Melt

A few weeks ago, my partner and I listened to an episode of the podcast Hidden Brain about a phenomenon called summer melt. Summer melt is what happens when a student who has matriculated at a university fails to make it to the first day. They “melt” away in the summer because their finances fell through, or their plans changed, or other reasons that may or may not have been in their control. And in the weeks between listening to that episode and leaving for Iowa, I had summer melt on the brain. Constantly.

Summer melt felt like a real possibility for me. I feared that I wouldn’t pack in time, or I wouldn’t be able to afford the relocation, or that there was a mistake and my acceptance had been revoked. I feared that I would end up putting so much time and effort into something that just wouldn’t work. It kept me up at night. It made it harder to actually accomplish the things that needed to get done. But gradually, once I was no longer working full-time, once I packed up my bookcases, once I booked my flight, once I paid my university bill, once I made a number of incremental steps towards the start of the semester, the fear of summer melt faded.

Yesterday was the first official day of classes at Iowa State University, but the luck of my schedule meant that I didn’t have any classes to attend. And today I only had one class, a seminar on sustainable agriculture. Having made it to and through my first class, I finally feel like the fear is gone altogether.

I don’t remember fearing summer melt when I was going into my undergraduate years. Maybe it was because I didn’t know about it, so ignorance kept me from fixating on it too much. Maybe it was because my younger self felt more invincible, more invulnerable, and I didn’t think about the things that could go wrong as much as I think about those things now. Maybe it was because I had seen my siblings start their college careers, been with them from move in day through to their graduations, before I had to start that process myself. Or maybe it was because I had spent a few days in New York for an orientation session over the summer before the semester started. Maybe the three days of orientation, enough to get me to fall in love with the city, gave me the confidence I needed to get my act together and make it to the fall.

Whatever the reason, eight years ago, I didn’t fear summer melt. Instead, I only suffered from anticipation, impatient to start my first semester at college.

During the final few months of living in New York City, it took an enormous amount of energy to be able to see the city with the same level of optimism, the same feverish pursuit, that same kind of love that my eighteen-year-old self had. Much of that had transferred to my graduate program, even though I hadn’t visited the college or really knew what I was getting myself into by going to graduate school. My prediction is that in three years, or six years, or another eight years, when I’ve earned my degree and am making the next big leap in my life, I’ll have that same feeling of wanting to catapult myself into the future.

And I’m sure I’ll fear melting again.

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Long goodbyes

I have lived in New York City for the past eight years, and come this August I will be moving away to earn an MFA at Iowa State University in Creative Writing and Environment. Though it’s still up in the air whether or not I will return to NYC after I finish the program, I have been saying my goodbyes as if this were for good.

During the past few months since accepting the place at Iowa State, I have been spending some time out of the city for various reasons: a writers’ retreat in California, my brother’s wedding in Indiana, and other, small trips here and there. And during every trip I’ve felt like a rubber band stretched just shy of snapping apart. Coming back to New York felt like relaxing back into my original shape, one that feels as easy as the grid of Manhattan.

On one recent trip, my boyfriend and I visited some of my family in Virginia. My paternal grandmother left for the Philippines a few days ago, so much of my extended family gathered the weekend before she left to say goodbye.

I have a large family, but our interactions and reunions are somewhat infrequent (at least, my interactions and reunions with them are somewhat infrequent), and so I’ve forgotten what family get-togethers are like. The chaos of being in one place, the constant conversations that branch and split and spiderweb across a room. And, of course, the long goodbyes.

As a kid these used to annoy me. After hours spent at a relative’s house, playing with other kids our age, my siblings and I would inevitably ask, “When are we going to go home?” And our parents would answer with a vague, “Soon,” and continue their conversations with the other adults. Even as we made progress toward leaving—moving from the dining room to the living room to the hall closet where we put our shoes and jackets—the time from the initial inquiry to the actual act of leaving felt like hours.

When my boyfriend and I went to Virginia, our goodbyes at the end of the visit weren’t long like this. They were just long enough to convey the message: “Goodbye for now. See you later.”

Maybe I feel some residual aversion to goodbyes because of the way they tended to linger in my family. Since coming to New York, I’ve become the type of person to slip, hopefully unnoticed, out of a party or gathering of any kind, moving on to the next thing, going to the next place. But as I prepare for leaving this city, I find myself taking more scenic routes, prolonging my time with my feet on the pavement. I take it in, counting the steps from home to wherever I am going.

And the packing process for the upcoming move has felt incredibly daunting. I hadn’t really started until this week, and I have this constant panic in the back of my mind that I didn’t actually give myself enough time. Though we don’t have many possessions, there has still been a steady accumulation of things, first from four years of college, then from four years of living in this apartment building. It’s amazing how things get lost in the back of a deep drawer, or fall into the spaces behind bookcases. As I find more and more things I have to say goodbye to, I find that I want more time to say it.

#weekendcoffeeshare: 25

If we were having coffee, I’d first pull you over to the window where my desk is, and show you the view of the community garden across the street, and the natural light that spills in, even on a cloudy day. Though the past few weeks have been more stressful than usual (moving apartments does that), I am grateful for the light and the window.

And I’d also offer you a slice of cake or other homemade food item. I turned twenty-five this week, and I like the idea of a Hobbit-style birthday—giving things on the day rather than receiving them. And let me know if you want a refill on anything; I’m also the type to celebrate a birthday for a whole week.

Twenty-five is a funny year. I don’t quite know what to make of it. Am I young? Old? Am I right where I need to be, with all my uncertainty and discomfort? Am I ahead? Or behind?

So far, the first week of being twenty-five has been dedicated to playing catch-up. I feel like my work life has both picked up pace and maintained a steady footing, so now I’m trying to get everything else up to scratch. I opened my personal planner for the first time in months, started filling in the pages, and cleaned off my desk to signal the start of something new. I caught up with a former coworker over coffee on Thursday, caught up with another friend over the phone yesterday morning, and wrote and sent some letters I had been meaning to write and send.

Now that I have things more or less organized, I am turning my thoughts to questions that are further-reaching. Where am I going to be in the next year? The next five years? The next ten? When I was a teenager, I barely believed that I would make it to be twenty-five, let alone what I would be doing when I got here, or after. Answering these questions now is harder than I thought it would be.

How about you? What comes to mind when you think “twenty-five”?


This post was created as part of #weekendcoffeeshare. Check out more posts in the hashtag.