Tag Archives: undergraduate

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors-2014 in Review

This year has contained a great many closing doors. It’s funny really that I, who have never been one for goodbyes, have had a year of them. In fact, if I had to give a slogan to 2014, it would be “The Year of Goodbyes.” Goodbye job. Goodbye college. Goodbye friends. Goodbye home. Goodbye. Goodbye? Or see you later?

I like “The Year of See You Later.” I have never been good at goodbyes.

The one I remember most clearly is the one with N, when I moved from Wisconsin to New York. It’s so vivid for two reasons: one, it was one of my last Wisconsin goodbyes. Two, it was completely unexpected.

The plan was to leave at 3am on Sunday morning. But then at five pm on Saturday night, it occurred to the friend going with me that it would be easier to leave right then—and she was right. I started texting N, some conglomeration of “I’m not ready,” and “I changed my mind,” and “I don’t want to go to grad school anymore.” Her response stuck with me: “You are leaving AND beginning. Here is done. You belong in New York.” I sat in the middle of the living room floor, tracing the words on my phone while everyone around me was cracking up at the glory of Sharknado 2. I had finally stopped crying just before that, but the tears came again in earnest. I swiped them away and bit my cheek to bid them goodbye. “I guess,” I texted N back.

As I hit send, the doorbell rang. When I came around the corner, I could see N through the screen door. “What the actual fuck…?” I opened the door and stepped on to my porch.

“We are late, as we need to meet a train, but I thought that you could use this.” And we hugged. A lot.

“I just stopped crying,” I said, biting on my cheek again. “I’m not ready, N. I’m not ready to say goodbye.”

“It’s not goodbye,” she said, stepping down off the porch to where her partner was waiting in the car. “It’s see you later.”

I watched as they drove away and whispered, “See you later,” to the wind.

This really has been a year of “see you later.” In February, I went to Georgia for a convention over my son’s birthday, making it the first year I wouldn’t see his memorial stone on his day. Now I see that as preparation for this year. That same trip was also a test for my PTSD, one that, with the help of a new friend, I passed with flying colors. Another preparation for this year. I followed up this monumental trip by kicking ass at my final semester of college, and graduating with honors. I got into multiple Creative Writing graduate programs, leaving me to pick where in the country I wanted to go. I took a vacation in Hawaii, because I was no longer afraid of traveling after Georgia. I said “see you later” to my friends and moved 1000 miles across the country with just my cat for companionship. I moved to New York, which is huge and filled with people; this is something I’m not sure I could have done a year ago. I can successfully navigate the subway system, and I have never gotten lost. I survived my first semester of graduate school. In fact, I aced it.

A lot of doors closed for me this year. But a lot of others opened right after them.

2014 has been what would call a challenging year. Good, but challenging. I had formed many great relationships that I had to let go in the process of moving to New York. Recently, I received a writing prompt of sorts asking me to evaluate these relationships in the greater scheme of, well, my survival of everything. If I want my thesis to be a more in-depth telling of my story, I need to examine all the sides of it. I realized while working on this prompt that there are many people have been very, very important to me—and just moving away does not make them any less important or change their significance in any way. I have spent my first five months in New York acclimating, but also missing those I left behind. I didn’t fully let the door close. I think that, in the process of that, I’ve missed out on meeting new people because I held everyone up to a standard they could never achieve. The fact that I am in a new physical location doesn’t mean I have to give up the circles of people I have; it simply means I have to enlarge them. Open them up, and open myself up to them. Close some doors to open new ones, making a bigger and better “house” in which everyone and everything is connected.

Many times when I’m on the subway, I see people who are late to the train. They ignore all of the signs, running down the stairs at a breakneck pace, to stick their arm in the closing doors in a desperate attempt to shove themselves into the car. This doesn’t always work. In fact, the doors snap shut so suddenly, it hurts to get a limb stuck in there. More often than not, I see these rushing people waiting on the platform for the next train as those of us who made it on time pull away from the station. They know that they have to be willing to let the door close.

There is a reason why the overhead announcer tells you to “stand clear of the closing doors” every single time the train doors slam shut—they could, literally, take off a limb. There is also a reason why “see you later” cannot always be avoided. When you aren’t open and willing to let a door close and move on to the next, you miss out on what you would have had at that next door. Had I not come to graduate school, had I not said goodbye, had I not said see you later … I don’t know what I would be doing now, but I know that it wouldn’t be this. If I hadn’t let the door close, I would still be standing in the same exact spot. And I don’t know if I would be as happy there.

That’s a lie. I know I wouldn’t be.

Every time I hear the announcements on the train now, I smile. I think of my friends. I think of the year I have had, the year that has been one giant closing door. One huge see you later. And I know that the door closed because another was coming along, open, after it.

I have changed, and that change has been for the better. So I love this year, the year of “See You Later.” And a part of me hopes that next year will have just as many closing doors as this one did.

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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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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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Elements

The periodic table is made up of singular elements. A lot of them. When those elements bond together, they become compound elements. Compound elements cannot exist without all of their pieces; water cannot exist without two oxygen and one hydrogen. On their own, hydrogen and oxygen molecules simply exist. But together, they are something every living creature needs for survival. 

English, and this convention, have been a bonding experience for me in that way. I’ve existed on my own for a long time.  But it’s simply been existing.  I always thought of myself as small, as knowing nothing.  I never gave myself credit for my ideas or thought they were worth anything. And now I am part of something greater, something that is bigger than I am. Something I was meant to be a part of all along. The small but mighty Parkside English program might be unknown, but it is amazing. My professors are awesome. I know literature, I know theory, I know how to have a brain and I know how to use it.  The greatest lesson I learned this week was that, because I know literature, I have a place in this world.  I may not know everything, but my college has given me all of the tools and the knowledge that I need to be successful. To go out. To bond.  

At this convention, I became water. 

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