Years ago, I wrote a short story with the same title as this post, about a girl named Laurel and her friends Emmy and Joel. It took place in the final moments of the summer before they leave for college. I think I let it be workshopped once, with a certain degree of peril. It seems like a relic now, as though it were a Polaroid or one of those folded up fortune-teller games from seventh grade. At the particular juncture of life, the title feels very relevant.
I’m leaving my job in May, going to Israel in June, and when I come back (July? August?), I have to figure out the next thing. Right now, it’s all unimaginable, but soon, I’ll be living a completely different life. It’s terrifying, I’ve been working in the Jewish community in some capacity since I graduated college, and the prospect of leaving it feels like swimming in the middle of a very deep, dark lake when you can’t see the bottom. I have pieces of a plan-grad school, travel, writing, of course, but there’s no definitive path-also a source of terror when, like me, you’re not a person of means.
The expectation is that when you’re thirty-one, you’ll have it together. I suppose some people do, as much as anyone ever can, but I’d prefer to think of myself as roughly edged instead of smooth. There is pretty solid evidence these days, though, to support the claim that over time I have lost faith in myself.
For a while I didn’t write. Anything. I might have kept a journal, but I can’t find it now. I remember why I stopped writing. It was because I’d convinced myself (and let other people convince me) that it was a waste of time, it would lead nowhere. I can’t believe I actually let myself believe that to the degree that I stopped. Writing is hard, scary and often demoralizing work, but as it turns out, Jewish communal service is not so different.
I have loved working for Hillel. It has allowed me to create community, make change, challenge myself, travel, learn about what I’m good at, build connections, and meet the people in my life who are the most amazing and important. And as much as it has been painful and frustrating, it has also become safe. I’ve stopped planning, instead, I’m running in place. The truth is that I don’t know anymore if Jewish communal service is what I actively want, or just where I’ve ended up.
Y is someone I love talking for many reasons, one of which is that she keeps me on my political toes. The other day, she said, “I’d love to see you get a PhD.” I think I hemmed and hawed during our conversation, which was basically about how I would love to get paid to talk about gender and sexuality and feminism all day. When she was gone, it occurred to me how much I had once wanted a PhD. I literally could not think of anything that would make me happier than being able to read and write through a feminist lens all day. When had I given up on that?
On one hand, I’m tired, and on the other, I feel like this is the time to take some risks I haven’t taken in a while, big risks, or at least, risks that feel big to me, like the PhD, or my temporarily abandoned goal of finishing my short story collection. The good news, of course, is that I’m my own boss, and I have been for years, and so the only person I’m really accountable to is myself. For that, I feel lucky
In my first draft of “The Movement of Everything,” Laurel and Joel watch Emmy leave for college, sitting in the passenger seat with her cello case propped up between her legs so she can keep track of it at all times. Since then, I’ve written a variation on this scene, with different people, in a different city. In this version, watching someone drive away is a beginning, not an end.