have no “next”, not right now.

In Mosquitoes, Faulkner’s character Fairchild—a talented novelist with an inferiority complex springing from his incomplete education—happens into a conversation with a young well-to-do man, Josh, who’s headed to Yale. Josh doesn’t much care where he goes; it’s not as though there were a choice, or as though anything different could have happened to him (and besides, he’s mainly interested in getting into a senior society). Fairchild only wishes had had the chance to go to Yale, even if the college is ultimately, as he says, “a kind of illusion of an intellectual nirvana.” It’s a nice snapshot of two men, separated by the birthright of class and money and reasonable expectations, yet both buying into the splendid myth of academia. Mosquitoes was first published in 1927, but Fairchild’s comment resonates with just as much bite and relevance today as ever.

No matter. The illusion—the myth—worked all its glory on me. And I know from experience that my friends were much better than “reasonably bearable” to live with. Luck shipped us all off to New Haven, and luck brought to us great people there who we learned from and grew to know.

But that was all a month ago. I’m home now, on the other, brighter coast. My friends and acquaintances are scattered far off in other cities, cultures, lives. The education from here on out is one we make, not one we take. The illusion of nirvana has ended; the quest for the real thing now begins.