going

I’m not a risk-taker.

A year ago, I bought a GRE study book and began brushing up on my high school algebra for a test that, during undergrad, I had never even envisioned myself taking. I crafted a spreadsheet comparing the various costs, application requirements, and deadlines for nine different graduate schools. For ten months, I made checklists. I ordered transcripts. I filled out countless online forms with my personal information. I wrote. I deleted. I revised. I cried.

I waited.

And now, as I sit here eating microwave popcorn directly from the bag and listening to Nick Drake on vinyl, I’m done. It’s all over and I survived. I made it to the portion of the process that I didn’t ever really think about.

I spent so much time editing my writing sample, talking to current MFA students, contacting my references, and painstakingly finishing each application. It was so easy to think about each school, each choice, in theory. Yeah, I could live in Chicago or New York City. Sure, I’d move across the country to go back to school. No problem. It didn’t seem real. It didn’t seem tangible. When I thought about the future, the concept of place was this big blank space in my life. I pictured myself at work in a generic, nameless library. I pictured school, being a student again, but not a specific city. Even though I wanted so badly to get accepted, for someone to read my voice and pick me, I hadn’t thought past the arrival of the acceptance and rejection letters. I hadn’t thought about picking my life up and going somewhere completely new to study something that is, in most people’s minds, impractical. I hadn’t considered learning to navigate a new city, buying furniture, finding my new favorite coffee shop.

And now that’s where I’m at.

So I’m going. I’m moving to Spokane, Washington this fall to attend Eastern Washington University with a teaching assistantship. I’m going to be a writer and a teacher and a student. And I’m proud. Nobody forced me to do this but me. I made it happen. But beneath all of the relief and excitement, there is just as much stress and anxiety as there was while I hurdled through the application process. I might get there and be the worst writer in the class. I might not make any friends until January. I might get lost trying to find the grocery store. I might hate my life.

It’s finally starting to hit me that this place, this haven I’ve called home for the past three years and several summers before that, won’t be mine anymore. I won’t have trips to the beach in the dead heat of late August, or infuriating April snowstorms. I won’t lie awake in my bedroom on Sunday mornings, watching the light filter in and out of my curtains that aren’t quite dark enough and listening to teenagers whistle outside my window on their way to brunch. I won’t recount the hazy events of the night before with my friends, slumped in a booth in my favorite coffee shop. I won’t spend my evenings listening to eighteen year-olds pour their lovelorn hearts out while they sit on my couch and eat leftover donuts. It’s scary to think that something I’ve known so well, my life for three unbelievably formative years, will be gone. It’s even scarier yet to think that someone else — someone I may not even know — will be living it, taking naps on the couch I painstakingly selected for my living room and taking pictures of the snow-covered campus from my bedroom window right before Christmastime.

But I realize that leaving is just as much about saying hello to my new life as it is about saying goodbye to my old one. I can’t stay here forever, and if I’m going to leave . . . well, this is the best reason for me to do that.

I’m trying to be realistic. I know that I’m committing to at least five to seven emotional breakdowns over the next six months. I know that in the beginning I’m going to want to hide in my apartment and call my mom crying. I know that my workload will be stressful and I’ll say to myself “you chose this” while I pull an all-nighter highlighting passages in yet another collection of essays.  But I also know that I will settle in eventually. I will find friends to sit with while we stare at our respective computer screens in our favorite coffee shop. I will bake gluten-free muffins to take to my writer’s workshop. I will come to love my new home. It just might take a little while to get there.

I’m taking a risk, and I don’t normally do that. So . . . at the very least it will give me something to write about. Right?Green Lake

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profile of a desperate single woman who lives in the woods with teenagers

I’ve never been a “dater.” I’ve always called myself a hopeless romantic, a lover of love, a believer in the power of relationships, but when it comes to actually going out on dates, meeting people, and just casually browsing this vast world for the person who “completes me” (so-to-speak), the very thought makes me want to hide beneath the huge pile of laundry in the corner of my bedroom.

I would rather sit at home alone on the weekend, watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix and eating Nutella with a spoon, than go out on a date with someone I barely know. As a notorious overthinker, the anxiety that plagues me from the moment the date is planned until its final seconds is something I just don’t want to deal with. There’s too much prep work involved, especially considering the slim chances that this person will actually end up being the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. There’s the research phase, trying to learn as much as possible about this person without knowing so much that you have nothing to talk to them about. Then there’s the panic that follows the research, when you discover the person is either too good for you or potentially not good enough. Then, since I’m a girl who buys into socially constructed gender stereotypes once she has caught the attention of any man ever, I need lots of time to plan out an outfit, decide the outfit makes me look like I’m trying too hard, plan another outfit, try on six more and text pictures to my friends to get their input on whether my cleavage is “tasteful” or not, decide on a makeup scheme that makes me look subtle and somewhat natural, shave my legs, pluck my eyebrows, and starve myself, not because I want to lose weight before my date, but because I have so much anxiety bubbling in my stomach that I physically can’t force anything down my throat. And all of these stressful activities occur before I’ve actually gone on the date. The date is a whole different beast. A constant stream of self-analysis is running through my head, and it’s so distracting that I’m probably not even noticing how cool and nice this guy could actually be. He could open doors for me, compliment my dress, and listen attentively as I blather on and on about my weird job, and I would still be focused on the fact that the shoes I picked are too high or worrying about whether ordering a salad for dinner will make me seem like a shallow, insecure idiot. Dates suck, ok? They just do. I want to skip ahead to when I’m comfortable enough with someone that I can wear jeans and a v-neck, and we’ll go to a pizza place and split the bill. I want the comfort and familiarity of a relationship without going through the hard work of meeting someone and learning all about them. I’m too lazy to date.

Recently, one of my friends suggested that we try online dating this school year. First, I laughed at her because I thought she was kidding. Then, when I realized she was dead serious, I immediately shot the idea down. What could I possibly have to gain from online dating? What men are going to want to date me when my home is in a boarding school residence hall? Why would I put myself through the hell of dating anxiety when I probably won’t be living here a year from now? Even worse, what if I do meet someone I’m legitimately interested in and then I have to move across the country in June? I came up with every excuse in the book to explain why online dating would be a nightmare for me. But my friend simply countered that with, “It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but it could be fun!”

Then I realized I was being a complete asshole about it. Online dating is what people do now. Without taking into consideration my main fear of going on a date with an axe murderer (which is very real because I’ve watched enough Dexter to know that you can’t trust anybody anymore), it seems like a relatively low-risk way to meet somebody new. Sure, I don’t flirt well and I don’t date because it makes me want to throw up. I apparently just sit and wait for my knight in shining armor (or Jim Halpert in a white button-down, rather) to come find me and sweep me off my feet, which I’ve finally realized is completely ridiculous and the opposite of everything my feminist mother taught me as a young girl. I was raised to disapprove of the Disney princesses who sang melancholy songs and waited for a prince to save them. I was told real women find their own way in life and love, and they don’t need men to be their saviors. Well, I guess that’s a concept I need to reacquaint myself with.

Whether I will actually attempt online dating remains to be seen, because I still get that pukey feeling in my stomach whenever I think about going out with someone I’ve never met in person, and I am also really afraid of filling out an online dating profile. How much do you reveal about yourself on those things, anyway? I don’t want to end up being a huge disappointment to a guy who reads my watered down biography online and assumes I’m super cool, but I also don’t want to “undersell” myself like a high school kid with low self-esteem. They should teach you this kind of stuff in school. Five paragraph essays? Those are useless once you have your diploma. How to find the area of a trapezoid? COME ON. I now feel cheated by the public school system because for some reason I remember how to conjugate most Latin verbs but I don’t know how to catch myself a fella on OkCupid. If I were to fill out a profile right this moment, it would probably read something like this:

I am 24 year-old who works in residence life at an arts boarding school. When I’m not mentoring/mothering/wrangling the teenagers who live in my building, I enjoy binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, hiding out at coffeeshops, and making playlists on Spotify. I studied vocal music and education as an undergrad student, but eventually gave up that dream and now aspire to join an even less fruitful arts discipline by becoming a writer. I have restarted the second book of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire three times and haven’t gotten past page 70 yet, but I watched all three seasons of Game of Thrones in less than a week. I own an ice cube tray shaped like little penguins. I post on Twitter and Instagram far too often. I am mediocre at playing the guitar and piano, but probably above average at the ukulele. I watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended edition, duh) at least twice a year and yes, I dressed up for the midnight premiere of the first Hobbit film. I enjoy colored felt-tip pens and three-hole-punching documents. I can run 4 miles without stopping but I am slower than molasses. My favorite Bob Dylan album is Highway 61 Revisited and I am very glad he decided to include the acoustic version of “Desolation Row” as the final track.

Would you date me after reading that? It’s ridiculous, I know. But I guess the bottom line is, if I ever do try to meet my soulmate online, they’d better be okay with all of the things listed above, even if I don’t go into this much detail in my actual profile.

…I should also probably get somebody to write my profile for me.

I’ll take inspiration wherever I can get it, even if it’s from a crappy car stereo and a couple of barking dogs

I have no logical excuse for the sparsity of my blog posts this summer. I’ve basically been on vacation the whole time, which sounds extremely lazy, but judging by the number of TV shows I have binge-watched and Pinterest recipes I have tried, I’ve clearly had a lot of time on my hands. Time during which I could have been writing blog posts. Time which I chose to spend studying for the GRE (which I took two weeks ago, praise be to Zeus), sleeping, and sometimes running. Yeah, I run now, go figure. Never would have called that one myself, yet here I am, with a pair of fancy expensive running shoes and I actually get legitimately antsy on days when I don’t get some kind of exercise in. Literally shocking. Anyway, please don’t hate me for A) not updating this blog as often as I should, and B) subsequently bragging to you about how much “nothing” I’ve been doing all summer when you probably have a real job taking up all your time. Feel free to close your browser window now if I’ve offended you.

Okay, onto today’s post. Now that I’ve crossed the GRE off my summer checklist, my brain has had a lot of time to do what it does best: freak out. I’ve been feeling pretty anxious lately, mostly about self-centered, aimless twentysomething problems. What if my third year at my job isn’t as good as I’m expecting it to be? What if my girls hate me this time? What if I don’t get into grad school? What if I do get into grad school but have no way to pay for it? My head has been a jumble of all these things, plus countless others, in the recent days. I lie in bed at night, listing off the ways I could potentially screw up my life, or reasons the path I’ve chosen for myself won’t work out. I wake up in the morning and add more items to the list. Then, because I feel a toddler-style meltdown coming on, I try to remind myself that I just have to keep living my life and things will work out.

But, sorry, today that shit just wasn’t working for me.

Truthfully, my usual creative outlet of writing has been rather difficult lately. A professor once told me never to delete anything you write, so I’ve got a handful of half-written stories, essays, and blog posts on my computer from this summer alone, but none of them have seemed worth finishing right now. Even my tiny notebook that I carry with me in my purse so I can write down sudden bursts of inspiration or topics I want to explore has proved useless recently. And when I sat down today, my mind a jumble of worries and my stomach in knots, writing just wouldn’t happen. I browsed my half-written pieces, my list of funny quips and phrases I had hastily jotted down in my notebook, but nothing came of those. And I couldn’t sit still, just staring at these fragments of thoughts. I knew I should force myself to do it, but what can I say, I’m weak.

So I got in my car. I didn’t have anywhere specific I needed to go, but I wanted to drive. When I’m at school and need to get away, the nice part about going “into town” is that I have a 20 minute drive between me and my destination during which I can clear my head, sing along with the car radio, sob quietly to myself, or just decide where I’m actually going. But when I’m at my parents’ house, there are no country roads between me and the nearest Walgreen’s. I can’t drive for awhile without more or less planning out a route. My family always jokes that you can get anywhere in town in ten minutes or less, and sure, that convenience is nice when you’re in a hurry most days. But today, I was longing for the twisty, two-lane highway drive that I had taken so many times with no real purpose. I wanted to drive for awhile and maybe just end up at Lake Michigan. But that wasn’t an option, so I decided to take the highway to the south of town, because, well, what else was I going to do?

I ended up at Target. Go figure. I wandered around, bought some nail polish and a shower cap (don’t ask me why), and then realized I had no other reason to be there. I got back in my car, closed my eyes as I scrolled through my iPod for a new album to listen to, and when I opened them, one of my favorite Andrew Bird songs started playing. It seemed like a sign, so I took a deep breath, got back on the highway, and drove. I turned the volume up and let the soaring strings and plucky interludes soak into my ears. The music swelled and filled up my whole car, and nothing else was in my head but those sounds and how perfect they were. Suddenly, I no longer had a painful knot in my stomach, and my fingers had ceased their relentless tapping on the steering wheel. Maybe it’s the fact that music is rarely absent from my life, but I guess I had forgotten the power of the perfect song at the right moment. And as the song faded out, I felt more at peace than I had in quite awhile.

Eventually, I got home and I was greeted by the familiar barking of two excited dogs. I watched their eyes light up as I walked in the door and I let them jump all over me, thrilled that I was merely in front of them. I don’t believe in god, but if I did, I would have thanked him right then for creating animals who, no matter what you have going on in your life, will always look at you with the same joy and enthusiasm when you return home to them. It’s such a perfectly predictable expression of love. I wish I could think like a dog more often. Then maybe days like today wouldn’t seem as overwhelming.

So, while I went for a drive hoping that rolling the windows down and getting out of the house might clear my head, or that I would find inspiration somewhere new and exciting, what really ended up saving my afternoon was two things that have always been around in my life. And tonight, maybe I’ll feel anxious again while I try to fall asleep. Maybe I’ll lie awake, wishing I could remove my brain from my head just to get some peace and quiet. But right now I just feel grateful that I was able to sit down and write this post, finally. And it’s all thanks to a Bird and some dogs. I guess sometimes inspiration can come from the most routine parts of your life.

look at this goober.

look at this goober.

michigan is like an ex-boyfriend I’ll never get over, or, now I have to find a new coffeeshop for the summer and that is making me angsty

I’m home for the summer now. Almost two weeks ago, half of my building walked across a stage and received their high school diplomas, and then mere hours later I frantically hugged each girl goodbye as I raced around my little residence hall, cleaning up the last dust bunnies and sorting through all the piles of donations for the local thrift store in an effort to close everything down by the holy grail hour of 6pm. Then, I spent one blissful week on a deserted campus, drinking iced coffee and laughing and staying out until 4am with this beautiful group of people I had been forced into a professional AND social environment with only nine months ago. I ignored all the packing I had to do until the last few hours before I was scheduled to leave, because I knew that when I looked back on that precious week fifteen years from now, I was going to regret the minutes I didn’t spend with my friends, rather than how much of a frenzied mess I was in those final moments, shoving all my belongings to be stored in one half of the usual space they occupy. Finally, after a week of music, goodbyes, inappropriate card games, and plenty of local beer, I hastily loaded my car with random items I thought I might need between now and August and started driving toward home with only my (apparently ridiculously inadequate, though I did not know this before I started my trip) iPhone navigation app telling me where to go, a front seat full of junk food, and a pounding headache from the whiskey I foolishly imbibed until 3am the night before.

I think it’s safe to say that, after a road trip that included being rerouted by my GPS and taken an hour out of my way, getting stuck in two hours of Chicago rush hour traffic, and an arrival at my overnight stay in Madison nearly three hours later than I expected, my first solo driving journey back home was not at all what an anxiety-ridden, control freak introvert like me would prefer. But I made it in one piece, and suddenly, my arrival back in my hometown seemed…extremely anti-climactic. Sure, my family was excited to see me, my dogs gave me plenty of kisses and smacks with their wildly wagging tails, and I finally got to see the fruits of my parents’ long-anticipated kitchen remodel that was just finished. It was an appropriate homecoming. But somewhere in between opening every cupboard in the new kitchen just to find a coffee mug and attempting to unpack all of my crap in a room that is used mainly to store random knick knacks and the occasional rocking horse (don’t ask), I said to myself, “Why is it that you wanted to spend an entire summer here, again?”

I’ve written about home before. It is not the physical place or the people that make it hard for me to be back. It is the fact that I don’t fit here anymore. The things that are “mine,” the pieces of my new home that make it familiar for me, are not here. I suddenly realized, when trying to plan out how I would be spending my endless days of nothing, that I have fully adjusted to my life in northern Michigan. I just wanted to sit at my favorite coffeeshop and write this blog post, not find some new coffeeshop with baristas who don’t know my name and could very well be annoyed by me sitting there for six hours and only ordering one beverage (doing this probably makes me a jerk no matter where I go, but look, I’m usually broke and at least the employees at my regular places in Michigan pretend they don’t care that I camp out there and nurse a mug of French roast all frickin day). I wanted to order my favorite local beer with dinner, not have to taste a bunch of new Minnesotan ones to find one I like. I wanted to sit, sweat my brains out, and breathe heavily by the gorgeous lake after my morning run kicked my ass, not indoors on the couch in my parents’ living room. I wanted to know exactly where and when the good local music would be playing, I wanted to come home at night to the comfy bed I’ve gotten used to sleeping on for a year, I even wanted to be annoyed by the leaf blowers that frequent the path outside my window each morning and put in my earplugs and go back to sleep just to spite them (…okay, that might be going overboard with the nostalgia). I wanted all of those Michigan things I was so comfortable with to be here as well.

It’s funny, because when I made the initial decision to come home for the summer, it sounded like perfection. Home sounded like this shining beacon of hope when all my previous seasonal plans didn’t line up correctly; I was convinced coming back was the best option for me. I hadn’t had a summer free of work obligations in four years, and the idea of having nothing on my agenda except my family’s upcoming vacation to Florida sounded like pure bliss. This was going to be my break, my chance to make progress on grad school plans, to get that always elusive sleep that I desire during the school year, to maybe go visit friends from college whom I haven’t seen since we graduated. I wasn’t going to be lazy, just “less busy” than usual. Never mind that I hadn’t been home for more than two weeks at a time since I graduated college, or that I had a track record for getting needlessly restless on my second day back every time. How could this go wrong?

How? Because I’ve obviously fallen in love with my new home. And that makes me happy and sad all at the same time. Happy because I had no idea when I signed my initial contract two years ago that it would bring me so much joy and discovery in such a beautiful place. Sad because I know it can’t be permanent, and all these nostalgic feelings I have for it after leaving for the summer have just been a taste of what moving for good will feel like. When you really think about it, the concept of “place” beyond just the physical descriptors is so hard to define, and it’s even harder, when you are someone who doesn’t have a family or roots in a particular location, to make a place feel like one where you belong. But I really do think I’ve made that little corner of Michigan My Place over the past two years, and that makes me even more excited and ready to return for a third year in the fall.

In the meantime, I’m trying to readjust to living in my hometown as an adult again. I’m reminding myself that if I get restless or bored or frustrated, I can jump in my car and drive somewhere (because sometimes when I’m back in my parents’ house, I default to feeling like a teenager with limited freedom all over again). I have things to do, projects to keep myself occupied. I’ve visited the public library under the pretense of studying for the GRE and getting some more writing done. I’ve started making a dent in my summer reading list (mostly chick lit and comedic non-fiction essays, but hey, it’s vacation, I’m not busting out Anna Karenina). I’ve gotten back into exercising. I’m focused on coming out of this summer alive and well, and perhaps even with a new appreciation for the place where I grew up. I don’t think I’ll ever move back here for more than a summer, but maybe this time around, I’ll end up finding some things that make it feel like My Place again.

sun setting over Lake Michigan, otherwise known as one of the reasons I will cry myself to sleep tonight.

sun setting over Lake Michigan, otherwise known as one of the reasons I will cry myself to sleep tonight.

5 things that are probably taking years off my life

It’s the end of the year at boarding school. In less than three days, all the kids will be packed up and shipped back where they came from, and I will probably be sucking my thumb on the floor. While all of the goodbyes and end of the year parties and hugs and reminiscing are a beautiful part of this job, I’m also halfway to losing my mind completely. For some reason, I blocked this insane time of year out of my memories from my previous year here. So, because I just bit all my fingernails off (something I stopped doing at age 14), I decided to compile a list of all the things that are stressing me out and therefore probably shortening my lifespan significantly.

1. The pile of dirty laundry in the corner of my room is large enough for me to hide within and not be found should I ever need to avoid an attack by a villain in a Stephen King novel/movie or win an extreme game of hide and seek with a million dollars at stake. I have no idea when said pile of laundry will have time to be washed in the immediate future, so it will continue to grow until it’s large enough for two people to hide from Johnny Depp’s multiple personality killer in Secret Window. Even thinking about this massive amount of laundry and the possibility of having to re-wear underwear before I get a chance to wash it all gives me a tiny ulcer.

2. My main source of nutrition has been meals made up of any combination of the following: chicken strips from any of the fast food restaurants in the surrounding area, parmesan & garlic Triscuits, grapefruit juice, honey mustard Pringles, mini Babybel cheeses, and cupcakes. Writing that out actually made me feel like I was dying a little bit.

3. I drink on average 3.67 large iced coffees a day. This data is merely an estimation and has been thrown off slightly by the few times I mistakenly ordered the “medium” size, which is the biggest waste of money ever because why order a medium when a large is only several cents more and will give you more minutes filled with iced coffee enjoyment while you obsessively check Facebook and then plan your next trip to the grocery store to buy more things that will rot your insides?

4. The last time I got more than five hours of sleep in a night was weeks ago, because when I finally get done working at midnight, hastily remove my makeup, and collapse into bed, my internal monologue suddenly reads like a Steinbeck novel (if Steinbeck ever wrote a novel about an anxiety-ridden twenty-something) while I analyze in great detail everything that crosses my mind: any loose ends I could have left hanging during my afternoon desk shift, my to-do list for the next day, possible future blog topics, emails I forgot to reply to, how I will decorate my future apartment, what kind of tattoo I would get if I got one, possible scenarios in Candy Crush Saga, how I can get John Krasinski to @reply to me on Twitter. Then, once I exhaust myself enough to stop thinking through how to formulate a Tweet that would catch John Krasinski’s attention and make him fall in love with me over the internet, I fall asleep and my iPhone alarm vibrates next to my face only a few hours later. The next day, I go through my day like a zombie, ingest 3.67 large iced coffees, breathe a sigh of relief when my closing shift ends at midnight, pull on my PJs, and the vicious cycle starts all over again.

5. I have lost count of how many mosquito bites are covering my body, but it’s definitely in the double digits. I know this may not seem like a big enough thing to decrease my lifespan, but if any of the mutant mosquitoes (seriously, I just killed one that was the size of a fly) that have hatched in northern Michigan happen to be carrying diseases, it might. And won’t you be sorry if I contract some mosquito-borne disease and die young, huh?

I’ll probably wake up tomorrow morning and everything will be sunshine and rainbows and hugs from my girls. I’ll probably forget about these stressful things while I suck down yet another iced coffee, but for now, I’m going to hope writing this blog entry at least cuts down on the number of things I have to think about while I try to fall asleep tonight.

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.

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.