Recently, loved ones have taken to congratulating me prematurely.
“You’re almost done! You must be so excited!”
“Just three weeks away!”
“I’m so proud of you! Do you want anything for graduation?”
“A graduate! You’ll be just like Dustin Hoffman in that one movie with the ambiguous ending!”
No one’s actually said the last one to me, but it’s the statement to which I can provide the most accurate response.
Lately I’ve been stalling. I haven’t been writing except for lame one pagers in my diary (pining about ‘Ben,’ mostly) and I certainly have not been reading for or participating in class discussions. True, “graduation” is only three weeks away (two, if I subtract the week of Thanksgiving, as I will be home for its entirety) and true, time, in its inevitable way, will fly, but right now, this Tuesday evening, the unwritten pages of final papers are piling up and I haven’t a clue as how to tackle them. It’s no longer a question of motivation – I haven’t been motivated to do well in school since senior year of high school – but rather, an issue with…”What now?”
I didn’t expect this stupid, common question to hit me too like the proverbial ton of bricks, but it has and my face hurts and so I’m asking: What now? I can see into the immediate future. I will graduate. With above average grades, below average affection for my alma mater. (At the department store the other day, I overheard a teenage boy discussing Berkeley and Brown – “I like both,” he said. I looked up from black boots that didn’t exactly fit, my face red, “Choose Brown,” I said.)
I know myself – writing papers assigned by youthful and elderly professors alike is, regardless of my attraction to them, like pulling teeth – and I will write them. I will turn them in and if they are graded by professors, will garner generous grades. If not the professors, then bitter, stingy GSI’s (graduate student instructors), who, if the holiday spirit vacates their hearts at the wrong moment, will damn my papers and final grades to scholarly hell (any grade below an A minus). I don’t want to be cast into that hell, especially not in my last semester, but while it’d be great to leave Cal with an academic bang (3.9 decibels loud!), I am wearied by all this relentless reading and writing and listening. I have waited six years to tune out higher education and on the 17th of this December, 2010, I will finally plug my ears and walk away.
My dear aunt called from Taipei two evenings ago. It’s been my spoken plan now, to leave the States for one or two years and fashion a little expat life for myself on the seventh floor (the most modest penthouse there ever was) in our family’s building on Dong Fend St.
“There’s a fine English cram school near my work,” my cousin told me happily. Both she and my aunt anticipate my return, as though my presence would somehow breathe fresh life into their self-perceived dull ones.
“There’s no one here to make waves,” my aunt sighed into the phone, “And Karen wants to live with you on the seventh floor. Perhaps things will be more exciting this way.”
And I’ve no doubt things will be exciting – I’ll teach English, make a killing (especially now, with my degree!) and shop, dine, watch movies whenever I please – it will be a more mature, more fabulous version of my life in Taipei nearly five years ago, when I tutored privately and taught at the National Taipei College of Nursing. Karen and I grew up together and the plan is to continue growing (or perhaps halt the aging process) while living out our single girl life in Taipei. Is this viable? Is it possible? Am I merely planning some elaborate escape? Taipei, despite its cloying humidity and bustling streets, is my mental cryogenic freeze. I go there to pause. To put “real” life, whatever that is, on hold. Ought I do that for more than six months not to mention a year? Or two?
I have my concerns, not least of which is Taipei’s dating scene- a veritable pond sans fish for a big-boned, deep-voiced, giant shark like me. (I believe I did, yes.) The year and twenty-three summers I’ve spent in Taipei have revealed that my “type” of man does not exist in Taipei. And if he does, he is there only briefly, on a stopover perhaps to bigger and more important cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong or Tokyo. No, Taipei gets the stringy foreigners from Europe and middle America – the guys who are misinformed about but endlessly by idiot Taiwanese girls. They come with pale, blotchy skin, holey t-shirts, and those disgusting sandals with the velcro straps and in the heat, break out in the worst cases of yellow fever known to man. Speak perfect English and their eyes glaze over – they don’t want communication, they want dumplings spooned into their mouths with submissive coos.
Equally repulsive are the wealthy ABC’s (American Born Chinese) and TEABRGHTWFD (Taiwanese Educated Abroad But Returning Home To Work For Daddy). When we were younger, my cousin and I studied my aunt’s wealthy friends, dreaming that marrying into one of these families was certainly the fast track to wealth, power and consequently, happiness. Thank god we developed brains along the way. Despite our meager (future) jobs and pitiful paychecks, we still have, in our fathers and other men we admire, standards to adhere to. And I confess there’s a bit of self-loathing going on here – I’m terrified of being my parents’ charity case (hence the plan to teach English in Taipei) but I would hate to date or marry another charity case, regardless of how lucrative the source of the charity may be.
Thus one setback Taipei might pose is the potential throwing away of two perfectly good years of my twenties. I’m not getting any younger. The crows feet that have stepped into the corners of my eyes are only getting deeper (and funny, I’m not laughing all that much). I’m not thinking too much. I’m thinking critically about my situation as a woman in the world.
Another crux: professional progress. Of course I can pledge to write everyday about the sights and sounds of Taipei and of my family – and most likely, I will, but how diligently will I revise? And how ardently will I complete the applications for the MFA programs I’ve also been crowing about? That was the whole plan, after all – graduate, move, teach, write, apply, enroll (Brown, UCI, Iowa – in that order), learn, write, publish, teach at Harvard. The master plan.
And now that’s it’s written and will soon be posted, I feel better. Now that it’s written, I can see how far this plan is, how strange my fears sound and how very achievable it all is. My imagination is quite vivid. My age still young.
My essays all due in less than three weeks, still unwritten. As long as they remain unwritten, the master plan will seem hazy and far. I can’t have that now, can I?
To Nabokov, Milton, Hitchcock and Wagner (the last not a famous writer but an adorable professor with an unfortunately dull class) – may you all see me to the end.