An unexceptional walk

My high school cafeteria

When I wake up, the world is an abstract painting wearing nothing but a crooked, evil smile. It’s the kind of thing you never get used to. But when I woke up from an irresponsibly-taken, two-hour nap this evening, it was like I’d woken up seven years ago. The world was familiar again.

Seven years ago, I was a junior in an all-boy, Catholic private school. Aside from my boyish, slightly feminine good-looks, I was handsomely unremarkable: Average attendance, average grades, below average disciplinary record. That said, I was an editor for the school magazine. But no one read it did nothing to make me more, or less remarkable.

Today, I am still not remarkable — unimpressively so. The difference between today and seven years ago is context. All-boy, Catholic private school is a very specific context. The uniforms, haircuts, curriculum, extra-curricular activities and social circles are very clearly defined.

Now, I exist without context. I am a checklist of normalcy: Lonely, bored, broke. The average — and I hate this designation as intensely as Axe body spray claims to be — millennial.

When I call myself an average — ugh — millennial, I’m already trying to contextualize myself. But when the only context that can be conjured up is a loosely, and pointlessly debated generational definition, there isn’t actually much in which I can position myself.

I’m neither average nor exceptional. I’m not really anything, or anyone.

So when I woke up from my nap, things felt different. I felt unexceptional. Feeling unexceptional is very different from feeling non-existent. And so suddenly, I am once again faced with the question that all humans face once they start to realize that they’ve got to be adults: “How far am I willing to go to be exceptional?”

An unexceptional life is not a bad thing. It can be comfortable and enjoyable. In the world today — and I speak from experience here — all you need to be okay with your life is a fast internet connection and a set of yummies. Most people stick with this. I’m okay with sticking with this.

Maybe it’s just the choking string of embarrassing failures tethered to my past wrapped around my neck that has made unexceptional feel marginally better than non-existent. But I would still like to be exceptional.

I just really, really, really want to be good at something — several things actually. But where I wanted being good at things to get me up to this point has changed. I no longer feel the compulsive need to be exceptional.

And strangely, it was waking up from my nap — specifically the feeling I had when I woke up from my nap that confirmed to me that the compulsion had died.

The image of my high school career that flashed before my eyes in my post-nap, half-awake haze was the walk after dismissal from my classroom in the third-year quad to the big driveway at the front of the school.

Just to clarify, it wasn’t because I had been dismissed from class at all. The relief that comes with the end of the school day is very different from what I felt taking that walk.

That daily afternoon walk through the quad, down the main corridor and along the driveway was almost never the best part of my day. But it was the part of my day that was always mine. I liked seeing the fields in the quad. I liked seeing the trees. I like seeing the fallen leaves. I liked the bumpy the concrete walkways. I liked the sheet metal roofs that covered the corridors.

It had this meditative, dreamlike quality to it, regardless of the weather, whether or not I was with my classmates or alone.

That’s all there is to say about it. It was nice. It had nothing to do with the routine. It had nothing to do with the purpose of the walk. It had nothing to do with anything. Taking that walk was just something that I did. And I liked it.

But that’s what my desire to be exceptional has been replaced by: A walk that’s just a walk.

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