Last night I filled up the final page of the journal I started in October 2015, while I was abroad in Florence. I bought the journal for three euros from Tiger, which if you’ve never been to is kind of like the random cheap junk section at the end of IKEA except that’s the whole store. It was cheap and you can tell because the spine is fraying and I’m glad I’ve finished it so I can move onto a different cheap journal (one day I’ll splurge for a Moleskine, but today is not that day).
It’s hard for me to believe that the person who started this journal is the same person who finished it. When I think back to October 2015, it feels like everything was Perfect and Happy. (Not that I’m unhappy now, I’m just not overly ecstatic 100% of the time.) The entries betray the truth, which is of course that no situation is without its flaws, and even though I was in Europe having the time of my life, I still struggled with the usual things. But there is a definite note of thrill in most of the entries from when I was abroad; everything in my life seemed on the up. I was where I wanted to be, with the people I wanted to be with, and—as I wrote in an entry a few days before my birthday, I was “beginning to actualize who I have always wanted to be.” Here, at the beginning of August 2016, it feels like I’ve done a full reset since then. In the months since I first set my pen to this thing, I’ve been through loss, anxiety, panic about my mental and physical health, in addition to great joys, the formation of wonderful (wonderful wonderful) friendships, amazing life experiences (good and bad), and so so many ups and downs on the constant roller coaster that is my life. And yet, somehow I am always the same: struggling with this quasi-Platonic ideal of myself that I can’t move closer to, either because I lack self-acceptance or self-improvement.
I like beginnings. I like New Year’s and the beginning of the school year, I like Mondays and any sort of opportunity to start fresh and get better at being me. Every summer I set out some goals for myself, and this summer was no different: work out more, cook/embrace my full vegetarianness, crack down on teaching myself French, fix my prayer life, develop my fashion so I don’t just wear the same thing every day. Have I done these things? In sporadic bursts, but on the whole, no. I find myself, per usual, coming to the end of my summer (or year, or week, or semester, what have you), no better than I was when I started, despite my enthusiastic resolve to Improve Myself.
But then again, time has passed and though it might feel like the summer blew by without my noticing, that time has not been wasted.
In high school, I read this short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald called “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” I have to somewhat spoil it for you in order to make my point, but the basic gist of the story is Bernice, a somewhat wimpy high schooler who spends her summer getting pushed around by her cousin, discusses bobbing her hair at length in an at first successful grasp for attention that is ultimately disastrous when she is pressured into actually going through with it. The story ends with her taking revenge on her frankly awful cousin by cutting off her braids in her sleep, packing a bag and heading out into the night to enjoy the rest of her summer. In the class I read this for, my teacher asked whether or not we thought the story had a happy ending. I said that it did because Bernice finally grew a backbone and made her own decisions. A classmate who shall remain unnamed and I had a massive argument because he said that for a story to have a happy ending, the main character had to grow in virtue. (I will hold my snide comments in case he ever reads this; nevertheless, he’s wrong.) The case he made missed the entire point: even though Bernice is a jerk in giving her cousin her due comeuppance, she’s still a better person in the end because she now has the ability to make her own decisions. She can actually choose to be better at the end of the story, whereas at the beginning anything good she did was just because she was told to.
I am not a better person at the end of this summer than I was at the beginning; I am not a better person now than when I started my journal in October, in really any sense of the idea. But I feel somehow more poised and prepared to head down the road to actualizing who I’m supposed to be. Maybe this is all too personal to put in a blog, or maybe none of you care. That’s fine, honestly, but at the end of the day the purpose of this blog is to remind me about the journey so I can stop thinking so far ahead that I end up suddenly at the end of my summer/semester/undergrad wondering why I didn’t make the most of the moments I had. It’s for me to process where I am in my life and work through what’s holding me back.
Here and now I am at my “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” moment. I can make decisions now, I know what I need to do to be better. I have the backbone and the foundation to do it; it’s time for me to pack up my suitcases and run into the summer night after that potential.(Cringeworthy level of trying to be poetic; I’m aware.)
The irony is that without thinking about it, midway between October 2015 and now, I went and bobbed my hair.