I recently rambled about being invited back to my alma mater, Wilfrid Laurier University, to participate in a Religion and Culture alumni panel. The idea was to show arts students a slew of career possibilities and that there was indeed life after an arts degree. We were four, and it was great hearing the three other panelists, Jason Shim, Christine Mckinlay and Elysia Guzik, describe their post-degree experiences.
But the oddest thing of all was that I was the old foggy. I'm 32, so I haven't encountered that issue often. All of the others were more recent grads, from 2007 and 2008. And I have to admit, they had impressive experiences to share, so kudos to them for their ambition and time management techniques! Two years after graduating, I'd held about ten jobs and wasn't even writing seriously yet.
The sheer act of being back on campus triggered some (rather rare) self-reflection. Which then, of course, triggered a ramble.
I'm not overly concerned about my past. I'm lucky in the fact that the only loved ones I've lost are pets, and I'm still in contact with all of my close family and friends. I see the past as a road I traveled, and I hooked what was best of it along the way and I hope never to shed those things. Those are friends, family, hopes, dreams... the rest can stay on the road, with occasional (and sometimes unwanted) visits, of course.
But after ten years, plunging back into a place where you did so much growing up does stir memories. Not necessarily of events, but rather of who I used to be. Hopes and dreams I didn't even realize I'd left behind came back for a visit. Illusions surprised me, too, of who I was and what I could do. And I hate to admit it, but some of that youthful optimism, heck, a lot of it, has gone to the wayside without my noticing.
Don't get me wrong, I think I still fit the "optimistic" definition in most people's dictionary, but wow was I wickedly more optimistic ten years ago.
I stopped and pondered, for a few brief seconds: was that loss a bad thing? Maybe out of self-preservation or because of the simple realization that you really can't go back again, I decided it really wasn't. I've been tempered by real-life experiences, by a journey that may have claimed a few dreams along the way, but that seeded many, many more. What used to be dreams turned to plans, immediately removing that shiny glow, but adding actual results, too. Many of the things I used to say that I would do I've now done, and the road is only wider from here on, and I have a much clearer idea of where it's leading me. And, more importantly, of where I want it to lead me.
Optimism is still present, sure, but a more realistic optimism. I may no longer believe I can change the world, but I do firmly believe I can change someone's day for the better. Those beliefs are backed by the knowledge that I've done so before, and I intend to continue doing so, even if I have to hand out balloons to everyone in multiple shopping centres (try it someday. Helium balloons make everyone happy, in my experience.)
And the best of what I had then I still have, like my friends. I still have myself, too, and the core of what's always made me. That was an important realization. The filters through which I perceive the world may be a bit dustier and the light might not penetrate quite as well, but the system is tested and true and it gets regular cleanings. I hate to quote the old saying "the more things change, the more they stay the same," but for the first time in my life I really felt that way about my life, about me, about my choices. And it was at first scary, and then neat. Looking at the road behind me highlighted how far I'd come and the lovely journey I'd undertaken. And I still love it.
Being a bit more forward-looking, however, I can't help but turn back around and see the mountains of coolness coming my way. Mountains that I'm sure I can climb nicely if I prepare, and it's all still in the works. Shows, books, short stories... so much to do! But I guess that was one of the main messages of the panel at my university: we're all works in progress. It's lovely.
But, unlike me, my projects have very real deadlines and I can't tell a "still in progress" story! So onward. Thanks to my co-panelists and everyone else at Wilfrid Laurier University for a memorable, pleasant and striking stay.