One last ride
The night my first Daily article ran, I found myself sleepless, so I popped on some sneakers and went for a jog under the midnight moon.
There isn’t anything quite like the sensation of running in Ann Arbor after dark, I learned that night. Sprinting north up Washtenaw Avenue, all five lanes will be devoid of traffic while 20-foot-high traffic lamps and the glass-paneled biomedical complex tower over you. Crossing the Broadway Bridge south into Kerrytown, you can see the Medical Center shine atop a hill in the distance, and hear the black river water gurgle beneath your feet.
At 6 a.m. the morning after, I giddily hopped out of bed and finagled a newly-arrived copy of The Daily from the Markley Residence Hall newsstand while still in my pajamas, and read my piece below the fold of the front page. Then I read it again, and then again, absorbing my own words from the raggedy newsprint paper before me, searching for some sense of attainment.
There was a magic in seeing the event I had covered — a campus visit by an alum-turned-congressman — translated to words on a Google Doc, and then transcribed to newsprint, printed out 10,000 times and dispersed around the city. Yet at the same time, I somehow felt I hadn’t yet done enough. There were so many stories to be written, so much more to be achieved.
This sense of insecurity has been pervasive during my four years in Ann Arbor. It has manifested itself as a constant fear that I wouldn’t be “good enough,” and an overriding obsession with external accomplishments — grades, internships and the pettiest of distinctions. Any opportunity to succeed was also an opportunity to fail, and it terrified me.
Arguably, this fear has helped me. In a month, I’ll be extremely fortunate to graduate and join a firm I couldn’t have dreamed of working for as a freshman. I’m also grateful for having the opportunity to pour my heart into The Daily, and to leave with a student newspaper career I can be proud of. Yet, I also feel like that freshman reading his first-ever Daily article — I’ve accomplished what I wanted, but now what? Four years later, I still feel short of that final attainment I tried to find in the Markley lobby.
Over these same four years, my late-night runs across town allowed me a regular escape into my own thoughts — away from others and my anxieties. It’s during these runs that I felt most at home in Ann Arbor.
One night each December, The Daily’s graduating seniors finish production early, then drive to the industrial printer where we source the printed newspapers that plop in Ann Arbor’s morning newsstands. Over the years, this tradition has become the fabled culmination of each graduating class’ years of labor.
I and four others merrily clambered into one of the cars making this midnight journey, our destination a nondescript industrial park outside of Flint. A line of our vehicles snaked out of the newsroom parking lot for the hour-long drive, our caravan quickly broken up by traffic lights and other cars as we snaked north.
Driving late at night under a clear sky, you can see a bright white glow across the horizon both in front and behind you, light pollution emanating from the northern Detroit suburbs from one side and from Flint on the other. Traveling through this eerie zone, we passed a barn elevated on a hillside, perfectly silhouetted black against the glow from Flint and illuminated under a full moon and starry night.
I was taken aback by the simple beauty of the structure and suggested we take a photo.
The friend driving offered to pull aside. But by then, the barn was well behind us, swallowed behind another hill. Turning around wasn’t yet out of the question, but that would just make us late to our destination.
At the end of every stage of my life, I’ve landed roughly where I’ve wanted to land, but also been swamped with new goalposts deemed necessary to reach an ever-elusive sense of satisfaction, an ultimate attainment of adulthood. Admitted to your dream school? Great, now you need to get perfect grades. Internship offer from a great company? Cool, work your heart out so you can exit to an even “better” job next summer. Enjoying your work for The Daily? Push for that one last promotion.
It’s only now that I’ve realized external validation alone can never make one truly happy.
As fortunate as I’ve been, I’ve cast aside the fleeting moments that give life its magic in the pursuit of some grand future endgame. And then I’m left craning my neck around, trying to make out the outlines of the barn that has long since passed.
After this article goes to print Tuesday night, I’ll slip on my sneakers again and take advantage of the early spring. I move out of my apartment the day of graduation, so there aren’t many more of these runs in Ann Arbor left for me.
It’s all quite a sight along my jogging route, and you should see it, too, before you leave Ann Arbor.