Tag Archives: college

Poverty in Academia, Thy Name is Grad School

I read an excellent post this morning about being poor and surviving within academia.  Here’s a link to it:

http://tenureshewrote.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/succeeding-in-graduate-school-despite-poverty/ 

It’s funny, really.  I don’t think much about the fact that I’m poor except when I come across things like this.  This is probably because there are many people who are much more poor than I am.  But the truth is, I’m incredibly low income.  If I weren’t living in the place where I’m currently living, I probably would not be able to afford academia at all.  I’m clever about my life.  I purchase a meal plan, even though I’m a commuter, because it’s cheaper to eat the half off (and occasionally disgusting) food on campus than to buy food.  I get most of my clothes used.  I charge a LOT on credit cards.  I pretend I have more money than I actually do.  I pay all my bills, on time, and when I do, there’s no money left each month.  But I’m still here.

 

I survive on a small teacher’s salary combined with what I get from teaching private music lessons.  Let me tell you, that’s not a lot.  I undercharge for lessons because I’m too nice to raise my fee to something more in line with industry standards.  And soon I won’t be teaching, because money is tight within the company and there’s no room for me anymore.  It’s hard for me to admit that I can’t do something because I don’t really have enough money (that’s often, lately).  I feel like I’m fake a lot of the time; I don’t really fit because I’m different.  Because I came from somewhere different, I live in a world that doesn’t really feel like mine.  No one ever explained how college financially worked to me, really.  When I was graduating high school, I didn’t understand financial aid or grants or scholarships.  I didn’t know that there was money available to me from outside sources.  All I knew was that I had no money.  As a result, I skipped college.  I lived another life.  And now I’m back, and about to graduate and go to grad school.

 

I’ve struggled lately as to why the idea of grad school is terrifying to me, and I think this is a piece of that.  Apart from the emotions of leaving a life I have completely rebuilt and grown comfortable in, there is also the issue of my income to consider.  In just a few short months, there’s a good chance I will have to relocate for grad school (assuming I get in).  In so many ways, I’m not ready.  I can barely afford to live now, and I will have to pay to move to pay to live to pay to get a degree that will get me…something.  What precisely I’m not sure.  I want to write.  I could teach.  There’s quite a few possibilities, but none of them involve making money.  I will be low income forever.  There’s no miracle job at the end of my degree that will bring me millions, but I will love what I’m doing.  Is that okay?  Is that enough?

 

I own not much of my own after the dissolution of my marriage.  A book case and a dresser.  A television and a DVD player.  Miscellaneous books.  A few dishes.  I gave up pretty much all of my things in the divorce just to be out.  If I could do it over again, I would have used the information I had and fought him harder.  Kept more things.  Sold them now to pay for relocation.  But I didn’t.  I let him take pretty much everything.  Through the grace of friends, I somehow manage to function.  But what happens when I’m in a completely new place?  I can’t sleep on my shiny blue plates.  What if I get in and I can’t find somewhere to live that I can afford?  What if there’s, plain and simple, just no money to make this happen?  In that I wonder whether applying at all was a mistake.  What if I can’t afford to go?  No one is going to support me financially but me, and I don’t want a repeat of my high school graduation.  I don’t want a second break from academia.  I’m almost thirty.  There’s just not enough time.  

 

Poverty is a cycle.  To break out is difficult.  To improve one’s quality of living is very difficult.  I’m getting a degree, and now I will be paying it off.  I will be paying for years once graduate school is done.  Money will not exist for me.  In trying to better myself the only way I knew how, in trying to get a degree, I am, in effect, keeping myself in poverty.  When you come from poverty, you are poor because it’s what you know.  It takes a miracle to get out.  I will be paying to advance myself and then paying for paying for that advancement.  Money will go out but won’t come in.  Society doesn’t make it easy to break free from that.  

 

If I were still married, I would have some medium of money.  (Were I even here.)  But I’m not, and that’s a good thing.  So can I be happy, safe, and have money?  That remains to be seen.  

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Endings

Another semester has ended, and with it, a part of my life.  But a new segment of my life is beginning.  A new part of the journey.  Me moving forward, hopefully into grad school.

I came up with an end segment for my memoir this week.  Here’s a portion of it:

This memoir has been the story of a recovery.  Of a hike.  But more than that, of a life lived and people met along the way.  

If nothing else, for me as I am now, what happened to me doesn’t matter in the same way that it used to.  Yes, it’s still there.  And yes, it still hurts.  But it hurts in a different way, because I am different.    I don’t want to spend my life behind a pane of glass.  I want to experience all of the things that the world has to offer.  I want to be confident that I can handle life’s occurrences, even though it’s hard.  

I want to know the things that other people already recognize.

Life on the other side is hard and bright and loud.  But it’s also fun and enriching and educating and a million other things.  I want to cross the threshold and experience life beyond the wall that I’ve constructed around myself.

This has been the story of my journey.  All of the pieces of this journey and the people within it add up to the place where I am now.  Because I have survived these things, I know that I can survive anything.  N told me recently that when, not if, I get in to graduate school, I will become my best self, even better than I am now, because I will be around writers and I will be writing.  What makes me strong is my words, and they’ll be with me wherever I go.  

Like I said in the beginning, this story isn’t pretty.  It isn’t magical flowers and rainbows; it doesn’t feature a unicorn.  But it does belong to me.  I have struggled for a long time regarding how to end this.  But now I know that there is no ending.  To end would be to stop growing, and I don’t ever want to stop.  I always want to grow.  I want to continue to be better than my past, to be better than the holes.  I want to hold on to what I have and take it and use it and be better.  

I want, more than anything, to keep this journey moving to the other side.

These people will be with me forever, because they are part of my story.

These words will be with me forever.

This life will be mine.  Forever.

I’ve been worried lately about endings.  The end of my undergraduate career.  The end of my life in Wisconsin.  The end of my time with the wonderful people I have met and been blessed with the opportunity to learn from.  I have had amazing mentors within the college I go to who have given me the opportunity to learn more about life and myself and everything than I ever thought possible.  I have made real friends that will be around for a long time.  Many times, I think about how scared I am to leave this place, to end this time of my life.  But the end of this semester and my subsequent reflections upon life have shown me that I’m thinking about this all wrong.  Instead of thinking about endings, I should be thinking about beginnings—like that saying about one door closing and another opening.  Every ending in my life has actually been a beginning.  The end of my son was the beginning of the dissolution of my marriage.  The end of my marriage was the beginning of my college career.  The end of my college career will be the beginning of my new life and, hopefully, a graduate school career.  Each time something in my life has ended, as sad as it has been, it has pushed me into a new place.  I am learning to handle my life, bit by bit.  I am making allowances, taking care of myself and doing the things that I need to do to be okay.  I’m learning that it’s okay to not always be okay, that it’s okay to be broken sometimes.  But, in turn, I’m also learning that just because I break occasionally does not mean that I am forever damaged.  I am not damaged.  I have been hurt, but it does not define me.  I am healing, slowly but surely.  And this ending is a new beginning.

Endings are sad, but they aren’t as sad when we reverse them.  When we make them beginnings.  The word beginning implies an opportunity to grow.  My words make me strong, and they will always be with me.  I will take myself and lay everything out; I will learn and grow from my experiences and the knowledge and support of the people around me.  And because I am giving myself opportunities to grow and become my own person, I will be my best self.

I have been worried about leaving, about the end.  But there is no end.  There is only growth.  And I will never, ever, stop growing.

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No Matter What

I’ve had a flurry of contact with two different graduate school programs over the past few weeks, most recently a phone interview for one program.  The interview went incredibly well, which I found pleasantly surprising.  We spent ten minutes or so covering my writing sample, and the ways that art relates to my work.  We talked about why I want to go to graduate school, and I got to ask questions regarding the types of courses the particular professor who was interviewing me taught.  After that, they asked me about my greatest literary and professional influences.  I spent a good ten minutes talking about Chaucer.  And I started thinking.

Nothing has stretched me more than college has.  For the first time in a long time, I have found a community where I actually fit.  I have found people to learn from and people to be friends with, people who think like I do and share my interests.  People who have taught me new things and new skills, and helped shaped the skills that I already had into things I could use.  People who have allowed and even encouraged me to be myself, and helped me to develop that self into someone that I am proud to call me.  People who have helped me not to quit.  I have never had a group of people, between the friends I have made and the professors who have both supported and enriched me, that have made me feel so comfortable being me.  I am more grateful to each and every one of them than most of them will ever know.

This interview process combined with the weekly emails I’ve been exchanging with another school have made the process of graduate school very VERY real to me.  As in, it is really happening.  As in, it looks like I’m going.  I might actually be accepted.

I’m going to be leaving where I am now behind.  I am going to leave HERE.

I can’t decide how I feel about this.  This place has made me who I am, reminded me how strong and independent and fully functional I can be.  Presented with the prospect of doing an in-person interview for the school I phone-interviewed for, I suddenly find myself pondering where my identity comes from yet again.  Can I be the person that I am now somewhere else, without the people who have helped me and taught me SO much?  Can I be confident in another place, another setting, without people to lean on?  I’m not sure if I can, and it scares me.

I pushed for graduate school because I wanted to be in a place that isn’t local, where my experiences are not the first thing that come to people’s mind when they see me.  I pushed for graduate school because I wanted to get away.  But now I’m not so sure.  I’m not sure I’m ready to get away.  I’ve been taught my whole life how to listen to others, and I don’t know how to listen to myself.  I’m not sure this me can come with me, and I care for her very much.

I wrote something similar to D today, and she responded, “You will carry this with you wherever you are.  This is yours no matter what.”

This kind of statement, from someone I greatly respect, is exactly what I’m talking about.  The support I’ve found, the place that I’ve made for myself, is not something that I want to give up.  I have grown from the person I was when I was with him into someone else entirely.  I have learned how to be on my own.  My advisor once told me that one of the greatest moments she has while teaching is the moment when a student does not need her anymore, when they can do things on their own.  Through the guidance of my awesome professors, through the love and acceptance I have received from my friends, this is exactly the point I am arriving at.  I have learned so much.  I am at the point now where I have to start learning on my own, and have confidence that my ideas still matter even when they are just mine.  This person that I am, as influenced and supported and cared about and accepted as she is, will still be me even if that goes away.  Even if I’m on my own.  Because the things that these wonderful people have taught me will always be with me.  I will carry these things, and I will carry me; I will grow, and I will learn more things.  I will carry the new things too.  I will carry me, always.  No matter what.

This is all totally new to me.  I’ve become something totally new.  But heck if I’m not scared.

I’m not ready to leave.

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The Painting

“That is the funny thing about paint.  At the first cold splash of reality it washes away.  And the surface you are trying cover is as ugly as ever.”  —Jodi Picoult

 

In layman’s terms, a cognitive distortion is an extremely exaggerated or irrational thought pattern that perpetuates several different psychological disorders.  It is commonly assumed that these distortions are at the heart of eating disorders.  Personally, I disagree.  Having an eating disorder, to me, is like painting over a picture that has already been created.  The picture on the underside, the thing that is in the past, is ugly, but it’s covered up the incessant need to be “beautiful.”  “Good enough.”  “Thin.”  Take away the paint, and that thing is still there.  It hasn’t been dealt with; it hasn’t been destroyed.  It still hurts.  Festers.

It is always there when you look in the mirror.  

A large portion of people who experience some type of eating disorder are perfectionists.  Perfectionism is shown to be a fairly significant risk factor for the development of an eating disorder, and the levels of perfectionism tend to improve slightly when the person is in “recovery.”  An article I read recently by Anna Bardone-Cone, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, stated that a fully recovered group of people largely resembled a non eating-disordered control group in terms of their perfectionism, while the partially recovered group more resembled those still in the full throes of their disorder. 

This perfectionism can manifest itself in a myriad of ways, from always having to do things right the first time to needing to earn straight A’s, to having to order your clothes a certain way.  But the disorder isn’t about being perfect. It’s not about being thin. It’s about knowing that there is one thing left in your life that still belongs to you, one thing that you can still control. It’s about having the power to slowly disappear.  

That is the only power you still wield. 

*

Last semester, I took an amazing class in writing creative nonfiction.  One of the last in class journals that we did was about body mapping.  I was not thrilled with the assignment or the world itself that day, so I drew my “body” in the somewhat shape of a gingerbread character.  Lumpy.  Out of proportion.  I’m fairly certain that the first thing people notice about me is how fat I am, I wrote.  It’s certainly the first thing I notice about me—every day.  I had a baby, but didn’t get to bring him home.  I only brought home the fat.  

I remember the first time I realized I was fat.  I was eight and I was in the school lunchroom.  I had a pink Barbie lunch-bag, and the Barbie had that skinny body and perfect yellow blonde hair that can only exist in Barbie-land.  I had a sandwich and a banana.  And maybe some sort of dessert.  I don’t remember.  But there was another girl at the lunch table who looked in my bag and said “You’re going to eat all that?”  Rather than defy her, I walked to the trash bin and threw my entire lunch away.  

Looking back now, I can see that the little girl in the lunchroom that day was jealous of my lunch box.  That’s why she said the things she said.  But it wasn’t so easy to see then.  I lost myself in the mirror, in the desire to fade away.  I remember a quote from the movie “Girl, Interrupted” based on the memoir by Susanna Kaysem, said by a girl with an eating disorder during expressive group therapy:  “I don’t want to be a fucking tree.  I want to be a bush!”  I get her.  All she wanted was to fade away, to disappear.  Into the mirror.

*

I own a small panda bento box.  I went on this weird tangent last year where I was coming up with weird stuff to put in it.  For instance, one time I made spicy peanut noodles.  Another time, I made japanese rice balls.  It was a fun thing I did to keep myself entertained on really long days.  

This semester, I haven’t brought it to school.  I claim to be busy, that I have a meal plan, that I’m this, that I’m that.  I wonder if I’m making excuses.  If I’m slipping.  I wonder.  Do I have to wonder?  Am I forgetting because I’m busy?  Or am I forgetting because it’s the one thing I can remember to do?  What does it mean?  I notice I’ve been getting a large amount of food from my friends, and I wonder what they see.  Do they see me?  Or do they see the me in the mirror?  Is it okay that I sometimes eat and sometimes don’t?  This question seems important right now, and I’m not sure why.  I feel like I’m forgetting.  I worry that I’m lost.

*

I was a bit of a bitch in the throes of the disorder.  I remember one particular conversation with my therapist in high school where she asked me to describe what an apple would taste like.  I refused.  “I don’t eat apples,” I informed her.  “I don’t like the way they get stuck in my teeth.”

“Correction—you don’t eat anything.”  

She offered me a choice then.  Sour cream and onion chips, an apple, and a container of strawberry Yoplait yogurt.  “Pick one,” she commanded.  “You can’t until you do.”

“No.”  I folded my arms stubbornly across my chest and met her gaze dead on.

She folded her own arms and leaned back in a replication of my position.  “That’s fine.  I can wait.”

That was a lie.  She had other appointments; I was not her only patient.  I got up off the couch I was settled on and snatched up the apple.  “How do you know I won’t throw it out the first chance I get?”  I was trying to be as big of a smart-ass as possible.  Trying to save myself.  Trying to hide how sorry I was that I let her down.  I was certain I could live off of caffeine and potato chips alone.  

*

I ask myself often whether I want victory, or I want escape.  And are the two interchangeable?  If my victory is graduating, then that is also when I will escape.  But if my victory is simply surviving…my escape could come whenever.  Does losing everything that I am mean giving up dreams too, as a side effect?  I’m still here.  Does that mean anything at all?

I am reinventing.

I spend my days pondering grad school, wondering if I’m good enough.  Wondering if I will get in.  Wondering if I can get them to like me.  Wondering if I make myself the right fit.  I sit in N’s office and eat candied orange peels and worry that I’m messing up my life.  My GPA.  These things I’ve graded that we’re working on.  I’m terrified that I am wrong, always.  That I will fail.  That I am not the right fit for anything. Someone very wise told me that there is no right fit; I could be horrible and they won’t take me, but I could also be awesome and they still won’t take me.  There’s no perfect formula for this, no solution.  No easy way.  I am juggling too many things, and it feels crushing sometimes.  It’s devastating that I can’t be perfect all the time.

I am always apologizing. 

I live off caffeine.

I run from the past things that I don’t think I can deal with.

I dream of that moment of victory, of escape.  

I am always doing these things, everything I can possibly do, but I worry that they aren’t enough.  I worry that I’m lost.  I worry that I am trying to paint over the picture that is me; that I’m trying to cover up.  Hide.  

Is it okay to dream if you can never reach the dream?  If the dream is way above you?  Do we morph or evolve to fit our dreams?  Or does life just happen; does it just destroy us?  I believe that we make choices, when we are scared.  And these choices are not always the right ones.  Marya Hornbacher writes, “Never, never underestimate the power of desire.  If you want to live badly enough, you can live.  The great question, at least for me, was:  How do I decide I want to live?”

How?  That really is the ultimate question.

Disappearing into the mirror means a long road back and a painting I can’t afford to pay for.

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Odd Girl Out

Image

My classmate Lissa was having a party, complete with Lisa Frank stickers of fuzzy animals, crafts, and root beer floats.  The works to a twelve year old.  I sat in the cafeteria, watching as she made the rounds of all the girls.  Watching as they opened their invitations with glee, squealing over the pretty colors and talking about what they would wear.  Watching as she went to every girl in my class.  Waiting for my turn.

It didn’t come.  I didn’t get an invite.  I was the odd girl out.

As usual.

It started around fourth grade, I can’t remember exactly.  I had been fairly popular up until then.  The turning point came when I got head lice.  I had to leave school awkwardly one day.  My social life was never the same after that.  I got shunned by a lot of the people who had been my friends, and I never really came back from that.  I didn’t know how to interact with people my age anymore.

From childhood, to adulthood, I became the odd girl out. 

*

I learned a lot from being in a relationship, from being married.  I learned that it was not okay to think for myself.  I learned that my thoughts were not my own.  I let my ideas whither away into nothing.  I learned that I should not have my own opinions.  I learned that I was supposed to go along with the crowd, that I couldn’t be my own person.  I learned that it was never okay to have the wrong answer.  I took these things and incorporated them deep into my soul, into a place where it’s been damn near impossible to dig them back out.  I didn’t see anything wrong with these notions, because they were all I knew.  I still struggle with them.  I can never quite free myself.  

I’ve written often about the moment when I knew that I would marry B.  That moment when, exhausted after hours on my feet at work, I wanted to see him.  I wanted to go to his house and be with him over hanging out with my cat in front of the television.  I wanted it more than anything; I knew then that I would marry him some day.  But when I write about that moment, there’s a detail that I usually leave out.  

I married him because I didn’t believe that anyone else would ever want me.  I married B because I thought it was the only chance I would have to experience marriage.  I married him because I thought that I had no other choice.

And I stayed with him because I knew that I had no other choice. 

*

“Abuse is less likely to occur when partners can make each other happy.”

I stared over the top of my laptop at my professor, completely aghast.  And against my greater control, in tears.  

It’s been a struggle for me to realize that the dissolution of my marriage was not my fault.  That being torn apart was not my fault.  That his lack of happiness was not my fault.  That losing our son was not my fault.  That none of what happened was my fault.  

And here was this person with power over me telling me exactly the opposite.  When my undergrad career has been spent struggling to escape this person, suddenly I was her again.  Suddenly I was that girl letting someone else tell me who to be.  Odd girl out.  

*

I was sitting on my couch when B’s sister let him into the apartment we shared.  I stood up slowly.  “I told you, I don’t want you to come over anymore until after we’re married.”  

“You said you didn’t want to be alone,” he retorted.  “We aren’t alone.”

His sister had disappeared into the bedroom.  

I sank back onto the couch, as far away from him as I could get.

It had happened a week ago, the last straw, the thing that pushed me over the edge.  “You can’t come over anymore until we’re married,” I had whispered that night as he parked in my parking lot.

“What?  Why?” he cried.

“I just…I can’t do this.  It doesn’t feel right.”

His hand tightened on my thigh.  “How can it not feel right?  What does it even matter?”  His nails were digging into my skin.

I was the odd girl out.  The one who wasn’t normal.  Always.  The one who didn’t want to have sex before marriage.  Not normal.  

“You’re hurting me!”  I pulled his hand off my leg and he slammed back against his seat, sulking.  “Look,” I said, more quietly.  “I just think that if we can’t keep…If we can’t keep from doing things, then we shouldn’t be alone.”  I tried to be politically correct in my phrasing to keep him from getting angry, but really, it was him, not me.  I wasn’t comfortable doing anything.  I wasn’t sure I ever would be, especially now.

He shook his head slowly; he obviously didn’t understand.  “Just get out.  We can talk more about this tomorrow.”

I shook my head to clear away the memory.  B had sank onto the couch beside me, despite my efforts to sit separately.  “We should watch a movie,” he continued, as if nothing was wrong.  But everything was wrong.  He just didn’t see it.

I couldn’t tell if it was my imagination, or if he was eyeing the blanket draped over the back of the couch.  I didn’t want to watch a movie with him.  I realized then that I didn’t want to do anything with him.  I didn’t want to marry him.  I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with him; why should I, when he didn’t listen or even respect me?  “I think we should break up,” I whispered.

We fought.  He told me that he would never let me go.  It was pretty ugly.  I left.

Eventually, he would apologize.  I would come back.  We would get married.

That moment was the beginning of my end.

Things escalated.

We had a fight one day, when I came home from work and he expected dinner.  I wasn’t making it fast enough for him, and he started to call me names.  I threw the potholder in his direction and it clanged off of the guitar that rested in the papazon chair.  “You.  Are.  An ass,” I said as it fell to the floor.  It was the first time I had expressed myself in a long time.  I wished I had better aim.  I wished it had hit my husband in the head.  Not that a potholder would do much damage, but it would get my point across.

“What?” he asked.  “I just…”

“I worked all day, I’m tired, I come home, and this is how you treat me? Are you serious?”

“Well, it’s your job.  To cook.  It’s not my job.”

Nothing is your job.” I spit.  “Absolutely nothing.”

I turned around and stalked back to the kitchen, minus the potholder.  I stood over the pot of spaghetti, stirring it with my wooden spoon.  I thought about our marriage, about the unequal division of pretty much everything.  I kept my mouth shut.  My small explosion was the most I dared to express my feelings.  He didn’t work; I worked fifty plus hours a week.  He didn’t clean; cleaning was a woman’s job.  He didn’t do anything.  Except for what he did to me.

But, I consoled myself, at least he usually let me control the remote.

That was pretty much the highlight of our marriage.  I couldn’t make him happy.

*

“You’re not wrong.  The things that she said were wrong.”

I stared at my stack of papers to grade and my now empty bottle of apple juice before looking back up at T.  “You think?  Because I don’t know what to do.”

“You get someone to advocate for you.  Because some people don’t have enough sense of self-worth to realize the power that they have, which is why there are people out there that will fight for you.  And that’s okay.”

This was harder to hear somehow than the comment itself.  To know that there are people who see that I’m not that girl anymore, that I’m not that her.  That I’m weak sometimes and scared, but that I’m also strong.  And right.  Normal.  Not odd.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of what I thought the perfect life would be.  I pictured the ideal wedding with ice sculptures and flowers and a man that I loved.  I imagined that we would have two children, a boy and a girl, and that they would be just a few years apart—enough that they could play happily together but still have distance when they needed it.  In this fantasy, my family adopted a white German Shepard named Alfie who protected us and gave us fun and entertainment until the kids grew older and moved out.  As empty nesters, my husband and I would retire to Florida, where we would live out the rest of our days in the sun and provide a vacation home for our children and their children.  Happily ever after.

I believed in a fairy tale.  Absolutely none of these things came to pass.  

My life’s not perfect.  But I try to live it the best I know how.  I’m a words girl.  I’m quiet, but I absorb everything.  I notice everything; I take it all in.  My downfall comes from tendency to more remember the bad things.  I’m hypersensitive, and I know it.  I hear some things and they call up a pain, or a memory. 

A loud noise.

A touch from behind.

A word on a bulletin board.

Simple things, but things that can set every nerve cell in my body on fire.  Things that can make me feel like I’m electrified a million times over.  Things that make feel that which I don’t want to feel.  Triggers.  And it feels like I’m the only one who is bothered, the only one who is hurting.  Rational me knows that isn’t true; rational me knows that we all have our own pain.  But it doesn’t feel good to feel like the only one.  It doesn’t feel good to be the odd girl out.  It doesn’t feel good to feel like you’re in a cage, like you’re alone.  Like you’re not normal because of your experiences, because of who you are.

For a moment today, I didn’t feel that way.  For a moment today, somebody told me that it was okay.  That I was okay; that my feelings were okay.

For a moment, I wasn’t the odd girl out.  

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Being Human

Human.  Belonging to man or mankind; having the qualities or attributes of man; of or pertaining to man or to the race of man.  A human being.  Not a thing.  A person.  Nowhere in the definition of being human does it reference gender or race or experience.  Nowhere in the definition of being human does it say one person is less than another.  It’s very black and white on paper; if you look like a human, you are one.  But the world, unfortunately, does not work that way.  There are many people who turn their backs, who won’t stand up for what’s right.

Not me though.  I’m a soap-box girl.  I feel deeply and passionately about a few topics, and while I may be afraid to talk about my own, personal experiences, I am not afraid to talk about the topics themselves.  I’m not afraid to talk about discrimination.  Because it’s horrible, and it’s wrong.

Today I heard three statements that were greatly offensive.  That cut me, deeply.  Society should know better.  But instead, ignorance is rewarded.  Topics that have no business being jokes are pushed into every day conversation; people give no consideration to those they may hurt.  They say the first thing that comes to mind with no consideration for their audience.  There are people who use positions of power to force their opinion onto others.

They forget that we are all human.

*

“Abuse is less likely to occur when partners can make each other happy.”

Interpretation: abuse within relationships is the fault of the victim because that victim did not do enough to keep their partner happy.  Had the victim been good enough for their partner, their partner would have been happy and they would not have gotten hurt.  This is a common misconception that many victims of relationship violence have, and statements like this only help to drive that home.

In the first days of February, 2012, Josh Powell of Washington opened the door to his home, informed his children that he had a “really fun surprise” waiting just inside for them, and swept them from the arms of the social worker who was delivering them for visitation.  With a shrug of his shoulders, he proceeded to slam and lock the door in the social worker’s face.  While the social worker stood outside, helpless to stop him, he attacked his two songs in a blatant act of aggression with a hatchet and lit his gasoline doused house on fire.  All three of the Powells died of carbon monoxide poisoning, adding further to the tragedy that had befallen the family when Susan Powell, wife to Josh and mother of the boys, disappeared in 2009.  It is believed by many that Josh murdered Susan, but her body has never been found.

Even though he was the only real suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Powell was allowed to maintain custody of his two boys for nearly two years after her disappearance.  Losing that custody was perhaps akin to losing the last marble Powell had left in his head.  Not seeing any other way to handle things, Powell lashed out and took the lives of both his children and himself.  Powell didn’t hurt his wife or children because they made him unhappy.  Powell hurt his wife and children because he was unhappy.

The important thing to note here is that the boys did nothing wrong.  They were innocent bystanders, literally pulled into the lion’s den.  Susan Powell did nothing wrong.  She was more than good enough.  She was beautiful.

Josh Powell is the only one in this situation who did anything wrong.  He was anything but good enough.

*

“Date rape is frequently caused by alcohol.”

Interpretation: alcohol causes date rape.  By extension then, if a person drinks alcohol and is then raped, it is their fault because they drank.  This statement plays right into the idea that it is the fault of the victim.  They led the rapist on.  They should have protected themselves.  This doesn’t acknowledge the offender at all.

In Steubenville, Ohio, 2012, a teenage girl went out to a party.  But instead of partying by the definition of the word, she was sexually assaulted, dehumanized, and then blamed by her community because she dared to go after the football players who attacked her.  Her town supported the football players because of their ability to play the game and bring notoriety to the town’s team.  This support even stretched to school officials; William Rhinaman, the director of technology at the local high school, covered up for the football players by tampering with evidence and helping them hide the truth.  Sadly, these things are more common place than many people realize.  On CNN, another case from Maryville, Missouri, was featured where in a teenage girl was raped but her county attorney refused to prosecute, saying “there was not a criminal offense.”  The statement that date rape is caused by alcohol does nothing but perpetuate this cycle where innocent women (and men) are put into this situation.

Date rape isn’t caused by alcohol.  Date rape is caused by some asshat not being able to keep it in their pants.  Whether the victim has been drinking or not, they don’t deserved to be raped.  Nobody deserves to be raped.  It’s a violation of everything that it means to a human being; it’s a taking away of something that the victim can never get back.  It’s a domination of one person over another that should never be allowed to happen.

It’s not okay.

*

“Gays wouldn’t need to marry if they could just cohabitate.”

Interpretation: gays just need to live together; they don’t have any reason to get married.

Imagine, if you will, your partner or child has been in a horrible accident.  You rush to the hospital and do everything that you can to make sure that they are okay, up to and including making medical decisions that are in their best interests.  You are involved; you are included.  You have power in what happens next for your loved one.

Many LGBT couples in committed relationships don’t have that right.  In many states, they can live together to their heart’s content, but they can’t make medical decisions on behalf of their partner.  This differs from a husband/wife relationship in that a partner could be forced to watch their partner on life support with no legal grounds in which to make medical decisions.  Where a husband/wife relationship gives both people the option to make decisions, many relationships on the LGBT side of the spectrum lack this right.  And that’s not all.  In Florida, a lesbian woman lost her partner in a car accident and was then forced to give up the children they had raised together because she was not allowed to legally adopt them.  A gay man lost his partner of several years in the 9/11 attacks, but was not allowed to collect any federal aid because he was not allowed to obtain a legal marriage.  Cohabitation, while effective in some ways, does not give people the same rights as a marriage.  To reserve marriage as something special, something that only “a certain group of people” can obtain, simply isn’t fair.

LGBT people aren’t asking for special rights, or rights that put them above others.  They just want to have the same rights as everybody else.  They want to make decisions for their loved ones; they want comfort and ability.  They want to be with the person that they love.  To say that they have no need to marry is simply offensive.  If you love someone, you love someone.  That’s just that.

*

Human.  Having or showing the positive aspect of nature and character regarded as distinguishing human from animals.  Subject to or indicative of the weaknesses, imperfections, and fragility associated with humans: a mistake that shows he’s only human; human frailty.  The definition of human in no way references gender, race, or experience.  When society blames the victim or denies people the rights that they are meant to have, the person in question loses their sense of being human.  And that isn’t fair.  No one should have to feel that way.  No one should be made to feel like they are less than anyone else.

I read an interesting concept on this phenomena:  If someone is stupid and leaves their car unlocked, resulting in things getting stolen from within it, does anyone say “Let’s not punish the thief?”  No.  Because it’s cut and dry.  Theft is wrong.

So why isn’t rape wrong?  One person forcing another to commit sex acts against their will?  That’s less than car theft?  Why isn’t abuse wrong?  Why isn’t discrimination based on race and gender wrong?  We’re all human; we’re all people despite the way that we look, act talk.  Despite who we love.  Nobody should be treated any differently than everybody else.  Everybody should have the same rights.  But the world doesn’t work this way.  People are ignorant.

I just don’t get it.  When speaking, we can never know who our audience is.  People don’t understand that.  It’s impossible to know the background of the people you’re talking to, the things they have been through.  And there are so, so many things.  Everybody has a story.  Everybody has a thing that hurts.  Like the news story I read yesterday, overweight people, old people, drug users, lonely people, eating disorders, rape victims, abuse survivor, LGBT…et cetera, et cetera.  Everyone has a thing.  And making fun of or alienating a person in ANY form based on these things is just simply NOT okay.

Abuse, of any kind, is wrong.

Rape is wrong.

Discrimination is wrong.

It is wrong to make fun of the overweight, to make fun of the underweight, to make fun of the lonely girl who sits in the corner.  It is wrong to make judging comments about something or someone just because they are different than us.

To joke about people, to casually pass over them in conversation like they don’t exist, like their experiences are trivial, as if it’s the fault of the victim or the person simply because of who they are, says that these things are okay.

Let’s make these things not okay.

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Scar Tissue

In my class on Chaucer, we studied The Canterbury Tales.  I remember becoming incredibly angry in class one day at the attitude of one of the characters, the way that he thought he could treat women.  I hated the Man of Law on a deeply personal level.  I hated that he could get away with the things he did in his speech and nobody stopped him; I hated how much this was like society today.  I whipped up an email that shared my disapproval for the tale with the professor.  I was too agitated and on my soap-box to bring it up in class, but I knew that I need to say these things.

What I didn’t know then was that in just one day, the scars that were so offended at that point would be ripped wide open.  In just one day, I would completely change.

*

Chaucer’s Man of Law has a strong preference for passive and weak women, which he illustrates when he says “Humblesse hath slayn in hire al tirannye / She is mirour of alle curteisye; / Hir herte is verray chambre of hoolynesse” (Lines 165-167).  Custance is so humble that she has no inclination towards tyranny; she is courteous, and her heart is filled with holiness.  Her humble holiness is what keeps her alive; Custance may not receive much in life, but she is allowed to live.  By following the guidelines of what is expected of her, Custance preserves her own existence.  But is it worth it?  Is this type of living really existing at all?  

*

I’m checking back in with you.

I read the message, and I stick on those words.  Checking in.  She’s checking in.  This is good; I can start checking off days.  How many days has it been again?  Crap.  Do I even exist anymore?

If you’re feeling up to it next week sometime, let’s see if we can make an appointment to talk about options.  

I am struggling with options right now.  I am struggling with direction.  I am struggling to function.

I know it may not feel like you have too many right, but you do have options.  We all have options.  Always.  Even if we don’t particularly like any of them terribly much.

It’s like she can read my mind.  I want the words she’s sent to tell me what to do, but they don’t.  I have to do that, and I don’t want to.  I am folded into my bed, wrapped in blankets, with a cat on top of me.  I run my fingers through her fur, lost in thought.  Part of me says this is my fault.  But part of me says I did what I had to do.  

*

Custance allows herself to be treated as an object by both her father and her husband because she feels she has no other choice.  She tries to subtly guilt her father into not sending her away when she says, “Fader … they wrecched child Custance / Thy yonge doghter fostred up so softe” but she then continues by submitting to her objectification with the statement “Wommen are born to thraldom and penance / And to been under manes governance” (Lines 273-275, 286-287).  Custance calls herself wretched daughter, referring to herself in third person, which leads to her identification as an object, and then adds that women are born just to suffer and do what men tell them to do.  However, she never directly expresses outward displeasure at the events that are being thrust upon her. 

*

If you’re not up to talking about this yet, that’s also okay.  You have complete control over when we tackle this.

I don’t think I want to say a word ever.  It’s like someone has taken a knife to my emotional scar tissue and ripped me to shreds.  I feel like I’m dying. 

I’m behind you.  

I don’t know how to respond to that thought, because it implies a forward motion that I’m not sure I can adhere to.  I want nothing more than to stay here, hiding, 

All my best thoughts are directed towards you today.  You are one of the most talented students I’ve seen in recent years and I know I’m not the only one who sees your potential.

I start to cry.  The potential that she mentions, my potential, is gone.  I’ve been silenced.  

*

1 Corinthians 14:34 says that women “should remain silent … they are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says” (NIV Bible).  The Bible states that women should remain silent in all matters and defer to men, and this is an attitude that permeated throughout medieval times of historical record.  Custance allows herself to be used and directed by both men and God, which illustrates an outward devotion to Christianity, but she obeys God simply because she believes that she is supposed to do so.  As a woman, Custance does not believe herself to have any say in the matter.  She stays silent and continually fails to speak out for herself in a direct manner.  Her humility and her endurance go to extremes that no real woman could ever hope to attain.  Her existence itself is a magnet for suffering, and the reason for this parallels the Biblical interpretation of how women should be treated:  as objects.  Following God to the extreme and being a moral, upstanding, Biblical woman does not advance Custance into anything other than heartache.

*

Every step is a choice.  You have control over whether or not you do each one.

Yes.  This is true.  I do.

I unwrap myself from the blankets and grab my laptop.  And I write.  I write about Custance and The Man of Law’s Tale and the land of Chaucer.  I remember how this was a horrible thing for me just a few days ago, the way Custance was treated in the tale.  I remember how struck I was by the similarities between us.  Suddenly, as I write, I identify with her even more.  I remember how I am a good student, how this is what I do now.  I’m smart.  I can’t defend myself, I can’t speak, but I can do this.  

I can do this.

I do homework, I get ahead, because it is the only thing I can do.  The only thing I know how to do.  I write about Custance and her silence, and how she is a magnet for suffering.

I too am a magnet for suffering.

Where I disliked The Man of Law just a few short days ago, now I find myself hating Custance.  And I hate myself right along with her.

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And Then I Learned to Talk

When the man first grabbed my hand and shook it, I was mildly intimidated.  He introduced himself, and mentioned he had his doctorate in comp and comparative lit.  I wasn’t entirely sure what comparative lit was, but I knew that somehow, in a room of one hundred people, I had found the person that I could converse intelligently with.  And converse we did.

“Your major is English?” he asked.  “Do you have a focus?  Like, British, American, you know?”

“Writing,” I responded without hesitation.  

“What kind?”

“Nonfiction.”

He raised his eyebrows.  “Oh really?  No fiction?”

I wasn’t sure why he was surprised.  “Well, some.  Sci-fi.  But mostly nonfiction.  Creative nonfiction.”

“What’s the difference between creative and noncreative nonfiction?  Isn’t it all just…nonfiction?”

I had to think about that one for a moment.  “Well…Okay.  So.  Take the piece that I got published.  Nonfiction would be interviewing an animal shelter worker and writing a biography on the information that you get.  Creative nonfiction would be taking that information and turning it into a piece that profiles her dog.”

“That makes total sense.”  He took a sip of his wine.  “What lit classes have you taken?  Any Hemingway?”

We chatted Hemingway for a while, and the ways in which he related to my personal writing style.  Hemingway had never been a favorite of mine, but I was able to hold up my end of the conversation.  We strayed from that to graduate school, and the places that I was intending to apply.  And then:

“I went to graduate school in Montreal.  I took a class once with Michael Foucault.”  

I became quite excited at that news.  “He’s my favorite theorist!”

“I hated his class.”  

Introvert me wanted to smack myself in the face at my error in judgement.  “Oh, well,” I stumbled.

“What do you like about him?”

I took a breath.  “Well, I like how he attempts to change society’s ideas regarding power and power systems.”  I was hoping he would let it go at that.

“How so?”

Crap.  I had to keep talking.  “Well, take for instance, “The Subject and the Power.””

“You had to read that for a class?”

“I read it on my own.”

He smiled warmly, encouraging me to continue.

“I find the whole idea of women and power and power relations and how Foucault’s theory challenges gender roles to be incredibly interesting.  Especially the ways in which women obtain power and how power can be used against them.  I wrote a paper about how discourse brings power and knowledge together.  I think that when someone is allowed to have their own ideas, they gain knowledge.”

“But what does that knowledge have to do with power?”

That was an easy one.  “Well, knowledge is power,” I replied.  

“What if I told you that power is what gains people all of their knowledge?”

“I disagree,” I said without missing a beat.  “I think that even if power can gain knowledge, the majority of knowledge comes from power.  You can’t give people power and you can’t take power away.”  I remembered an example that had come up in class.  “Say I have an awesome professor.  When I’m in her class, she has power because she can give me grades.  I know that because she in charge of my grade, she has power over me.  However, it’s up to me what I do with that power.  I choose whether or not to give it to her.  I choose whether or not to go to class.  I choose whether or not to earn that grade.  So in reality, she doesn’t have power at all once I know that it is in my power to earn the grade.  You know what I mean?”

He set his wine glass down on the table and rested his hand across his beard, peering at me.  “That’s an interesting theory.  What would you say about how Foucault views the exercise of power?  I disagree with his idea that signs and signals have power effects.  They have nothing to do with how we communicate.”

“I respectfully disagree.”  I took a sip of my own wine.  “To me, it’s all about communication and follow the signs.  Power and communication are inter-related.  Maybe that varies from society to society, but they’re definitely related.  And I’m not sure Foucault really focused on that at all.  I took more away from the ideas regarding power relations, that power is specifically the action taken on a field of possible action of others.  That it can only be exercised over free subjects, that it can’t be forced.  I feel like he was trying to say that we governmentalize power relations.  If I can use that word.  Which I just now made up.”

He laughed.  “I don’t know.  It seems that you got more out of it than me then.  I would go so far as to say that Foucault focused too much on the different areas in society where these relationships exist.  Status and wealth and social differences and the like.  And how those gain power and form relationships.  I believe that power can be quite negative.”

“I think you’re totally right that those things can form relationships.  But I’d say that power is assigned from where we choose.  We can’t hold power over somebody unless they let us.  I can’t have a lot of money and then hold that over you and claim to be more powerful unless you let me.  Sure, money makes me powerful.  That’s true.  I can buy things and the like.  But if you were poor, you could still be powerful.  It’s all in how we act.  You wouldn’t be not powerful or not able to make decisions just because I had money and I said so.  It isn’t necessarily all the same.”  I worried as the words tumbled from my mouth that they were completely jumbled.

“Power is everywhere,” he quoted, “and it comes from everywhere.  You would support the idea then that it’s not an agency or a structure?  That it just invades society and that it always changes?”

“If power can’t be given or taken,” I responded carefully, “isn’t it always in flux?  And it’s not necessarily negative.  I don’t think Foucault believed that power necessarily had to be negative or repressive.  It can be negative, but I think he was trying to say that it could be positive and productive as well.”

“I do believe,” he said, taking a sip of his wine, “that you would have quite enjoyed his class.”

“I think so too.”

Setting his glass down again, he fished around in his pocket and came up with a business card.  “Say,” he said, passing me the card.  “Since we’ll never talk again, probably.  I think that you have a solid head on your shoulders.  And I’d be pleased to offer you a reference, should you ever need one.”

I smiled and said thank you, staring at the card in awe of my own ability as he disappeared into the crowd.  The words of his name and title blurred together as I thought the urge to cry.  I wasn’t tearing up because I was sad.

Maybe I hadn’t been completely correct in the things I had said.  But I had been solid in my speech.  I hadn’t backed down.  I had made an effort to support my ideas.  I had earned a stranger’s respect. 

I was tearing up because I knew that I really could talk.  I really could share my thoughts.

And I had.

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Why the Arts Deserve Funding (Rough Draft)

Why is my college awesome?  Why is my degree important?  Why is the English field important?  Heck, why are the arts important?  And why should we fund them?  I find myself struggling with the answers to these questions.  Sure, I know the canned responses.  Writing is a popular skill these days; companies want a person on their staff who can write well.  Arts people are good communicators.  They get people and they know how to get through to them.  They can take complex ideas and process them in a well-articulated way.  They are artists, editors, keepers of history and providers of the written word.

But do I fit into any of those categories?  I’m not really one who fits in a box, at least not anymore.  And that is what Parkside has done for me.  It isn’t just some tiny nothing school in the middle of the woods.  (And I know I’m not supposed to say that, but I’m trying to prove a point.)  Parkside has amazing students and activities, and the College of the Arts and Humanities is especially amazing.  The professors know their stuff and are able to convey lessons that are applicable both inside and out of the classroom.  I have taken things away from every single class I’ve had.  I have not only learned about the literature canon and the history of more authors than I have time to mention, but I have learned about myself in the process.

In my life before college, I was taught that it was wrong to think for myself.  My thoughts weren’t my own, and I let my idea wither away into nothing.  These messages came from everywhere in my life, and this conditioning made school very difficult for me in the beginning.  I didn’t know how to speak up; I had a very difficult time if I wasn’t absolutely positive I had the correct answer.  The thing about being in a creative field is that there really isn’t one correct answer.  There’s not really a wrong answer either.  An opinion, a thought on a text, cannot be wrong.  There’s only what you think.

Our college has what is referred to as a gateway course to the English major:  Literary Analysis.  As I dove into the work at the start of the course, it became apparent that I was supposed to read the assignments and have my own thoughts about them.  It was then I thought I wasn’t cut out for the land of English.  There wasn’t one correct answer.  By the time we got to Lacan around the fourth week of the course, it completely blew my brain.  I read the words and I understood them, but my head was stuck on figuring out what the right answers were.  I couldn’t let this idea go.  So I asked the professor for help.  I distinctly remember the conversation we had while I was standing in her office that day.  I told her that I didn’t get it, but really, I did.  I had my thoughts and ideas, but I wanted to be successful.  I wanted her to tell me what to think.

Her response?  “Well, what do you think?”

It was my worst nightmare; I was stuck.  I wanted the right answer.  I didn’t want to think.  I didn’t want to be wrong.  As I tried to articulate what I thought Lacan might have been trying to illustrate, the only thing running through my head was that she would think badly of me if I was wrong.  But as it turned out, she didn’t think badly of me at all.  She said I “sounded smart.”  I took that to mean I was going in the right direction.  After that, my thinking started to change.  I offered more opinions in class.  I was learning how to be my own person.  It was never purely academic for me.  It applied to my outside life as well.

The ultimate challenge came in the form of our final class presentations.  I was not only expected to form an argument that was completely my own, but I was expected to articulate that argument in front of a group of professors and my peers and alumni…that was a lot to take in.  Of course, it was for a grade.  I couldn’t just not do it.  I never in my life wanted to take an F more than I wanted to take that one, even though I had never had an F before.  I completely panicked.  There would be people.  Looking at me.  Judging me.  Judging my paper.  Judging my thoughts.  And those people were allowed (and encouraged) to ask questions, which I would have to answer on the spot.  My paper, which was an extension of me, was going to be up for debate.  Because I was so close to the work, to the ideas, I knew that it would feel personal.  They were my thoughts, and I would have to share them.  I would have to let myself be exposed.

That was a rough one for me considering that the whole idea of having my own thoughts was a completely new concept.  There were multiple emails exchanged between myself and this professor.  She did her best to reassure me.  My advisor worked with me on how to answer questions if people posed them to me—she told me to just get up there and do what I had to do and get my A.  She told me to believe in myself.  But I was still completely freaked out.  Believing in myself was not a solid concept at that point in my life.

I was terrified the day of the presentation.  As I started talking, I kept my hands below the podium edge so people wouldn’t see them shaking.  I played with my feet behind the podium, stepping in and out of my shoes.  I followed the words on the page with a pen.  (I still do that, and I’ve now given several of these presentations.)  But as I was speaking, it started to come easier.  No one was outright screaming that my argument was invalid.  No one was laughing at me.  I don’t remember all of the nightmarish things I thought might happen, but none of them did.   I gave that presentation, and it was awesome.  I fielded all of the questions that were asked of me, even the curveball question from my professor herself.  I learned something about myself that day, and not in the academic sense.  I learned that it’s okay to speak up.  It’s okay to be my own person.  It’s okay to have my own thoughts, and to say what I want to say.  I learned that I was still strong and very, very capable, despite the things I had previously learned.  Giving that presentation broke all of the previous conditioning that I had experienced.  The presentation assignment was given to us to give us experience in sharing papers in the event that we were ever asked to share our work at a conference.  But it was so much more than that for me.  It showed me that I was still a person.  I had things to contribute to life, both academic and not.  I could live outside of the box and be okay.

It taught me how to be proud of myself.   This program literally saved me.  And while I owe my professors so, so much, from the lessons they have taught me, I’ve been able to change myself.

So go ahead.  Ask me again.  Why is Parkside awesome?  Why is the English department amazing?  Why do the arts deserve more funding?  Why?  Because I am standing in front of a group of people speaking today when this never would have been possible in the past.  Because I can speak now, because I can share these words with you and not be afraid.  Because I am not the only one.  There are more people out there who are like me.  There are more people who need to find themselves, as I found myself.  I have found a place where my people are, where I fit in.  Where I can be a good student and have the answers even if they aren’t necessarily right.  Where I can show up every day, good or bad, and be accepted just the way I am.  By being at Parkside and working my butt off for my degree, I have found a purpose in my life where I previously thought I had none.  Being a writer is who I am.  Other people deserve the same opportunity that I have had to find themselves.

If you’re looking for an arts program to fund, it should be ours.  More money buys more professors who know their stuff and helps to keep the dedicated professors we already have in our department.  More money funds more events that draw more people.  Our facilities are top-notch, the best in the area, and we need to fill them with more people.  We need to come up with ways to introduce people to the arts in a way that makes them fall in love again.

More money helps more students like me become the people they are supposed to be.  To find the words.  So help us.  Help us to grow; help us to spread the word, to spread the arts.  Help us to become an even better undergrad program than we already are.

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I Break

I do not give myself enough credit.  Ever.  I don’t tell myself good job.  I don’t admit my strengths.  I certainly don’t give myself any pats on the back.  Most days, I don’t believe that I deserve them.  I wish that I could force it, that I could teach myself to be more confident.  That I could know that I’m making the right decisions.  I am constantly weighing all of the pieces, considering everything, and thinking of everyone but myself.

I put myself last.  I don’t know how to not do that.  I am always punishing myself for losing, and I’m so consumed with that that I don’t know how to let myself win.  I don’t always know how to accept the good things.

Today I had a conversation with someone I greatly respect.  I admitted to her that I was afraid of grad school.  Moreover, I’m afraid of not getting in; I’m afraid I’m not good enough.  I’m afraid that I’m not strong enough to handle that sort of rejection, and I’m afraid that I will let myself get so scared that I’ll quit.  I’ll give up.

She argued with me.  I knew she would; that was part of the reason I asked her to chat.  I needed to hear somebody say it:

“You’re so strong.  And you can handle it.”

“I’m not strong.  I break.”

“But you don’t. You don’t break.  You’re still here.”

*

I am reminded of a time, almost six months ago, when I sat in this very office in this exact same chair and uttered the exact same words: “I’m scared.”

“Of what?” she asked then.

“Everything.  Life.  What happened.  What happens now.  I think I’m broken.”  I tried not to cry.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.  “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay.  It isn’t your fault.”  My gaze drifted out the office window and I thought for a moment before continuing.  “I know that it’s important to tell my story, but…what if people don’t believe me?”

She thought about that for a moment and took a few bites of her lunch.  “I believe you.  I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t.  You’re so amazing, and strong.  And I know that it’s hard and it completely sucks.  But you can get through it.  You’re strong, and you’ll be okay.  Maybe it doesn’t feel like it now, but it’s true.  You’re going to be fine.”

I didn’t know how to be fine.  I didn’t know how to come back, how to be whole.  I didn’t know how to fix what was broken.  I didn’t know how to fix me.  “I feel like I should quit.”  I figured that was what people did when things got too hard.

“One day at a time, one step at a time.  And you keep moving forward.  You aren’t a quitter.”

I met her eyes.  It took an amazing amount of effort, but I didn’t break from her gaze.  “I don’t know how to do this.”

“But, you already are.”

Truth.

*

I thought I was broken that day.  Abnormal, lost.  But I wasn’t.  I survived.  I survived something.  An event, or really, series of them.  And I’m still standing on the other side of it all.  How, I don’t know.  But here I am, not broken when I so obviously should be.  When many other people would be long gone.  But there’s this little thing nagging at me now, this issue of grad school.  It scares the crud out of me.  Why?  Because it’s unknown.  I don’t know if I will get in, and I don’t know what will happen if I do.  I don’t know where I will go.  I don’t know where I will live.  I don’t know if I’ll be okay on my own.  At least, these are the things I tell myself.  But the truth is, I’ve fought a lot of life on my own.  This is just one more thing, as scary as it is.  Fear of failure or not, I shouldn’t quit.  I’m not a quitter, and I never was.

The fact of the matter is, I have absolutely no idea how to rebuild my life after everything.  And it’s a new adventure every day.  It’s fun at times, scary at times, and just plain crazy at times.  I may not know what to do now, but it’s my life.  My choices.  My decisions.

I put myself last.  But I shouldn’t.

My writing is good.  I hesitate to call it very good.  My grade point average is excellent.  I’ve taken my fair share of courses and done well in all but one of them.  I have publications under my belt.  I’ve talked with a publisher regarding the process of getting my book out.  I have teaching experience.  I’ll be okay.  I always am.  I might even get in.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not as scared of what will happen if I don’t get in as I am scared of what will happen if I do.

What I have to keep telling myself is that, either way, it will be okay.

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