I smoked my last cigarette Sunday, sitting on the back steps of my apartment building during the one sunny morning we've had in this (so far) grey autumn. A friend asked me the night before if I were nervous about running out, and I won't deny there was a slight pang as I neared the end of the pack but really I felt good about it. I was smiling when the last butt went over the railing, and it's been two days and I haven't even wanted one too badly. So hurrah.
This month is a series of endings and beginnings, really. Last cigarettes and meetings with the many friends who are leaving for warmer climes; first rehearsals, concerts, and cold days. Most of it's neither good or bad, really. Every story can be told in an infinite number of ways, and the way I tell them to myself changes from moment to moment. I can be simultaneously happy for loved ones heading out for San Francisco and Texas and sad that I won't be seeing them as regularly, happy to stop smoking while still being nostalgic about my back steps in the sunlight.
I think the reason I can't pull this together in a nice little package is that life isn't like that right now. It's messy. There are roasted chickpeas and Beethoven symphonies and glitter, long days and longer nights and bone-deep exhaustion and fierce joy, and all of these things are wonderful and beautiful but so divergent that I sometimes feel like my life has exploded like some sort of celestial body and all the different parts of myself are getting farther and farther apart and hence harder to connect. That sounds a little uncomfortable, and sometimes it is, but I'm trying to be all Pollyanna about it and focus on the positive: I'd far rather be scattered and happy than focused and miserable.
As I get older, I'm feeling more pressure to figure out what exactly it is that I'd like to do. It seems that society would like there to be one singular thing that becomes my career, the thing I do well enough to get paid for that hopefully doesn't make me want to scream and curl into a ball on the floor. This hypothetical career should be upstanding, something my mother can talk about without wincing or making excuses for, and it should pay enough that I can someday become a solvent old person who doesn't have to eat cat food to survive. None of this is stated outright, but I think that's the gist of what my parents--who I am totally not snarking at: their tolerance of my lack of path is actually rather outstanding--and various other concerned people are getting at when they gently ask me what I'm doing next. I have, I like to point out as I sweep the floor at work, two college degrees, so what happens now?
The problems with all of this are many. My two degrees are a) in a field that I no longer want to pursue professionally, and b) in a field that is practically useless when you try to apply it towards any other sort of career path. A master's in music performance won't even get you a job at Whole Foods, and I know because I tried. (Actually, it won't even get you an interview. It feels really awesome to finish your sixth year of college and then get rejected by a grocery store.) And beyond the whole "college degree" issue, there's the fact that, really, I'm much happier doing several things part of the time than one thing all of the time. My metaphorical closet is very full of hats at this point, so why wouldn't I want to put as many of them as possible to use? Sure, it may be tiring, but it makes for some really great stories. But still, sometimes I wonder.
When I was walking through the Minneapolis airport six weeks ago on my way home from Alaska, jet lagged and probably still a little drunk from my stint at the Anchorage Chili's the night before (I mean, what else could I do before a hellish overnight trip except get drunk by myself at a horrible chain restaurant at the airport? Christ.), I had what I might have considered an epiphany had I been solidly in my right mind instead of jetlagged and mentally devastated. I was walking around, searching desperately for a bagel--the only craving I had at that early hour--when I looked out a window at the sunrise and a voice inside my head, clear as a bell, said "Go to grad school again." Because I was, frankly, kind of fucked up, I laughed and said to the voice "Oh yeah? For what? Do tell." But I think that sums it up. Something needs to happen. Is it grad school? Is it not? Is school a total pack of bullshit and should I dedicate my life to reading and liminal ill-paying jobs? So many paths, and what do I choose? Absolutely no clue.
I don't know where I'm heading with all this, either in life or in this too-long and unfocused post. What is this about, anyway? Smoking? Being busy? Life goals? Odd interior voices? I don't know. But it's time for my next rehearsal, so here I go again.