Edward Hopper, Morning Sun, 1952
Edward Hopper, Morning Sun, 1952

Your thesis will get written, I promise. It will never be as good as they told you it was supposed to be. Don’t let that stop you and you’ll be fine. At some point your brain will start working, and there’s probably a major piece of the puzzle waiting for you on JStor just a Google around the corner. You won’t write a masterpiece, but there will be little moments of it that will feel like masterpieces, though perhaps only to you. Mostly, it will be solid undergraduate-level work, with a few glossy chunks of brilliance, some sloppy transitions and typos you can’t believe you didn’t catch, a few ideas you should have explored in more depth. Your advisor will think so, too. You’ll get a solid B plus or A minus. Your schoolwork at the Best College in the Nation will be essentially over, the rest a snipping of loose ends. You will be left with a sleep deficit, sheafs of hastily typed notes, and a book you wrote, bound in a standard-issue black and gold cover. Post-Thesis Life will pass so fast that recalling it will be like trying to recount a dream. You will go to Beach Week with your friends and drink too much and feel a little bloated and shy away from pictures because you don’t look as good in a bathing suit as you feel you were supposed to. You’ll go to Reunions and hug people and maybe cry if you’re the crying type or you really clearly peaked in college. You won’t get to say goodbye to everyone you wanted to, but that’s okay.

You’ll go back home for a few weeks or a few years, which might be comforting or might induce a bout of couch-dwelling depression depending on how you feel about your family. You have graduated from the Best Damn College of All and they told you that it was merely the first upward slope on the way to many more triumphs—that you are bursting with talent and intelligence and if you work hard you can bring your gifts to their perfect, total realization. Your raw potential can conquer everything you have ever wanted. But even if you didn’t graduate with a job despite scrambling and interviewing and banging out cover letters all year, and it made all the congratulations on your bright future feel hollow, you’ll land some kind of employment eventually, though it will probably mean adjusting your expectations from shooting for the moon to landing considerably lower than the stars. You will move into a new place—statistically speaking, it’ll probably be an overpriced two-bedroom in the New York or Bay Area—and commute to a job you’ll say you feel okay about when asked.

There will be so much time ahead to fill. At first it will seem like hundreds of years. It’ll go fast, though. It’ll be gone soon enough. There will be fun, more fun (or at least different fun) than in college and you’ll be that kid saying “this is so much better than college!” for a while, and then you’ll adjust. Because you just don’t say that. Grow up.

There will be friends as usual—people you love and want to hang out with every day and people who are fine, I guess, you can just smile and nod and let your eyes glaze over when they’re talking. Putting up with the less than ideal will become an increasingly important life skill. You’re going to learn a bunch of life skills, mostly by trial and error, like when you’ll forget to turn off the lights before leaving for a week and you come back to an electric bill nearly equal to your rent. Sometimes your friends will all be coupled up and not want to go to movies with you, and you’ll feel alone and your reflection will disgust you. But you don’t need friends to brunch with you every weekend because you can just cook yourself the exact meal you want and listen to beautiful music so loud you can’t think of anything else and spend those days feeling soothed by solitude, not wounded. And then you’ll meet a person and go on a few dates and settle into a routine of regular dates and a show you’ll binge-watch together, and you’ll be so taken by the way their eyes make you feel the way sunbeams in winter feel that you won’t realize you don’t get along so well. When you kiss it just feels like two puppies’ tongues sloshing aimlessly about and they have really repugnant opinions on Kanye West and drones and monogamy and you’d rather sleep alone than with their smell on your skin. Trial and error. The next person will share all your deepest political and aesthetic opinions but they’ll have bad breath and sometimes they’ll lie to you. Maybe you’ll think that’s a fair trade-off and marry them, or maybe not.

There will probably be some crying. If you’re not a crier, there will still be crying. It won’t necessarily be for the Big Dramatic Crying Occasions that movie characters cry about. Maybe your mom or a man on the street will say something that cuts deep, accidentally or not, and you’ll lie awake thinking about it and then every shitty thing you’ve ever thought about yourself and the meaning of your life will burst out of you at once, straining against your cheekbones, trembling in your throat, stinging your eyes, and you’ll cry without caring if anyone can hear you.

Unfair things will happen to you. You’ll survive. You’ll just be different. They can make you stronger but only in a harsh and metallic and sometimes-brittle kind of way and you will still wish they had never happened. It will become easier as the memories rise up less often and make you feel less sick when they slip farther away. More milestones will sneak up on you, more laughter, more crying. Everything will pile up on you more densely at some point—more responsibilities, maybe a spouse, maybe kids. You probably won’t realize the years are rushing past until there are too many things you physically can’t do anymore, until you look at pictures of yourself in college when you thought you were fat and ugly and you yearn to smile that same unwrinkled smile and to look coolly uncontrived in the cheap, gaudy sweatshirts and unflattering jeans you wore. You’ll reach the age where all the new and exciting things are happening to other people, when technology starts being too invasive, too intimate, too slick to handle, when the music on the radio sounds like gibberish. It’s a little cruel how time beguiles you, how days pass so slowly you can’t wait to get them over with but years are yanked out from under your feet and suddenly one day—

If you’re able to see it coming, if you’re still able to understand what is about to happen, will you come to the conclusion, as your younger self feared you might, that it’s all been wasted? That kind of anxious self-assessment is typical twitchy Young Person stuff. You’ll be past the point of caring quite so much about what you ought to have done. Some things that once made you feel hollow inside will feel so far away they’ll seem no graver than spilled milk at your grand-niece’s birthday party. Some things could have been better, but most of it will have been good enough.

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