March 5, 2021 | Narrative
unfinding meaning in everything
most of the time, it’s not that deep
“Twin XL comforters for college dorm room.” Hit search.
As I scrolled through countless pages of maroon, lavender, and navy blue blankets, I began to draw conclusions about college students: most prefer simpler styles, maybe some ruching or small white polka dots, but nothing too attention-grabbing that could possibly throw off the balance of their room. But what color did I want my comforter to be? Surely I couldn’t order one of the ones from Brown’s catalog—everyone else would already have those, and none of their designs made me jump for joy. I love the color yellow: it’s the color of my aura, but its sunshiney-ness made it ideal only for my best, most cheerful days and not quite as fitting for the minutiae of my daily life, which is full of ups and downs.
I wanted to stay grounded, remind myself of who and what made me the person I am whenever I look around my room. I thought to myself: “I want my comforter to be covered in green, leafy branches to remind me of the roots from which I came.” And that’s exactly what I ended up buying. But what the hell, Ellie?! I can’t help but think my parents must have dropped me as a baby because no person with a brain that functions properly would ever have such a thought, or even consider the pattern on a puffy piece of polyester to represent a defining element of her identity. And “the roots from which I came”?! I didn’t know internal monologues were supposed to match the diction of AP English Language rhetorical analysis essays. But I digress.
The comforter may have seemed like a huge deal to me, based on how concerned I was about every detail of its appearance, but that’s how I am about pretty much everything. I’m aware that a song can be pretty even if its chord progressions don’t relay some sort of subliminal message, but my habits say otherwise. I can have a favorite flavor of ice cream without it meaning that I’ve lost my air of spontaneity. These thoughts probably make it seem like I wasn’t very spontaneous in the first place.
My version of acting on a whim, though, is always accompanied by an extensive analysis after the fact: how my instincts may reveal qualities about me that even I wasn’t aware of. It often feels like my brain is a novel that I did not write, and I’m only a reader trying to interpret the author’s message as I go. The leafy green comforter is a quintessential example of how my brain operates, but that was also a time when even I recognized that little meaningful interpretation can be obtained from such thoughts. But how do I go about changing? How can I think about a pair of colorful socks without it being a measure of my social growth as I’ve learned to outwardly express myself more, even in the smallest of ways? Or a ballpoint pen without it symbolizing the potential for greatness within me that awaits its release, when I pen a New York Times bestseller or a solution to one of the Millenium Prize Problems? This nonsense that I spew, these absurd yet all-encompassing metaphors, are the fabric of my existence. I know no story to tell that isn’t hijacked by them. They manipulate all that is real in this world as my convergent lens of a brain produces a virtual image of reality that’s all I can see from a perspective far too close to the source.
I could continue to provide countless instances where I find symbolic meaning in anything from molecules to mountain ranges, but that’s exactly what I don’t want to do. When I listen to music in my room as I unwind at night, I want to focus on how the strum of a guitar can sound so soft, so calming, and could even stop time if I let it. Or how the singer’s voice is so beautiful that he could be singing the ABCs and it would still give me chills. When I walk into Ben & Jerry’s, I want to glance at the menu for a second, feel a sudden craving for the sweet and ever so slightly tart cherries and smooth dark chocolate pieces in Cherry Garcia, and immediately order it. I want the world around me to shape how I feel and how I live my life, not the other way around. I cannot continue making oceans of small puddles in the street everytime it drizzles because not everything has to be layered with infinite nuance and meaning.
To begin an exercise of just being present in the world, I step outside. I see leafless trees with branches like fingertips, reaching up as they try to touch the sky. I feel the cold winter air blow hair into my face as the wind pushes me slightly forward, almost like it’s trying to lovingly force me into the great unknown. It’s not that deep, Ellie, I have to tell myself. I try this again. This time, I try to think only in terms of what I can see and feel, pushing aside the analogy. The grass is vibrantly green. The sky is bluer now that the snow has finally melted under the comforting warmth of the sun. As I walk back toward my dorm, the wind blows against me, this time sending sand straight into my eyes. Unlike the wind from before, this wind is bitter and mean and harsh. It almost seems like it’s been wind all along and nothing more than that.
I’m not trying to change who I am, not by any means, but I fear that I’ll miss out on the simple pleasures in life by convoluting and contorting them into meaning. I want to tell stories that are beautiful because the words flow nicely, because the imagery is vivacious and evocative, because what I write reminds others of the beauty in their own life, and because meaning will always exist, regardless of whether I force it to the surface or not. I still love my ivory and sage green comforter that’s covered in foliage because of the beauty in the significance I ascribed to it, but who says I can’t love it simply because it’s aesthetically pleasing? Maybe I just like the look of plants and greenery, and my love doesn’t need to be anything more than that. Either way, I’m ready to, at the very least, give a real try at viewing life as it is without the weight of the countless figurative and intricate meanings I wring out of it. I’m ready to write my own story, one where the roots from which I came are hidden but not forgotten. As the world blooms around me and demands for its beauty to be taken in, I’ll stand outside and reach up with my fingertips to touch trees coming back to life, soon to bejewel themselves with the sweet scent and powder pink of cherry blossoms.