Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Leaving home

In my last days in Japan, I'm finding that I'm so exhausted that it's hard to focus on all of the good things.  So much of what I've seen remains unknowable, from kanji and vocabulary to the meanings of gestures.  I still feel so much frustration at missing the nuances of things, and I doubt that that will every really go away.

Yet, there is comfort in the everyday.  The hiss of the electricity on the tracks as the trains go by.  The ducks in the culvert at midnight.  The road home, that has taken me from summer dresses and handcloths in my bookbag to cold hands and white clouds skittering across a winter sky the color of a bruise.  My host family joking at the dinner table: my otosan kissing a leg of crab and offering it to my okasan.  I will miss all of this.

A few days ago I met with a professor of mine from Oberlin.  Over coffee, we talked about Japan and Oberlin and my impending graduation.  I talked about stainless steel and silk yarn; going to fashion school; not being ready to leave in so many senses of the word.  She told me that last week, a biochemistry professor was in a terrible car accident in the snow.  It's strange to be familiar with the utter whiteness of that road, to know the way by heart, and to also know that someone was hurt doing something that I have done before.  I don't know the professor personally, but I've been keeping her in my thoughts and hoping for her safe recovery.

And then there's graduating.  When I think of it, I think of the night my friend Emily and I sat in Tappan Square in late May, clothed in bare feet and pajamas, and talked about how scary it is to leave home.  Home: Oberlin, the place of unsettled dreams and unrelenting cold and living in every nerve-wringing moment before exams, of freshly plowed snow and bad coffee and staying up too late drinking wine with people you love.  Even though when you remember those times, that stress and fragility has become soft behind the sharp outlines of the dances you went to, the shoes you wore, and which boy you liked and never told.  You remember grades, but only in that you remember the physical imprint of studying six hours a day while it snowed outside and that one score of 76.5% gnawed on your thoughts all the while.

I've recently found out that although I got close to being accepted into one of my fellowship programs, I was not offered the position.  It's been an exercise in reevaluating: who am I?  Where do I want to live?  What do I want to do?

I've been in the bubble of Oberlin for so long, with expectations of grades and graduation and thinking about what will get me a good job, that it's hard to take a step back and think about what I want to do, instead of what I think other people want me to do.  Because as far as I've been able to figure out, very rarely are people's expectations of you as strict as your expectations of yourself.  I have a lot of thoughts about where I'll actually be going and what I'll be doing.  And although it's scary as hell to suddenly lack plans right after graduating, it's also strangely freeing.

So in the last few weeks I'm here, I'm hoping to take a breath.  There's always more things to do, but there's also always more time, and right now I just have to get through ten days.


Emily said...

This brought back so many feelings of Oberlin for me. I miss it so much, even though it's not really mine anymore, and going back wouldn't be the same.

Which professor was in an accident?

Cory Ellen said...

I think that in a way, Oberlin will always be a little bit ours, even after we've left. I think that's what makes it magic, even if going back never quite feels the same.