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Goodbye to just this

February 16, 2024

Eva Ahn

It’s been a sleepless few weeks. Believe me, I have tried; I have googled “sleep hygiene” and followed directions to the letter: chamomile tea, clean sheets, counting backwards from 10,000 under the tender guidance of Andy from Headspace. No Luck! Visions haunt me in the wee hours: philosophical arguments I have started for sport only to end up the villain of the pregame, coy flirtations that didn’t pan out, that one time I wore a bow in my hair, foolishly forgetting that I am 6 feet tall and should thus avoid any coquettish fashion fads. These imaginings prompt physical cringe, but they do not sufficiently explain my insomnia. Specific anxieties only cloak something even more embarrassing and extremely mundane: I am graduating, and I am scared.

Don’t misunderstand me; I need to go. Campus claustrophobia runs deep, and even the most beloved of Chambo quads becomes, in a certain twilight gloom, a cage of fairy lights and Klimt prints.

Though I am clearly struggling to cope with this rather routine transition, it is not my first goodbye. My desire to leave New York began early. I have never been entirely sure of what caused my aversion to where I am from. Maybe I inherited it from my father (another malcontented native New Yorker), or maybe it’s a reaction to too many knees scraped on asphalt or the time I was yelled at by a Parks Department officer for climbing a tree. Regardless, I never felt suited to home, and, as I am prone to do, I made that discomfort known. I was 11 or 12 when my father gave me a book entitled “Goodbye to All That,” a collection of essays about escaping New York. I don’t think I ever read it, but I never forgot the gesture. It was a symbol of tacit understanding, of our shared secret of wanting out.

The collections, I imagine, might have absolved me of guilt over my sinful desire to leave “The City.” What I didn’t know at the time, and wouldn’t learn for years, is that “Goodbye to All That” is named after an essay by Joan Didion, which is arguably the only piece of writing that makes it cool to leave New York. Anyone who has read the essay, or any Didion for that matter, understands why hordes of young women worship at her altar. Joan Didion epitomizes a certain type of intellectual cool and though she died recently and was, before that, very old, much of her writing elucidated what it is to be young and to know it and to suffer all the same.

Didion’s writing rang clear and true to me at 17, when I declared to my mildly disinterested parents that I would not apply to colleges within 50 miles of a city (my sincerest apologies to Portland). I was saying goodbye, determined to leave “all that” behind, at least for what were going to be the most important four years of my life. I can laugh at my 17-year-old self now, and I do; she is a funny subject. But I fear that this 21-year-old self will become the butt of the same joke.

Now, with another goodbye rapidly approaching, I find myself turning back to Didion, the diminutive queen of California. Though she has not given me a brilliant, but relatable, recollection of leaving Bowdoin College, there is no one better to provide assurance that the restlessness, the need to go and the fear of going have all been felt before—and have at least produced the perfect essay.

It might be misguided to put so much stock in one who was prone to delusions of snakes in baby bassinets, especially when there is plenty of other source material. The canon of bildungsromans adopt the pastoral tone more appropriate for leaving Bowdoin than your Upper East Side one-bedroom apartment. I fear, though, that they continually miss the point. They are too focused on telling you that it will be alright, that growing up happens to all of us and most make do. The point of Didion’s recurrently relevant thesis is that of course it will be okay; I know that, and yet, anguish persists. It is obviously funny that I would imagine myself as a brunette Tippi Hedren, and the CXD emails my Hitchcockian birds. I will be fine, but I still find myself ducking beneath tables in HL at the sounding of an Outlook notification.

In an attempt to milk an anxious period for all its literary worth, I am determined to find some solace in this self-indulgence. The prospect of building a life unguided by Big-Brother-Bowdoin is full of promise and novelty but also the threat of having to do my own dishes. Besides, this is hardly a surprising exodus. Bowdoin was always going to end; it could never be “all that.” The time has come to say goodbye to just this.




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