I'm sitting at the kitchen table in my parents' house in Michigan, frantically eating Raisin Bran, as if filling my mouth will also fill my day. The pretty flowered napkins I bought my parents in Oxford are laid out, and I keep touching them, hoping they hold some invisible entry port that would sweep me back if I could only just hit the right flower.
As usual, nothing of great weight has happened in Ann Arbor, and there's the same time-warp feeling as whenever I come back from a term. Nothing has moved, not in the house or on the street, and the air smells like high school and everything else pre-Oberlin, suggesting you just slip back into that world like into the jeans you couldn't bother packing. I always find this menacing, and want to come back home with my arms full of everyone and everything that made sense and felt real even just yesterday, and decorate my old world with them so that nothing feels misplaced. I'm afraid to unpack, knowing I'll put my clothes away and see everything that's still missing, and wonder where I put Tottenham Court Road, or the river, or the friends I knew not to take for granted and still did anyhow. I dreamt of London last night and woke up feeling burgled. It's immediately become a sort of ghost, with a very present absence. This is the same feeling as last spring, when Oberlin felt suddenly and cruelly gone.
But as much as the name implies otherwise, Oberlin is nothing like Oberlin-in-London. Or at least my experience of it wasn't. While the Oberlin aspects of it were comforting and certainly made the transition easier, I'd gone for London, and coming back it's everything outside of the Oberlin scaffolding that I miss most. This includes many things--obviously one leaves Oberlin to find what it doesn't have (thinking about it now, Dorothy's conclusion as she leaves Oz is pretty horrible). This semester would have been wholly impossible in Oberlin. There were so many museums and markets and plays and operas and bookstores, and walking for hours past a million strangers on streets where urgency has been paved in. They say London is a difficult city to meet people in, that it's lonely, and perhaps this is true--I was so lonely at first, in a way that was inextricable from the effortless way neighborhoods became each other and Underground lines crossed, making the city overwhelmingly, thrillingly open and anonymous.
But things changed, of course, and the people I met fractured London into a series of pockets, that also strung into each other, but bordered by those who walked through them with me. The map I'd draw now would be as much of streets as of faces, and conversations, and stories. I struggle not to feel angry for having spent so much of the beginning alone--there's no point now in regretting that. And as Henry Miller would (pretty pretentiously) say, the artist needs loneliness. But how to value solitude next to people like these?
With those sentiments in mind, here are the main things I've come away with: Try the things that feel like (somewhat) bad ideas, question a lot, but not so hard as to lock yourself in questioning, be open to what is offered. I am a supporter of mindful recklessness. This is something that traveling allows perhaps better than anything else, with its overflow of newness and how all your understandings must be reframed. I doubt Oberlin will seem very different than it did, it seems more likely that it'll feel even more like itself. The things that set it apart became very bright when looked at from London--how community there is practically inescapable, how plentiful and good the resources are, how it's such a thinktank. Even with everything offered in London, I missed Mudd, and Black River, and running past cornfields along the freeway. These things will come back of course. In the meantime I'll go to New York, for a billion more strangers and an internship. A Londoner or two may come visit. And Ohio will circle around again and Michigan and maybe London too, and Eliot will be right, indeed there will be time--