This is an Ephron family saying. I say this as if I were in the Ephron family (that of the late writer/director/journalist Nora Ephron) but of course, I am not in her family at all. HOWEVER, I still think this is a very important thing to understand: everything is copy. I’m not sure how much agency I have in offering this to you, but whatever, I’m going to do it anyway.
Everything is copy means this: all the things that happen to you over the course of your life can be used as a part of your story, whatever story you choose to tell. You don’t have to use it at all. You can cut, edit, and revise if you want. I am a big believer in “The Shitty First Draft.” But everything is copy—it is there for you to take and then for you to figure out, from everything that happens, who you are.
I’m a believer in this mantra for a number of reasons. One, I am obsessed with the notion of a happily ever after. The idea that you can use the “copy” in your life to find one is something I find extremely comforting.
The second reason I believe “everything is copy” is that I think there is no such thing as coincidence. All things happen for a reason. If something was not supposed to be a part of your story, then why would it happen to you in the first place? A skeptic might say it would happen because life is random, and to that I would say, “Well, you are walking around with blinders on.”
This is what I’m getting at: life is only random if you decide to see it that way.
Last week, I cried for the first time about graduation. I could not stop thinking about this abstract notion of “all the things that happened to me here,” which is a phrase I’ve been using a lot lately. I can’t believe that we are here for four years, and all of these “things” happen to us in that period of time, and then we leave and that’s it.
Of course, this is an oversimplification. You leave Brown with all the things you have done to it, too. But when I think back on my last four years in terms of copy—myself like a character, my experiences material––-I still feel like things have worked themselves out in strange and utterly romantic ways. I think things are kind of coming together for me—and that’s coming from someone who has no idea what she’s doing next year or next month. But I think it is important to know and understand that not knowing in that regard does not mean that you do not know yourself or that you do not have a story. They are not mutually exclusive entities. You always have more copy than you give yourself credit for.
In other words, you do not need to have your shit together to know who you are. You do not need a fancy job or a perfect GPA. You do not need to be confident in whichever concentration you chose, you do not need to love your roommates, and you do not have to have it all figured out. In reality, these are not the things that make the best copy. It’s all the other stuff that’s good.
When you begin to look at everything as copy, you begin to piece together a final draft of the story that you’ve decided is the one that’s come to be yours. You begin to see what you love, what has made you, what sounds good when you say it out loud, and what you want to leave behind in an earlier draft.
I spent a lot of my time at Brown worried that I didn’t have a story. That wasn’t it, though. I just didn’t think of everything as copy. Having a story took a while because I had to realize what I was looking for in the first place.
And I think in that way, I found myself.
On June 1st of last year, I was randomly assaulted on the street in New York. I was walking to the subway at 9 a.m.—rush hour on a Wednesday morning—when a man walking toward me hurled a wooden plank at my face. If you have trouble picturing this, you can imagine someone baseball pitching Plank, that piece of wood from Ed, Edd n Eddy, at your head. He did not take my phone, my bag, or my wallet. Later that day, I discovered I was the third woman he physically assaulted in a thirty-minute spree that morning. A few months later, I watched Donald Trump become President. A few months after that, I participated in the Women’s March, where, even surrounded by thousands and thousands of feminists, I felt myself twitch every time a man appeared to be walking towards me. And the morning after that—less than 24 hours after marching for ideals like choice and equality—I had to take Plan B for the first time.
These are all incredibly shitty things. But I did not think of them as random or coincidence within that six-month period. Instead, I found myself threading them together into a single narrative. I had a story: I learned a lot about what it feels like to be (one kind of) a woman.
You can find stories all the time. For instance, I recently finished my thesis, a collection of creative nonfiction essays about millennial dating, relationships, and womanhood in hookup culture. I decided to write about modern love for a number of reasons, one being my fascination at the fact that I, a relatively adequate person, went all of college without engaging in one exclusive sexual or romantic relationship and didn’t quite understand why.
As I began the final editing stage—my research complete, my essays written—I met a boy. The boy became boyfriend, embodying the literal antithesis to my thesis. I mean, come on. Isn’t that kind of funny?
At the same time, the plotline of Girls, the HBO series I can’t help but reference in homage to my Blog predecessors/role models Sydney Mondry ’15 and Jenny Bloom ’12, was perfectly aligning with my college graduation. (Warning: spoilers ahead.) The show is about a twentysomething named Hannah, my name is Hannah. Hannah is pursuing a career as a writer in New York, I want to be a writer in New York. You get the rest. As I prepare to graduate college, a character I’ve found solace in finally finds herself in a way she sees fit; Hannah Horvath becomes a successful writer, chooses to have a baby, and then accepts a professorial position out of the city. A show that constructed my adolescence and notion of young adulthood ended as I began to enter an adulthood of my own. This made irony number two. I had another story. This time, about endings. And meanwhile, I would meet with my therapist on Angell Street weekly, reflecting upon all of the above, which felt like a Shonda Rhimes show in and of itself.
The timing of the events that took place in my last months at Brown was almost sardonic. Sometimes it felt so funny that I would think of it and laugh. And I thought it all kind of weird until I realized that it wasn’t.
Happiness at Brown is a complicated thing. Almost everyone I knew was miserable for the entirety of our sophomore year. On a personal level, my anxiety and depression were debilitating. One long weekend, I went home and told my parents that I wasn’t coming back. (I did come back, by the way, and changed one of my classes to S/NC immediately—a great, great decision.)
Often that year I would call home sobbing because I thought that I “wasn’t doing Brown right.” This was something I obsessed over—the idea that there was one correct way in which I should be having a Brown experience. I did not know who I was, but I knew what I was not: I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t “chill.” I wasn’t “special.” I wasn’t brave enough to try hallucinogenic drugs. As a writer, I felt out of place for silly reasons—because I didn’t drink coffee or smoke cigarettes (the former of which I now do religiously, the latter of which I still don’t). I wasn’t saving the world or getting famous. I wasn’t exploring abandoned warehouses off campus (I thought this was something I was supposed to do, for some reason), and I wasn’t engaging in any particularly meaningful relationships outside of my few closest friends. I wasn’t taking a semester off to backpack South America, and I wasn’t destroying my phone or burning my cash and walking around barefoot. I had a terrible fear that I was alive, but not living.
I think that, like the pressure to be happy at Brown, there is a pressure to have the right story. When I was a first semester freshman, accepted to write for what was then—BlogDailyHerald, I was granted the honor of being Editor-in-Chief Meredith Bilski’s ’14 Blog mentee. In her senior sendoff, Meredith wrote this: “I saw myself as a passive vessel in which happiness would take human form.” In the same way, I saw myself as someone who could have a story, or know who she is, without thinking of everything as copy. And that is simply silly and illogical.
If I could talk to my sophomore year self, I would tell her this: that the right story is not something you choose or craft. Because pretty much all of the time, that story does not exist outside of yourself.
So this is what you do: you can make choices. You should choose to do what makes you happy. Your time in college is too short to act in ways that don’t. And the rest of the stuff—that is the stuff that happens to you. That will fill in the rest. All of this together becomes copy for the story you’ll decide to eventually tell. I really think that life is too complicated for it all to be coincidence.
The end of college is inherently cliché. These four years do not have the be the best of your life, nor do they have to be the most educational or meaningful. But I think the end of it sets a marker with which you can stop and look back and start, at least, to figure out your story. Be patient with this place.
For a few weeks, I could not get over the strange cliché and irony that my last semester was slipping into. But then I realized that it was not coincidence, or magic, or fairytale. It was the way in which my brain has chosen to pick out the good copy and save it for my final draft.
So do not look for a story, because that is not how the best stories work. You cannot pick one off a shelf like a book that’s already edited with all of its chapters and say, “Hmm, I’ll take this one.” You can only tell that you have the right story at the end of it. You will know when you read that last page, close the cover for good, and say: “Ah, yes. This is mine.”