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An Unfamiliar Song

A little over one year ago, I headed east on Interstate 10 from South Pasadena, California in a car loaded with nearly everything I owned and made my way to Tempe, Arizona. Driving through the beautiful red desert landscape, one question came to mind: What was in Arizona?

Both literally and figuratively, I wondered about the adventure that lay ahead. A few months earlier, I had graduated from law school and much to the puzzlement of many family members I refused to embark on the traditional legal practice route. Instead, I explained in the best way I knew how, I would begin a Ph.D. program in history which will hopefully allow me to pursue my newfound ambition: aspiring teacher.

The school year went by and there was no clear answer to the question. And then came the summer.

That first week of teaching was profoundly life-changing. I was up at four or five in the morning everyday too enamored with the prospect of going to class to fall back asleep. It was a feeling of indescribable excitement where a purportedly rational mind vacillated between complete acceptance of an uncontrollable state of being and a rather somber realization that none of it might actually be real. It was a feeling where imagination became a cruel foe, preventing the mind from sorting through what is real and that which is pretend.

It was a feeling of waking up in the middle of the night because my heart started talking without prompting. And its rhythm beat a song that was unfamiliar. Unfamiliar because of its newness. Unfamiliar because it had never happened before. It was a feeling that was comforting and exciting. But it was also a feeling that was terrifying. My mind pondered its imaginary nature. My mind feared its temporary existence. My mind dreaded its inability to reoccur.

After all, never had I experienced such a thrill in anything I had ever done. I began to take comfort in knowing that I had finally found not just a job or career but a vocation, a calling. And just as my heart settled into this newfound routine of expecting this feeling whenever I walked into class in the morning, it happened again. This time for a few days. This time later in the summer. This time in a confused daze.

I don't know what happened the second time. I may be able to identify various factors that may have played a part. But I don't know for sure. I suppose I cannot know for a while. Writing this has been my way of accepting that uncertainty. All that is clear is that it felt like the first time. Maybe the answers will forever be elusive. After all, none of us can really know how the story ends. As with most things, it's probably best to let time reveal. What I may be able to know with some certainty is that the second time the heart played the unfamiliar song, it was not about teaching.

This summer provided me with a guess as to the question I had nearly one year ago: What was in Arizona?

It turns out, an unfamiliar song.

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Home Again

I must admit that when I first heard Miranda Lambert say that you can’t go home again in The House That Built Me, I was not aware that the phrase was something people said. But since then I’ve heard it repeated on countless occasions although with never any sort of reasoning. So naturally, I wondered why. Fortunately for me, I had the chance to test this ambiguous sentiment a few years ago.

I went home again. Well, to be fair, the house that I got to go back and see after ten years away was not my home. It was the house that belonged to my father. Regardless, it was the place where I went to and from school. My place of residence, albeit temporarily, more or less.

The house had never been majestic. Yet, there were aspects of it that were grand. After all, I suppose it was fitting that we lived in a town called Grandpass. It was probably one of the larger houses in the neighborhood. I was told that people around town respected my father and his mother as residents of that house and before them, even my father’s father.

But when I got the chance to go back to see this house in which I spent a large portion of my childhood, it had fallen into decrepit ruin. The walls were barely visible beneath the soil and decay of age. The windows were boarded up. The garden was now occupied by weeds. Even the two iron gates that stood at the entrance were no longer a pair. Oh, how the mighty had fallen! What was once so grandiose was now commonplace, merely a house on a street, in a place. Time had robbed this grand old house of its identity, its purpose. Time seemed to have robbed it of everything. What lay behind was only a skeleton of what once was.

As we passed by, I could almost see her standing there upon that rusted iron gate staring out into the street, looking for her future. Me, at six or seven, wondering when I would get to see the world. I smiled when I saw her. I thought about how she had always wanted to travel. How she had spent so many afternoons resting her elbows on that iron gate wondering when it would be her turn. I wondered if I should tell her of all the places she’d get to see. Of all the experiences she’d get to live through. How her life was on the cusp of changing forever. But maybe it was better that she didn’t know. She was, after all, still a few years away from all that.

As the car stalled amidst traffic, our silent conversation through time ended abruptly. The boarded up windows stared back at me, warning me to resist the temptation to enter. You can’t go home again, they whispered sternly. As the car turned the corner and the house disappeared from view, I strained to keep her in my gaze knowing at that moment that it would be the last time I saw her. I would never see that house or her again.

I suppose beyond the practical impossibility of going back in time or reliving past memories, there is something to be said about wanting to be home again. Going back to a time when things were simpler, or more pleasant, or even happier. But, at least for me, going back to that place, going back to see her, was simply a reminder of who I was and where I came from. That was all. It was important for me to have seen what I saw that day. But not because I longed for the past. What I realized that night was that I had no desire to go home again. As much as time had ruined that house, time had improved me. Time moved on from those childhood days and it made me better. I was not her but she had become me.

I have no idea whether you can go home again or not. But for me, passing by that house, coming face-to-face with my childhood made me realize that I do not long for the past. I have no desire to relive it or go back in time to it. What matters most to me is looking ahead and moving forward. In that way, I’d like to eventually find a new place to call home.

I do not want to go home again. But someday I would like to be home again.

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Musings of a Professional Student

I have been hiding.

My name is Judith. At least it has been for the last fourteen years. Before that, I was called something else. Looking back, I was probably someone else. But that doesn’t matter now. Well, at least not right now. Maybe it might make a good story someday.

Last night it occurred to me that I have spent most of my life hiding my thoughts. Whether it was scribbling profusely into a journal that no one would ever see or trying to blend into a large classroom so as not to be called on by a teacher, I have spent a large portion of my time trying to be invisible. Well, there was a time when I didn’t have to try. That again, might be a story for another time.

I want to change.

Considering the enormously large amount of time I have spent writing over the course of my life, mostly for class, it seems strange to me that I am nervous about starting this blog. I’ve written throughout my time in high school, college, law school, and now in graduate school. I’ve written fiction and non-fiction. I’ve produced utter nonsense and somewhat coherent thoughts. Yet, the idea of sharing first-hand experiences scares me to no end.

However, I was advised that I should do something (at least once a week, according to my source) that makes me uncomfortable in order to become better. To grow as a person. To change.

I would like to understand.

Subjectively speaking, a lot has happened in my life over the past decade or so. Some of it good. Some of it inexplicable. But for all of it, I am grateful.

I’m not seeking explanations. I refuse to ask the questions, “why?” or “why me?” Frankly, the answers to those questions seem irrelevant at best and useless at worst.

However, I would like to understand how those events changed who I am. I want to tell stories. I would like to know how I came to see the world in a certain way. I want to know what that viewpoint is. I would like to explore the journey and try to understand what it means for the future. I want to stop hiding.

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