Previously on Dawson’s Creek: Our heroine, a bright-eyed, conflicted 20-something, decided not to return to Carnegie Mellon for her senior year of college. Fleeing the scene, she moved to New Jersey to live with her mother and began the onerous task of finding a job....
And now, as the credits role, and the iconic “I Don’t Want To Wait” fills our hearts with a sense of teenage urgency, I’d like to take this moment to welcome you, reader, to another episode of my life. Don’t let the faux-voice-over fool you: Being a college dropout in Jersey isn’t all the glitz and glamor they show you on TV.
Still, there is some glitz. Here, I have 24-hour access to the choppy blue waters of the continent’s edge, along with the perks of hard-boiled Jersey diners, good-natured relatives, and the all-encompassing, familiar air of a state that has always felt like home. But even with the Atlantic’s salty mist to calm my doubts, I sometimes have to wonder: How did I get here?
I suppose I could trace it all back to my unremarkable birth in a log cabin in Kentucky (or wherever), but the most easily identifiable turning point in my college career was an editorial internship I served during the summer of 2007, preceding my junior year.
In this internship, I found a job I loved and was good at — better, I might add, than some of the other interns with bona fide degrees in journalism and (here’s the difference) no real-world experience. I wrote professional articles that, had I been a freelancer, would have earned me a couple hundred dollars.
By the end of the summer, I knew I’d found what I wanted to do and that I could do it, and the only thing that stood between me and said dream was, well, a piece of paper. A degree saying I was qualified to do something I knew I was already qualified to do.
I’m not the only college student to have this kind of epiphany. Maybe I could have bitten my lip and knuckled down, trading my remaining two years for that stupid piece of paper and the rest of my life.
But of course, there’s never just one thing going on. On top of my newfound college cynicism, I still couldn’t pick a major (I’d been bouncing around between English, physics, and math from day one). Add in a pinch of incipient family drama, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for what we of the millennial generation like to call a quarter-life crisis.
Which brings us back to Dawson’s Creek. Comic relief aside, I chose this show for a reason: It is, I believe, an anthem for all the confusion and angst typical of the teenage years. And even though I don’t frequently offer my age as eleven-teen, the level of confusion and angst in my life is, unfortunately, on par with that of an adolescent.
When the Creek kids went to college, all of their high school baggage came with them; it was the same show in a different setting. For me, things pretty much took the same course, albeit without professional lighting.
I learned a lot during my first two years of college — about friendships, boys, quantum mechanics — but even after all that, I was still standing at the threshold of adulthood. Something was missing, and until I found it, my development would forever remain arrested.
To find this missing something, I had to consult a wisdom superior to that of the creators of Dawson Leery, so I went straight to the top: J.D. Salinger. In his 1959 novella Seymour: An Introduction, Salinger included a letter from the late Seymour Glass to his younger brother Buddy. Seymour was a prodigy of sorts, often spouting truth and beauty the way most people breathe in and out.
In the letter, Seymour advised Buddy — a writer — to write from the heart: “Keep me up till five [in the morning] only because your stars are out, and for no other reason.”
I read Seymour for the first time when I was 14 years old, and the effect of this passage has never once wavered. For the past seven years, it’s been a personal goal of mine to keep all my stars out.
This is why I had to leave college, why I’m not yet an adult. In my junior year, my stars flickered out, and things like learning, writing, and even love ceased to propel me in their usual fashion.
In high school, your stars will shine for pretty much anything. You hold an excess of passion, throwing it this way and that as you test different options.
I think becoming an adult means learning to focus that passion, finding those one or two things that give life to your stars.
So far now, my mission is to find those things, because the light of a person’s stars is brighter than any glitz and glamor, or even the simple appeal of making it through college without any heavy duty soul-searching.
And soon, I know, my stars will come back out, and I’ll keep you up to five in the morning.