As I type these words in Emory's ornately decked Candler Library, replica friezes from Greek antiquity running along the walls and some very conspicuous nude statues dominating the right-hand wall, I can't help but think where I was when I wrote my first words for Odyssey, 100 articles ago.
I occupied a different space at that point in time; a different mental dwelling, as well as geographical. Now, that's not to say that I'm a radically different person in 2019 than I was in 2016. I haven't chopped off all my hair, gotten a regrettable tattoo, or started chain-smoking, but things are different, even if that difference isn't easily explained away.
When I first started writing for Odyssey, the Wisconsin summer was still burning strong. The 2016 presidential election was in full swing. My first foray into the world of (mostly) low-key Internet writing was in fact about that as yet undecided election, as I criticized Hilary Clinton's choice of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) as her VP pick.
At that point, 928 days ago, I initiated my Odyssey debut by making the title of the Kaine piece a question: does Kaine make a good sidekick? And while the answer to that may've been resoundingly "no," I can't help but at this juncture to put forth another query: 100 articles later, have I learned anything?
The answer to that one seems quite a bit more complex.
So complex in fact, that instead of continuing to write this article, at approximately this point in the process I took a seven-hour break that saw me do everything but finish writing. And I mean everything, folks.
I watched TV. I ate a pizza quesadilla (pretty good; would recommend). I texted my girlfriend. I went and got flowers for my girlfriend for Valentine's Day. Hell, I even learned German (not a lot, just a little bit). Scout's honor, I truly did everything else but answer the question, "have I learned anything?"
Why? Because that's a hard question to answer. Have I really learned anything? My time at Emory has taught me boatloads, which is good because all told my brain will cost near to $250,000 when I'm done here. Have I learned anything from Odyssey? Of course I have. I've said so in previous articles, but there's a real benefit to writing once a week, in a community that's there to support you and move your work.
But that's not all of it. Not hardly.
I remark sometimes that I feel as if I'm drifting on an open sea. Not bogged down by a storm or in danger of drowning, just drifting relentlessly. It's a sort of gentle unease, being disconnected from everything and slowly reaching out towards nothing. Contrary to popular thought, paddling won't help either. The sea's too big for that.
Sometimes I feel as if I'm drifting because the more I grow up, the bigger the world feels. The more I know the more latitude I have to ride my driftwood into parts unknown. I've met so many people in my life, both good and bad folks, and yet how can I hang onto all of them? I've set ashore so many places, how can I do all of their beauties justice?
Perhaps I've gone a bit too far into the existentialist metaphor here and there's no one left reading this. That's alright. I'm not entirely sure where I'm going either. That's the point of drifting. It's not death necessarily, just a slow slide into oblivion.
Now there are things that take shape in this world, and not just the external peoples and places that I've already mentioned, but things of me. My clothes. My car. My body itself. And yet none of those things are nearly half as important as the people and places that I leave behind on the drift, rather only material markers of my time in this space.
What's worse? They will fade.
Slowly at first, but they will. Fabrics rot, metal rusts, and even the body decays. I have thought about this fact within the context of my own mortality. One day, I very much will not be here. The sea will run dry and my driftwood will vanish from the face of the earth.
Except of course, for these words.
Now, I'm not so vain as to expect that what I have to say will last until the end of days, but I am foolish enough to hope. To me, writing and language have never been the be all, but rather modes by which idea, philosophy, and hope, might be transmitted across time and space.
For example, I'm reading the works of Plato in one of my current classes, a man who (best as we can tell) lived some 2500 years ago. And yet despite that gap, that enormous divide that no physical, organic strength can cross, I can hold a transmission from his mind that long ago turned to dust. I can know of his values, his fears, his desires, his needs. I can know him, albeit in limited fashion, and above all, incorporate him.
I've made this point before, but it comes to me again as I feel that I'm drifting. With less time remaining before me in college than behind, I am wholly unsure of what the future holds, and to an even greater degree than when I was reaching a similar crossroads in high school.
People often ask me, "do you plan to go back home after college?" I am grateful that in my life home is not a masked concept; for me home is Wisconsin. Home is subzero winters and cool lakeside summers. Home is fields of grain and just getting ready to reel your fishing rod in as the sun sets over the lake. Home is midnight fireworks with friends and one last trip to get ice cream before Culver's closes down for the night. Home is a quiet place where I might find the space to stop drifting and start creating again.
As much as I've come to realize how much I miss home, how proud I am of my home, I don't know if that is the direction I must desperately paddle for once I have a certificate from Emory University. I don't even know if that's the direction that must be struck once I write the last word of this article. There are other passions that are calling for me in the world, after all.
And yet, despite this quiet turmoil, it is these articles 100 and all other writing that I've made memorial to my time alive on the open sea that do in fact give me a bolstering hope. In the most primeval composition, they have given me a stamp to say, "I was here. I was human too. Remember me."
Though I know even memory fades, I also know that the power of thought and feeling do not. There is a reason why we feel a pull in our gut, after all. In such ancient terms it likely kept us connected (and by proxy kept us alive) while the first of us where no more than simple apes on a hoary savannah. In terms of the present moment, emotion keeps us alive because it lets us mix our seas with that of others.
And that's perhaps the most exciting thing I've come to find, day in and day out for not just the Odyssey, but my life at large. My sea is not the only one. My sea mingles. It swirls and connects through narrow channels and gaping bights, it lingers on the seas of my fellows. And though in permanence we may only drift passed each other a few times, or even many fleeting times, our markers, our memorials will stay. Not only as monument for all those who come after us, but for all those we knew and loved in the times that our driftwoods bumped up against each other.
And that bump, first of driftwood, and then or monument buoys, I think is the greatest joy.