It is a time-intensive process. First I need to get from my campus apartment into downtown. A 10 minute bike ride or a wait in a chilly bus shelter for the sporadic weekend campus buses. Then I’ve got to get on the regional rail service to Trenton. There is usually a 15 minute time gap between my NJ Transit and SEPTA connections with which to buy my ticket and get onto the platform – trains coming down from New York 10 minutes late is not uncommon, I am often mildly concerned that I will miss the connection and (a) my social appointment altogether (b) have to wait for an mind-numbing hour in Trenton Transit Center. We’re talking ~90 minutes one-way travel.
They say that “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” I too believed that…until I disembarked off the train into Philadelphia.
“I’m back! I’m back! I’m back!”
After a couple of weeks settling into grad school/New Jersey, I wanted to shout that as loudly as I could when I stepped onto the platform in downtown Philly. I wanted to run around in circles going “Wheeee!” I wanted to punch the air. There were 50+ things that I wanted to do immediately as I stepped off that train and which I hadn’t had the chance to enjoy since 2010. Now I could do them all, because I was back!
This is as close to pure, undistilled joy as I’m gonna get, folks.
Those 12 months I lived in Philadelphia were very powerful ones. For the first time I forged a new life that was completely my own – no pre-existing friends, family or activities to mould me. Undiscovered parts of me came to the surface. All the crap I went through to get into a PhD program – an adventure taking me through bucolic Switzerland and grandiose London – was based around a clearly articulated goal: get back onto the Eastern Seaboard (as close to Philly as is feasible) and stay in proximity to that place for the best part of a decade. Living under-employed in Edinburgh for 6 months wasn’t that big of a deal, if it meant ticking over until that point.
This isn’t just a case of doing a PhD for the scenery. I rarely feel as strong and as focussed as when I’m in Philadelphia – whatever the Hell that city fills me with is going to get me through grad school. Alongside New York (who I admit to be appreciating a lot more these days), Philly acts as my escape from grad student drudgery and claustrophobic campus living.
Happiness is not something that diffuses towards you – you have to go out there and track it down.
It was worth it. It is still worth it.