When I sat down just over a week ago to complete my first summer assignment (appropriately titled ‘Organized Culture Report’ by the Social Sciences administration – thank you, Rice, for the professionalism even from hundreds of miles away), only then did I start to realize that I was on my way to being halfway done with this internship. And now, as I’m starting my third blog, I’m faced with the utterly shocking realization that I am leaving exactly six weeks from today. As in 42 days from now. As in today is June 26th, and I arrived here six weeks ago, and I’ll be gone just as quickly.
Now, I realize this is not nearly as groundbreaking to those of you unfortunate enough to be sweating away your summers in my glorious but disgustingly, stickily-hot birthplace of Atlanta, Georgia, as my parents are once again managing to trudge through; or, perhaps, you’re in Houston, doing research or planning the best O-Week our incoming freshmen will ever see at Brown College, Rice University, my adoptive home right at the corner of Main and Sunset, dealing with the downright cruel humidity-plus-107°-heat that my Long Island mother has yet to experience; or maybe, even, you’ve found yourself in Bruges or Paris or Oxford, wondering why it took you your whole life or eighteen years or both to get there in the first place. Or maybe you’re just bored.
Well, I have to say that for the first summer in my memory of nineteen summers, I almost feel like I’m getting somewhere. Let’s not get too metaphorical, though. The farthest from the U.S. border I could brag of until six weeks ago was about an hour and a half up from the Vermont state line in the purely française world of Montreal, Quebec, and regardless of how much it seemed like I was a world away, I couldn’t help but feel cheated when we snuck some cheap Crown Royal back in to the States and didn’t even have to check it at customs.
But Panama embraces so much of what isn’t even thought of in our humble country, from the wayward idea that talking to strangers is friendly, not creepy, to the simple reality that it really can take a full four minutes to walk from the front door to the front gate. You shouldn’t even have to think about it.
Anyway, back to that summer assignment. While writing it I began to realize the unthinkable: in six weeks, I have actually given myself the time to ponder life, myself, my goals, even. I’ve been a part of something real – so real, in fact, that I’ll be able to say that I was a published anthropological researcher at 19 – and I’ve been making definite things out of my experiences here. Compiled information, arts and crafts, memories, whatever you want to call it, it’s happening.
And after years and years of making lists of the short stories I wanted to write or the 3XL men’s tee shirts I wanted to turn into dresses or the annoying parts about myself I wanted to adapt into ineffable, poetic character flaws, all so manageable in three months, I told myself, all so foreseeable, I am now, finally, checking those things off my lists. No, not badly sewn polyfibrous material or whatever other materialistic but somehow ironic endeavors – ironic, of course, to a melodramatic teenager – but things that matter. Things that are real.
It turns out that somehow my greatest strength has been, all along, my hubris. I pride myself in my motivation, my big-thinking imagination, my ability. I always have. And it’s exactly what has led me to my downfall.
My obsession with goals and lists and checking things off of those lists – goodness, the satisfaction – gets to the point of recklessness; I start expecting myself to accomplish forty checkmarks a day, but really that only happens on the freak accident of a day when I wake up wanting to be absurdly productive rather than my usual lackadaisical self. When I discover how impossible such an idea is – another goal, look at me – I go easy on myself, and then easier and easier until I read a paragraph of my homework assignment and award myself with three hours of catching up on my shows.
I swear the build up was worth it. To me, at least. Because it’s been six weeks of insight. Six weeks of allowing myself the freedom of deciding what to do today after I get out of bed in the morning instead of planning those 24 hours out a week in advance. Six weeks of telling myself that it’s okay I’m not the wonder woman my boss in high school was, juggling two kids and a husband and a wildly demanding job and cheerleading practice and football games and in-laws and protein and me, the nanny. Six weeks of listening to the albums on my iTunes that I somehow never did before because I was honestly afraid to get out of my pattern. Six weeks of relaxing when I have to cross out weeks of scheduling in my day planner because of Panama time (it’s a thing. It will soon have a Wikipedia article). Six of weeks of living and breathing and smelling and traveling and dancing. Six weeks of closing my eyes and opening them up a little wider every time.
You know that feeling when you wake up after a dream? How panicky you are to remember it, to hold on to it, because it’s yours yours yours, it’s in your head, why can’t you explain it, why can’t you even remember the last thing that happened? The first ten minutes of your morning surround those hours of lost sleep, hours of mind-boggling romantic tension between synapse and synapse. And you give in to the pressure of teeth to brush, coffee to pour. And when you’re sitting down at your desk or picking up a LeanCuisine for lunch or passing a ’99 forest green Wrangler on your way home from work, you remember the detail that plagued your morning, the lost link that brings it back together.
The last thing I want to sound like is yet another washed up adolescent New Ager, using lame dream metaphors to describe the love of an endless summer. So I won’t say that that’s exactly how it feels to misplace six weeks of yourself in a foreign country. I won’t admit that it’s what seems to happen when a group of strangers somehow end up understanding each other over coffee and cigarettes. Like lost links.