It’s August, and I’m 24. I’m in the last quarter of my graduate school program, earning the last couple credits I’ll need to get the degree. I only need one more class in my major, but that won’t add up to enough credits, so I decide to take an art elective. But I’m not particularly artistic, so I choose Calligraphy.
It’s an election year, so there are tons of political commercials on the TV, which I watch in the evenings in my little dorm room. It’s also an Olympic year, but the US is boycotting the games, so we are cheated out of seeing our athletes compete. This is big news at my university, which had anticipated sending a whole slew of its best athletes to the Olympics in Moscow. Now those kids will have to decide if their careers are over before they even started, or if they might be able to keep training for the next games in four years.
The class I’m taking is Broadcast Journalism. It’s taught by a TV news producer a couple evenings a week. A few times he takes us to the station in San Francisco and we put together a half-hour newscast, each time taking turns being the producer, the director, the crew or the talent. The time I was the talent, I was the sportscaster and wrote, produced and delivered a 7-minute segment. I still have the demo tape of it somewhere.
I was so alone that summer. My friends from my undergraduate days were all working, embarked on their shiny new careers in Southern California, 700 miles away. My grad school buddies were either already finished — I had taken the previous quarter off from school, they hadn’t — or taking other classes, and my living situation had been arranged somewhat hastily so I didn’t really know anyone in my dorm. I made friends at the mailboxes one day with an Asian-American girl because looked like she might be from Hawaii, like me, but it turned out she was from Little Rock, Arkansas. Disconcerting to hear a southern twang coming from a Chinese face.
I craved that tiny universe, though, because the big picture for me, that August, at age 24, was terrifying. When the Broadcast Journalism and Calligraphy classes came to an end in a few weeks, what was I going to do next? Where would I go? I had to find work, but what sort of job would I seek? I had no answers. So I kept my little black and white TV on, listening to the news reports from Afghanistan and the political speeches while I practiced my Italic and Roman lettering by calligraphing poems by Longfellow and Gerard Manly Hopkins.
My boy is 24, and he’s struggling. It’s an election year and an Olympic year, and his big picture is terrifying. Well, maybe he’s not terrified the way I was, but he’s stuck in a perplexing state of not knowing what to do and not being able to do it even if he did know. Because he’s broke, and lack of money amounts to a lack of freedom to extricate yourself from your situation. So he maintains a little routine of going to work, Skyping with his girlfriend halfway around the world in Germany, surfing, and escaping to Mom and Dad’s from his detestable apartment two or three evenings a week, to watch TV — Family Guy, not political or Olympic news — and get a free meal.
I want to tell him it will get better, but I don’t know. The best I can say is it gets … different. You’ll come out of this okay, I want to say, maybe happily and maybe unhappily, I don’t know. What happens next, maybe you’ll plan it or maybe it’ll just happen to you. Either way it’s just another step on your journey. And you won’t stay 24 forever.