I’ve often joked about moving 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 am 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 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 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 a degree 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.
You Know Who
Things are happening. Days. Weeks. The whole time thing. In its revised and full and polished glory, my thesis is due on Wednesday. One Block remains of my undergraduate career. CC hosted over 200 prospective admitted students onto campus the last two weeks. Open House. Ballet keeps me twisty and happy and sweaty and light. I was accepted to the combined MFA/MA program in Creative Writing & Literature at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. 3 years in Alaska to write and study and teach? A dream. Yet I still don’t know what my answer will be. Seattle is still calling. Thursday, I stepped onto a stage–the lights bright and hot, my mike loud, my legs wobbly behind the podium–and I read from the final pages of my thesis to a very full theatre. I’m out of the house more. One day it’s snowing. The next it’s 72. I wrote 10,000 words this block. I cut 10,000 words this block. Sometimes you try something and it doesn’t work, so you let it go. You try again. I’m talking more. Hugging and smiling and shouting too loud. Last night I danced on a stage with my fellow fellows and sang Britney Spears and Blink 182 and Smash Mouth and I shook my hips like life depended on it (sober and on the clock). I’m trying to not miss a single moment.These people I’ve been living with the past two year, we’re all leaving so soon. Things are happening and it’s good.
So, I’m sitting at John Wayne airport wishing my 3 p.m. flight would delay so Southwest will let me on the 12:40 p.m. flight for free. No way am I paying the one-hundred-something price difference. I want to go home. I want to get back to Colorado NOW NOW NOW but not that desperately. I mean, maybe if I wasn’t losing my income in two months (because I’m graduating and moving 2000 miles away from the school that graciously employees me with two jobs) and if my savings account wasn’t so pathetic (really, it’s bad–like bad-bad) and if I wasn’t twenty-two and planning for a Big Move that I have next to no savings for… maybe then I’d splurge to fast track my journey back home.
Well. Actually. No. I can’t imagine a situation in which I would pay the fee. Being saved from three hours of waiting isn’t worth a month of groceries. That would be silly.
My sister’s spring break also ends today. She had a flight back to Sacramento at noon. Thus, here I am, because it’d be lame for my parents to drive to the airport twice in one day. Initially, I was pissed–being forced to sit still for four hours. And I’m obviously still antsy, made evident by my delay wishing. But slowly, ever so gradually, I’m remembering that I like hanging out in airports. The limbo land. The white noise. The excuse to spend limited funds on expensive coffee and read indulgently and write with no dishes in the sink or bookshelves to re-organize or wood floors to sweep. Airports are quiet. Distraction free. Unless you consider people watching a distraction, which would be incorrect. People watching is soul-food. Necessary.
But I couldn’t sleep last night. How many times have I said/composed that line? I’ve been an insomniac since I was old enough to crawl out of my bed and knock on my parents door and cry on the floor because no matter how many calming nature CDs I listened to or sheep I counted, I just couldn’t sleep. My childhood shrink advised breathing exercises but they only made me anxious because I was always paranoid I wasn’t doing it right. I was put on sleeping pills at ten. I’m twenty-two now, so, you know, that’s over half of my life that I’ve been swallowing little tablets of chemicals in hopes of it getting my brain to shut the hell up. But even with the pills (and I take a plural of them every night), I still often only get a few hours of rest a night. And that’s fine. That’s cool. I deal. I know how to zombie/push through a day. I’ve become a pro. Here’s my secret: you get up and you do it, just get through the day.
Anyway, last night I couldn’t sleep. My duffle bag was packed, waiting, by the door. My parents’ guest bed deliciously soft and comfortable. My dog breathing soft beside me, while I was wide awake. I read. I cracked my back. I stretched. I listened to my Speed Sleep meditation track three times and rubbed lavender on my feet. And then, around three, I gave up and I opened my laptop and wrote. When I write after midnight, there’s no hope. By opening the page, I’m resigning to stay awake until sunrise. If I could, I would live a nocturnal schedule. Night is my prime time. Back in 2010, I had this neurology test done. They looked at the chemicals my brain releases through the day and night, and it turns out I’m all backwards. It’s around one in the morning that I get the jolt that the average human feels at ten. I’m in the most likely state to fall asleep around six, and then again around three in the afternoon. Thanks, brain, thanks. I’ve accepted this. The treatment to attempt to reverse the chemical release isn’t close to being covered by insurance, so I’ve accepted that sometimes I just won’t sleep. And thus, last night I wrote a few pages. And tried again, dozing off as my room slowly lit.
I’m not sure what my point is other than that I’m tired and that’s just fine.
Oh, look. The 12:40 p.m. flight just pulled back from the gate. It’s crawling out to the runway now, en route to Denver, leaving me behind. But, really, I don’t think I mind too much. Yeah, I’m tired and I want to get home, want to land in Colorado so I can get the two hour drive south over with and roll into Colorado Springs with enough day left to pick up groceries and unpack and do my laundry and shower and sleep excessively before Block 7–my final thesis block–kicks off and I have to rush to class, rush to ballet, rush to my Writing Center meeting, rush to the my fellowship meeting, rush to finish this thesis thing. But I can wait a few more hours. I can sit here and listen to the kids dancing around the glassed-in sculptures of John Wayne’s mini art gallery, their shoes skidding across the marble floor. I can read my book and I can write my book. I can sit and watch the morning’s fog slowly burn off to reveal Orange County’s smog-blurred blue sky. I’m okay. I need to be forced to stop rushing. Because listen, I graduate (from anything for the first time) in less than two months. In less than two months, I’m already back in California, paranoid about the fault lines, done with the silly golden dream I had in 2011–to attend Colorado–and trying to sort out I feel about the last three years.
Seriously though, what happened? Am I not still in Humboldt pining for the Admission Office to let me in, to just fucking let me into CC? Did I not just receive my acceptance package, curtesy of Fed-Ex Air, and am I not still sobbing that they did it, that they actually let me in? Did I not just drive twenty-two hours through California and Arizona and New Mexico and up into Colorado? Am I not just running through my first block, History of Modern Philosophy, flailing, failing, eventually succeeding? How can it be that I’m no longer fourteen, that I’m not waiting to board my first flight from John Wayne Airport to Denver International, an unaccompanied minor, excited to see Pikes Peak for the first time, excited for the unknown, with the no clue of the impact that that single flight would have on my life?
Obviously I’m something of a mess these days. No biggie. I’m simply trying to remind myself to slow down and acknowledge these little moments.These absurdly decadent little moments.
There it goes. Southwest’s 12:40 p.m. direct flight to Denver just sprinted down the runway and lifted, shooting up and over the Pacific, where it’ll turn around and charge east, over the Grand Canyon, over the frosty Rockies, eventually landing in the pale yellow plains of Colorado. And here I am, left frozen, watching it fade into the smoggy fog through the airport glass. But that’s okay. I’m only a few hours behind. I can wait.
(Oh, and for the record, my flight was indeed ultimately delayed twenty minutes… twenty minutes after the 12:40 flight took off. And so it goes. I made it to Denver by sunset. Happy day.)
This is what I think when I’m stuck in Friday 4:30 p.m. LA rush hour traffic:
The Denver, Colorado to/from Santa Ana, California flight route (preferably on Southwest, potentially on Frontier) is as familiar to me as my weekly drive to the grocery store. Since 2006, how many times have I trekked that portion of the sky? At least a few times a year since I was fourteen. And I always say that’s when my memory kicked in, that’s when I fee like my (independent) life began. I don’t remember much before fourteen, remember close to nothing before ten. So, for me, the SNA–>DEN/DEN –>SNA flight is a more normalized of an event than paying rent.
And last Monday, I flew from Denver to Orange County for the last time. And a week from yesterday, I’ll make my final trip from Orange County to Denver. (Okay. Not necessarily for forever, but potentially. I don’t intend to live in Orange County longterm again, nor do I anticipate any returns to Colorado in the immediate future.)
In May, I’ll leave Colorado via the I-25.
This is weird. The idea of Colorado Springs not being my home, or a home, or the place I’ll return to within the next four months, is weird.
The last place I’d want to be during an earthquake is on a under-construction crumbling bridge in Los Angeles that sits above a dried-up concrete river of a reservoir waiting for a rusty Amtrak train to pass. Naturally the only way to distract myself from the horror of sitting on said bridge in said situation is to take a photo of another bridge.
In similar news…
Last week I asked my mom if it’d be crazy of me to stay home through next autumn so I could experience the season’s potential fires. She confirmed my suspensions by saying yes and I agreed that, yeah, that’d be silly, and that was that, and so now it seems the most likely place where one will be able to find me in September is Washington state.
This possibility makes me happy.
And though seeking out a career, an office job, a something-something seems to be what is expected of me, I rather work a night job on my feet. I rather serve food or drinks for a year or two or three. Is this throwing away my degree? The last three years? No. I didn’t go to college for a career. I went for my education, my growth, myself. Me. Not you or him or her or them. And right now, I need to do what’s best for me.
This is what I know:
I’m far less inclined to write-write after a day of sitting in a chair and blinking at another computer screen. I can produce incredible copy, edit material until it shines, master graphic design, rock whatever industry, and I have the resume to prove it. No doubt there. But that’s not where I want to put my energy right now. I’m happiest when I’m deep in fiction. When I’m writing or revising the work I write for me. And, from experience, I recognize that I’m more productive in that arena when I’m not expending that part of my brain for other forms of writing.
Does that mean I’m resistant to a desk job forever? Absolutely not.
It’s what feels right right now. That’s all.
If high emotions manifest more potent memories does that mean emotional people have better memories than those more prone to apathy?
Just wondering. Really.
Last week, when I was sprinting towards my Wednesday thesis deadline, I realized a critical aspect of the plot no longer fits. It feels wrong, forced, but I couldn’t figure out why. I went on walks. I cried in bed. I drank too much coffee. And then, yesterday, I collapsed on my parents’ living room carpeting and it hit me that, in this rewrite, my characters (and their relationship) have evolved so dramatically that the action that I once thought was the crux is no longer true to their nature or their story. It wouldn’t happen. Not like that.
Which means I have to go back and critically revise what I just rewrote and that, really, the only similarities of this book and the book of last summer is that there is a wildfire.
A fact that is horrifying as it is exciting.
I should stop taking photos while driving.
Spring Break is refreshing. California (90F degrees in March!) is not.
I haven’t slept much this week and tonight is the night I planned to sleep, sleep, sleep. Or, well, sleep until my alarm chimes at 7:15. But it’s already 11:33 and tomorrow is Thursday, and I have an information session to present to 80 high school students on behalf of the Admission Office and a novel to finish and a reading to attend and coffee to drink, so can I just ever so quickly say that I kind of absolutely feel so terribly blessed to be apart of this absurd group of writers?
Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present CC’s senior fiction majors complete with our ever patient prof Steven Hayward and our block’s guest of honor Rawi Hage (his eerie novel Cockroach is currently in the final battle of the 2014 Canada Reads competition). Sadly three of our people were in bed when this photograph was taken, but so it goes. Writers like their beds.
I never laugh like that in photos. It must mean something.
You know, I may whine and moan and cry about workshop. About my doubts. About the cost of my education. About thesis. About graduating. About this whole bloody thing. But, seriously, dude, look at that photo. I am blessed, buoyed by a stellar collection of misfits nudging me to my (tentatively) final page.
And when we leave our warm campus and open quads and snow-crusted Pikes Peak, when we leave mandated workshops and required parties, I can think back and remember the day we stumbled outside to take a photograph in front of the tree. I can think about how, so genuinely, I was happy.
I graduate in two months. Take my word for it: college is rather lovely.