Do you remember that part in The Phantom Tollbooth when Milo becomes lost in the Doldrums? He’s rescued by that talking dog, Tock, who explains that he can only leave that stagnant, miserable place if he changes the way he thinks. While I applaud the novel’s empowering suggestion of an internal locus of control as regards a person’s happiness, I am inclined to believe that situation plays a greater part than is acknowledged. I may keep myself out of the Doldrums, but if I do something every day that makes me feel unhappy and purposeless, I will continue to circle that unhappy territory like a buzzard waiting to feed.
Two weeks, and I’m off again. Back to school, and new work, and my city.
I have to confess that this summer has tired me more than most. I will not bore you with too many details, but suffice it to say that I feel as though I have been getting nowhere slowly.
I am discouraged. I am writing stories, practicing my craft, working on snippets of novels, penning the occasional good poem and many mediocre ones — “The Traveler” turned out particularly well. I still feel the need for some instruction with regard to my writing, but given my family’s current financial situation, I suspect I will have to do without the formal kind for some time. I suppose reading good books is the best education, and I am sure I can find a writing group in Boston, should I really have the time on top of four classes and twelve hours of work a week. I would love to take a beginning guitar class, too, but I am trying not to make my usual mistake of stretching myself too thin.
I still worry about what I’ll do after college. My sister has recommended two years abroad, so I will spread my net wide and look for positions teaching English, the only thing I am really qualified to do. I think I’ll enjoy it. Perhaps I will apply to the top ten English phD programs after my first year abroad, in the US and the UK, Marshall and Rhodes scholarships included, and apply again the second year. If I am not accepted, I will explore my other options. I might enjoy teaching English or ESL full-time, or become a career counselor, or a testing psychologist. Perhaps I will go to law school, and help fight for social justice with my sister — we’ll call our agency Erickson and Erickson, and offer cheap speculative fiction classes by night.
Worrying about whether I will make it now would be a waste of time, but any of these proposed positions would give me a chance to make a greater difference in a person’s life than being a literature or composition professor would. I would love to grow up to be like Theodora Goss, a published writer and professor of the Gothic and folklore, but it would be arrogant and stupid of me to think I require that life to be happy or satisfied. I need the basics: a room with a lock, clothes, good food, a washer, hot water, and the option of silence at the end of the day. I need thoughtful, loyal, verbal friends, and the opportunity to meet people who will challenge me to be more curious, compassionate, and courageous. I need to move closer to good, published writing, every day. These are the things that will make me happy, and they are things that I can have right now, or soon enough, at any rate.
In the meantime, I must try to be grateful; bitterness is useless, ungrateful, foolish, and caustic. I have the basics and more, and friends I would not trade anything for. In the absence of a talking dog to guide me, I have the writer’s path. (Though admittedly the sign posts are considerably less well-written than I had hoped. It’s a wee bit overgrown, hereabouts, and people keep asking me to pay them for “exposure.” Seems fishy.)
I am lucky. I cannot think of a decent ending to this post — it will end truly only when I am back at school, no longer circling the doldrums like a vulture — so I will leave you with a snippet of “The Traveler” that will do just as well as my usual summation.
He is so ready to leave
That he sleeps with
His shoes on.