Metro, Column, Boston

Finding Boston: Play The Game

Home is a small, New York suburb. White picket fences next to chain link fences next to white picket fences, containing yards of dual-level colonials of pale greens and tans. Clusters of houses are broken by entwining roads, spitting traffic into various shopping centers. The summers cover the landscape in a golden veneer. The winters cover the landscape in pale white snow.

But I romanticize.

“Time is neat, when you think about it,” a friend told me a day before I left to come back to school. “You leave tomorrow, and you come back in May. You have your strange life that I really know nothing of—you don’t know mine, either, when I go to school—and you come back, and we pick up.”

“Like a game.”

“Like a game” he repeated. “And it’s almost halftime.”

Halftime. Even though yesterday could be confused with freshmen year, and the day before could be confused with senior year of high school, The Past is hanging out right where it belongs, and, in The Now, I realize that I’m approaching a major point within this specific bracket of my life.

See, the neat dividing of time isn’t just for categorizing relationships, but for individuals to categorize personal lives—to bracket. The most common split is grade school/high school/college. Then there’s graduate school, maybe, and then adulthood, maybe parenthood, but that’s the thing: you don’t know the brackets until you’re moments away from walking into them.

Time’s almost halfway up—with college, yes—but I’m just getting started. And, since I will not know the brackets before they are point blank in front of me, should I really worry then about The Future? It will happen regardless, and against my better judgment if I spend too much time thinking about it.

The question, therefore, becomes how to spend The Now (besides the obvious one, which is to take classes and learn, because being a student is my job, and your job). With a city of raw material that a suburb could never provide me, I must get out: out of the dorm and into the city. Where I go and what I do is just as important as what I see along the way. All of the time spent in the Museum of Fine Arts is matched by seeing the man sitting on the milk crate on the corner shaking a Styrofoam cup. All of the time spent tutoring at a charter school is matched by the mother on the T with shopping bags surrounding her feet and a baby in her arms that won’t stop crying.

Every bit should be feverishly consumed—it should be gawked at—but it is in the city that a strange paradox emerges, where the proportion of raw material met with slack-jaws and bleary eyes is the highest. (Certainly a lot higher than in the suburbs.) It’s in the city where nobody looks at anybody else, but instead looks down and silently comments on how very lonely the city is. Or blanks out on a cell phone. For a place so fundamental for the discovery of self, the city seems to breed a humdrum mass, where the most vibrant pieces of culture and human experience are ignored in favor of aggregation and emotional isolation.

But I trivialize.

The trick is realizing the roughness of the draft that is you in The Now. Boston should play as big of a part in the revisionary process as your actual education does—going to school near a city is, in this way, a buy-one-get-one-free deal. Cash in. If you’re a freshmen who can’t conceive of ever reaching the halfway point, cash in. It’s never too early, not during this bracket. If you’re a senior who is scared of how far in the rearview mirror the halfway point is, cash in. It’s never too late. The trick is realizing you’re even holding anything in the first place.

Play the game.

Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphic

January 22, 2015