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No More

This is the last anniversary I will remember. Or, at least, I plan to try.

I am told that, on this day, I need to say goodbye to you. And so, I shall. I do not remember the first day we met; I wonder if that’s some sort of sign. I just remember knowing you. I watched you from across the stage, playing the guitar while I taught people to sing the alto lines. I’m not sure why I was watching, but I was. I don’t remember the first time we spoke. I don’t remember much about that time at all.

My first kiss came when I was seventeen years old. I was working as a volunteer at a church coffeehouse in my hometown, where kids went every Friday night in an attempt to hide from the real world. My job involved roaming the floor and making sure people stayed out of trouble, checking the bathrooms to shoo out underage smokers, and occasionally brewing coffee. That night, however, I was trying to be seen. I wanted someone to notice me. Anyone. And Adam walked by. He put his hand on my shoulder, I drew him in towards the Coke machine, and I kissed him. I didn’t care about him.

“Whoa,” he cried as I pulled away. “I mean, yay. But what was that for?”

I tightened my fingers in his hair and kissed him again. He leaned into it this time, his lips responding to mine and his tongue finding its way into my mouth. We only separated when the kids around us started wolf-whistling. His eyes searched mine, inquisitive, but the blood rushed to my face and I looked away. I want to see if I could still feel. Apparently, I could.

I remember all of the details of this night vividly. But. I do not remember our first kiss.

When I was a kid, I did not believe I would ever get married. There were a lot of reasons for that. One, I wasn’t interested. Two, there wasn’t really anybody out there. Three, I didn’t believe anyone would ever ask me. And then someone did. I firmly believed that there would never be anybody else. I knew it wasn’t a good fit, but I thought I didn’t have a choice. I got on the first ship that sailed by, because I believed there would never be another.

I remember leaving you. Many times. I knew how uncertain I was, yet I went with it anyway; I kept coming back to you. And while I’m sorry for that, I’m also not. The path I took got me where I am now, and while I wish many of the things that had happened along the way had never happened, I wouldn’t be where I am had I not taken the path I had. The time we had together is forever tarnished, the bad outweighing the good tenfold. I remember all of the bad things you said, the lessons you taught me, the idea that I wasn’t worth anything. I remember these things, but not the good milestones. Not the things I should remember. You played on the internal dialogues I had previously created; I let you do it. I was wrong, but so were you.

Marriage does not equate to ownership, and all rights of any kind were dissolved the day those vows went ignored. You can’t make up for what happened. You may think you have stripped me of something, and maybe you did. But you also gave me a gift. I am stronger now. Powerful. Connected. Brave. This is what you are up against. I am stronger on my own now than I ever was with you, with anyone.

All of my life, I have let other people dictate my actions. That’s not all on them; that’s on me too. I am horribly codependent. There are probably many reasons for this, but I don’t understand all of them. There are a lot of things in life that I do not understand, but one thing I am certain of is that I have given you much too much of my precious time. You made me feel unworthy of my own time, my own space, when I am anything but. I can’t devote anything more to you. In the spirit of that thought, it is time to let you go. Wherever you are, on this, what would have been our anniversary, I hope that you are thinking of me. I hope that you are sorry; I doubt that you are. You took a lot from me. I want to take what I can back.

In years past, I have burned our wedding invitation. Visited the church where we were married. Sat quietly by myself and done nothing. But I have never actually said goodbye. I thought I couldn’t let you go, but maybe letting go is not the physical thing I thought of it as. Maybe it is simply denying you anymore power.

Therefore, I am thinking of you today, but I vow to make every effort that this will be the last time. You get no more space in my head.

No more.

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Shauna

We sprawled out on the floor between the beds, squeezed hands, and then rolled over so we could scoot underneath our respective mattresses. The light from the hallway flooded the otherwise darkroom. Each of us had a single crayon clutched in a fist; mine was red, Shauna’s was purple. 

“What should we write?” I stared up at the bottom of my mattress, squinting in the low light.

“Ourselves,” she replied simply. “Shauna. Was,” she dictated as she wrote each word. “Here.”

I raised the crayon above me in the small space and pressed it down against the white fabric. It seemed to me, in that moment, like the words I would write were very important. They would be there forever, while I would most certainly not be.

Slowly, carefully, I began to write.

*

Shauna was one of those cute preppy girls I would never have been friends with outside the eating disorder treatment center. On that first day, I sat sullenly on my bed, resenting her mere existence in what had been a single room for me for two whole days. She sat on her bed, staring at me, her feet dangling over the edge and swinging back and forth in a way that made her entire body bounce—all the way to her curly blonde cheerleader ponytail.

“Hi.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“I’m Shauna.”

“I figured.” I pulled my book back out from under my pillow and started reading.

“That’s rude,” she informed me, flopping back across her mattress. 

I didn’t respond. 

“What do we do for fun here?”

I blinked in her direction, slowly. “We aren’t here for fun…” I let my voice trail off in a way that indicated my feelings on how ridiculous she was.

Shauna sat up, leaning on one arm, and glared at me. “I’m going back out where the couches are,” she informed me before flouncing off.

This continued for a few days; after meals, I would read on my bed and she would loiter in the couch area, talking to anybody and everybody but me. Which was fine with me. I preferred my space solo. I talked to people when I had to, but I avoided it as often as I could. When they took us to the cafeteria for our three meals a day, I stuck to the back of the line and I sat by myself. Because I could. Because it felt right.

Or maybe not right, so much as appeasing. Maybe I was just afraid.

After we had been roommates for a week or so, Shauna stood in the doorframe one day and folded her arms in front of her chest. 

“So, I mean, obviously. No one wants to be here and all. But you could at least try and have fun once in a while. Get out. Do things other than read.”

I laid my book down across my lap, still open. “Why would I want to do that?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” She rolled her eyes. “To maybe get out of here at some point?”

“I don’t see how my hanging out on a bunch of couches is going to get me out of here any faster than sitting on my bed reading a book is.”

“It shows initiative.” She sat down on her bed, staring at me. When I didn’t answer she asked, “What are you reading?”

I picked the book up and turned it so she could see the cover. 

Speak. Good book.”

I nodded, wishing she would let me get back to it.

“That’s it!” She got back up, snatched the book out of my hand, and tossed it back on my bed.

“Hey!”

“Hey what?”

“Come on.” She tugged on my shirt sleeve.

“What? Where?” This was the most words I had said to any one person the entire duration of my stay.

“Out. About. Be here.”

I reluctantly got up and followed Shauna out to the bay of couches, where we perched in front of the television that was playing some crazy cartoon show I had never seen before. I folded into a corner, holding a pillow to my chest and staring at the television while the other girls stared at me. Shauna was talking to everyone, and I admired her for it. The easy way that she could just float in and out of the conversation. I wanted to be like that. Better. 

On the third day Shauna pulled me out into the bay of couches, I didn’t put up a fight. I even put down the pillow and attempted conversation.

Sometimes all it takes to get the ball rolling is a little push.

*

Sliding back out from under our mattresses, we crawled up into our beds and pulled the covers around us. 

“Good night,” I told her, staring out the window through the bars at the stars beyond.

“Good night,” Shauna replied.

When I got up the next morning, she had left for her therapy appointment. She never came back; I never got to say goodbye, and I never saw her again. That’s the way it is with some people, I think. They flit in and out of your lives so quickly it is almost like they were never there, but they leave a change behind that is permanent. I knew Shauna a short time, but she changed me.

The words I had written on the underside of my mattress the night before echoed through my head that entire day, and for many afterwards.

I am here, and I will love myself today, tomorrow, and forever.

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On Graduating College

Today I graduated from college.

I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet, this idea that the college door has closed. I didn’t cry as I drove away, and I completely thought I would. And now, when I look back and try to reflect upon the experience, I find that I can’t. I’m stuck, so pardon me if this takes a cheesy or melodramatic turn.

My first college experience was me auditioning to be a vocal major at UW-Whitewater. I was seventeen years old. I was accepted, which was exciting. But the problem was that I didn’t find out until it was too late; the acceptance package, with my housing and scholarship offers, was buried in a large pile of mail that I never received because I was away for the summer. The day I came back and got the letter was the day before everything was due. At that point, it seemed easier to just ignore it—neither accept nor decline—and just give up the college dream. So I did. I did what a lot of people do after high school graduation; I joined the workforce. In retail.

I worked retail management from 2002 to 2010 in a wide variety of jobs—Walmart, gas stations, pet stores. I bounced back and forth, never able to settle into any management position for more than a year or two. I just wasn’t happy. I was not meant for a career path that equaled continuous abuse. I talked frequently about going back to school, but I never did it. I even went to Gateway a few times to inquire about the process, but I never followed through. In 2008 or so, I actually filled out an application. I made an appointment to see someone in advising, but then I was called away to work. I was on a merchandising trip to Madison, in charge of a complete store renovation, when my phone rang. It was my then-husband:

“I think I’m going to quit my job,” he informed me.

“What?” I asked, dropping the pack of D batteries I had been hanging on a peg-hook. It was funny he would bring this up, because I had just mentioned to him the previous week that if I were to go back to school, I would need to scale back.

“You make enough money to support us, and I want to focus more on travelling with the band. Getting into music and such.”

“Oh, really?”

“Actually, I’ve sort of…”

“What?”

“I already quit.”

I decided then that I wouldn’t go back to school. Not then. It wasn’t the right time, but then, there might never be a right time. I returned home and I worked in retail for two more years. Until our son died. 

Losing my son made me question my entire life. The time we get on Earth is short, relatively speaking, but I don’t think I really understood that until I lost Carter. It occurred to me then that I really could die at any time. The time Carter got on this planet was close to nothing, but I had already had twenty-six years at that point. So as I spent early 2010 both dealing with his loss and watching my marriage explode (and then disintegrate) around me, I realized that there had to be something more. Rather than sit around and let my husband control me, I chose to go out and find that something. 

Find it, I did. 

When I was in grade school, I was the annoying girl that no one liked who got head lice and never got invited to anyone’s house. When I was in high school, I was the girl with the eating disorder who asked too many questions and didn’t have any friends. When I was in the church, I was fulfilling a specific set of expectations that weren’t my own. When I was married, I was fulfilling his wants and needs and putting him before myself. I was always less than everyone and everything else.

College taught me that these things were not okay. College taught me that I am not just one thing, but many. That I do not have to obligate myself to one specific person or thing, but whatever things I choose to. That I do not have to censor myself or act in a certain way or be confined to one mode of expression. College taught me that I can be anything I want to be. When I first came to Parkside, I was terrified of the university as a whole. I wanted no part of anything extra–I just wanted to go to my classes, do my work, and come home. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I’m not big on people. I’ve been hurt; I don’t trust people much anymore. I was very unconfident in the beginning of the semester, and I really didn’t believe I could do anything. In the back of my head, I entertained the possibility that I would fail at school. But, despite many events over the course of the past few years that could have led me astray, I didn’t fail. It was quite the opposite, truthfully. I’m leaving at the top of my class, a fiction editor for the campus literary magazine, a tutor, a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board, completer of research studies, and a general student extrordinaire. Best of all, I have friends. I have met both professors and students that I hope to remain friends with and stay in touch with for a long time to come.

For the first time, I believe I can honestly say that I am happy with who I am. One of my very first college essays, a reading response to “The Ones That Walked Away From Omelas,” states it well:

“I had to make my own happiness. I had to walk away from my friends, my things, my money, and my life as a whole. True happiness doesn’t come from the church. It doesn’t come from having a lot of things or a lot of money. True happiness, much like success, comes as however we personally define it. Right now, my happiness comes from being successful in school and in the work that I do. This will evolve. In five years, perhaps my happiness will come from being involved in a new romantic relationship. A few years down the road from that, maybe my happiness will come from having another opportunity to have children, and the opportunity to raise them up in the way that they should go.  I will achieve happiness, and I will go on from that to find yet another level of happiness. This is the definition of happiness. In essence, it is always changing. We will be happy for a while, but then we won’t be anymore. We will need more. When that happens, we will need to find a new way to be happy. I have learned that we can never put the responsibility for our happiness on other people. The responsibility for our happiness lies solely on our own shoulders, whether it is through our actions, our relationships, or our belongings. Am I happy now? I suppose I could say that I’m content. Am I getting closer to happiness? I think I am definitely beginning to find my way.”

While I am sad to leave Parkside, I am also excited for the new beginnings that this ending will bring me. If I am this strong a person coming out of undergrad, I can’t help but imagine the strength, the gifts, that grad school will bring me. College gave me the gift of me—and it’s a gift that will keep on giving, and a gift I will never, ever have to give back or apologize for. I am excited for the future, excited for what is coming, and excited for this life that is mine for the taking. I never would have found it had I not gone back to school. I never would have found myself.

I believe that my son is somewhere, watching me on this day. I believe that he is proud of me. Not because I graduated college. Because I did it while being me. So thank you, Parkside. Thank you all of my fabulous friends, my professors, my “people.” You are all amazing. 

Finally, finally, I am me.

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Reflections on Being a Teaching Assistant

I can’t remember exactly when I made the decision to become a teaching assistant—it just sort of happened. I don’t think there are many of them in undergrad. Or at least not many who ARE undergrads. I believe this makes me a unique breed. I appreciate every moment I have gotten to spend as a teaching assistant, because I have taken away more from the experience than I would have gotten from simply being told how to teach.

At the beginning of my second semester as a teaching assistant, I was grading reading quizzes on d2l when I noticed something funny. Two of the quizzes, one by a male student and one by a female student, were submitted at exactly the same times with near exactly the same answers. It was an obvious case of cheating. I looked over each question on both quizzes multiple times, and then zeroed out the quizzes entirely; I left feedback for both students in question explaining that they had received zeroes because their answers were the same; even though it was a take home, online exam, the students were still expected to complete it alone. The male student came to me within a day or so to inquire about the zero; he was upset with the grade and wanted to know why it was considered cheating. It occurred to me then that perhaps this was not a case of them working together, but more a case of one of them copying answers of the screen next to them in the computer lab. In the back of my mind, I assumed the male student was the one who had cheated. Unconsciously, I formed a slight prejudice of this student early in the semester.

As the semester went on, he proved me wrong; this student taught me that, for reasons I am uncertain of, I tend to have a bias against male students. The female student stopped showing up to class in the first month of the semester, and the male student, while he wasn’t producing the highest quality work, kept showing up. And best of all, he kept trying. He did every extra credit option that was available to him, and he stepped up his game on both exams and papers. I believe he will pass. This student changed the way that I will view students from here on out; because of him, I made more of an effort this semester to pull for male and female students alike. This situation is also the perfect example of how black and white my thinking is, from people to grades to life in general. To me, things have always been either one way or the other, with no middle ground. As I have grown in my teaching, from my first class to my last, this is just one of many lessons I have learned.

The first real class I ever taught, aside from church related things, was a beginning theater class for five to eight year olds. My aid for the class could probably testify to the fact that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I had observed the class under another teacher, so I had a basic idea regarding how things should go. But I had come in expecting a curriculum filled with the right answers and what to do and arrived to find nothing but a roster and a theme: Robin Hood for tiny humans. It was my first experience flying by the seat of my pants. I like to think it worked out well; I then taught for the company for the next three years. But that first class has always been my favorite. I felt like a teacher when I was in front of their semicircle, all of them sitting cross-legged and staring up at me, waiting for me to tell them what to do. However, I will never forget the moment when they walked onstage for the end of session performance and were able to say their lines and do the choreography without me. They were independently acting, wearing their construction paper Robin Hood hats (that kept falling off on the stage). Maybe they weren’t perfect, but they were pretty darn great. They displayed the things they learned in class, and I had had a part in that, however small. To me, that was what being a teacher was really about. Being a teaching assistant has given me so many new skills that I can deploy in a wide variety of classrooms. As a teaching assistant, I have received many opportunities to learn more about teaching and I how I will approach my eventual goal of teaching college composition. Between my two sections as a teaching assistant, I have helped write and grade exams, craft discussion questions for both verbal and journal discussions, attend student conferences, grade proposals and papers, and lead class discussion. My second semester, I also created a paper proposal assignment that I hope I can use in future classrooms at other institutions.

I was very into the idea of being a teaching assistant going in my first semester; my mistake, however, was that I thought it would be easy for me. I came into it with more than two years of teaching drama on my own, I thought it would be nothing to share a classroom, that I would be able to transfer all of the skills I had learned over and automatically be amazing. I was wrong. It was exceedingly difficult for me to have to watch someone that I greatly respected and wanted to learn as much as I could from, stand up in front of the classroom and be amazing—and to know that she would expect me to do the same. I didn’t know how to live up to that, and as a result, my first teaching day during my first semester was a disaster. I planned out an awesome activity that had a lot of potential, but a series of technological failures as class was starting left me feeling uncertain and flustered. The class didn’t respond to me the way I wanted; they had never been people who liked to talk, but it still threw me. I failed to properly tie my activity in to the day at hand, fallacies, because the students weren’t talking and I got nervous. I was not effective that day; I immediately turned to the professor to bail me out. I wanted to never come back after that day. I assumed at the time that the flop was because I hadn’t planned solidly enough. But now I think it’s because I wasn’t confident. The professor told me after class that I needed to “get back on the horse.” A teacher cannot teach without having confidence, or, at the very least, being able to act like they do. I didn’t that day—but I do now.

My second semester as a teaching assistant went a lot better in so many ways. I had many successful activities throughout the semester that I plan to save and reuse in my own classroom. The first was an activity on how to create a thesis statement. I had the students write their thesis on down on the essay we had read for class that day. While they were writing, I put six different thesis statements on the board that were incorrect. When they were done, I had them set the paper aside. We discussed what comprised a good thesis and what would make a weak thesis. When I thought that the class had a good grasp on good versus bad based upon the answers they were giving me, I moved to the next stage of the activity. I broke the class into six groups and assigned each group one of the bad thesis statement that I had written on the board. I asked them to discuss in their group what was wrong with the thesis statement and then rewrite it to be a stronger thesis. I circulated throughout the room during the activity, answering questions and helping the groups to stay on track. When all the groups were done, I had them read their original  assigned thesis, the issues they found with it, and their revised version out loud. My original intention when creating the activity was to then go back to their original thesis statements and have them discuss what made them either good or bad, and then correct them if need be, in their groups. However, there was not enough time left in class to fully complete the activity. We had just enough time for them to identify whether or not their thesis statement were acceptable before it was time for them to leave. I feel that the activity went well as a whole. One major flaw in it was that the sample thesis statements that I came up with confused the students slightly—they were issue based instead of reading response based. If I ever repeat this activity at this level, I will make sure that the two types of thesis statements—the examples I give and the ones the students create—agree. Had I had more time, I would have fully debriefed them regarding what they had learned and how they could re-approach their original thesis statements from the beginning of class. This step is a step of teaching that I have always had trouble with; in teaching drama, I refer to it in my head as reapplication. I did not account for the time I would spend differentiating between good and bad thesis statements, which left me without the required time at the end of class to complete the activity. This was another moment that taught me I need to remember that all students are different, and allow myself to adjust accordingly so that they still get the maximum amount of knowledge out of whatever I am teaching. 

I was able to apply this knowledge on several different days throughout the semester, but the smoothest teaching day I had was the day I taught profiles. I used profile day as a two-fold day. One, to teach the profile genre, and two, to help clarify what I was looking for with the proposal assignment I had created. I started the class by reintroducing the ideas of the rhetorical situation and how they would function within the proposal. I then broke the class into groups (after royally messing up the math and making them count twice), and had them break down the an essay in a backwards proposal fashion. By asking each group to find the thesis, sources (and their function), introduction importance, conclusion importance, intended audience, and rhetorical strategies, I was able to show them the elements of a paper proposal in a less confusing fashion than a mere bullet-point list by explaining how the information they gathered was exactly the brainstorm they would have done to form a paper proposal were they the ones creating the given essay. I feel like the students had a greater understanding of what I was looking for in the proposal. On my next go-round with this assignment, I would definitely place this activity on the same day as my proposal assignment day to give them a larger understanding from the get-go.

The second part of this day, I focused on profiles. First, I went over the things that are included in a biography. Then I transitioned to go over the basic elements of the profile and the different things it could be used to describe, explaining that the profile contains all of the elements of the biography and then some. This seemed to confuse them; they were quite stuck on the idea that biographies are boring. To counteract this, I gave each group a sample profile written by a student, and had them talk about what elements that profile contained and how those elements functioned within that profile. When we were done, with the little time we had left, we compared those elements to show that profiles can use different tools and still tell a story about their subject.

I think this activity went over very well. As a matter of fact, I think that I did quite well on this day. If I had to list the best thing, it would be that I actually got the students to talk, to each other and to me. I was also able to alter the lesson plan I had made on the fly, which is something I have always struggled with in the past. The strange thing is, I noticed that being willing to deviate from my “script,” so to speak, actually made me more comfortable and easy-going in front of the class than I have been on past teaching days. Being able to drift where they wanted to go while still staying in the general area I wanted to be in allowed me to get my point across strongly at the same time as allowing them to fully engage. I also really like using student profiles of all different sorts. Not only did this really drive home to them that there are many different ways to craft a profile, it also drove home the idea that they, too, could write a profile. I think they found the pieces I gave them easier to work with than pieces we’ve assigned in the past because they were written by students; this allowed them to connect to the pieces on a new level.

My biggest negative for the day was time management. I wish I would have had a little more time at the end of class to compare all of the different elements of the different profiles they picked. All in all though, I think that this was my best teaching day of the year. It was the closest I came to feeling as comfortable in the English classroom as I’ve felt in my drama classroom; it was also the first time where I was not thinking so much about what the professor was thinking about what I was doing as about whether the students were with me and understanding the material that I needed them to understand. I was confident in who I was in front of the classroom as well as what I was teaching, and I was not relying on someone else to give me that confidence. I produced it on my own.

I am different now than I was my first semester as a teaching assistant. Or, rather, I’ve been different this semester, and am therefore coming out of this with a different impression. I’m more confident. I’m better at planning out what I’m going to do, and I’m better at being flexible and adjusting on the fly, planning at the last minute. I’m a better teacher because of both of these things. The thing about teaching is that there really isn’t any one right way to do it. I know that now. All of my life, I’ve looked to others to tell me what to do and I live for the right answers. I need them. My teaching style has evolved into a mix of the people around me; I’m not the drama teacher on her first day anymore, and I’m not the teaching assistant who makes stupid mistakes. I’m the woman who watches, who absorbs, who learns and grows. I have watched my own professors, both those I’ve worked closely with and those I haven’t. I have read the comments they put on my papers, looked at their rubrics, and figured out how they grade. Through that, I have begun to figure out where I lie on the scale of teachers. My grading style is a mixture of many; I tend to be more tough than I need to be, but I am learning how to be less black and white. I am figuring out a line of balance wherein I can be available to my students but also have time for myself. I have decided that I will implement the flipped classroom, wherein the students will read the material before class and then come in and help steer the discussion. I have gotten to work with students and their writing on a daily basis through my various positions. Nothing is more rewarding for me that moment when a student gets the skill that I’m trying to teach and can do it by themselves. As much as I love being able to teach, I also love that moment when the student I am working with doesn’t need me anymore. That moments means I have been successful in the work I set out to do. I feel that the experiences I have had as a teaching assistant will make me a powerful asset to any institution because I already know both how to conduct myself in front of the classroom and how to communicate with students.

Had I gone into graduate school without this practical experience as a teaching assistant, I think there’s a good chance I would have failed; I was not confident enough before this. I was not ready to be a teacher, because I thought I still needed to be taught how to teach. I was wrong. How to teach can’t be taught—it just happens. It’s a skill that comes with confidence, with loving what you do and wanting to share what you know. This is the number one lesson that I learned from being a teaching assistant.

And I’m ready now.

 

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On Readiness (Or, Random Ramblings)

I feel like I’m trying incredibly hard to hang on right now. Not to any one thing in particular, but to the place I’m in. The people. The me.

People think I’m odd for this, that I’m running in circles with my reasoning. I can see that in their eyes. But to me, this is my brain. This is who I am. The girl who thinks. And the girl who sees everything that she is about to be leaving behind.

See, the thing about me is that I take everything very seriously. If you tell me to write a ten page paper, you’ll get fifteen. Ask me to grade one assignment, I’ll grade them all. I just want to be my best at things, to give my best work and my best time. I don’t know how to operate at less. This is precisely how I got into trouble in my marriage. I’ll admit it. I’m a total codependent. I need people. I don’t LIKE people all the time. But I need them. So, in that respect, when I find a relationship I value it is hard for me to let it go. But that’s exactly what I have to do. Grad school means I will roll the dice on my future and do whatever they tell me to do. That’s scary, because this is the most “okay” I’ve been in years.

All things considered, I would call that pretty good. I want to stay this way.

The thing is though…My life has always been a quest for approval. And while I thought I was looking for it from someone else, what I really needed all along was to get it from myself. And here, in this place, I have it. I won’t admit that, not readily. But I have it. And I don’t know how to let that go.

It reminds me of a line of paper dolls. The old fashioned ones that you make from one sheet of paper and that form a chain. They sprawl out, looking identical and lovely, but they are all linked together. They can never stray too far from the original. I’m a good student. I will do well in whatever I choose to do. But what if I get to far from my original? The girl who smiles now for fun? What if I can’t keep her?

So the next week or two will be a performance. A show that I put on that says I am one hundred percent ready to graduate college. In reality, I am so much not ready. But if I fake it until I make it, eventually I will be that big fish.

And Then Teaching Made Me Very, Very Sad

My reasons for writing this are two-fold. One, I am procrastinating. Two, my day has blown literal chunks, which means I must turn to reflection to plow through it.

One of the most common questions I get is, “What are you going to do with your degree?” My general response is, “Well, I’m going to write.” It seems fairly obvious—a Creative Writing MFA, a writer. My sort of math. But then there is the ever-present looming threat that exists for all writers—what happens if I don’t make it, if my writing doesn’t sell? 

I have always assumed I would teach.

See, I love teaching, and I always have. (Or, at least, since I started doing it.) 

I am both a teaching assistant and a supplemental instructor (SI) this semester. These are two fairly different, yet similar, jobs. I do more as a teaching assistant in the actual class than I do as a supplemental instructor; as a supplemental instructor, I am expected to…well…supplement. I’m supposed to help facilitate the students to a point of learning independently. In a way, this is also what I do as a teaching assistant, even though I am less involved as a supplemental instructor. As a teacher, and this is part of my formal teaching philosophy, I believe that the most important moment in the teacher/student relationship is that independent moment, that moment where the student no longer needs the teacher. While I’ve had good moments this semester, I have received a totally different perspective on teaching that I have teaching theatre, and I have arrived at one simple conclusion: there are a LOT of students who either just plain don’t care or don’t know how to care. I have a hard time digesting that, because I, as a student, care much too much.

Today, the professor I SI for couldn’t be on campus. In traditional me form, I said, “Okay, let me help in all the ways I can.” I volunteered myself for four hours of open assistance for papers, portfolios, or any course related questions. Now, where I know all of the students in my TA section, I do NOT know all of the students in my SI section—I don’t SEE all the students in my SI section. So, when I was walking across the campus to get to the place where I told the students I would be, imagine my surprise when a girl came running up to me, yelling, and waving a paper over her head. I froze when she started yelling, as I had never seen her before and was unsure whether or not she was talking to me. But the answer to that question became blatantly apparent when I heard “You need to explain to me RIGHT NOW WHY I GOT A MOTHER-F$&*@(G C!” I didn’t know what to say. I told her to slow down, speak more calmly. Her friend came running up after her, and the girl said again, quite loudly, in the middle of the main through-fare, “WHY DID SHE GET AN A WHEN I GOT A F@#%$&G C?!?” I asked her to see the paper, and she handed it to me. A quick scan made it quite obvious why she had gotten a C; she was missing one of the two main components of the paper—a personal response. I showed that to her on the rubric checklist she was holding in her hand. She blew a gasket and starting calling me all sorts of lovely names and asked again how her friend got an A. I asked the friend to see her paper. Flipping it open, the personal response was apparent, interspersed throughout the entire piece. I read one section of it out loud. The C student literally EXPLODED. “I CANNOT WRITE A PERSONAL RESPONSE. THIS IS A MOTHER F#$%^&G ACADEMIC PAPER AND SHE DOES NOT GET TO KNOW MY PERSONAL LIFE AND THOUGHTS. THIS IS F$%^#$G BULLS$%T!” I stumbled over my words, and she asked how she was supposed to personally respond to her thesis about the color of the seven rooms in The Masque of the Red Death. I took her paper again and gave it a second scan, and then told her that, with her thesis as it stands, she would need some major revision in order to incorporate that personal response. She started screaming again about how she shouldn’t be expected to be personal, and it was ridiculous and all that jazz. I tried one more time to explain to her that she didn’t necessarily need to give the intimate details of her life story in a personal response; she just needed to PERSONALLY RESPOND to the text. She snatched the paper away and clenched it in her hand, crumbling it, and then she was suddenly raising a fist towards my face. I didn’t have anywhere to go, so I ducked. I was legitimately afraid that I was going to get hit. I didn’t. While her fist was still hovering in the air, I backpedalled and told her she needed to calm down and take some time to think about both the comments on the paper and what I had told her before she came back to talk to either me or the professor again. She walked a few steps away, her friend apologized for her, and I bolted.

I don’t know how the professors do it, how they deal with the students all the time and get into these situations. I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I just did the best thing that I could think of at the time. Maybe it wasn’t the best thing, but it was the only thing. The student’s behavior was inappropriate, as several have been since receiving their various papers back over the course of the semester, but this particular behavior really crossed a line with me. I addressed a blanket email to the entire class, all seventy students, that basically informed them I was not their punching bag and that they needed to treat me with the same respect they would a professor. I don’t know how many of them read it; I don’t know if she read it. Honestly, I don’t care, because it needed to be said.

My internal debate regarding my feelings teaching has been an ongoing thing this semester. The section that I TA for is filled with brilliant students who don’t know how to be students. They are some of the brightest minds I’ve seen at their level, but they just don’t care. Or they don’t know how to care. And I care about them. Every single part of me want them to wake up, to do the awesome work I know they can do and be the amazing students I know they can be. But they won’t. They’re making a choice. One of my favorite students, a student capable of writing more beautiful than many people years ahead of her in their educations, has stopped turning in her work. She’s stopped caring. Maybe it’s personal problems, maybe it’s something else. But even though she is physically in class, she has stopped showing up. She is giving up. It makes me sad. My students, all of them, make me sad. I want to be better for them; I wish that I could make them want to learn, make them want to be better. But I can’t. Again, they are making a choice.

These are the two types of students I’ve encountered this semester: those who treat me horribly and those who don’t care or know how to be students. The good moments, the moments when I work with students who genuinely get it, the moments when I have students who turn in beautiful writing, or have done their reading, or do all the extra credit that they possibly can, the ones that want to be better…those are getting harder to see. And when I do see them, I need to hold on to them. Because those moments are the reason that I want to teach, for those students who care. But what if those students are becoming fewer and farther in between? What if we, as a society, are raising people who don’t care, people who just want to glance on by? I’m sad tonight. I’m sad because I see these students who could be better and choose not to be, and these students who want to blame everyone else for their own lack of understanding. I don’t see initiative in these students; I just see a lot of righteous indignation that the world isn’t being handed to them on a silver platter. 

Most of all, I’m sad because I’ve realized that, as a teacher, maybe I won’t have the impact that I want. There will be students that I won’t be able to reach. There will be students that will fail, even though they shouldn’t. Even though they COULD be better, there will be students who choose not to be. I haven’t reached a point yet where I am capable of separating myself fully from my students. I care too much.

I can’t decide if it’s a product of the semester or just a fact of life, but what today has told me is that I’m not sure I love teaching anymore. And I don’t know how to handle that.

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Little Fish, Big Pond

Today, I got an academic award. The keynote speaker said we should brag about it. Be confident in our accomplishments. It wasn’t anything major, just a small recognition for the fact that I am a student who apparently kicks ass. It’s funny, really, that as much of a magnet as I am for other peoples’ feedback, I truly hate being recognized. I didn’t know I would have to go up onstage. I didn’t know they would read a bio of my life. I didn’t know I would have to cross the stage, in heels, and shake hands with all the university big-wigs that I’ve already had dealings with on so many other levels. As I stood up there and listened to the speaker talk about me, I realized I couldn’t look out at the audience. Not because I was afraid of them. But because I didn’t want to meet any of their eyes. Because I knew that they were seeing me. Really seeing. My university is a tiny pond, and I’m a big fish here. If they see that, I will have to admit it. I’m not ready.

The lists of my accomplishments today was quite long: Dean’s Advisory board, magazine editor, teaching assistant, conference presenter, award winner, published writer, three year degree, strong GPA. Accepted to graduate school. More than one graduate school. Going to get my MFA in New York City. NEW. YORK. CITY. These are all facts—things I know, pieces of me. They can’t be argued. They just are. I hear these things, and I go “Wow. I did all that. I am doing that. This is me,” and I know that it’s true. I’m doing overly well academically. I even got my first paid writer’s contract this week. So why is this all so hard for me to hear?

Why don’t I know how to take a compliment? Why don’t I like to hear these things about myself? Easy. I’m afraid of the big pond.

When I first started college, it was the most terrifying thing I had ever done. So many people, so many things. I didn’t want to get involved, I didn’t want to make friends. I didn’t want to be there anymore than I had to be. But I started getting A’s, and people started taking notice. They were saying good things. For a lot of my life, I’ve heard the bad things. Or rather, I’ve been known for the bad things. The woman whose baby died, the woman whose husband was an asshat, the woman who was raped, the woman who is broken more often than she is whole. It’s easier for me to be her, because I know how to be her. I don’t know how to have good things, to have a life that’s good. To live.

The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.

What does it mean to be brave? The concept is becoming different for me now than it used to be. For a while there, brave was simply getting up in the morning. Then it became getting up and doing something with myself. Gradually, it morphed. Starting college. Keeping going. Holding on through all the stress. Again, getting up in the morning. Applying to graduate school. Making friends. Forming relationships. Selecting a graduate school. Pushing through when my brain is hard to live with. 

Now, bravery is moving. Picking up my entire life and shifting it to this new place, this place where I will be a big fish among even bigger fish. Where maybe, just maybe, I will actually be the tiny fish academically, and where I will definitely be the tiny fish socially. New York is huge, and I am so, so small. 

But am I? Or have I made myself that way?

You will note that, for the first time on this blog, I used the word rape paired with myself. Because yes, that’s a part of me. And in avoiding it, in not using the word, in running away when I hear it, I make myself small. I make myself not worth notice. I make what happened to me inconsequential by my silence when it’s anything but. It has impacted me every step of the way, in all of the decisions that I have had to make. By ignoring that, by pushing it to the background, by refusing to say the word, I tell myself that I am not worth the acknowledgement. I make myself a smaller fish, and I don’t want to be that way. Perhaps the solution is in admitting what happened to me so that I can turn it on its head. Conquer it.

I live a life of black and white. Good or bad. But perhaps I can be a fish who just swims with the other fish. One who doesn’t get eaten. One who is tough and strong and gets her things done. Maybe I can make my home in a new pond. I want to make a difference; I want people to read my work and feel something. I want to make it worth something, and I want to live up to the title of “shit disturber.” 

I can’t disturb things if I’m too afraid to get in the pond. Now…to find that bathing suit…

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Why I Can’t Go to Grad School (And Why I Will Anyway)

At this time last year, I wasn’t sure I would graduate.

I remember sitting with my laptop, trying to wrap up a difficult paper, and realizing that my brain was on shut down mode. There was a lot inside my head that kept from being who I wanted to be. I frequently hid in the third floor stacks at the library, in my special chair that overlooked all the things. I couldn’t walk down the hallway without headphones on because the world was too noisy. Too loud. There was a wall between me and the rest of the world, built brick by brick of the experiences in my life. The easiest way for me to communicate was the written word. So I said “to hell with this,” and decided to throw everything into grad school applications. Because it was easier. Because I could. Because it filled a hole.

I applied to eight different grad school programs. I didn’t think I would get in to any. So where I thought last year that I would be figuring out now what to do with the rest of my life, I am instead figuring out what I will do with the rest of my education. I didn’t realize this decision would be even more difficult. It’s funny, really, that I was so set on the idea that I wouldn’t get in that, while I was sad at my first rejections, I was solid in my backup plan. I didn’t plan to get in.

Not only did I get in. I got in to four. A plethora to choose from.

The choice is narrowed down to two now. 

*

I showed the cost breakdown I had worked out to D. She looked at it, and passed my phone back. “What is it that you like about these schools? Break it down.”

After thinking for a second, I answered, “Well, School A is new, and it’s high up on the rankings list. I already have relationships forming with people there. The program is more of a one on one or two as opposed to a mass advising thing.” I smiled at her. “And you know I like people.” I gestured between the two of us.

She nodded. “I noticed.”

“And the best part is the amount of connection available to the publishing world.” If I want to write eventually, I’ll be closer to knowing people, I thought. “It seems like they really set their students up.” 

“And School B? What is it about that one?” She knew I didn’t like it.

“It’s just…so…Okay. It’s really institutionally. Like, they really lack one on one advising, which I love. The program isn’t as set up in terms of the publishing world. It feels stiff.” And am I good enough to go there? Anywhere? Maybe that’s why it’s stiff. Maybe that’s why it feels like I don’t fit with them. Because I don’t belong there. The things I can’t say.

“Well, maybe it isn’t as connected. But it’s one of the top schools in the country. And you WILL write there. Have you talked to students there?”

“Yes,” I laughed, “you told me to.” I don’t know what to do.

“What’d they have to say?”

“Good things. They like the program, the courses. And they have their magazine, which is amazing.” And it’s all great but I’m freaking out nonetheless. What if I’m not good anywhere else? What if I’m only good here?

“What about what’s coming out of there, what the campus is producing?”

“I’m not sure how to ask about that,” I replied. “They seem like they like it though.” They are all pretty. They are all good. They could all be the right choice. But they could also be so, so wrong.

“What about the ones from School A?”

“I can talk to whoever I want at School A. They’ve really set me up in that way. I could tell you everything from what the courses are like to 

After a minute I added, “I really like the advisor at School A that I’ve been talking to. There’s already a relationship forming.” I’m afraid of being alone.

“I get that. I do. So I suppose it comes down to what you want to do when you graduate.”

“What do you mean?” Will I graduate?

“If you want to teach, go to School B. But if you want to be in publishing, go to School A.”

And if I fail at all these things, what will I do then? Out loud I said, “I’m just scared.”

“I’m just worried about this, about you, financially.”

Me too. But I was more afraid of everything I didn’t know than the obvious thing that I did.

*

Where will I live?

What if the classes are too hard?

What if my roommates are secret axe murderers?

What if I don’t have anything?

What if I have to sleep on the floor.

What if I can’t hack it?

What if I don’t know how to live on my own?

What if I fail?

What if I always belong to HIM?

*

There are a lot of reasons that I can’t go to grad school. I’m comfortable here. I own no furniture. For the first time in my life, I am actually fairly comfortable where I am. I have friends; I have people I can trust and talk to. I don’t want to leave that. Part of it too is that this really is a totally new start of my life. And I take that really seriously after all the life that’s happened to me. So to think that I might screw it up is very frightening to the point where I don’t want to decide at all.

But the truth of the matter, the real truth of it, is that I refuse to trust myself. I refuse to trust my gut, I refuse to trust what it is telling me. I refuse to just buck it up and make a decision. Do I continue, or do I turn back? Do I stay? Or do I go?

There are a lot of reasons why I can go to grad school, or rather, why I should. My GPA is excellent. I’m a good student. I write very well. I could actually make myself proud of me.

I need that new start.

The choice is narrowed down to two now. 

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The Right Answer (On Being a TA) — Rough Draft

One of my advisors once told me that she lives for the moment where her students no longer need her and can be independent. I love that moment. I wish it could occur every day; I also wish that I could not be sad when it doesn’t. I’ve heard that feeling, that sadness, does go away for some. But I don’t want it to, not really. When it does, I’ll know it’s time to stop teaching.

*

The first real class I ever taught, aside from church related things, was a beginning theater class for five to eight year olds. My aid for the class could probably testify to the fact that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I had observed the class under another teacher, so I had a basic idea regarding how things should go. But I had come in expecting a curriculum filled with the right answers and what to do and arrived to find nothing but a roster and a theme: Robin Hood for tiny humans. It was my first experience flying by the seat of my pants. I like to think it worked out well; I then taught for the company for the next three years. But that first class has always been my favorite. I felt like a teacher when I was in front of their semicircle, all of them sitting cross-legged and staring up at me, waiting for me to tell them what to do. However, I will never forget the moment when they walked onstage for the end of session performance and were able to say their lines and do the choreography without me. They were independently acting, wearing their construction paper Robin Hood hats (that kept falling off on the stage). Maybe they weren’t perfect, but they were pretty darn great. They displayed the things they learned in class, and I had had a part in that, however small. To me, that was what being a teacher was really about.

*

I can’t remember exactly when I made the decision to become a TA—it just sort of happened. I don’t think there are many of them in undergrad. Or at least not many who ARE undergrads. I believe this makes me a unique breed. 

I received an email from professor towards the middle of my second year of undergrad. She was looking for a dedicated student to work as a supplemental instructor. It wasn’t really teaching, per say. Supplemental instruction more revolves around reviewing material with the students and teaching them how to learn independently. But I still had a blast with it. It was a completely different feeling than being in front of the kids and teaching drama. I looked forward to doing it in future semesters. Then it came:

We don’t have enough Psych 101 instructors that want SI next semester, so we won’t be able to use you.

I was told that if I could find a professor willing to work with me, I could possibly do SI for that professor instead. So I put out a Facebook status and tagged every professor I was friends with. I got a bite:

I’m very interested. Let’s chat.

I was very interested in working with this professor, N, but it turned out her course didn’t have a high enough failure rate to require a supplemental instructor. It wasn’t in the budget. I still desperately wanted the opportunity to learn from her.

Behold. The idea to TA was born.

*

I often get asked what I do as a TA. It’s a lot; it’s too much to list. And my duties have evolved. I attend class, I talk. I grade, I lead. I comment, I assist. I get to draw on the board and occasionally play Vanna. It just seems to work.

Last semester, I went into the first day as a TA quite overwhelmed; I wasn’t sure how it would be to “share” a classroom, so to speak. I wasn’t sure where my place was, how I fit, what I was supposed to do. I didn’t know when to speak up, how to make things work as a person in front of the classroom but not in front of it at the same time. In a classroom of 18 year old and up people as opposed to tiny humans. 

I don’t think I spoke the first day. I possibly didn’t speak the second either. I panicked when I realized there were 28 students and I couldn’t remember their names. 28 seemed like so many more than 16, the largest size theater class I’d ever taught. And the first time I taught as a TA, I did a lot of things wrong. I had an activity planned that involved my laptop, but I had never used my laptop with the projector before. I didn’t realize everything would automatically show when I plugged it in; I failed to take into account the fact that I had student grades up on my screen, as well as failed to remember that my wallpaper was a picture of my dead son. When the class didn’t respond to me, I forgot that they weren’t really talkers to begin with and began to panic and rush through things. I expected N to bail me out rather than try to bail myself out; I immediately looked to her. And while she did save me, she at the same time made me keep going. When no one would really converse with me regarding the video clip I had shown, I started calling on random people. I didn’t give them enough time to think. I was scared to wait them out. And then I didn’t fully connect my segment to the main theme for the day—fallacies.

I cried driving away from campus that day, because I couldn’t focus on the good things that had happened—that the students liked the video clip, that they did eventually engage, that they gave me the correct answers. I could only focus on the fact that things didn’t go precisely the way I’d planned, and the fact that I would never be a teacher.

Even at the end of the semester, when I had a lot of TA wins under my belt, I thought back to that first day, that day I screwed up. But the focus started to change when I realized that rather than continually calling myself a failure, I wanted to be better. I wanted to grow.

I’m different now than I was that first semester. More confident. I’m better at planning out what I’m going to do, and I’m a better TA for it. I talk to the class, and they talk to me. This semester, I’ve even (somewhat) created my own assignment for the first time, a composition design proposal that I will assign in class this week. Things seem to be going better. I’m not sure if it’s that the class is more talkative and better as a whole, or that I’ve learned. 

I like to think I’ve learned.

*

I had a student once named A. A was very quite and shy. I had a hard time getting her to engage with the other kids. She didn’t want to sing solos or talk in front of people, but she loved me. Every week she would bring me a small gift, from a construction paper drawing of “her teacher” to a valentine, to a photo of her new puppy. It was wrong to have favorites, but she was definitely one of mine. Not because of the gifts, but because I understood her. I was shy too. 

“Do you ever get afraid in front of people?” she asked me one day after class.

“A,” I replied, “I think everybody does. It’s okay to be shy, but performing can be different. An escape from being scared. You can be whoever you want to be.”

“Okay,” she replied, and then skipped off to meet her older brother.

She disappeared from classes for a while after that session, but when she turned eight she auditioned for and was accepted to her first show. When she came onstage as one of the orphans in “Annie,” I cried. It was the moment I realized I was meant to be a teacher.

*

I have never been so grateful for the chance to work with someone as I am to work with N. Not because I work with her now so many days a week and get to do all the things. Not because of the load she carries and the way she’s taught me to balance, though her load is enormous. And not just because she’s awesome, though she definitely is. It’s because of the little things. The fact that she spends an hour on grading a paper other people might dismiss for being poor work, just so she can maybe help the student become just a tiny bit better. The fact that she spends her entire break preparing her classes and looking back on activities to enhance them and make them better each semester using suggestions from students. The fact that she opens her office and her email and her time to help her students and make them not just better students, but better people. She has done that for me, without a question. That N has taken the time to work with me has made me a better teacher as well as a better person. Not many people get this chance, but I did. And I’m doing well at it. I more than make it work. I’m becoming more confident. Growing. Learning.

During student conferences, which she let me sit on, I watched N handle an especially promising student who was not doing so well—a student that I might have written off were the decision left to me. Despite the problems this student has had, N was still willing to work with her. She was able to see past that and see the student underneath, and I could tell that she wanted to break through. I believe that she can, whether it be to that student or to a different one. Even when she doesn’t know the right answer, she figures it out.

I want to be that teacher someday.

*

The thing about teaching is that there really isn’t any one right way to do it. I know that now. All of my life, I’ve looked to others to tell me what to do and I live for the right answers. I need them. My teaching style has evolved into a mix of the people around me; I’m not the drama teacher on her first day anymore, and I’m not the TA who makes stupid mistakes. I’m the woman who watches, who absorbs, who learns and grows. I watch all of my professors and the way they handle their classrooms; I read the comments that they put on my papers and I look at their rubrics, and I figure out how they grade. Through that, I have begun to figure out where I lie. My grading style is between two professors, N and D. I’m less black and white than I used to be, but I still have a hard time calculating grades without actual numbers in front of me. I enjoy the way T makes herself available to help students in whatever way she can. I love the way they all flip the classroom, the way they make me think, and the way they have taught me to have my own ideas and stand on them. I have learned so much from all of my professors, about teaching and about simply being. And I am grateful for every last opportunity.

I started writing this thinking that my teaching was a little piece of all of them. But I’m beginning to realize that it’s a lot of me too. And that that’s the right answer.

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Chords

It was my grandma who wanted me to become a musician. I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t one. I have always loved to play, to sing. It’s just a form of being for me. I could never be a music major though; I lack that sort of dedication.

The first time I sat at an organ, I was seven years old. I’m not sure who was more apprehensive—me, or the eighty year old teacher that I had no clue how to talk to. I have absolutely no recollection of that first lesson beyond the memory that her house smelled like cats. My house also smelled like cats, so it really wasn’t that bad. I may not fully remember that first teacher, but I do remember what she taught me—chords. 

Chords are the fundamental basis for everything in music. Basic chords contain three or more notes that play together in harmony. Each letter of the musical alphabet from A to G has a wide variety of accompanying chords. Major to minor, sharp to flat, augmented to diminished, fifths, sevenths…the possibilities of chord creation are endless. Knowing the things from an early age not only gave me an ear for music and very good pitch, it allowed me to play basically any song with little effort. Knowing chords gave me a strong musical foundation that I have always been able to fall back on.

*

Before your class, I had never heard of CNF. I signed up for it because it was required for the major, and because it was writing, and because I didn’t know. I honestly didn’t know what the course was. And it scared me. A lot. You broke my box in so many ways, and you made me a completely different writer. I discovered that I could write that which I couldn’t talk about, and that I could be heard while not being heard. I’m not sure I would have gone to grad school before that class. Or even thought about it, really. Because who goes to grad school to be a writer? Writers. Was I a writer? Before? I’m not sure.

“I don’t want to go to grad school anymore.” I slid the book that we had just finished discussing back towards my backpack.

“Why not?” N frowned, closing her own copy of the book.

“Because I’m not sure I can afford it. Because I don’t know how to choose. Because I don’t know if what I want is what I’m supposed to want. What I want and what I should do are two totally different things.”

“Well, what do you want?” N asked.

“New York,” I replied, without hesitation.  “For reals.”

“What is it that you like about it?”

I thought about this for a moment. “I like that they talk to me.” When she looked at me strangely, I continued, “Well, what I mean is…they aren’t so institutionally. I know who my advisor is; I’ve talked to her. I’ve been able to connect with other students. They signed me up for their social network. I feel like they are very open and friendly. Like what I have here. And I know that I am totally that student who needs a rock…”

“Surprise,” she interrupted. “Because I didn’t know that.”

“Ha ha,” I answered dryly.

“I get it. We have a rapport.  You want that somewhere else.”

“Yeah. I guess. I wish I could know who all of my advisors were. I feel like that’s a thing for me. New York is giving that to me.”

“The thing is, you don’t always know that you’ll have a specific advisor. Sometimes there are program advisors, or general advisors. You may not have one specific person until you are picking who to work with on your thesis. And even then, you might not get who you want. It depends on how many other people request that person, how that person might work with you, et cetera.”

“Yeah,” I replied, ever so eloquently. I stared at the computer screen, at the website I had pulled up.

“You also need to consider where you’re coming out of, the type of writing that the area is producing, what’s coming out. What’s being published.”

“They sent me a list of all the things from last year. The publications.”

“From graduates?”

“Graduates and current students. And a few professors.”

She thought for a moment before saying, “You can’t do something you’ll regret. If you think this is it, then you go. But you can’t get this far and then just not go to grad school because you’re scared. You need to make your own choices.”

The greatest thing I learned from you is that I can write. There isn’t necessarily one formula, one right answer, one right way to do it. There’s a lot of different things, different ways, and writing can fill a space inside.

I don’t know how to do these things, to pick a grad school, to set out on my own, to be this person I have become apart from him. I want to quit. I make excuses. It’s too expensive. I have the cat. I won’t have anywhere to live. I don’t know how to do this.

I will fail.

“Should I continue on or turn back? I wonder, though I knew my answer. I could feel it lodged in my gut: of course I was continuing on. I’d worked too hard to get here to do otherwise.” 

I read the Cheryl Strayed quote again, and again. And then once more for good measure. Because N is right. It is me. I have worked too hard to give up and go nowhere. Just because I am scared. Just because I am a little lost.

Where I am now is my foundation, and I don’t know how to leave that.  I don’t know how to give it up.

I’m scared.

I’ve been hurt a lot, and I’ve wasted a LOT of my life. I’ve let time pass and leave me behind and I don’t want to let that happen anymore—I don’t want to spend more time doing things for other people, or doing things that I don’t LOVE. And I love this.

*

The hardest piano piece I remember learning to play when I was a kid was “Fur Elise.” I liked sitting down and just playing, and that wasn’t a piece I could simply sit down and play. I didn’t want to practice; I didn’t want to put in the work that would be required of me to accomplish the piece. I wanted to quit. There was an A minor seventh chord that I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to fail.

I had a strong foundation with chords. So I figured them out. And I can still play “Fur Elise” today. There was a large payoff for the work I put in. I can play many things that are harder than “Fur Elise,” and many things that are easier. Because I put the time in. Because I figured it out. Because that foundation didn’t need to be given up. It stayed with me; I built on it.

This too, I will figure out, I will build on. Because I have a strong foundation now, and because I am not willing to walk away.

I can still play that A minor seventh chord to this day.

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