It’s exactly twelve noon on the first Saturday in December. I’m sitting on the couch, drinking my morning coffee, pretending it’s still morning. The window is surrounded with multicolored LED Christmas lights, and through its panes I can see the dully grayscale palette of stone and slate, leafless trees, and overcast sky. Last night I went to hear the Glee Club’s Christmas concert, next week is the American studies holiday party, the week after that is the Chapel Choir’s Messiah singalong, and then on December 17 at 5:30 in the morning I head northwest for my family Christmas. I’ve been doing my duty by half my ethnicity and culture, lighting the Hannukah candles night by night, but in reality it’s Christmas I’ve been dreaming about (literally); blurry twinkling images of poinsettias and paper hats and gingerbread trifle and sparkling wine keep permeating my unconscious. The temperatures are hovering in the high 30s and I’ve pulled out my shapeless brown parka to wear on my predictable circuit from home to history department to hall to library to co-op to home again. This weekend I need to put in eight-hour library days finishing a draft of my fall-term junior paper, and somehow by 5:30am on December 17 I’ll have written 30-35 pages of real, original historical scholarship. Somehow.
A lot has changed this semester, and though I haven’t written about it, I do find myself becoming a different person. Between my JP and the first stirrings of life in my thesis, my academic work has become much more real, substantial, and mature; my relationships with my various official and unofficial advisors demonstrate this. The writing I produce is no longer purely training exercises—and somehow with that sense of reality comes the melting away of some of my crippling insecurities, and comes a feeling of confidence based in the idea that if anyone has the right to go to graduate school and to use a Ph.D. for good, I certainly do. And with this comes the desire to suddenly wear many more collared shirts and v-neck sweaters and clothes that fit, and so it was that when I went to CVS last week and bought a lighter for the Hannukah candles, the cashier didn’t ask to see my ID.
In the past few days, sensing the semester drawing to a close, friends and professors have started to ask me whether I’m getting ready to go to Oxford. And I suppose I am, though I’ve barely confronted the massive logistical nightmare of packing up my belongings in just a couple days, finding homes for my furniture, and choosing which things I’ll put in my two suitcases with which to make a life across the Atlantic for seven months. But with pretension to academic adulthood comes readiness to see a new university with—quads and gates and porters’ lodges notwithstanding—more permeable borders, less geographically deterministic social lives. I’ve been consuming British television at an alarming rate, watching my British friends’ mannerisms and language more carefully than ever before, doing what I can to ease the culture shock before I go. And most importantly, I’ve been salivating over my Hilary-term reading list, preparing myself to learn all sorts of wonderful things, and thrilling at the many unscheduled hours in which I’ll have time to learn, and to start my work each day before 8pm.
I sense—in a way which was not true when I first arrived at college—that I am starting to move out of adolescence into young adulthood. There are many things about this which I do not like, and many things about which I feel uncertain, but I feel as if I’m starting to Get It, to understand how to maintain control. My life’s familiar routines shift imperceptibly: for instead of listening with wide-eyed wonder at the self-assured impartation of knowledge, it is now I who know enough to hold forth confidently at the dinner table on matters of historical, literary and queer-theoretical fact. And instead if going to parties because I feel I must, because it’s What People Do, I go to them because I want to, and I let the expenditure of energy carry me through to the next omelette in the dining hall on a sunny Sunday morning, and the next long day of synthesizing primary sources.
Between just such academic and social demands, it has taken 24 hours to finish writing even this autobiographical stream-of-consciousness of a Status Update, and it is now a sunny Sunday morning, and I am finishing my coffee, and I am in just a few minutes going to go downstairs and seek out the omelette and bagel I’ve been eating every Sunday in Princeton for two and a half years. But the real joy and comfort will come after the omelette, when I’ll lug a tote bag full of books into the bowels of the library and work an eight-hour day of writing down words which no one’s ever said before about the politicization of 19th-century American womanist thought.
In short, at 20 years old (nearly 21, I tell myself in my more optimistic moments), I have the best life and the best future prospects for which anyone in their early 20s could hope, and I’m profoundly thankful for it. “It gets better” is not just about the isolation of LGBT youth and the merits of the teleological coming-out narrative; it’s about any circumstance under which you can look at your life and love it and yourself to an extent which never seemed possible in the awful, dark days of high school. Let this stand as an object lesson in the power of the humanities to do the greatest good.