The assigned final in my First Year Seminar class is a creative piece on how our first semester at Butler relates to the themes of the books we've read in class. Creative writing is my favorite kind of all and I'm really proud of the writing strides I've made so far this year. I think this is one of my best pieces yet, and a good read too. See what you think:
Making the transition from living at home to living at college is, I would venture to say, one of the hardest transitions one will ever be asked to make over the course of her life time. However, despite how difficult the transition is, it is a necessity. Being out of the house and in a world that is a blank sketch pad, just waiting to be drawn on, offers a time of freedom to find one’s self. College is a time for exploration and for learning - for learning who one really is. All of the choices, the good and the bad, the rough and the tumble, are small lines that will eventually all be put together on a blank sketch pad. All of the lines together make a masterpiece. The masterpiece is the life one has chosen for themselves. First semester freshman year is an eye-opening time. It’s the first time one experiences the daunting, yet liberating task of being able to find herself on her own. My experience has been one of successes and also struggles and realizing that while I’ve always known that I’m a sentimental person, I’m even more so now, and that while I would prefer to stay in my comfort zone, it is essential for me to escape it every once in a while.
Early in the summer, before coming to Butler, I applied to be one of the few selected students involved in the Ambassadors of Change program on campus. A.O.C. is a program that is only open to about eighty students who are selected through an application process to come to campus a week earlier than other freshman. The extra week is used for networking, but mostly volunteering at Butler and in the community surrounding. I was accepted.
Being accepted to the program meant that I had to leave my small, comfortable town for the whole new world that is Butler University’s campus. I packed up everything that meant anything to me, spent time carefully selecting the decorations that would make my half of the already small dorm room feel like home, threw together some clothes and shoes and came to campus to put it all together in early August of my freshman year. My parents and I pulled up to the limestone building that was going to be my home for the next 9 months and began unloading my keepsakes. After three hours of hard work, my half of the dorm room was vomiting with all things Ali. A large red painting hung above the desk where hours of work was sure to ensue that read, “Keep calm and carry on”, words I knew I would need often reminders of. My bed was covered with a carefully selected bedspread laden with bright colors and happy patterns and beside the bed sat three plastic drawers stacked one on top of another with a piece of custom-cut glass on top to make it feel more classy. The desk and makeshift bedside table held pictures of my parents, a framed quote written by my beloved grandma and other trinkets that were close to my heart. I felt pretty comfortable in the place and the room looked just as I wanted it to - as me as a dorm room could be. It was time for my parents to leave me in the hands of the universe. Time for them to let me grow on my own.
As participants of the program, we were given a few hours to get our things in place in our rooms and then were scheduled to be at our first event in the Reilly room at one o’clock. My parents and I walked down the stairs to leave and I expected to see tears coming from them, but I didn’t and I was grateful. Everything seemed to be playing out effortlessly. That is, until my parents were pulling out to go home. Shoulders back, carrying my folder of the weeks activities, I walked with confidence on the first day of this new life, headed to my first event. I was a little uneasy, but I’m all about faking it until I make it. I had only taken a few steps when I heard a car pulling up behind me. “Where ya goin baby?,” my mom said. “To the Reilly room,” I replied. “Well, the Reilly room is that way,” she looked at me with a sweet smile. I was walking the wrong way. The complete wrong way. All of the sudden a rush came over me. I felt like a 5-year-old on the first day of kindergarten. “Do you need me to stay here with you?,” she asked jokingly. “Ha! no,” I said, brushing it off like it was all just a big understanding. Really, I wanted to hop right back in that car and scream, “yes! Take me home right now. Take me home to the place I know. Take me to my town with my bike trails and my friends and my family. TAKE ME HOME!” It was the first time that I realized how much seemingly inordinate things like my neighborhood pools, my running routes and my bike trails really meant to me. I am a sentimental girl and I like to stick with what I know. My comfort zone feels good.
Joann Beard is, like me, very sentimental, and her strong emotion toward equally seemingly inordinate objects shines through constantly in her writing. Just like me, Beard picks up on the small things. She spends time paying attention to the small details that others may just skip over without giving any kind of thought to them. One object that Beard spends a particularly large amount of time thinking about and giving attention to is her doll, Hal. Beard writes, “At age three, my most successful relationship was with Hal, a boy doll.” She goes on to describe every inch of him from his “molded brown hair” to the only two outfits Hal has to wear. Hal is not just any ordinary doll. Hal does everything with Beard. He does everything with her until he takes a bath with her and unfortunately, Hal wasn’t born waterproof. The baby, Hal, gets bulldozed. Just as I ran the same running route at home every single day and just as I rode the same bike trails and swam in the same pools, Beard plays with Hal every single day. Although she does pay great attention to him, it seems as though she isn’t fully aware of how much he really means to her until he is taken away. Beard and I are both victims of not really knowing what we had until it was gone.
My first week on campus was a great one. I will be eternally grateful for the opportunity to get acclimated to campus and the community early, a week before the rush of new students hit. I spent the week meeting new people, learning to be a service-leader, and working in multiple different places from an adult day-care to an entire city block clean up. As a group, we worked hard making a difference in the community that was now ours. I quickly became sure of the fact that I had made the right choice to leave home and come to school in order to meet new people and grow where I was planted.
Here is where I reach my complicated truth. If no one ever asked me to leave my comfort zone, I wouldn’t. A lot of times I think about how much I’d love to just be in my hometown, hanging out with my family, meeting someone there, raising my own children there, growing old there, and letting that be that. That’s when it hits me. What would I really be getting out of life if I did that? Sure, I would be contributing to society with new lives and hopefully good citizens, but would I be using this life that God has created and given me to its full potential? On the days that I’m not wishing I could go back home and play suzy homemaker, I’m seeing this blank canvas with dreamy eyes. Sure, I could paint my masterpiece with black paint on a white canvas, as I would be doing with my mundane routine life, but I could also paint it with the vibrant hues of paint. I could travel, take hard jobs and learn to work with people I wouldn’t necessarily choose on my own, I could paint a more beautiful masterpiece with lots of colors put together than I could with black paint on its own.
One evening just last week, as I sat in my room that has slowly become my new comfort zone, and thinking about all of the things I’d like to be doing at home, a man I met on a cruise once popped up on my Facebook chat. It’s so crazy that I met this young man, because he’s really great. A med-student from Georgetown University, currently in his residency, this man is brilliant and has also had the opportunity, taken the opportunity, to travel all over Europe. It had been quite a while since I talked to him, so I initiated the conversation. We spoke of things from how the beginning of my 4 years here was going to, “what kind of a person I am”. He asked me how school was going and I gave him the same answer I give everyone else, “It’s okay,” I said “I just really miss home - I’m a really homey girl.” His response was one that at first, made me mad. It was one I really wasn’t prepared for. He questioned my statement. “I don’t know how anyone your age could know what kind of person they are,” he said. As sassily as I could from across the computer screen, I shot back a, “well I’ve always been this way, I guess there could be some earth-shattering change,” I went on, “but I don’t see it happening.” We continued talking ending our conversation shortly after, but even though our conversation had ended, my mind continued to wrestle with the topic of leaving my comfort zone.
At times, when I’m really thinking about how much I like being comfortable and not doing anything new, I feel ashamed. I feel ashamed because I think of people like Stephen Kuusisto and Lucy Grealy who had such debilitating struggles, but still went out and did great things. Kussisto, a blind boy, probably didn’t even really have a comfort zone. His parents never let him get comfortable. “Raised to know I was blind but taught to disavow it, I grew bent over like the dry tender grass,” Kussisto writes, “I reflected my mother’s complex bravery and denial and marched everywhere at dizzying speeds without a cane.” Kussisto could have taken the easy way out. He could’ve stayed in his comfort zone, which is a blind person, I’m sure, is small, and done nothing. Kussisto could’ve chosen to let the blindness rule his life, but he didn’t. He went to college, he made a trip to Madrid, he did a lot of things that most blind people wouldn’t do. Quite frankly, he did things that some sighted people wouldn’t even do. Additionally, Grealy has an impairment that is less debilitating, but more embarrassing, and she also does great things. Grealy’s face is severely deformed due to multiple surgeries she had to have after cancer was discovered in it. Yet, despite the head-turning face deformities that Grealy possesses, she still went to college, to a writers colony, to the city and did great things. Autobiography of a Face is A New York Times Notable Book. Both of these renown writers could have taken the easy way out, that is, they could have chosen to spend their life pitying themselves, doing as little as possible to get by. They had that right. Instead, they chose to step out of their comfort zone, and out of their hard work came great success.
I truly believe that I will always be conflicted. I’m pretty sure that I will always spend my Fridays trying to decide if I’m going to spend the night in with my family by my same old fireplace with my same old movies, or if I will go out and explore the great big world. I will always have a brain that tells me to go do big, great things and to escape my comfort zone, but also have a heart that whispers, “stay here, you’re comfortable here.” When I really think about it though, I’m glad that I’m conflicted. Maybe if I was all about escaping my comfort zone, I would over-do it. In the same way, if I had no desire to ever get out and explore the world, I could way under do it. So, I’m thankful . The conflict causes balance, and balance is what creates a good life.