Please welcome today’s guest writer, Ty Bleeker. Ty is a 2013 Calvin grad in biology and environmental studies. Since finishing his masters in geography, Ty has lived in a car tramping in the Western US, picked fruit in Australia, guided canoe trips in Wisconsin, and sailed a tall ship in New York, among other ventures. His useless superpower is the ability to not follow recipes. Read more about his amblings at inalldirections.blog
I live my life in a series of starts and stops. Firsts and lasts. Beginnings and ends.
In a sense I’ve never left the periodic routine that delineated a college education. Relentless starts and stops. Beginning of the semester to the last day of exams. First day of break, then back to the first day of a new semester. Summer break with a short internship, followed by new academic year. A timeline marked by the periodic predictability of a schedule, the starting and stopping pattern so familiar in college.
These starts and stops provide a measure of my past. My future is anticipated in this fashion as well. Starts and stops are a way of putting limits and measure on the infinitudes of time. Segments of life seem so neatly compartmentalized into discreet locations and activities. First time here, first time for this. Last time here, last time for this. During this semester, I studied this here. During those few months, I worked that job there. The segmented life is lived in the conscious knowing of a visceral beginning and end.
But post-grad life is no longer as predictable as the pattern of college semesters. Segments now are marked by a different length, a different location, and a different task every time. New challenges arise with every fresh start, along with their concomitant opportunities. Every place brings forth its own set of goals and experiences, a continually new set of things to cross off a list. But unlike a college education where semesters are united by a common thread of purpose in achieving a degree, the pattern of post-grad life has few intuitive goals. The to-do list is not made for you; life seems more intrinsically aimless.
For the first time since graduating nearly four years ago, I recently moved back to Grand Rapids. It, too, was a period segmented in time. Temporary from the start. Just a few months. A discrete beginning and end date. My stay started with an attempt to visit all the celebrated locations of my college days—a first time visit to each place as a returning resident. Founders. Wealthy Street. The UICA. But my ephemeral stay quickly transitioned into a farewell tour as I felt compelled to visit each of my haunts one last time before moving away. The fear of missing out—the fear of not getting a last visit in—created a sense of urgency to do, to visit, to taste, to experience. A series of firsts, but at the same time a series of lasts. Living in a harried frenzy fraught with concern that I may not get to do something. Under no other conditions do I find myself scheduling so efficiently in order to maximize last calls for opportunities in a given place. Without the benefit of temporal stability, every activity done once could be for the last time.
Though thinking about each place I inhabit with the end in mind may be bittersweet and taxing, it still seems far less monstrous than living into the indefinite future. For now, I can continue to break my life up into neat little segments of different experiences, relying on the natural starts and stops of seasonal employment to dictate when my circumstances will change. I can prevent myself from becoming faced with the prospect of the indefinite future—the proverbial ‘rest of your life’. Life seems easier that way, bit off into digestible chunks. From the outset I can know how long I will be somewhere, how much time I will have to accomplish my laundry list of experiences. I can schedule my firsts, and I’ll be reasonably assured when activities will be my lasts. Thinking of things with the end in mind makes mundane experiences evocative—more emotionally powerful.
In a life of stability and predictability, the novelty of experience gradually wears off. Under the banner of doing things endlessly over and over again, it’s difficult to renew that feeling of originality and uniqueness that adds vibrancy to life. It’s the indefinite future that I fear getting caught up into. I fear living the life where every day is equally about the same, with no change wrought by temporality or ephemerality. I’m afraid that without even realizing it, life would begin to slip away into the ravages and recesses of time. No longer experiencing the notable firsts of life, and without a way to know when to commemorate the lasts, how can the banality of existence be made stimulating? How much of our lives slip away into oblivion without our even perceiving it?
I live my life in a series of starts and stops. The temporality of such a lifestyle can be unbearable. But even how more unbearable can be the life without such beginnings and ends?