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Torschlusspanik: On closing doors and dreams

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APRIL 06, 2023

In my ideal world, I am a sextuple major. I study Art Practice, Astrophysics, Business Administration, Theater and Performance Studies, Slavic Languages and Literatures and History of Science. But, in our current world, there simply is not enough time. Infinite more doors have closed than are left open — I can feel my choices compress and slam shut. 

Torschlusspanik is a German word that encompasses this fear, literally translating to “gate-closing panic.” It represents the realization of diminishing opportunities, the dread of aging.

If I were to major in Art Practice, in 10 years time I’d be found on the banks of the Danube, teaching painting classes in my own studio. My hair would be short and choppy, and I would work part time at the Leopold, curating eclectic displays for wide-eyed tourists and occasionally apprehensive locals. I’d maintain a house in the country along with the flat above my studio and feed the stray cats on my walks around Vienna’s Donaupark. My high school sophomore self would be proud knowing her life plan was realized. 

Astrophysics was the major I initially came into Berkeley with: Proud and bold, I professed my desire to pursue a career in space policy and consulting like a war anthem. Bullets of convoluted content went straight for my throat, brothers-turned-battle-enemies mistakenly misplaced my notes to better their position on the curve. The battle raged on, my academic confidence dwindling, as I wholly lost sight of what I was fighting for — until it occurred to me to actually look into the educational backgrounds of space lawyers. I found political science, economics and legal studies, but little physics. So ended my valiant tour as a STEM major, but not without leaving my heart valves confusing wistful regret with blood.

Lights, camera, action, greatness. The tape unwinds, and the audience is left dazzled by my mother’s magnificence, buried under the sacrifices she made to give me a stable life. A thick volume of Shakespeare cracks open, and my built-in passion for acting and plays stakes its claim on my lifepath. A Theater and Performance Studies track would make all my 12-year-old mother’s dreams come true. Maybe. Her earliest desires were colored with the same pen she’d have later used to sign many autographs for her loyal fans. The brightness at the end of her tunnel would be her own brilliance, cut short by the inconsequential possibilities for Polish women in the early 2000s. After all, what were the many years I spent at the Ursynów Cultural Center Theatre for, if not for this very moment? If not to right her story, and live out the path my mother was destined to act out?

Glorious, glorious Haas. Now, if I majored in Business Administration, I’d open up that bookstore I’ve been talking about for years. A small one at first, built up of purely international novels and authors but, with that Haas diploma, it would hastily rise to the ranks of Barnes & Noble or Amazon. Now, without that beautiful B.S. in Business Administration, I am just an impractical dreamer who has no business following their entrepreneurial aspirations. With it, I’d be set, golden in my business ventures, and you’d see me giving guest presentations at prestigious conferences.

Majoring in Slavic Languages and Literatures would allow me to reconnect with the heritage that has been slipping through my fingers from the day I left my country for good. As much as we adore our Polish food (and spend $8 for a pack of michałki at the nearest Polish store), culture and literature, there is little love lost with our birthing nation as a whole. The political state of Poland is what prompted my mother to whisk me away to the land of the “American Dream,” preventing me from fully growing up in my culture. I know I am losing my home, but perhaps a career studying trends in Slavic history, language and prose would bring me back. By pursuing a major in Slavic Languages and Literatures, I would unwind every tangle of reason my mother ever tried to knit me into, but I’d rediscover the threads of my culture hidden away. 

Yet, despite all the many doors I peeked through and corresponding futures I outlined, I chose to major in History, with an added layer of attention to the stories of science. As all History majors already know, I have a senior thesis to compose, and, for now, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing about how Soviet Cold War scare tactics have influenced modern day aerospace policy. No door remains open forever, but, sometimes, if you take a quick glance past torschlusspanik, you may find that some can be dipped into, and elements of each can play into the final one you choose. I found contentment in rediscovering the love for learning that held my hand as I entered my life. 

Though my LinkedIn may argue otherwise, I don’t truly know yet what I plan on doing with my History major, just that the mere study of humans across centuries brings me more joy than a carefully drawn out life plan ever could. I’ve realized it’s alright to turn away from childhood dreams.

Behind the door to my childhood bedroom live ghosts of my potential: all that I could have been, all that I’ve turned my back on. Some dreams are completely gone, while others sneak their essence into other goals, but there is no world where all will be actualized, and that’s quite alright.

Miriam Klaczynska writes the Thursday column on words that can't be translated into English. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

JUNE 08, 2023