Bye-bye, Berkeley blues

Monday Mumblings


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It's fitting that I would spend my last days at Berkeley trapped in an immobile mental haze. Like the random planter boxes blocking the streets of this city that slowly wear away at a driver's will to drive, this Berkeley-bred creative block wears down my will to write. Editors and commenters and critics, like meter maids, decrying my every decision of where to park and what to think.

The clever sections of my brain - already made weak from four years at this university - are rapidly shutting down, like a runner's bodily functions in the last five miles of a marathon. The things that remain to be written are inescapable beasties chasing me everywhere I walk.

Back, paper! Be gone, thesis! Die, column!

And so I find myself awake at four in the morning, trying to squeeze out one last column. I'm writing it on my phone, in the dark, and it's making my thumbs hurt. (It has a keyboard ... but still.) I can hear my roommate's snores like a bitter librarian shushing my unruly thoughts: "Ssh! Ssh! Ssh!"

No, you shut up!

This is what it feels like to be a graduating senior. The kind of late-night anxiety when one worry leads to another to another to another in an illogical spiral of doom.

As I worry how to build a conclusion for my thesis project, I suddenly worry whether I will ever find fulfilling employment. I interrupt my worrying about what to make for breakfast to worry about where I will live next year or if life has any meaning at all. I find a way to simultaneously worry how I will keep in touch with beloved Berkeley friends next year and that I made too few beloved friends at Berkeley.

A minute or two of worrying why I worry so much gives way to worrying what new, unknown worries I might have to worry about in the not-too-distant but highly worrying future.

(There's nothing like repeating a word to disassociate it from its meaning. And what a strange word it is, to "worry.")

As a child, lying awake in the dark was not so scary as it is now. Back then, I had a vague and reassuring idea that the shadows in my closet were not actually aliens coming to abduct me. But a grown-up's monsters hiding in the closet are not as irrational or containable. They're "real world," "grown-up," "mature person" fears. (Not that we shouldn't fear aliens.)

Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of loneliness. Fear of a bad credit score. Fear of paying bills. Fear of cancer. Fear of poor dental health. Fear of becoming a dull adult. Fear of not finding a parking spot when you're late for something important.

Fear of receiving that phone call about a dead friend.

I received such a call last year. Her name was Sylvia. She had just graduated and was killed on her way to her new job. She was perfect, and not just in the way that people become perfect after they die.

She was one of those girls who was born to be the idol of others. Two years older, two years hipper and wittier.

So here I am, standing at the precipice of 18 years of education, with a thousand things to worry about. But thinking of Sylvia makes it seem ridiculous that anyone worries about anything, ever. It seems absurd that more people don't spend the better part of their days running through the streets, shouting, "Holy god above, I'm alive!"

I'm done now. I still don't know how I feel about Berkeley, but I know I've expanded my understanding of humanity while studying here. I've learned that intelligence is not a moral virtue and that people are both worse and better than I had thought before coming to this campus.

I have few plans for post-graduation. But, at least, Berkeley provided me the opportunity to meet some fine role models of how to live a life. I'm thinking of those women professors who have achieved what I consider an accomplished life: raising babies and writing books. They have shown me that these goals don't have to be mutually exclusive.

Worrying about babies? Good god, I can't think of a clearer signal that it's time to go to sleep. This has to be the very pit of that nighttime, pre-graduation, illogical spiral of doom: "If I can't finish a column, how will I ever balance a career and a family?"

Just a few more days, and I'll be completely done. (No finals, suckers!) I know this memory of last-ditch despair will seem like someone else's then, and Berkeley's better offerings of sunshine, flowers and friends will be all that I can see in this town.

Good luck to the rest of you, still trapped in the former portrait of a Berkeley student - I'm off to scarier realms now. What a relief.


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