In the last scene of the TV series Freaks and Geeks, which I have just finished Netflixing, the main character Lindsey gets off the bus her parents think is taking her to academic camp and into a waiting van of Grateful Deadheads to go follow the band around the US for a couple weeks.
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by this, but I was. In the story it represented an act of rebellion, the first out-of-character thing she'd ever done, a new leaf, a new way of looking at the world.
If it were me at that age, I would have sucked it up and gone to academic camp, done what was expected of me, pleased those in the position to praise me.
But after years after all of that pleasing and up-sucking, I have a growing urge to climb into the van. There is no one left to please, no more papers to be graded, no more report cards to be issued. That's one of the things I find annoying about this real world: there is no deus ex machina to come down and tell you how you are doing in relation to a random sampling of your peers. After years - decades - of worrying about how I measure up on the curve, the curve has devolved into a jumble of meaningless squiggles. How can I know whether or not I am Enough when there is no teacher designated to tell me so? How do I know if I have worked hard enough, studied hard enough, am naturally smart enough, if there is no number or letter value to assign to my recent efforts? In school I worked so hard to learn the rules of the game and then outsmart them, and now I am chagrined to find that everyone is playing a different game, they are making up the rules as they go, there is no consistent scoring pattern. I was not prepared for this!
And to top it all off I am now beginning to worry that while I was busy immersing myself in the minutiae of an unwinnable and ultimately irrelevant game, other people were climbing into vans and going to sex clubs and backpacking through Vietnam and Cambodia, thereby gaining a lead in a different contest, one which Spangles might refer to as Drinking Deeply From the Cup of Life.
I worry that this urge to go look for America, to have a crazy adventure, to do something wild and unexpected, is a rather bourgeois upper-middle class desire - not the desire, maybe, but the ability to execute it. Plane tickets to Cambodia, taking six months away from an income stream seem like luxuries that only a certain demographic could afford.
Still, sailors and settlers and explorers have embarked on the unknown for centuries, although they usually had more concrete reasons than restiveness and the quest for self-discovery. But why not? Who doesn't want to See the World!!!?
But then, is going somewhere just to see it a good use of resources? Particularly when going to more impoverished countries, is it enough to just be a tourist, stay in the hotels, spend your tourist dollars? And on the other hand, when you go on one of those mission-type trips where you build a house or something in between your tourist destinations, doesn't that seem a little, I don't know, condescending or something?
And then you have the ones who walk the length of the US or do the Appalachian trail barefoot. Dudes who just up and leave, no point, no purpose, they just want to walk, do something wild and different, see what they can see, the Doc Watsons in Cannery Row.
How to do something with no point, no purpose, no net gain? How is such a feat to be embarked upon? Even when I studied abroad in the back of my mind was the satisfying thought that I was also earning a foreign language minor. (Even though...fat lotta good it's done me so far...)
How do you balance this vague Simon and Garfunkel looking for America yearning, with something that wouldn't make my family sick with worry, with something that seems like it has a point, with something that I could even afford? And how do you balance that with the feeling that the whole point would be to do something crazy, something your family wouldn't approve of, something that doesn't make any kind of sense but you just up and do it anyway and find a way to make it work?
Perhaps even more enjoyable than a real adventure is the longing for one, the sense of limitless possibility (if only), the hurt so good, an aching tooth you can't seem to leave alone. I could, I would, I might, and then I continue my routine, write in a blog, cut pictures from magazines, imagine how I might have squandered all the money I borrowed for higher education in an entirely different way, how I might still make it, still go, still find, and find out, what I'm looking for.
"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I'm empty and aching and I don't know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all gone to look for America