I’m not quite sure how to describe being back at UCLA. I keep telling myself that I’ve long since left my transitional period and that I’m all settled in and that things are going great and that I’m getting things done and then I find myself having an existential crisis much like the ones that were so typical of my first semester in France. I’ve taken to listening to a lot of poppy self-empowerment music just to remind me to Be Good To Myself, as I often kind of forget to. Yet at the same time I’ve never felt so right. My days abroad were often spent aimlessly, riding buses just to ride buses and eating sandwiches because they were there to be eaten. Here in LA everything feels purposeful. Or at least everything is meant to. Restaurants in Lyon were elusive, and happening along a cute new coffee shop was an accomplishment that was milked over and over again (“this is the third time this week I’ve eaten a pain au chocolat at this cafe because I’ve just found this cafe and there’s pain au chocolat here”). Restaurants in Los Angeles rarely pop up on corners as you make your way about town. No, they start out on lists that you make after visiting endless Yelp pages and food blogs. Angeleno epicureans practically shout to you the various places you should be eating, and going out for food isn’t something to pass the time, it’s a race to explore the city. Eating at a new restaurant feels bizarrely productive, like I’m aptly performing my studentness and my Americanism. In fact, much of everything I do feels like that. Going on walks around campus is part of a regime that I’ve set for myself to get reacquainted with UCLA. I listen to music, I get the chills, I sigh heavily, I finish and pat myself on the back for the job well done (“wow, Charley, look at you, finding your way through campus again, right on schedule”). I’ve gone to the honors office to chat about getting credit for my special study project from second semester. I’ve turned in my notes from my anthropology class to my advisor so he can review them. I’ve decorated my room, and I’ve dutifully done all of my schoolwork for session A. And it all feels good? I mean, I suppose I am really very happy to be back, to be being productive and to be participating again in the same culture that I left behind. Purpose is good. And having so much purpose all the time feels very foreign that whenever I have a day that is markedly purpose-less (read: for fun only) I always sit up in bed that night completely surprised at how much fun I had despite not having finished all my readings or not having left Westwood in my never-ending conquest of California’s largest city. France was hyper unproductive, empirically speaking. I didn’t even gain any weight despite the sharp uptick in my caloric intake. But France was also the most in touch I’ve ever been with myself without the distractions of to-do lists or assignments or idealized visions of senior year. And so I’ve been working on keeping that sincerity, keeping up with my contentedness and my feels and me despite now also keeping up with a packed work schedule and regular outings in Santa Monica and biweekly parties and apartment decorating.
Being back at UCLA, my life has direction again. I’m no longer on an extended vacation. My days are there to be used. Now I’m just figuring out how to achieve the same excitedness for living that I had when there was nothing there telling me that being alive was exciting. I’m well on my way, so be expecting some posts that are more about the living I’m actually doing here at school and less about whatever funny post-abroad feelings that go along with them. I could be wrong, but after having spent a full session here I think I may finally be done transitioning back into normal, beautiful, UCLA life.