In one of my recent posts I mentioned the excitement I always used to feel right before school started each autumn. Even now that I’ve been out of school for 4 years, I still seem to feel that excitement at the end of August, right before fall starts.
I don’t believe that school is the right choice for everyone. It was definitely the right choice for me — I love being in a classroom and I learn best by sitting in discussions, doing assigned reading, and writing essays. Some people work best by actually getting out there, being thrown in head first, and just sort of being let loose without any traditional schooling or training.
Luckily for me, I’ve gotten to learn both ways.
4 Years in School
I learned so much about writing and art during those 4 years. I grew up sitting on the floor in the living room drawing pictures and stapling pieces of paper together to create little “novels” (my magnum opus was a 10ish-page thriller called “Pets” — watch out JK Rowling! — although my rendition of the Easter story from the Bible was also quite notable, mostly because of how creepy it was — watch out Jesus!). When I got to college, I began to study the ways and reasons that other people made art.
I memorized dates and locations of famous paintings. I learned to distinguish Roman arches from Greek arches and how to paint with a palette knife. I took a writing workshop and learned that not everyone can hear what dialogue sounds like.
I studied art in France for a summer and stood in the chapel that Matisse designed for a few nuns who took care of him when he was sick.
I learned what Googie architecture is. I read an apocalyptic novel by Octavia Butler in one sitting and was stunned to realize that a.) the world will actually end at some point, and b.) apocalyptic novels might be my favorite genre of fiction.
I learned that essays classified as “food writing” aren’t really about food most of the time — often they are about hunger and appetite, which are often completed unrelated to food.
I learned that Milton — author of Paradise Lost — was blind and had to dictate the entire text to someone else who could write it down for him.
I learned that success is a result of hard work, and that if you want something badly enough there’s no reason you can’t get it. You just have to put in the work.
4 Years Traveling
I have now seen travel from several different sides. I’ve backpacked, interned, and studied in various different countries; I’ve been invited to Israel as a journalist; I’ve worked for a small family-owned business that leads photography/travel tours; and now I am working for a large company specializing in train travel.
I see now that hard work is only half the equation. The other half is luck. While I believe that more opportunities will open for you the more you put yourself out there, I also believe that there’s something to be said for being in the right place at the right time.
I believe that just because you travel somewhere and don’t know the language doesn’t mean you’re automatically an obnoxious American tourist. Just don’t BE obnoxious. A smile will get you pretty far, and if it doesn’t, teaching a stranger a card game when you’re stranded on a cargo ship overnight will also get you pretty far.
I learned to snorkel. I learned to fish. I learned that in order to gain as much speed as possible when you are volcano boarding, you need to fully commit to that speed or else you’ll crash really hard. I crashed really hard.
If you are traveling alone and you meet a group of friends who invite you to travel with them, say yes, even if it means changing your plans. If you have the chance to stay on a boat in Gibraltar, say yes, even if you are afraid of the ocean. If you are offered the chance to feed a little lamb from a bottle in Ireland, say yes. Say yes.
When buying a plane ticket, a train ticket, a museum ticket, a pair of shoes, a stick of gum, anything — always, always, always read the fine print. Know the rules. Know what you’re accepting responsibility for when you hand over your money.
When there is less money involved, don’t worry about the rules as much.
Perspective is everything. A twelve hour bus ride will be hellish if you believe that it is hellish. It will be hellish but also slightly funny if you keep things in perspective — it’s twelve hours of your life, get over it.
Of course there’s a risk in traveling alone when you’re a woman, but there’s a risk in living in a big city too — but no one is going to warn you against living in a big city.
When driving through a snowstorm, do not try to use your windshield wiper fluid to clear the windshield. It freezes. This one is mostly for my fellow Californians.
I think that when you’re going through a hard time, it helps to put something on the calendar that you can look forward to — for me, that always involves buying a plane ticket.
Although I’m not sure I would still get a “laugh” tattoo on my lower abdomen if you asked me about it today, I’m glad that 19 year old me decided to — I still believe that laughing is the best thing of all time and I know I will never not believe that. I think it’s funny that 19 year old Jackie decided to do that on a whim one summer afternoon in college.
This fall marks the end of these first four years out of school. I am still working in the travel industry, I have a trip scheduled for about 12 days from now, and I signed up for a mapmaking class online. Looks like the next four years (or the next few weeks in this class at least) are going to be a mixture of both school and travel — and then after those four years I’ll be turning 30, so I’m sure I’ll have a whole new crisis to deal with.
Here’s to the next four!