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The Presumed Ennui of Life

FROM my freshman through junior years in high school, I often complained that the days felt as if they were dragging on, the responsibilities never ended, and relief seldom overcame me. I jumped from one assignment to the next, expected to make one grand, life-changing decision after the other with the ease I’d apply to selecting a cereal at the grocery store. There was barely any time for me to take a breath, let alone indulge in endeavors that brought me pleasure and relaxation. The further high school progressed, the more I found myself simply unable to peel myself out of bed and greet the early morning with the small smile I had in my elementary years. And though the last year of my high school career zoomed by faster than the previous three, that particular fact never changed.


But it finally happened. At approximately 7am on June 3, 2023—a weekday—I awoke with a genuine smile plastered across my face. On the rare days this happened, it typically faltered at the sound of my mother’s voice telling me to move faster or complete a chore. Or because I was simultaneously famished and not hungry at all.


But that grin continued on until my facial muscles grew tired. It was all over; on June 3rd, 2023, I mounted the stage as a high school senior and descended as a rising college freshman. I couldn’t have been happier!


Truthfully, that grin had fallen long before I even approached the stage. The expression that replaced it revealed far more than I would have ever willingly shared that day.


Whenever anyone asks for photos from my graduation ceremony, I show them the picture I took an hour before the event commenced. In it, I was clinging onto my white cap while the wind rippled through my matching polyester gown, exposing my ruched strapless cocktail dress. The pale artificial diamonds around my neck danced under the sunlight and unlike my attire, the almost-smirk I wore revealed absolutely nothing. Just the way I liked it.


I won’t show photos I didn’t know would be taken of me mid-ceremony, deep in thought I couldn’t articulate even after the ceremony had ended. My eyes were glazed over in those, partially due to sheer boredom, but mainly because I was paying more attention to the cacophony of voices inside my head than the ones that erupted from the audience every time a name was announced.


I sported a thin, derpy smile in my graduation ceremony photos that did nothing to improve the imbalance of my features thanks to the unflattering down-under angle used. My signature eyebags that had once given tasteful drama to many photographs of the past, now only made me look fundamentally lost when confronted by the unexpected flash photography. The auditorium was hot. My mouth was dry. I couldn’t wait to leave but wasn’t sure I wanted to.


My mid-ceremony crisis wasn’t the first I’d had regarding my future. I worried myself to the point of dizziness about my 18th birthday just a few weeks ago. Months before that, I called my grandmother various times about college scholarships, honors, and if I would even be eligible for any of them given just how mediocre of a student my GPA told me I was. But it was the first crisis I had about my life beyond college and the familiar structure it offered.


As I sat in that seat in the auditorium plugging my ears every so often when the clapping got too loud, the only image in my head was one of an older version of me, hunched over a computer with an empty look in my eyes. I had seen it before—in my nightmares.


I had quite a few fears—homelessness, pregnancy, vomiting—but none of those were as strong as my fear of living a drab life, trapped in a job that brought me misery, but paid my bills well enough to force me to stay. I couldn’t imagine taming my eternal restlessness to the point of being content with receiving only a few vacation days a year. When the academics were over and the parties long gone, would I be destined to live a life—if such could even be called that—of ennui? As much as I reach for my dreams and try to align myself with what I believe is the right path, is continuous monotony inevitable?


There is no tangible way to know beyond living my life according to what I think is appropriate at the moment and reassessing it years later. Because that’s just how it is. There is no tangible evidence of any way to see into the future—and even if there was, I would be unlikely to choose it given how boredom-adverse I am. Perhaps in twenty years, I’ll be able to return to this blog post with an answer to those questions, hopefully from the comfort of a nice apartment funded by a career I love.


And though my fear of continued occupational dissatisfaction is my biggest, it is the one I spend the least time pondering. It isn’t worth the time. Of the bunch, it is the most likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy; I spend my days worrying about if my future will be dull so much so that I fail to notice the present becoming the future, and suddenly I’m on my deathbed with the only noteworthy thing about my life being just how much time I spent not adequately living it.


Instead of obsessing over what it could be, should be, or would be, I approach each day with a set of “Vegas Day” principles I once only invoked when I wanted a tangible excuse to do something brazen, frivolous, or downright stupid—like I’d heard many people do when on benders in Las Vegas:


Rule 1: Act now.


Rule 2: Act again after that.


Rule 3: Don’t stop acting until you physically can’t anymore.


At some point, one has to climb out of their own head and see just how much they were missing trapped in there for so long. After feeling stuck and stagnant for the majority of my high school career, I decided I was done being trapped. I was sick of being suffocated by the darkness within my mind. I emerged, wholeheartedly prepared to be blinded by the light of the world, the life I’d been missing wallowing in future-related woes that had yet to even present themselves. But instead, it made me glow. It made me feel more inspired, relaxed, and happier than I’d ever been before. In that moment, I realized two things: (1) I couldn’t avoid being uncertain, ill-prepared, or even naive in some cases and (2) that’s what’ll make the journey all the more fun. So, would I ever be bored?


Philomena Stone, a freelance writer based in Washington, DC., writes a monthly blog for Esther Productions Inc.

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