Letters from Berkeley

BY ALLISON MARGOLIN

I’m experiencing a break withdrawal but am ready for the beginning of the end. That’s how I feel as I sit at my computer listening to Too Short, getting high by myself, in Berkeley, Calif.

But like last semester, everything’s not as chill as it appears. I have to start writing my third-year paper; my “Drug War” professors gave me a “pass,” the Berkeley equivalent of a B/B+, just because I know what I’m talking about and don’t pretend not to; and I’m trying to figure out how to make this semester palatable without engaging in self-destructive behaviors. On top of all that, I’m suffering from withdrawal — the type you experience after you leave someone you’ve spent lots of time with in an intense way.

A lot of people dislike drugs for the very reason that I am currently in such a torn state. Once you experience more fun, more intensity, it’s hard to go back. And it’s even harder to make activities interesting again when they have already started to bore you.

To re-animate the half-dead is especially difficult because it means that: 1) you have to re-imagine the whole activity and make it better in your imagination so that the idea of doing it is palatable; 2) you have to make the actualization of the activity as fun as your imagination of it; and 3) you have to have other activities that excite you, because no matter how great your imagination is, your experience of an extreme reality generally precludes you from enjoying the less extreme reality as much as you once did.

This is my last semester in school. Somehow that sounds so profound, but it’s equally hollow. I don’t even know what it means not to be in school. I don’t even know how I would be expected to conceptualize it. I can’t grasp the significance of it the way someone who has lived through it can, or like someone who has taken time off to live in the “real world.”

All I know is that I’m at a place in life far more hectic than I ever could have anticipated. I’ve always hoped that I would be destined to “go off the beaten path,” and I’m finally seeing the first signs of my fate, a perplexingly exciting and meaningless proposition for someone who doesn’t believe in fate but who desperately wants to change everyone’s mind.

I don’t have a job for next year. I’m planning on following my boyfriend wherever he gets his medical internship. I’m going to take the California bar, but we’re probably not even going to be in the state next year. After completing all this education, I’ll likely end up in the deep South (South Carolina) for a year without a license to practice law.

I can’t see myself a year from now. That would have made me deeply anxious a few months ago. It still scares the hell out of me, in fact, when I think about it too much. But that anxiety has largely been replaced by liberation, the thing that happens when you embrace uncertainty, the thing that happens once your life manifests the scary truth that the future is always uncertain.

The current thing I’m learning is that once you start to accept that no one really knows or can entirely control where they’ll be the moment after the present, questions that once irked you are answerable. The uncertainty that inspires and underlies every institution comes into relief. In the end, you realize that all you can do to help yourself is enjoy the present.

The other day, my boyfriend asked me if I’d rather be happy or legalize drugs (my ostensible goal in life). I decided I’d rather be happy. I’d rather be giving something inherently good, a positive vibe emanating out of happiness, even if it is hedonistic happiness, than contributing something of questionable worth. It’s analogous to saying that you’ve experienced a beautiful sunset and saying that the sky is beautiful. The former is forever, and it’s the only thing that is.

Would I be saying the same things if I were at Harvard right now? Probably. I think I learned to appreciate happiness through my experience there. Deficit reminds you of the importance of that which you lack. Still, I must prevent myself from getting too into the Berkeley adulations; I still have a semester left here.

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