If my life at Yale were adapted into a Road Trip movie, it would start somewhere in Siberia and end somewhere else in Siberia. It would be written in Croatian, and the characters would travel in circles via a sleigh drawn by a team of marsupials. Think “The Odyssey,” but without the beginning. Or the end.
What I am trying to express is that my life has no direction, and that having no direction is both very fun and very bewildering. If you feel that your life is starting to take direction and you are not a senior, I would advise you to avoid attending to that feeling.
This is not to say that having direction is bad. We all need to wind up somewhere — and we all will, because no somewhere is nowhere. It’s just that, as far as metaphors go, I find life-as-a-journey to be the most problematic one. I blame Homer.
It’s not that having a direction is a bad thing, necessarily. It’s just that it can be really boring if you don’t have a team of gods conspiring to keep you from attending to it too intensely. Because while Odysseus’s quest to go home is beautiful and touching and profound, it’s only the heart of a poem whose amazing bulk is a series of fantastic episodes. If Odysseus had been able to avoid those episodes like he’d planned, the poem would have been considerably shorter and a lot less fun.
If you spend your entire Yale career looking for Ithaca, your life will be even worse than this imaginary, abridged “Odyssey”, because you won’t be able to shorten it. You will still have 24 chapters of unidirectional monotony. You will then try to spice things up by writing it in heroic couplets, which is, please believe me, always a bad choice.
And this all because you decided, from freshman or sophomore year on, that you were going to go to law school. Or medical school. Or Merrill Lynch.
If there’s anything that I learned from “The Odyssey,” it’s that your true Penelope will wait for you. She’s cool and clever like that. If she isn’t your true Penelope, she’s probably your Clytemnestra, and then you’re screwed.
But even if you are Ithaca-bound, don’t let your destination distract you. I have seen it happen, and it’s kind of sad.
For example: Last year, my friend and I took a class with a fantastic professor who is a notoriously tough grader. We both loved the class and both felt enriched by its presence in our lives, but we also realized that the professor wouldn’t give us the grades we were used to getting. This was confirmed when we got our first papers back. It would be a challenge — perhaps an insurmountable one — to meet our professor’s high standards.
My friend is applying to law school this year; like Aeneas, he’s been committed to his destiny at Harvard Law School since he arrived at Yale. No Dido could tempt him to even so much as vacation on his journey to Cambridge.
On the other hand, because I have literally no direction in life, it’s hard for me to conceive of a future for myself at all — let alone one in which my GPA will matter. So I entered into the fourth book of “The Aeneid,” burnt myself on the funeral pyre of a below-average grade and didn’t facio a single flocci, because, look, that poetry was awesome. So what if Aeneas wasted some time in Carthage? Rome can wait.
Yale is a Mediterranean Sea speckled with Greek islands, a tiny scene set for four years of rollicking, nearly purposeless adventure. Our Odyssey can only be life changing and revelatory if we give it the freedom to be so — we have to make the winds that blow us off course. You may think you’re on a quest for Ithaca, but maybe you’re an Agamemnon. And even if you aren’t, at the end of the day, you want to write an Odyssey worth remembering. There will be plenty of time to frame your story later — right now, your business is acquiring episodes.
Ithaca will wait.
Michelle Taylor is a senior in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.