I’ve always had it—it’s what ignited my ill-fated bid to summer in Cabrini Green when I was 13. It’s why I’ve never been able to hold down a job involving attendance in the mid-calendar months. It was behind the urges that led me to Africa and Mexico. It’s the force whispering into my ear even now, taunting and tempting me into the unknown.
Wanderlust is a powerful mixture of idealism, curiosity, and passion for life. It’s an urge that’s satisfied only through acts that leave your hands dirty and feet sore. It’s never safe, usually risky, and always deeply fulfilling. At its best it’s spiritual, at its worst, it is self-destructive, even fatal.
I’ve been listening to the CD book Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer’s account of the early 1990s explorations of Christopher McCandless, a young wanderer whose quest to quench his internal cravings led to a grim conclusion in the Alaskan bush. At times, excerpts from his journal read eerily like my own; his yearning for “unfiltered experience,” his belief that there’s “more” out there than most people allow themselves to discover.
My current efforts toward fulfillment of eleven eleven list item #3—start cross country scrapbook—have turned my thoughts toward open spaces. Not just in the “go west” sense, but in the direction of self examination, of understanding the role and purpose of dreams, longings, and cravings, and what to do with mine.
Recent educational developments have caused me to reconsider the path on which I’ve embarked with my masters program. I had to drop the in-depth-examination-of-a-middle-school “lab”class—unexpected field work requirements in my other classes left me with no time to even start the time consuming project. Dropping that led to a realistic look at my remaining course requirements, and two important discoveries: that I definitely have to extend the program, and I’m not sure how much I want to. There’s a lot more field work, for one. More importantly, the field work I have done has led to the conclusion that as nice as a little part-time, private school teaching gig can be, Being a Teacher isn’t something I’m all that jazzed about. Perhaps the biggest doubts have originated from some professors I’ve consulted who have questioned the compatibility of my personal goals with this particular program.
In short, I can build a convincing case for staying, and an equally convincing one for cutting my losses. However, another semester will take me past the point of no return, and I have just a couple weeks to decide: is this just wanderlust, luring me away from the conventions of society? It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve run from confinement at the first sign of longer days and warmer climes.
Or is the voice I hear the weak gasp of an author and journalist crushed beneath the weight of assignments I’ve turned down and projects I can’t pursue due to the demands of academia?
Oh, and did I mention that my old, very part-time job as a private school art teacher is available once again?
Abandoning free education—I’m studying on a full-ride scholarship— with the ideation of major success in print somehow doesn’t make me feel much wiser than McCandless. Armed with meager provisions and no charted course, he was last seen heading into the unknown, blissfully happy but thoroughly deluded.
The story of my own temptation to embark Deep Into the Literary Wild—and the results thereof— will unfold here, soon enough. If I don’t make it, just tell the authorities you last saw me with a pair of scissors, some colorful Sharpies, and a stack of photos of the Grand Canyon.