I’ve often joked about running away to Alaska, but I never actually thought I would, you know, move to Alaska.
Did I even realize the distance a journey to Alaska would require? Did I ever actually look at a map and consider that Alaska is closer to Russia than it is to California? That to get to Alaska I’d have to drive up the west coast, through California and Oregon and Washington, then up through British Columbia (which is HUGE) and into the Yukon? (The Yukon. That’s a whole separate confession. I think I used to believe that the Yukon was a mythical place–my public school education didn’t have a single unit on Canada.) Or that in (parts of) Alaska some nights don’t end and some days span into weeks? That winter can mean -60 degrees? That summers can be brilliant and green?
In December, Colorado Springs broke records with a stretch of days that dipped below zero. The night we fell to -14 was the ONE TIME THIS ENTIRE YEAR that I decided to walk the forty minutes to campus for my late-night shift at the Writing Center. Why? Hell do I know. The cold does something to me. The silence. The blinding white and sharp nights. I whined and moaned about my scarf freezing to my lips, about my numb legs, about almost sliding on my ass as I crossed beneath the interstate, but I adored it. That night I tweeted: “It’s currently colder here in Colorado Springs than in Fairbanks, Alaska. I’m taking this as a sign. Alaska, I’m (kind of) pursuing you.” But even as I typed those words, I didn’t really think it a possibility. It was like I was still 18 years old. Still bemoaning Southern California’s triple digit autumn days, begging anyone willing to listen that I was going to run away to Alaska. Colorado returned to its famously mild winter ways (it snows and then its 50 degrees and sunny the next day) and la-de-freakin-da life went on.
But then I applied to grad school because I was a senior and it was winter break and what the hell else was I supposed to do? I applied haphazardly to a few MFA programs. Only ones with the potential for full funding. I have mixed feelings about MFAs. I even (very) recently proclaimed a public No to Graduate School in a fit of traffic-enraged exhausted. Said I’d rather wait tables. But, let’s be real, to have the time and space and place and support to focus on my writing, to continue studying, to be selfishly passionate about the way words fit on a page… It’s a privilege. A total privilege. And regardless of my internal confusion, I applied. And I applied in a fit of apathy that led to my shooting myself in the toe in a variety of ways. Uploading the wrong documents to a Only Once Chance to Upload Uploader. Confusing asses and assess on earlier teaching statement drafts and then sending in the ass-head drafts. Asking committees to reject me to thicken my skin because I’m such a pro at hearing the word no.
However, there was one application I managed to send in correctly, that I–for whatever reason–actually thoroughly proofread and took care with. My MFA/MA application to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. A quiet program far, far up north. A program with minimal internet presence. A program I’d name and people would scrunch up there faces and either say what or why (this is happening still today). There were no hiccups with my application to UAF, though there was a moment in my kitchen where I cried to my mom and sister, “I WILL NEVER GET TO ALASKA!” After which I proceeded to rip up my GRE study page. UAF requires the full GRE and, when I took the exam in October, I skipped the Quantitative Reasoning portion. I was scheduled to retake the exam in December. The full event. But my brain revolted. It was a week before Christmas and have never gone beyond Algebra and haven’t even taken Algebra since 2011, what did I expect to happen? So I ripped up my notes and made my grand announcement, concluding that if Alaska wanted me bad enough, they’d overlook my meager and missing scores.
I never thought they would. I didn’t even know how to articulate to my professors or my mom or my friends why I applied to them in the first place. Why I felt so compelled by their program. I never thought they’d actually say yes, and no way did I realize that I wanted them to want me as badly as I did.
But my GRE fail was overlooked. I was wanted. I am. And then, at the news of my acceptance, I was confused. I cried, because I’d learned of a friend’s suicide two hours before in a similar format (email) and I thought it was weird how life tends to act in such bizarre ways and likes to play cruel timing games and I was happy and shocked and hurting in a way I’d never hurt before and I was also crying because it made life difficult because it meant I’d have to choose between the horrifying loose plan of driving to Seattle blind and hoping to find a job or the horrifying jump to a place as remote and wild and intense as interior Alaska to attend graduate school for two degrees that won’t make me any more hirable than my BA. Initially though, there was no funding attached to my acceptance. This ultimately made it easy. NO to MFA debt. Debt to read and write as I have and as I will regardless if it’s assigned. No, no, no. Even if I wanted to fantasize about it, no.
But then, on Tuesday, UAF offered me a Teaching Assistantship with a full tuition waiver and a stipend. And then my head was flying north. And current students in the program emailed me and my heart ached and I couldn’t even journal because I realized yes, yes, yes. I’m bloody terrified, but yes, I have to try, yes. I accepted the offer within three hours.
So, the joke has come true.
This August, the day after I turn 23, I will move to Alaska. The trip will take 9 days. 6 days on the road. 3 days on a boat. If only I could tell 18-year-old me to wait a few years. I’m moving to interior Alaska and I’m scared out of my mind. Crying scared. Laughing scared. Watching Youtube videos on dry cabin living (aka a life without running water) or “winter biking” turns my life into a comedy. I’M DOING WHAT? I anticipate some sobbing. I anticipate some pillow screaming and freak out phone calls to my mom. I anticipate all nighters and a struggle to acclimate to the semester system after living on the block plan. I anticipate a sharp ache in my gut for Colorado and the sun and a place where clothing choices aren’t a matter of life and death. I anticipate moments of joy and beauty, of silence and solitude, new friends and shenanigans, hopefully some academic and writerly breakthroughs and invigorating discussions over a single line or passage or page in a book similar to what I’ve experience at CC. I’m ridiculously excited and terrified in the same gasp.
This I know: it’s not going to be easy. Fairbanks winters are violent. Few hours of sunlight. Subzero temperatures I can’t begin to comprehend. Isolation. Severe isolation. A trip home to my family will cost about a thousand dollars roundtrip. Might as well be abroad. Might as well be in Russia. A new place. Living somewhere that is not California and not Colorado. Not my Rockies. Not the Front Range or the I-25 or Uintah Street or 6,000 feet above the sea. Somewhere so totally abstracted from what I know. I’m giving myself permission to hate it. I’m giving myself permission to love it. I’m giving myself permission to reevaluate the situation in a year, though I have every intention to stay. I think I might adore it. I think I’ll be challenged in ways I can’t yet anticipate. And it’s funny, because a boy told me not to go. Asked me why would I go if I’m so afraid. Told me to move to Denver instead, to stay, if I know I love this state so much, why the hell would I leave? Stay, he said, Denver, he said. Why go?
Because, in my experience, when something scares me this deeply, it means I need to give it a try. Because I refuse to stay somewhere out of fear and I know I’d end up resenting Colorado and its glorious people and impressive peaks if I let them keep me from something as extreme and new as an Alaskan move. Because I’m wholly passionate about writing and literature and want to continue thriving in a community that gets that, that cheers me on and pushes me to my edge. Because I want to be forced to read some 100 treacherous works ranging from Old English to contemporary and then be tested on them all in a single day my second year of grad school. Because I can always come back to Colorado in 2018. I can always move to Washington at 26. I’m still young. I have time to be stupid. I’m being offered the chance to be an idiot and drive up the continent in my Mini Cooper. Offered free education and teaching gig (!). I’m going to take it. I can always come back. Nothing is permanent. So, boy, no. I can’t stay in Colorado.
Because now–or, well, after I graduate from CC and move to California and work and write and work and write and turn twenty-three–I’m moving to Alaska to write, to teach, to read, to study, to go out of my mind and find a new groove in life. I’m moving to Alaska.
How weird. I submitted my undergraduate senior thesis on Wednesday? All 246 pages of it. In robes, I walk across a stage a month from tomorrow. How odd. Submit one thesis and commit to penning two more in the same week. Four years ago I didn’t think I’d earn a single degree, let alone three. Alaska was a joke of a dream. Wasn’t even a dream-dream, not something I considered to attempt to achieve. But hey. I guess that’s how life works.
Dear 18-year-old me, the joke is on you.
Dear Mini Trooper, I hope you are ready for your greatest exploration yet.
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