There is an edge of panic that one usually feels when familiar surroundings have changed, when safe boundary lines have shifted and blurred. It is akin to the feeling I used to have growing up when, waking up during the middle of the night in yet another new home, I’d attempt to blindly navigate my way around my bedroom, only to find unbroken walls where I anticipated doorways and wide windows where I expected walls.
On southbound Interstate-680, the beginning of the Benicia Bridge marks the fifteen miles remaining until I reach home. I think of it as the last leg of my 60-mile journey back to the East Bay every night from school. On rare occasions, I traverse the narrow southbound lanes during the daylight hours, but most of the time I drive at night, past the smoky glow of the oil refineries, over the sparkling lights dotting the edges of Suisan Bay and the Carquinez Strait, glancing down to the left at the famous “Mothball Fleet” just north of the bridge where the U.S. Navy stores almost a hundred various de-commissioned war ships and support craft at long-term anchor.
There is a nearly-one-mile-long stretch of freeway just before the bridge that used to curve towards the right. For over three years, day or night, I navigated it the same way: my left elbow casually propped against the bottom of the inside window frame, the fingers of my right hand loosely wrapped around the steering wheel, leaning back into my seat as I easily sped into the curve with my cruise control set at 80 mph.
For the past several months, the I-680 areas just preceding and following the bridge have become construction zones. Driving home one night, I found everything had changed. That mile-long portion of the freeway that once curved gently to the right now instead curves sharply to the left before veering into a right-hand curve, and these days I need both hands to navigate it. I am no longer secure in the knowledge that I know this freeway like the back of my hand.
Every night, approaching the curve, I automatically prop my left elbow against the window frame, loosely loop my right fingers around the top of the steering wheel, and prepare to gently turn the steering wheel to the right. And every night, just as unfailingly, I belatedly shift my right hand down and slap my left hand against the steering wheel as well, slamming on the brakes as I enter the sharp left curve, sometimes gripping the wheel so tightly my knuckles hurt.
It’s almost like a sense of betrayal, this faltering of my once-unwavering confidence in speeding through that particular curve, in knowing exactly where I was going without second-guessing myself.
Somewhere in here, in words I don’t know how to put together as well as I would like, is a perfect analogy for my indecisiveness and lack of direction, and the constantly, swiftly shifted plans that epitomize my life at the moment.
When I was eight, my goal in life was to become a professional frisbee player and marry MacGuyver when I grew up. At ten, I wanted to be a poet. When I was twelve, I wanted to write an autobiography and become an illustrator of children’s books. [I had such artistic talent. I still do, I think. I haven’t drawn or painted for years, and some days I regret having let those talents go to waste.] At sixteen, I had an epiphany: pediatric audiology! When I was nineteen, I was a pre-med university student studying neurobiology and dreaming of life as a pediatrician. I’ve spent the last four years mentally switching my major a dozen times, though only once on paper. My academic vacillations have been well-documented on this weblog, I think.
I’m just going with the flow these days, and the flow isn’t taking me anywhere, as far as I can tell. “Life’s damn complicated,” I said to Yas last week. He responded with what has to be the perfect summation of my dilemma at the moment:
“True, but what’s more complicated is having a million choices, each open for you to follow, some seem easier than the others, some ways more inviting, others seem difficult but so rewarding, some seem like the easy way out. Then you can make whatever choice you want. What do you do? If you do one thing, you might miss another opportunity.”
The biggest topic of conversation amongst my friends, classmates, and acquaintances these days has to do with who is graduating in June, who is staying on for another year, who has applied to graduate school, who is moving back to his/her hometown this summer, who already has a job lined up after graduation, who has taken the GREs and MCATs, who is going to medical school or law school or business school. Basically, all conversations center around people who seem to have at least a vague idea of what they’re doing, which is more than I can say for myself.
It’s not that I don’t even know what I want to study. More like, it’s just that I want to study too many things, which is why decision-making is so problematic.
A friend asked me recently, “So where are you going for grad school once you’re done here?”
“I have no idea,” I said shortly.
He rephrased the question: “So where do you want to go?”
I rolled my eyes, having heard the same question far too many times already.
“It’s not about where I want to go,” I snapped, “it’s about what I want to study. That’s what I need to figure out first.”
He held up his hands in apology. “Okay, okay. So what do you want to study?”
I let out an impatient, long-suffering sigh, then relented. “Fine. I want to study a lot of things. Like child development and sociology and pediatric audiology and social and ethnic relations and comparative literature and cultural anthropology and identity formation and…”
I ran out of breath, stumbled to a halt, and raised an eyebrow in challenge, as if to say, “Whaddaya make of that, huh? You see my problems? Leave me alone already.”
He just stared. “Wow, masha’Allah,” he marveled. “You’re so ambitious.”
That, of all things, is not what I had expected to hear.
I’m not ambitious, really. I used to be, and I seem to have lost it somewhere along the way. If I were ambitious, I would have specific goals, wouldn’t I?
Me, I’m just b.s.’ing my way through life, one day at a time.