Some of my favorite Mountain Goats lyrics are from the song “Tallahassee,” on the album of the same name. The part I like best in the song goes like this:
“There is no deadline; there is no schedule.
There is no plan we can fall back on.
The road this far can’t be retraced.
There is no punch line anybody can tack on.”
When I graduated from college and moved to San Francisco, one of the hardest transitions for me was learning how to function in a lifestyle that didn’t have any set end-dates, no specific schedules or timeframes. In college, and even in high school and middle school and elementary school before that, your time is divided up into neat little chunks. You go to different classes each day of the week; the semester ends after a certain number of weeks, and you switch to new classes; the year ends on a particular date and you move out of your current apartment into a new one, and you get ready for the next year. Everything has a deadline; if it sucks, you know you only have to do it for so long; if it’s awesome, you know you better enjoy it, because it won’t last.
When you enter the real world, you get a job. You go to that job, usually to an office (the same office) every day, Monday through Friday, from something like 9am to 5pm, give or take. Unless you’re on contract, there’s no end-date to that job; you’re just. . .there, for as long as you want to be there or until you get fired. You find an apartment, and you live in it; you might sign a lease for a year, but if you want to stay there indefinitely, it’s probably a possibility. For some people, this lack of confines is great; they feel free to pursue their interests and make their lives awesome, and they grow up, and they thrive.
For me, it was incredibly difficult. I didn’t know what to do with my time, how to think about the present or the future. Unintuitive as it is, I felt trapped by the lack of structure, paralyzed by all the options of what I could do, so much that I found myself not wanting to do anything. It was a big adjustment. It took me a lot of time to get used to this “new life,” and the process entailed a lot of moping.
These lyrics ran through my head a lot during my first few years in San Francisco, as I lamented the lack of deadline, schedule, and plan, the inability to retrace the steps that got me to where I was, the reality of there being no punch line to wait for.
So, after almost three-and-a-half years of working the daily grind (okay, so my job was pretty cushy, but still, you know), of bouncing around to different apartments when the time felt right, I finally adjusted to the timeframe of real life. But in the last few months, lots of things in lots of aspects of my life have taken turns very much back toward the kind of regimented schedule I tried so hard to let go of.
Right now, there very much is a deadline: A lot of people I’m close to will be relocating in the coming weeks, and the pressure to spend time with them, do the things we’ve talked about doing but never got around to, and make the most of the time we have left is palpable. And there very much is a schedule and a plan: I’ve committed to a two-year masters program at Berkeley, which means that for the first time since I moved here, I’m actually committed to staying here for a defined period of time. I’ll be going back to that academic structure of weeks and semesters and years that I used to thrive in. Beyond those two years, I won’t have to stay here, but it’ll probably be in my best interest, since the connections I’ll make through the program that will definitely be Bay Area-centric. What’s the point of making connections if you’re just going to abandon them? I’m realizing that my decisions at this juncture have larger implications than the obvious ones.
I should be careful what I wish for. I’m not finding these deadlines, schedules, and plans to be as comforting now as I remember them being before.
“There are loose ends by the score. What did I come down here for? You; you.” -The Mountain Goats