Birthdays, the Future, and the Future Imaginary

As I grow older, it gets harder and harder to reflect on the past. Which is odd—you’d think it’d be the opposite, that nostalgia would start to creep over me. But it seems instead like I’m focusing more and more on the future, on chasing the gleam on the horizon that’s whatever tomorrow will be shaped like.

It’s my birthday in a little under a week, though—May 4—and I can’t help but think over the past year—where I’ve been, where I’ve gone, how I’ve grown.

Last year, when I turned 18, was absolutely one of the happiest birthdays of my life. Friends and family gave me incredible presents, I had the right to vote, and—best of all—my future was assured. I’d been accepted to NYU and decided to go there in the fall; AP tests were nearly over; and it was beautiful, and sunny, and I was safe and content to dream all the beautiful golden dreams of what University Life, long-awaited and nearly present, might be like.

I knew, of course, that college would be more or less the same as the rest of life: sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes exciting, sometimes boring, and always dependent on what I decided to make of it. But in May of 2013, I let myself imagine for a brief few hours that college would be exactly what I wanted it to be—bright, brilliant, the place where I belonged at long last.

What did I dream? I dreamed that I’d make lifelong friends; I dreamed that I’d have extraordinary adventures; I dreamed that I’d find the opportunities to help me with my writing career that I’d always wanted. I dreamed that New York City would be the home that I’d felt it would be, instinctively, from the first moment I’d seen it. I dreamed that I’d create myself new, that I’d have room to grow as I was meant to grow.

And of course some of those dreams came true, and some didn’t, but whether they came true or not isn’t the important part. The important part, I think, is that I dreamed at all.

I complained as a teenager about the endless rush of life; you get good grades so you can go to a good college so you can get a good job so you can retire so you can die. It seemed like such a rat race, onwards and upwards; wasn’t there any time to stop and enjoy life as it was?

I believe firmly that the answer to that question is a resounding yes— but I also believe, now, that even if the answer was no, it wouldn’t matter. I don’t think my mind was built to sit and enjoy life as it crawls to a standstill around me. I think I was meant to find fulfillment in dreaming.

F. Scott Fitzgerald writes:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning– So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The orgiastic future. It sounds tantalizing— a paradise, the paradise, the whirlwind of pleasure and excitement and emotional enjoyment and spiritual satisfaction that everyone craves.

I let myself believe college would be the orgiastic future, for a few hours, on the day I turned 18. I knew it wouldn’t be; I knew that castles in the air are by their nature elusive, that the whole point of chasing dreams is that they dissolve just before you catch them. But I wanted to believe, however briefly, while it was safe and while I could. And while I dreamed, I was happy, and while I dreamed, I felt renewed purpose: I would keep moving, I would keep running after the green light. Because I would rather be a boat against the current than not row at all.

So, on this late April night, as I sit in my dorm room, just a few days away from turning 19:

Next year I will have learnt another language.

Next year I will be planning a trip abroad.

Next year I will still be just as close to my current friends as I am now, and I will have made even more friends.

Next year I will be having an adventure.

Next year I will have an exciting job opportunity.

Next year I will actually be cool.

Next year I will be beautiful.

Next year I will be confident.

Next year I will be clever.

Next year I will be happy.

Next year—

 

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