AMY MROTEK | OPINION COLUMNIST
Over a year ago, I wrote an article detailing the loneliness and discontent that saturated my study abroad experience. It was my first opinion column, an inaugural stab at a first-person piece to parcel through a topic that had pricked my attention for months.
In it, I chided myself for a lot of things, mostly too-high expectations and too-little quiet reflection. And now, fast-forwarding fourteen months, sitting on my Xanten couch staring at the familiar Lot 12 that has framed my apartment’s view through all this dribbled time, nothing has really changed. I feel just as vapid and stuffed with uncertainty as I care to admit in print.
Authenticity is one of those words that tastes good on the tongue but has no definitive recipe, no cumulative ladder to step-by-step climb. We hold it up with utmost importance, this golden buzzword in life’s checkbox list. Friendships, family, romantic partners, work, hobbies, health, an inner self all merit our most genuine attention and need fine-tuning with a microcosmic wrench.
When you stare it directly in the eye, authenticity tends to reveal itself in other forms, using words a tinge more concrete yet still riddled in elusive demands. Perhaps it’s a discipline, a puritanical sense of daily direction. Perhaps it’s a self-confidence subtle enough it fits in your back pocket yet staunch enough to permeate all your interactions. Maybe it means you’re happier with your own company, between your own walls, then with what’s provided by others. Maybe it’s a waking up, stretching your body, unfurling from the sheets and not dreading what you have to do that day. Or maybe the whole charade is a bubble-wrapped lie, a fairytale from an egocentric world consumed by its own consumption and surface appearance.
Whatever the chosen mask, there seems to be a civil war raging amongst the intrinsic and extrinsic, and navigating its no-man’s land has left me exhausted. Four years in college and I’ve fed myself a narrative that I must better myself, that who I am right now isn’t good enough and needs to be weeded, making room to evolve into something more. Through my chosen major, through my friends, through another internship and resume builder and exercise and Facebook post and award and pictures to commemorate it all…the list of improvements hasn’t stacked me higher, it’s torn me to depletion. It has plucked me barren, ambiguous, a semicolon-self aware it should be striving for something, but unsure of what that something is. And I know I can’t be alone in this corner.
In raw honestly, I’m not in the soundest mental spirits right now. The final semester of senior year has taken its toll. The days weigh a little heavier, and it all just keeps spastically bleeding from this nostalgic wound no gauze can patch. Every weekend crossed off the calendar feels like rubbing alcohol poured straight onto that cut. It’s hard to fathom how an “authentic” last semester is supposed to play out: One final spring break hoorah? Senior Death March? Fishbowls every Thursday? All the usual answers are hopelessly fun, but they stand as distracting antitheses of what time right now seems to beg: Something resolute, something non-transient. Something that is soft and kind and warm and doesn’t gut the sanctuary that comes with being still.
It’s a cliff we’re all shuffling toward, some feet a lot smoother than others. And when every move seems contingent on its end result – and that end result is nowhere in sight, hell, she’s not even on the map – it’s so hard to feel steadily, soothingly authentic. Yet we just keep shuffling anyway.