In the Midwest, we have a philosophy of sorts when it comes to traveling: “Why would we fly? It’s only a 14-hour drive!” Of course there are unknown variables involved...the number of travellers, the destination, the amount of time you plan to stay where you’re headed. But more often than not, families actually will get up at the crack of dawn, pile their suitcases in a minivan, and take a road trip from Cincinnati to Disney World. I know flights are expensive; what’s weird is the sheer amount of Midwesterners who insist on driving everywhere.
Hailing from Indiana, I’m no stranger to long-haul trips; most vacations inherently entail anywhere from six to twenty hours in the car. However, no amount of being crammed into the backseat and nearly crushed by the luggage of seven people could have prepared me for my 947-mile trip to Berklee. It wasn’t the longest drive I’ve ever taken; it wasn’t the worst or the best or even the most memorable. But it was by far the most surreal. Because when you’re on the freeway God-knows-where in Pennsylvania and there isn’t an exit for hours, you have a lot of time to think about the fact that you won’t be coming home for a while, and that you don’t know anything about where you’re going. It’s excitement and melancholy and numbness all stewing together in a jam-packed Honda Pilot, with various show-tunes blasting in your headphones as you nurse the dregs of the last McDonald’s sweet tea you'll get for months.
Now that I’m thinking about it, there’s not really a better metaphor for my first year of college than that car ride. It was a lot of firsts and lasts, familiar emotions and startlingly new ones, jumbled together with no rhyme or reason. There were days that sped by so fast I barely knew they happened, and days that dragged on for unholy amounts of time. Sometimes I would completely conquer every “adulting” task; other times I would cry multiple times before even getting out of bed. No amount of preparation for Berklee could have made me ready for it—I just had to jump in and be willing to go along for the ride.
One of my favorite musicals is Rent, whose ubiquitous Act 2 opener begins with these lyrics: “525,600 minutes/525,000 moments so dear/525,600 minutes/How do you measure, measure a year?” By their example, here’s how I would measure my freshman year:
$428.75 worth of textbooks.
282.78 miles walked around Boston.
$225 accidentally spent on a haircut.
93 days straight without Chick-Fil-A.
20 entering credits.
$16 spent on Lyfts after trying to navigate sketchy, unfamiliar bus routes late at night. (Don’t be like me — please just call the Lyft first thing.)
11 trips to the CVS pharmacy.
Seven artists interviewed for The Groove.
Four churches visited and proficiency pieces learned.
Three days to pack up my dorm room and say goodbye to my favorite people in the world.
Two promotions, school trips to New York, and Broadway shows.
One bout of food poisoning, and one miserable day spent in bed, crying periodically and not eating, thanks to PTSD brought on by Star Wars IX.
What I couldn’t account for in that list was every FaceTime call I had with my mom, or every night I spent laughing with my friends. I couldn’t recount every memory that was made, every moment that broke my pride and reminded me that the world is bigger than I know, every hour I spent practicing seventh chords and improvisation, or every day I faced a depressive cycle or panic attack. These are all things I can’t measure with numbers but, as the song continues, “in love.” This might sound unhealthy, but the way I see it, measuring moments in love isn’t sugar-coating or turning bad experiences into something they weren’t. It’s a mindset, a way of seeing; it’s looking back on every hill and valley and realizing that in some way or another, they shaped you into a stronger person than you were before.
Never in a million years could this classical pianist have imagined the learning curve of becoming a jazz musician. Being forced to confront your flaws is embarrassing and hard. Battling mental illness while hundreds of miles away from your biggest supporters is a struggle so complicated, I don’t even know how to explain it. But this year, I also left my comfort zone in the dust. I grew in more ways than I could have ever foreseen. I learned from every single triumph and defeat, and I found the people who make my soul happy. All things considered, that’s everything I could have hoped to accomplish this year and more. Come August, I’ll be ready for a new year of challenging myself, reaching out to others, and blooming wherever I’m planted — hopefully back in Boston.