Kaleidoscope of loud heartbeats
April 2, 2015
I took this picture of Grand Central Station in 2011 on my first trip to New York, where I will be in two weeks visiting my sister during my break. Last week, I found out that I'll be going back there a third time in the fall as a full-fledged grad student doing research and taking classes at Columbia. I wish I could just end the blog post here, with a big fat "YAYYY!!!!!" but who am I kidding, I need to write out my feelings because I've been having lots of 'em these past few days, as I've been processing and processing the news. At first I had a hard time feeling anything though, the way you get numb after a something major occurs and your brain just goes into autopilot mode as a defense mechanism against change and the inevitable march of time. But then, as I told more and more people and was forced to react to people who reacted to me, it all started flooding in — the panic and the exhilaration, the excitement and the anxiety, the oh-my-gods and the what-am-I-doings and how do I do this exactly?
Truth is, I don't know. But I'm trying to take everything one step at a time and to avoid panic attacks at all cost because this is a good thing. I have to remind myself that it is, and not just for the obvious implications of moving to a city I love and getting to experience something new and big and exciting. It is a good thing because I know I've made actual, measurable progress. Last year, I could've applied to the same program but in the end didn't because I didn't want to put myself out there and risk rejection. So just applying this year, and showing up for the interview was a Big Deal. Maybe it's just because I haven't yet properly processed the fact that I'll be moving to another continent soon, but the not self-sabotaging part somehow feels bigger than the getting accepted part, to me at least. Of course, there are still plenty of opportunities for me to self-sabotage, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't still expecting an email that said, Oops, sorry, we made a mistake!!! I still need to complete and submit an online application to the graduate department by April 15, need to send in more documents and more letters for review. Yet if I'm not confident the department won't reject my application, I am more confident that come April 15, I'll have sent in the damn thing. Baby steps.
You know that moment in Almost Famous when outside of the music venue, in her shearling coat, all blonde curls and arms in the air, a kid in a grownup costume, Penny Lane says "It's all happening!" ? I feel like that right now. Not like an ultra-cool young Kate Hudson, but like it may be "all happening", but I'm still me. You unfortunately don't become a better you because good things are happening to you. You can still fuck up big time. I feel like shrugging, and apologizing for being so nonchalant about the whole situation. But here's the good thing that happens when things are happening all of a sudden: you're forced to face things because you have to, and to learn things, and to learn them quickly. So as I'm sitting here in my Panthers Football t-shirt, listening to "The Long Road" on repeat (interspersed with 1989 and Strange Desire because LOVE), here's a list of things I've been forced to learn lately:
1. Take a compliment and accept the congratulations. This is a hard one because it's steeped in modesty and false modesty and humility and pride and ego and all sorts of digusting things. But the thing is, it's not something I should overthink. I shouldn't question whether I deserve it or whether the person means it or not — especially if it's someone whose opinion I'm not sure matters to me. Just take it, say thanks, and run.
2. Appreciate deadlines. Yup, deadlines. The ultimate enemy. Loving deadlines may be an overstatement which may be akin to loving an abusive boyfriend. I will always be in a battle with them, but I can start to use them and see them as tools in my creative process, as positive and necessary restrictions. Obviously I had to deal with deadlines — the Bonnie to procrastination's Clyde — in that sense before. But I'm trying to reclaim them for me (she says, while still having not written more than five of the 80-page paper she has to hand in in two months.) Perhaps it's just a convoluted way of saying that I need to do less dilly-dallying and more doing. More writing. More starting and more finishing.
3. Be less dependent on the opinion of others and more confident in your ideas. Thankfully I have Sarah Braverman to help me with this. This is tricky in any circumstance, but it's especially challenging in the world of academic research because not only are you taught to rely almost exclusively on other people's ideas (and no matter how novel you think the theory you came up with is, someone probably thought of it before you, and wrote about it better) , you always need someone's permission before doing something. Your advisor has to sign off on you and approve every proposal you submit before you can do anything, so your impulse is to place their opinion on the highest pedestal, especially if, as in my case, you actually value their opinion, hold their work in high regard, and get along well with them. But a couple of weeks ago, an idea for my final thesis sprung up in my head and I haven't been able to shake it off since. And I know that my advisor will be more than a little skeptical about it when I bring it up, if he doesn't outright tell me I should think about working on something else. A), because it's not pure history and will likely cross-over into cultural/media/literature/etc. studies. B), because I won't know how to defend my idea in the meeting. So in anticipation of our inevitable conversation, I'm forcing myself not to take his opinion too seriously, to value my own before his. I don't like being so dependent on people anyway, so I'm trying to see this as an opportunity to be braver than I usually am. An opportunity to be confident that I am capable of following through on something people will initially be skeptical about, capable of delivering, capable of proving someone wrong. Maybe someday I'll understand that that "someone" — that person who needed to be convinced most, that person who had the most doubts, that voice who said over and over, you couldn't possibly — was me all along.
4. Leave the toxic crap behind and go confidently in the direction of things that make you feel good. In life in general, and in grad school. As I reflect on my post-high school years trying to make decisions about the future, I'm reminded of how miserable I was in the History department, where the only saving grace was the few classes I had in contemporary media history et al., and how I'm truly at my happiest and most productive somewhere at the crossroads between history, sociology, popular culture, literature, media, and critical analysis (and a million other things). Which is why I want to explore the idea of the road-trip and the concept of the Open Road (see how you create a concept: uncalled-for capital letters!) in popular culture somewhere between the first recorded use of the expression in the context of baseball in the 1950s (according to my extremely light research) through the postwar years, up until today. I want to weave this study of the road-trip with a sociological study of youth and the in-between years, that life interlude between being a teenager and being an adult (which, hi there!!!!), of the self and identity. I want to write about the frontier and the West, about the scorching asphalt of highways in the summer, about seedy road motels and neon-lit gas stations. I want to write about restless people, nomads, wanderers, explorers, people who leave to find themselves somewhere in the in-between, somewhere between home and the wilderness, between the first dot on the map and the ultimate destination. (Needless to say, this won't go well in the history department. OH WELL.) I've recently had a Major Life Epiphany where I realized, wait a minute, who am I kidding, I will never be able to live in a big city my whole life, not before anxiety and stress kill me!!! And I've been toying with the idea of taking a year off and travel to Colorado, but I'd need to figure out the logistics and the money and.... At the same time, I know I need the city in some capacity. I don't know. I guess the ideal situation would be to be able to go back and forth, though I don't know how to do that, financially speaking. But to build a home in the mountains, to be able to escape to the quiet of the woods and work and create there... what could be better than that?
5. Be more honest with yourself and others. Another by-product of my tiny rebellion against my advisor may be to slowly detach myself from the academic world, which I am also paradoxically desperately holding onto because I don't know how to function without it. But I know I need to ; even if I pursue a PhD, I know full well I'll never really fit in that world. I won't ever teach. I won't ever be a "scholar." And I'm okay with these things because I know it's not what I want to be, what I want to do. Plus I really couldn't take myself seriously enough to be a "scholar" on anything (except maybe if there was a Gilmore Girls Department in a college somewhere. Anyone? Anyone?). What I want to do is write, and create. I have to actively remind myself (mental slaps are useful in that way) that THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO. When you've spent so much time in one environment, it's easy to see that environment as the real world, to feel like this is all there is to life. But I need to see things through another lens, a lens whose filter is not determined by the need of a group of people but by myself. So this is what I've been trying to do. To be more honest with myself, and to be more honest with other people. To feel more free in the choices that I make and not feel limited by that particular world. It doesn't mean that everything's solved. Maybe it even makes things harder, because the safety net is gone. And most importantly, I still don't know how to become a writer. There's a plethora of inspirational quotes from writers who'll tell you, "You want to be a writer? Write." Or some variation of that phrase. What I don't know is how to become a writer, like a Professional Writer, MD. PHD. JD. MBA. (what?), as in "Hi, I'm Clara, I'm a WRITER I write for a living I get paid to write To the government I am a writer I am confident to say I can call myself a WRITER." I guess writing is one of those jobs, like acting or playing music or doing stand-up, where there is no one path, where people won't tell you what to do or when to quit, where things can happen very slowly and then all at once, or never at all. I know I'll eventually have to put myself out there again. And again. And again, and again, and again, and again. Somehow I feel more at peace with that now than I used to.
6. Cut out your own bullshit. Metaphorically speaking (stop lying! Why do I lie so much? I mean I know why, it's to make myself look better or because I'm embarrassed or because it's the easier way out. But I just don't want to do that anymore. It's exhausting and unhealthy.) And physically speaking, a.k.a. trying to live out my very subtle metaphor of getting rid of unnecessary burdens in my life through the physical act of removing crap to feel lighter. Today I got rid of at least half of my wardrobe, which mostly consisted of old t-shirts I never wore, grandpa sweaters I never wore, jeans I never wore, dresses I never wore. I put on Bleachers and Taylor Swift, took everything out and off the hangers, made piles and filled trash bags. I know it's silly, but just the process of taking things out and making active decisions as to what do I think I need and what do I actually need, then boxing things up and giving them away or putting them in the trash... is pretty freeing. Makes you want to do the same thing with nonphysical things, like toxic and unnecessary feelings.
7. Fill your days. It's something I'm always working on and I'm seldom satisfied with how I do, but I've been making progress. Of course, I should probably focus on the actual work I have to do with an actual deadline, but let me pat myself on the back before I panic about that. Cleaning out my closet was the last step in cleaning out my entire room and opening up the space so it's less stuffy, less cluttered, and more inviting to artsy-fartsy endeavors. I finished turning my old IKEA bookshelf into a bench-like piece of furniture that sits under my window and stores all of my art supplies. I'm still mulling over what to paint it. I initially thought of painting "CONTAIN MULTITUDES" in black, or some words across it like "create" / "make" / "do," but I'm not sure. Hm. Stay tuned. I also started and actually finished (win!) an acrylic painting (on the wrong paper but). I still haven't finished reading Empire Falls but I am enjoying every page. I bought some new film for my camera and got some old rolls developed which didn't turn out amazing, but still. I've been thinking about investing in a ~legit camera but right now I just want to get better at this. Plus I've recently had to face the fact that I needed a new laptop because this one was falling apart, so right now is not the time to put another dent in my credit card. I've also re-opened my NaNoWriMo draft I had stopped at approximately 10,000 words. Not great, to say the least, but I'd never fared better before. I
may will take it up again. See what happens.