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on graduating and the end of childhood: exorcised through art that changed my life

At the beach by my grandfather’s house where I spent every summer as a child, I stood alone wading in the cool water of the Puget Sound. Growing up, my family and the rising sea level were the only evidence of humanity on this unseen beach marking the progression of time. Reminiscing, I heard soft footsteps approaching and the gentle cooing of a three-year-old girl picking up sand and experimenting with this foreign matter. I watched her oyster eyes fill with her novel surroundings; suddenly, I was moved to tears. I would never be that free or that happy again. With each passing year, this beach lost awe in my eyes. Oh, to see life through a child’s eyes again, so unknowing and instinctual. This little girl has everything in front of her, I have everything behind me. Here she was on this beach 20 years after me— the next human sighting, the rebirth, the cycle begins again. My confused joy collided with an overwhelming grief. I felt keenly that a sensorial feeling had been ripped from my body; there was something I used to smell, some taste, some sound that I can’t hear anymore. I can’t describe what I’ve lost but I can feel it on the tip of my nerves as they reach out for something more. If only my body could stretch that much farther. In the wake of this epiphany of loss, I searched for answers. Reeling from an existential crisis, grappling with graduation, youth, and the fear of its disappearance I turned to art to exorcise my feelings. I highly recommend all the following works; who knows what you’ll discover in them?

 In the book Braiding Sweetgrass by the Potawatomi professor Robin Wall Kimmerer, she offers Indigenous ecological knowledge as an alternative method to make sense of the world from the smallest bug to global warming. On appreciating the reciprocity and wisdom of the natural world she writes, “A great longing is upon us, to live again in a world made of gifts.” Her wisdom reminded me of how a child sees the world. The sand in my hand is a gift, the same as when I felt it for the first time 22 years ago, as this little girl is feeling now. This dissolving feeling of awe is not an inescapable ill of aging, but a choice. I can live again in a world made of gifts. 

In the 2022 Australian film Of An Age, Kole Dennitch is a high school graduate and Serbian immigrant with a passion for ballroom dancing. When his flaky best friend and dancing partner wakes up drunk on the beach miles away an hour before the ballroom dance finals, Dennitch must hitch a ride with their older brother to pick them up. Set in 1999 nostalgia veering on the edge of the unknown 21st century, a whirlwind childhood romance with his friend's older brother changes the course of Kole’s life. A decade later he is reeling from the same emotions, stuck on this childhood memory, unable to move on. His emotional monologue molded itself into the back of my brain: “How lucky, every day of every week of every month I think, how lucky, was that feeling.” Nothing in his life could ever compare to the new sensations of his first love. The irony of worrying if this is the best life will ever get isn’t lost on me; but when you are on the edge of childhood, nothing is certain. Nothing is laid out for you like it was before. One of the most wicked paradoxes of humanity is that we are cursed only to appreciate what we have after it’s gone. I’ve found myself afraid of this feeling and simultaneously nestled in gratitude for classes, being forced to read, a flexible personally designed schedule, Yates, and a school I didn’t think I’d miss. 

Across the world in another time, Lois, a 19-year-old Anglo-Irish girl idles around her estate on the precipice of the Irish Civil War in 1919. Kate O’Brien’s The Last September (1929) came to me when I needed it. Utterly lost in life and missing a strong sense of self, Lois wonders what to do with her life: should she go abroad? Go to art school? Get married? She laments: ”She would like just once to be nearly killed. She wanted to see something that only she would remember.” She desires adventure, life, some feeling of grandeur she feels deserved. I find solace in this coming-of-age experience that knows no time nor borders; Lois and I have the same questions. Do you wait for adventure to happen to you or do you seek it out? How do I reconcile my desires with the advice of my elders that the best things in life come unexpectedly? 

Like Lois, I have little grand ambition for my life and more like a hazy sense of personal priorities. Oh Lois, don’t I know that desire for danger, for adventure all too well? How I have spent years thinking if only I could reach into a painting and find myself enveloped in its world. How pristinely ironic that my greatest post-grad goal is to recover my childhood ambition. An ambition that took shape in creativity, joy, and play; nurturing my hobbies and exploring my creative potential. I want to run back into the arms of childhood, be hoisted on its shoulders and spun around. In Julia Jacklin’s “Cold Caller,” she sings “Will I be a mother or will I always be a child?” This lyric paints an image of the possibility of a perpetual childhood. College doesn’t have to be an end or a beginning, what if it's one big eternal circle? Can I be both a mother and a child? Am I grieving prematurely? What if the best is both behind me and in front of me? What if the best is just the casual magic of the everyday? What if small dreams are ambitious? What did Kole and Lois discover about life? What don’t I know now but one day will? And when I finally realize, will it be too late?

This brings me to Clarice Lispector, an idiosyncratic Brazilian 1960s novelist. Her 1964 novel The Passion According to G.H. starts with a young woman killing a cockroach. The rest of the novel follows her internal monologue processing the onslaught of existential furor. 

“In this new cowardice of mine, – cowardice is the newest thing to happen to me, it’s my greatest adventure, this cowardice of mine is a field so wide that only the great courage leads me to accept it – in my new cowardice, which is like waking one morning in a foreigners house, I don’t know if I’ll have the courage to just go. It’s hard to get lost. It’s so hard that I’ll probably quickly figure out some way to find myself, even if finding myself is once again my vital life.” 

And with one paragraph my world inverted and sprung outwards again with a shocking velocity. Embrace being lost. Having any intention of “finding yourself” is only going to lead you further from your original truth. Who are you when everything is stripped away? Do you have the courage to face yourself? I am trying, Clarice. I am trying. Graduation and the illusory end of childhood do not mean I need to seek direction. Allowing yourself to get lost is the bravest way you can face the world. Three-year-old girls at the beach don’t need to be taught that, they just feel. And so the answer to all my questions lay in not seeking any answers. I plan on being lost. 

Lastly, needing no explanation, in Ocean Vuong's 2022 poetry book Time is a Mother he writes, “I’m on the cliff of myself & these aren’t wings, they’re futures.” 


Audrey Ledford is a senior in the SFS studying Culture and Politics. She will miss Leo’s cheesy grits most of all. She would like to shout-out Angela Hayes for inspiring this article and loaning her Lispector’s novels.


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