People keep asking me what it feels like to be graduated from college. When the question comes, my go-to response has been, “It probably won’t sink in until September when everyone else starts school again and I don’t.” I continually answer that way because 1) I don’t want to do some metaphysical exploration of my feelings to appease someone else and 2) they probably weren’t asking for the kind of detailed, intimate answer that comes from that exploration. It was probably intended to be more like one of those “how are you?” “I’m fine” type of interactions.

Well, now it is September. The proverbial first day of school came and went and I didn’t even remember to cry or celebrate that it was the first time since age 5 that I wasn’t meeting new teachers and running my fingers across clean, unused paper, jittery with the anticipation of new knowledge and new crushes and new accomplishment. I still can’t answer their question. I can’t describe the feelings of post-grad life in any succinct way because they swing from the intoxication of total freedom to the weight of filling unplanned days with worthwhile strategy to get myself closer to some elusive, indescribable end.

I had a dream the other night that it was August 4th and I was told I had a terminal illness and I only had until August 7th to live. I knew I had to use those few days in some meaningful way and I felt inundated with all of the things that I wanted to do before I died. Choosing how to prioritize these million things I’d always wanted out of my life with time cut so unexpectedly short just seemed impossible. I think I went to my high school best friend looking for help, but he couldn’t tell me any better than I could tell myself what should be deemed most important. Ultimately, I just sat down and cried. I wanted so badly to use the time well that I didn’t use it at all.

I am a frequent and vivid dreamer. I awake from strange visions in the night flooded with questions, “Why did I let that lizard steal my pearl necklace?” or “How long had that flying squid been living under the piano?” or “Did I know when I opened the door to the house I grew up in that the Amazon River was going to pour out of it?” My dreams are usually full of outlandish imagery and layers that are difficult to pick through.

But this one is practically literal.

No, to my knowledge, I am not dying. I am, however, paralyzed by the sheer volume of things that I could or should be doing and so I just sit (and sometimes cry) because I don’t know the best way to fill my days. That is what it feels like to be graduated from college.

Being accountable to somebody, that’s what I miss most of all. I’ve sort of perfected having my life structured into neat, 4-month increments each with specifically laid out of guidelines and tasks set forth to be completed within the given time frame. The expectations were clear, the consequences for failing were real, but hardly applicable. And so, I lived. Each day brought me a little bit closer to something called a degree, but it really just felt like an opportunity to learn what I’ve always wanted to know more about or practice while also having tons of new friends to play with everyday.

Now the increments are gone. My current situation feels like it will essentially stretch endlessly from here into the indefinite future. And I wake up each morning with no teacher depending on me to be in their class or scene partners counting on me to show up to rehearse, or deadlines forcing my pen to paper. My life gets its urgency from the reality of expenses I suppose and some dull, but persistent notion that I’d like to be better than I am, but ultimately I am accountable to nobody but myself (which, it turns out, is slow to motivate me).

What do people live for? Amidst all of the dramas and the causes and the occupations, how does anyone ever choose a raison d’tre that is significant enough to justify all of the other things that we have to unchoose?

I’ve never realized until now that even being totally committed to the Gospel and the choice to set that as the focal point of your life doesn’t automatically come with a plan of how to spend your days and your months and your years. It isn’t for want of interests or desires that I stand scratching my head at this crossroads (I feel like I’ve been scratching my head so long it’s wonder it hasn’t begun to bleed). The bucket list is just too long and the days of youth are short.

I don’t want to spend my life at this juncture, nor do I want to settle with the diffused version of my energy that’s left over after spreading myself so thin, over so many dreams, that right now are little more than glimmers of potential. If only to have a concentrate of my power back, I will choose somewhere to begin. I will walk heel to toe to heel to toe and perhaps find that the delights that come with movement and progression outweigh the security of having options. At least I hope they do.