A needle on a compass wobbles and spins, constantly redirecting itself toward the arctic north. When I was born I came out spinning, as my umbilical cord had wrapped itself around my neck three times. They twisted me and twisted me so that I turned rosy pink and cried instead of icy blue and silent like the northern tundra. I nearly died, but soon grew into a happy baby who seemed to be going everywhere at once.
As a child, I realized my hair is perfectly straight, save for wispy curls around my ears. My right shoulder is higher than my left. I always have bruises mapping my travels and tumbles upon my legs because I am so clumsy. Never quite balanced or perfectly symmetrical; always slightly skewed and vaguely off-kilter.
Like the compass’s needle, I require constant readjustment, rethinking, and reevaluation. Those tiring wobbles and spins are just pulling me upward in life, toward my north. I fear the day when I feel perfectly balanced and still–how will I find my direction in life?
Blegen Hall houses various classes for the social sciences and humanities, though I will always associate it with Anthropology, my intellectual awakening and principal course of study. The artifact and bone labs occupy the uppermost levels, which leave a lingering scent of sawdust and a greasiness that only comes from thousands, or maybe even millions (particularly after a hard-won grant), of years of age. It smells like academia. It smells like golden youth. It smells like home.
Before departing for my first year of college, my parents gave me the book Turn Right at Machu Picchu, which traced the Inca Trail paved by Hiram Bingham to “discover” the famed archaeological site (not unlike another recent high school graduate receiving Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go!). This selection led to other pedantic choices, revealing other explorations. I particularly enjoyed The Lost City of Z, which chronicled an English troupe’s quest for El Dorado in the Amazon. In particular I remember a scene about slashing through the Amazon without indigenous knowledge–catching and consuming poisonous fish safely, avoiding hungry felines, harvesting plants that wouldn’t turn one’s stomach–the unforgiving jungle would surely swallow one whole. This was the ultimate and unfortunate case for those rouge explorers, and they essentially delivered themselves into a “green hell” because they did not seek local knowledge.
Progresso, Mexico, 2013
I thought I would grow up to be a mermaid. My parents convinced me that microscopic scales sprouted from my ankles as a child. I plotted out all the seas and rivers in the world almanac for when my legs would finally fuse together. My father even drew up plans to convert the bathtub into an aquarium, giving me a place to stay between my eventual maritime voyages.
As I aged, I discovered that the world is far more complicated than a refreshing afternoon swim and that I would have to be far greater than a mermaid to survive in it. Stress stirs up the mind like ocean currents colliding, simply by being a high schooler challenged by Chemistry assignments, reviewing dresses to debut at homecoming, and selecting which university to entrust with my future. Then I turned 20 and life turned murkier. A millennial, a college student, a twentysomething…what did it all mean? At the same time, the magic of Rumi’s enduring poetry began to entice me. He told me “You are not just a drop in the ocean. You are a mighty ocean in a drop.” I read Laura Esquivel, one of the great modern authors of Latin America, to prepare for my semester abroad in Mexico. In La Malinche, Malinalli, the tragic heroine, remarked that since salt water [blood] courses through human veins, all of us are really our own ocean.
When I left for my semester abroad, I had a lot on my mind: improving my Spanish skills, my future career then only a year and a half away, and “gentlemen” to put it euphemistically. I frequently escaped to the beach at Progresso, and all the things under my skin diffused out–something I understood from those dreadful Chemistry courses. I was an ocean hypertonic to the one I was floating in on account of my worries. Though I was not a mermaid as I had dreamt, I finally believed them; I am an ocean too, vast and deep enough for all of my rumination, troubles, and peace, if I care to share them with something greater but equal to myself.