In South Padre Island, Texas for Spring Break, I am back in one of my favorite places in the United States– flat horizons, beaches, horses, cowboys, and ranches. It’s the only place I can windsurf at the flats then horseback ride at the ranch then go for a jog along the water under palm trees then suntan by the pool, all while soaking up the love at my sister’s house, helping take care of my two favorite children in the world– my nephews, Colton and Oliver.
South Texas is a world of it’s own. For me, it’s a peaceful, beautiful-kind of wonderful where it means family, bathtime and bedtime, strollers, play in the park, and walks on the beach where every seashell is excitement (for a two-year-old).
Yet, it’s not easy to get to. South Texas. It’s a plane ride (or three) and seven hours of airports and sky from Raleigh. A long haul for a change of scene. But new worlds are often out of the way, distant, and there are so many layovers in between. — The other night my brother-in-law was saying how reckless the pilgrims were– how desperate. To get on a boat and sail into the storms, darkness, not knowing if they’d fall off the earth or die, all because they were desperate enough for a new life. Desperate enough to risk it all. “And look what they did!” he said. Ignoring the implications for the Native Americans, they created colonies then states and a country. Nothing is easy to achieve, especially against the unknown and the wilderness.
This is the thought I am grappling with as I prepare to graduate– what to do, where to go, what path to take, and not sure of anything. I want to be desperate enough to sail off into the dark and bear the layovers and wilderness if it means I will end up in the sunshine eventually. But it’s nerve-wracking being on the ocean, trying to chart a course when no one’s made a map for me (a regular ol’ pilgrim) and I’m the first person to be me and I have to know what I want.
As I lay in bed the other night, doing research on grants and grad programs, I wrote, “FIND WHO YOU ARE” on my hand. But I know who I am. If I ignore the “shoulds” out there. While I feel like I should be looking for graduate schools and applying for fellowships, they all are just my playing into expectations. But if I think about me and what I want to do, it comes down to love, art, and travel. And making a difference for humanity. Live small, create a little, open my eyes. It doesn’t include more school, not right now. It does include maybe buying a plane ticket to Paris and living in the metro with one of those signs “j’ai faim Aidez-moi SVP.” (I’m hungry, help me, please). But I joke. Kind of.
We all have an image of the starving artist. The person who’s hungry for the cause, for the humanity of it and the experience. But few actually set out to be broke and humble. Especially Carolina graduates with our hearts and high hopes. When we get asked, “SO what are you going to do next year?” no one is going to say, “OH, I’m going to starve.”
Me, I want that. If I can make it just going job-to-job writing stories, seeing the world, and talking about the causes I want to talk about… I’ll be happy. If I can move to some city somewhere and even if I have to bar-tend for my rent, as long as I have time to be peaceful and volunteer on the side and work on a dream (yes, I have a dream), I will be happy. I want to redefine success. Make it mine. Beyond a “career” path and paycheck. I’m in the business of living life.
So last night I was kind of reckless. I bought four weeks worth of plane tickets, departing two days after graduation. My friend Samantha and I will be in Italy and Greece for a month before I return to my summer job as a camp counselor in Maine. For a month, we’ll be in small rooms in crowded cities, sitting in sidestreet cafes, flourishing. We’ll be on the edge; this is a dream trip of spontaneity where I have just enough money to get by. Yet, this is me wanting to explore while I can and as long as I have enough money in my pocket for a plane ticket, I will. Let myself.
But my mother, of course, realistically emailed me today about my Italian/Grecian stunt (yes, I booked those tickets without telling her first) and reminded me of lots of important things about the real world. My favorite line was, “The IRS is a reality,” which was kind of in response to something unrelated to my buying lots of plane tickets to foreign countries, but she’s right. Not only is the IRS a reality, so are my student loans. So is eating and paying rent. How can we live on dreams and still make ends meet?
The truth is, you can’t live on dreams alone. You have to be unafraid to work and fight for it– and I’m not afraid: I’ve had steady jobs since I entered college and worked hard for four years. I’ve succeeded in the conventional sense of the word and I’ve followed my passions. But, really what I want is a break– I want to explore, create, volunteer, maybe even live in a tent in Africa somewhere for the next few years. And so ask me what I’m going to “do” and I’ll say I’m going to be somewhere, anywhere, doing things that are important for me and for the world, even if I’m not making money (for the chance to live faraway and work on dreams for humanity, I’ll beg in the metro).. Maybe I won’t be enrolled in a program that will set me on the track to grad school and a great paycheck, maybe not heading for greatness at all, but definitely learning real world lessons and making real world change. I’ll be doing things and I’ll be successful, my own kind of successful. I am sure of that. Even if it means going hungry a little bit. I know what I want.
“Go be that starving artist you’re afraid to be. Open up that journal and get poetic finally. Volunteer. Suck it up and travel. You were not born here to work and pay taxes. You were put here to be a part of a vast organism to explore and create. Stop putting it off. The world has much more to offer than what’s on 15 televisions at TGI Fridays. Take pictures. Scare people. Shake up the scene.” – Jason Mraz