I vividly remember walking through the security line at Newark airport sobbing because I didn't want to leave New Jersey. My friends were there. My family was there. All I knew was life on the East Coast. That first time that I had to get on the plane alone and fly to Wisconsin was the hardest. Every flight after got a little bit easier, to the point where I was happy to head back to Wisconsin. That change happened due to the people I now count among my friends. It happened because of the places here that I came to love. That change happened because I changed.
Sometimes it is hard to explain what I gained in Wisconsin without making my life in New Jersey seem lacking. That certainly isn't the case. The bulk of my support system is in New Jersey, my family and the good friends who came along on this ride with daily gchats, emails, texts, and phone calls. They are the people who matter most to me, and I couldn't have done any of this without their support, advice, and encouragement. But that being said, my time in Wisconsin was truly everything I never knew I needed.
I didn't realize how close I was to giving up on journalism and science writing. It has been my dream to write about science since I was a kid, but in 2010 I was ready to give up. After the graduate school rejections, a full year of fruitless job searching, and working my ass off for free I came to Wisconsin on my last legs hoping dearly that journalism school would save the dream I saw imploding. It didn't, particularly. Don't get me wrong, I learned a lot. But classes themselves are not the stuff that dreams are made of. People make dreams. What saved mine was the professors who told me that my voice matters and is strong, the classmates who pushed me forward sharing my frustrations and successes, the wonderful journalists and speakers who gave me their attention and shared advice, and all the other people who remind me everyday on Twitter and on this blog and theirs why I love doing what I do. All of you contributed to bringing my dream back from the brink.
When people ask what comes next for me and I tell them I'm job hunting the answer I almost always get is "good luck, it's tough out there." Yes, it is. But I'm tough too. I'm more determined than ever to break into this field. Sometimes there are no open doors or windows, sometimes you have to burrow under a wall or scale the roof to get in. Sometimes you have to wait, or go back and draw up a new plan. I will not stop writing. I will not stop meeting people, or chasing the stories that interest me. I hope someone will pay me to do so, but if that doesn't happen for a while I'll just keep doing it on the side. I'll keep trying. That is what I promise all of the people who have supported me and who believe that I can do this. I'll keep trying. Wisconsin, the people I met, and the experiences I had living out here gave me the strength to try and to keep trying. I feel like I've gotten a part of myself, the feisty determined and confident part, back.
It is easier to leave a place, a time, a chapter in your life that you love and want to hold onto, when you know what comes next. I have no idea what comes next. Immediately I know that I'm moving back to New Jersey to stay with my parents until I find the kind of employment that comes with health benefits. But what that job will be, where it will be, and what I'm heading into, I don't have a clue. That sort of seems fitting though. I had no clue what I was getting into when I decided to move to Madison, picked an apartment site unseen and agreed to live with a total stranger. That stranger ended up being the single most encouraging and sympathetic person in my life here and I will miss my roommate immensely. She made me laugh more than any other person whether it was at her, with her or at myself.
There is something I love about the unknown. If life was always tied up nicely in little packages, all planned out according to what everyone expects you to do it would be insufferably boring. The unknown holds the promise of an adventure the details of which you can't see or understand. It is hard to say goodbye when you don't know what comes next, but not knowing is life's way of keeping things entertaining. You know I like to be entertained. So, it makes sense to me that I don't have it all planned and figured out. I think that the most interesting lives are the ones that meander, the ones that don't take a linear path. I want tremendously to succeed, but if I end up taking the long way to get there it will be okay. It might even be better than okay.
So tonight, as I look around my empty apartment, I propose a toast to dreams rekindled. To irreplaceable friendships forged over coffee and those Wisconsin beers. To going home again, better than when you left. To people who never let you forget that you matter. To getting what you need instead of what you want. To making your own opportunities. To the unknown. Cheers.
I'm so fortunate to have spent this part of my life in this place with these people. I wouldn't trade the depression and tears or the joy and laughter for anything. As much as we might want to slow time down and hold onto a moment, we have to let moments pass. My moment in Wisconsin has passed, and it's time to move on. On to the next adventure. There is a lot about Wisconsin that I'm going to miss dearly, but I'm ready to meet whatever comes next. So goodbye, and thank you.