When I was in high school, aged sixteen or seventeen, I decided I was an intellectual. I wasn’t exactly sure what the term ‘intellectual’ meant but it sounded appealing. It sounded right. It was one of the few labels that had been applied to me on several occasions for which I had no objection, like ‘old soul’ and ‘sharp.’ I was lucid enough at sixteen or seventeen to recognize that I was not yet fully an intellectual, it was something I would have to grow into, to become; it was a decorated uniform I needed to earn.
Still, I tried to imagine what life as an intellectual would be like. But, as was the case anytime I tried to imagine myself or my life at some point in the future, I saw nothing more than hazy tableaux vivants that took their cues from popular culture, fantasy, and my then nascent hobbies and interests.
What I did see, I liked. I liked the visions of my tiny office being overtaken by books that multiplied in number every time I left the room. I saw myself frequenting cafes, sometimes alone, sometimes in a small group: book in hand, ready to be anointed with fresh ink via praise, criticisms, thoughts and questions. I imagined conversations over long dinners that had an ebb and flow of the serious and the mundane. I imagined a group of people from a distance, myself included, gathered around a large table. Their faces illuminated by candle light, and their voices and laughter like an old record playing in the next room over.
That was, more or less, my life in my early and mid-twenties. As an undergraduate I found a small circle of friends (fellow students and professors) and studied abroad in France. Immediately after college I found work and a circle of friends with whom I was able to ‘sow my oats,’ (for better and worse), and then I started graduate school. I lived in a too small, two room basement apartment. My goodwill bookshelves quickly became inadequate for my growing collection of texts. Occasionally, not often, I’d meet friends at a cafe or bar for a drink and conversation. And always, my dinners with friends were long and the ebb and flow of conversation, gentle and inspiring, was mundane and serious. Flowers, wine glasses, and sometimes candles held space for us. Us, as in: including me.
For a short time my life was as I had imagined it would be, over a decade or so ago. What I couldn’t/didn’t imagine was that I could do everything right: go to college and get a degree, get another degree and then…the economy goes to hell and I learn that doing everything right was never enough. I certainly never imagined I’d be nearing thirty whilst underemployed and living with my parents in an area that feels a world away from any place that appreciates the things I love. I work part-time in retail. My second part-time job is finding a full-time job. I have my books and one close friend, but my two part-time jobs and a strong sense of isolation often leave me too emotionally exhausted and sad to enjoy them.
There’s always hope. When I think about who I’ve been, who I’m becoming, and who I’ll be, I remind myself that this time in my life, the present-this difficult time, is just as important as any other. When I’m feeling particularly depressed and hopeless, I convince myself that the darkness alone makes this chapter in life more important and necessary than any other.
As things stand, it is hard to interpret what I’m hearing in the next room over. But, I take solace in the fact that I know what I want to find there. Now, more than ever, I am grateful for the achievements of my past. It is the past that now informs the visions of my future. It is my past that sustains the echoes of intent I send forth.