Today the air is thick with smoke from the Lick Fire in Henry Coe. I remember going there years ago with Eric, the steep golden hills dropping into miniature hidden valleys, climbing back out among oak and Madrone. Such sweet simple days, easy in their youth.
My years are still few, but I feel bigger now. When I was in college I heard a lot of people tell me, "College is the best years of your life! You better enjoy it." Oddly enough, this past weekend made me realize that while college may be the easiest years, they by no means should qualify as unequivocally the best. The first years after graduation are slowly bringing me to understand my position and my power. You see, in college there is support and structure and dorms to come back to; professors who take an active interest in you for your good and not theirs, friends who are never more than a couple miles away. You have clear goals (graduating and doing well in classes!)
And then you get out, and suddenly you have to create all these things for yourself. For a year, I slowly let that pressure to "DO SOMETHING!" with my life burden me. Last night, driving to dance practice and thinking about one of my best friends going on a date, made me think: What freedom we have after work to do anything we want. No cramming for tests, no reading assignments. Just time, to go on dates, attend dance practice, go home and veg on the sofa (some of us did this during college, but give me some flexibility here), see friends or not, work out every day if we want to. Stay out as late as we want to.
It doesn't end there: we can literally do anything. And it's a different kind of test, not one for someone else, but one for ourselves. What have the past 21-25 years meant to us? Who is the person that we have become? Where is, as one speaker this weekend called it, our "true north"?
These realizations have taken the burden off. It's not a burden, it's a gift, the opportunity to be totally thrown free the constructs of other people, and choose what kind of other constructs we want to build around ourselves.
Perhaps this is simply the view of a privileged girl, but I believe in it, stronger than ever. Over the past year, I've slowly felt parts of myself slip away under the burden, crushed with a weight that come only from me. I learned how to dislike myself for the first time, I learned how to let the spark in me sputter. I know how to defeat myself now.
This week, fresh from the shining eyes and strong voices of those people who have trodden my path, and who have risen, I remember who Jen is.
Over my cubicle wall, through the office window, I see the gray-blue outline of tree-swept hills, the Shoreline Park slope, dry and bearing to the wetlands of the bay, and in between a valley of people. This is my voice.