The first time I went back to my high school after leaving for college was Thanksgiving Break of my freshling year. If, before I'd started classes, you'd told me that there'd been some terrible mistake and I'd have to do another year of high school first, I wouldn't have been too upset. Disappointed, sure, and frustrated, but I would have done it with little complaint. After visiting that Thanksgiving, I realized that no power on earth could have compelled me to go back to where I'd been. It was still too early for me to have made close friends at Yale, but even so, it was already far better than my high school experience. Coming back made it really sink in that I'd gone away.
I thought a similar thing might happen when I went to stop by Yale last week before the concert at Carnegie Hall. I don't really feel established in Los Angeles yet, but I'm definitely no longer leading the student life, and the lack of stress is definitely growing on me.
I came in to New Haven on an evening train, arriving well after it was dark. Coming up the stairs to the station lobby, I was bathed in the orange glow of the sodium arc lamps, and new at once exactly where I was.
Sodium is not a healthy color. It saps the life from even the most vibrant hues, rendering them wan and sickly; it can make an entire world feel on the brink of an exhausted death. You can see it lurking about the station even at the peak of day, but evening is when it really comes into its own, spreading its ghastly pall over every surface in sight. When I was a student, this dismal glow meant one and only one thing: An end to escapism, a return to the life I had to live. Going to New York City was always a getaway, a flight of fancy, a chance to cast off all my responsibilities, my stresses and concerns, and have some glamorous fun for a change. The orange lights were a signal that it was time to wrap myself in my anxieties again, take a deep breath and plunge back in to the things I really had to do.
I could feel myself looking for that cloak again, looking for that tight, suffocating blanket. It wasn't there.
This was something of a refrain of the few hours I spent awake on campus. I had never been to Zankel Hall or Brooklyn before this trip, but I felt like much more of a visitor at my alma mater than in either of those locales. I am, quite simply, not a student any more. This isn't to say that I have nothing more to study, or that I'll never go back for another degree, but it's not what I'm doing now. These concerns are not my concerns. There are many things I miss about Yale, but going back made me realize that what made the good parts gel into such an intense experience was the constant pressure, the relentless squeeze of deadlines and readings and projects and papers — everything is pressing, everything is urgent, everything takes on a searing intensity because there's so much happening now.
And I'm ready to not be doing that for a while. I'm ready to take some time to breathe, get a few more low-intensity months under my belt. To take all the time for myself that I never could at Yale. I was back, but I wasn't there again, not in terms of mindset. I was disconnected from my surroundings, not in the "I'm so glad I got out of this" way I felt when I visited my high school, but in an "I can see what drew me here, but I'm OK with no longer being a part of this world" one instead.
I have little doubt that there's more school in my future. I may not go to the Yale School of Music itself, but wherever I wind up, I'm sure there will be visits to my New Haven stomping grounds from time to time. But for now I can let them rest, and can feel OK doing so even after having seen them so recently in all their glory.
I can go there to visit, but I still feel good about being here.