in which I cry in public (again) and attempt to make decisions about my future

Perhaps you recall the fact that I cry about pretty much everything that happens to me. If so, the following anecdote will not seem out of the ordinary to you, but it is still important in expressing the point I hope to make in this post.

I got the chance to attend two big events for a few of my senior students this weekend. The first was an art opening, a reception for the visual art students’ senior thesis exhibitions. The second was a senior piano recital by one of my girls. I work at an arts school, so performances and chances to see my students’ artistic accomplishments are not hard to come by — there’s something to attend pretty much every weekend — but for some reason, this weekend, the reality of where I work and what I do really hit me. Full force, like when you move away from home for the first time and realize you’ll really only see your family on holidays or at weddings and funerals, and all of a sudden, everything is raw and real and right in front of you. Unfortunately, this particular epiphany happened during the aforementioned piano recital.

Okay, so I’ve probably had many reflective moments like this over the course of my two years on the job. But as I sat in the recital hall, watching one of my beautiful students pour her heart into this major culminating performance, this expression of all she had worked for up until this point, I was overcome by how much talent I’m surrounded by and how hard these kids work while they’re here. I remembered being a teenager, staying up late memorizing lines for the musical instead of doing my math homework. I recalled being so focused on the art I buried myself in because it was the only thing that made me feel real. I imagined myself in my girls’ shoes, young artists right on the edge of the next stage of their lives, and how exciting and scary that must be for them. I’m sure you know what happened next…

I cried.

I thought about these girls, and how desperately I want them to go on and be successful, how I don’t want them to get to college and throw away their beautiful voices and thoughts and aspirations just because they discover beer pong or frat boys. I thought about how much I’ve seen them grow, how far they’ve come since I met each one of them. I thought about how I won’t be there to watch them make mistakes or share in their triumphs, and I was legitimately sad. Because truthfully, this job, this weird lifestyle of being a parent and older sister and mentor and friend to these kids, is the first thing I’ve felt good at in a really long time.

If the past few months have taught me anything, it’s to appreciate the charms of this job, the small things that make it special. On Friday night, I brought a group of my girls into town with me to see my friend (and former fellow hall counselor) John play music at a local art gallery. The night started out a little shaky — I mean, I had a group of teenagers with me and the average age in the room couldn’t have been less than twenty-six. Right when we got there, some people were dancing at the front of the room, just letting loose and not caring that they looked ridiculous or that people were watching them. But it was a bit off-putting for my girls. This wasn’t the crowd of familiar peers they usually saw at on-campus activities. The entire experience was new to them, and at first they didn’t want to stay. Eventually, after I told them we were going to stay and hear the music we came there to hear (and after I let them get some takeout from the bistro next door and they had eaten their fill of french fries), they let their hair down a little bit. We got up and danced, we cheered for John, we sang along with the songs we knew, and finally we were the ones who didn’t care whether other people were watching. That evening, I realized how lucky I was, enjoying great music with these kids I had been getting to know all school year, and watching them get the chance to be away from campus and feel free. It was perfect and a beautiful reminder of how unique this job really is.

I’ve decided to come back here for a third year. This wasn’t my original plan, and for most of the past year I had my mind set on moving on, living in a “real” apartment, and learning to be a “real” adult, with bills and a kitchen and possibly a cat. I was looking forward to having evenings and weekends free, and not having to feel responsible for anybody but myself. I couldn’t wait to be able to drink a glass of wine along with the dinner I cooked for myself ON A WEEKNIGHT. All the tiny nuances of being an adult who doesn’t live in a dorm with teenagers were so seductive, and I was intoxicated by the possibilities my coming freedom held. But I don’t feel like I’m done with this yet. This job and this place have brought so many people and lessons into my life, and I think there are a few more left for me here in the next year. Sure, it’s going to be a struggle at times, and I’m going to have to create my own challenges and keep myself busy, but there will also be a whole new group of kids for me to watch grow and joke around with and take into town to hear live music.

I’ve never been the type of person to base major life decisions on “gut feelings.” I like to think things through, weigh my options, and then make a choice. But, for reasons I can’t rationally explain, I have decided to not only stay here for another year, but work toward something that I really, really feel like I need to be doing for myself. In my last post, I wrote about seeing myself as a writer, and learning to become one. Well, that’s what I’m going to do with the coming year. I’m going to write. And I’m going to read things by other writers. And I’m going to write some more. And I’m going to try to get into a school where I can learn how to be better at it. And maybe I’ll totally suck at it. Or maybe afterwards I will know what I should be doing. Maybe I won’t. All that matters is that I’m going to try. But before I get there, I’m going to spend one more year in this special place, with these special people…and the fact that I’m smiling right now, as I write this, tells me I made the right choice.

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I’m not a writer but I play one on this blog, and other dumb things that have crossed my mind lately

Sometimes I assess the state of my life based on whether I have anything to write about. When I’m too stressed out, I have a hard time collecting my thoughts in a coherent way. When things are going swimmingly, I don’t want to spend an afternoon holed up on my couch, clacking away on my keyboard. It’s typically in between those two extremes where I feel most productive. I need just enough stress to make me use writing as an emotional outlet, but enough positive energy to be able to focus and use my time productively. But that happy medium has been too freakin impossible to attain lately.

I’ve been lacking in inspiration, motivation, and creativity. I’ve tried countless times over the past month or so to just sit, write, and accomplish something. On one particular warm spring day (which have unfortunately been few and far between in northern Michigan thus far), I made the 20ish minute drive from campus into town, my windows cracked and Josh Ritter’s new album playing sweetly through my car stereo. The sun was out and it seemed like the perfect day to spend a little time at my favorite downtown coffeeshop, sipping a cup of local organic tea, and unloading some of the things that had been burdening my mind. (I sound like a huge hippie freak, sorry.) But after I got there, ordered my tea, and made myself comfortable at a little table, I couldn’t write anything. I opened a new Word document. I thought of the infinite possibilities I would have relished within that blank document back when I was a teenage short story writer, but I stared at my computer and nothing came to mind. I drank my tea really quickly and then had to pee right away. I fidgeted constantly. I checked Facebook 847 times. I didn’t understand what had changed. A couple months ago, I could barely sift through all of the different topics I wanted to write about. Now I had none.

Perhaps I should explain that I’ve never considered myself “a writer.” That sounds stupid now that I’m actually declaring it, because…well, I have this blog, don’t I? And honestly, I’ve been writing for most of my adolescent and adult life. But I’ve gone through writing phases. As a preteen and teenager, I wrote short stories all the time. I was obsessed with young adult fiction and most of my stories followed the typical teenage-girl-facing-the-world-slash-in-love-with-her-best-guy-friend model that I devoured, one novel at a time. As a senior in high school, I got my first (and only, so far) freelance job as a teen opinion columnist for my local newspaper. (My old columns are all in their online archives, I recently discovered, so that was a fun blast from the past during one recent and extremely boring front desk shift.) In college, I understood the mechanics of writing for academics well enough to breeze through the writing requirements of all my courses (especially my music ones, because apparently nobody in that discipline expects you to be able to express yourself unless it’s through performing or writing notes on a staff — one time I was assigned an analytical paper on a specific lied for my theory class, and my professor was so impressed by my writing skills that he gave me an A+, which I didn’t even know you could get in college). I even tutored other students in writing and took one creative writing course during my senior year. But I never considered writing to be more than just a skill that I had, a useful tool that allowed me to easily communicate in various capacities and environments. I didn’t consider it as a career choice (though I guess I have made a little money doing it and teaching others how to do it). I let it be a part of me as it always had been, but it was never a defining characteristic.

I guess the point is, writing has always just been a normal part of my life; a convenient skill when I need to capitalize on it, or an outlet to express creativity or get caught up in telling a story that’s not my own. More recently, though, it’s been a way for me to process emotions that I can’t otherwise get out. For one thing, I don’t express myself eloquently when I try to speak about my feelings. I have to get them out in writing, to put them down in black and white, in order to feel like I’m adequately explaining myself. So I do that sometimes. But since I don’t see myself as a “real” writer, I don’t have ways of getting myself past that staring-at-a-blank-screen-with-no-inspiration point. I don’t have exercises that I use to get the words flowing. I always found those exhausting when I was forced to do them in school. But sitting at that table in the coffeeshop with nothing to do but browse my Spotify playlists, I realized that it’s also exhausting to want to write, to have this desire to let the words flow freely for awhile, and not be able to do it.

So now, as I’m trying to redefine myself and my career path heading forward into my adult life, I’m starting to wonder if I should take writing more seriously. It’s always been this constant in my life, but since I saw myself as a musician for so long, the writer side of me always fell by the wayside. I’m not sure why I felt like I needed to choose between the two, but now that music has become more of a hobby for me, I feel like it might be time to let my writer side grow more. I need to force myself to sit and write, even if it’s about nothing important, nothing worth reading a few hours later. I need to come up with ways to break through that blockage I face, but I also need to accept that sometimes, the block is an important part of the creative process. I need to want to do it, but I also need to do it even when I don’t necessarily want to. I need to start writing down my observations, taking in my surroundings and reacquainting myself with the way words can express literally anything around you or within you. I need to find a way to write when I’m so stressed I can’t handle it and when I’m over-the-moon happy, and all those other moods in between.

Mostly, I think I need to see myself as a writer. So here we go. I’m a writer.