Higher Education and Me

I had lunch with my aunt on Wednesday, and we talked about several things, but one that stuck in my mind was our discussion about education.
 
I’m pretty sure I never want to go back to school to get another degree. Although there were a lot of things I enjoyed about both my experiences in higher education, there was a whole lot that I found intensely stressful as well, and most of it had to do with how academia is set up.
 
I actually really love learning, as most people who know me are aware. As a child I loved watching History Channel and Animal Planet (back when they had actual history and actual animal footage, rather than the current lineups of reality show after reality show) because of what I learned. I love inserting random factoids into conversations, and talking about what interesting things I’ve learned recently.
 
What I don’t love is sitting in lectures, being assigned readings (especially for “required” classes that have little bearing on what I actually intend to do), and having to regurgitate information I barely absorbed for tests. I don’t like feeling like I’m under a microscope, or that my grade is resting on one final project, or dealing with professors who care too little about their students and too much about their egos. I don’t like how anxious and unhappy I feel all the time, how difficult it is for me to deal with my procrastination (which for some reason I’m usually much better able to handle when I’m being paid, I still haven’t figured that out yet), how often I feel like I’m letting people down by not doing my best work.
 
Again, I don’t want to imply that higher education is horrible and I hated it. But what I know is that I enjoy learning when there aren’t high stakes attached to it. I know that once I get settled with my career and living situation, I’m going to want to find a local college where I can audit classes as a “lifelong learner”, simply for the fun of it, to stay sharp by matching wits with young people who think they know everything (and may surprise me in my jaded old age with what they do know), to learn about subjects I have only minimal knowledge of currently, to improve my understanding of subjects I’m already fairly well-versed in. Some of my happiest memories from my time in undergrad were classes I took for fun, things I didn’t even really need to graduate and had nothing to do with my major, just things I found fascinating and wanted to know more about.
 
And I hate writing essays. Free-form writing like this, the kind of writing I can do for blog posts and social media, I love it. Essay writing is torture and I hate it. Even worse when I have to write essay questions on tests, when I almost always run out of time because I try to write too much or think too long before starting. Essays are evil and I hate them.
I have many friends who’ve chosen the academic life, and I have the utmost respect for them (they wouldn’t be my friends otherwise). Like teaching, it isn’t the life I want, I don’t enjoy it and I’m not good at it. I’m so thankful that there are smart, talented people who love it, because that means I’m free to choose another path.
Of course, I expect that I’ll take classes in the future, get certifications of various kinds (I definitely want to get my C1 in German, and eventually Japanese as well). But I don’t plan to have a “Dr.” in front of my last name. And for the foreseeable future, I don’t plan to go back to higher education. That isn’t where I want to be. That isn’t where my joy is.
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Another Year

So Saturday, October 29th, was my birthday. I’m now 31 years old. So I thought I’d take stock and talk a bit about aging, where I am, where I thought I’d be, and all that jazz.

Twenty years ago, if I’d been asked where I’d be now, I’d have told you (with all my 11-year-old confidence) that I was gonna be a veterinarian. Although I still love animals, I’m glad I changed my mind about that, because I know now that I would never have been able to deal with the amount of pain vets see on a daily basis, especially from creatures who don’t understand what’s happening.

Ten years ago, if I’d been asked “where do you see yourself in ten years”, I would’ve said something like “starting my opera career”. At 21, I was 100% sure that I was going to be an opera singer. There’s still a significant part of me that wishes that’s how my life had gone, but being older and wiser (although still young and foolish), I know now that it never would’ve worked out. Even if I’d somehow gotten over the significant hurdle of fatphobia in the opera world (and it is a big issue right now, no pun intended), I lacked a lot of the drive and self-marketing capability that’s required for a successful opera career. Not to mention, having to travel constantly, being away from my cats and having to budget my earnings, all the little things that are part and parcel of that life would’ve been incredibly stressful for me. I know, objectively, that I have the singing talent (although my voice is woefully out of shape now, almost ten years after graduating with a degree in singing), and if talent was the only factor, I would’ve been a star. But talent is only one small part of the greater equation, and I didn’t have the drive or fortitude necessary to sustain me when talent wasn’t enough.

Last year at this time, I thought I’d already be in Germany by now, with a job and an apartment, happily plugging away at translations by day, going grocery shopping and then cuddling with my cats by night, thoroughly enjoying my life in the country I’d wanted to call home for so long. It’s frustrating as hell, feeling stuck here, like being on the edge of the Grand Canyon and knowing you really want to be on the other side, but having no idea how to get over there. :/ I’ve been applying to jobs since I got here, only had a couple interviews, and so far no offers. I’ve even applied to some retail jobs nearby, just so I can have a source of income while I look (since my mom can’t afford to pay all my bills in addition to her own), but even those haven’t called me back (not surprisingly, since I have an M.A. and I’m applying for entry-level retail positions). I’ve applied to jobs in the US as well as Germany, and I’m waiting to hear back about a position I interviewed for on the 21st in Tennessee, but suffice it to say I’m not where I want to be yet. Part of me really hopes I get this job, because it would be very good to finally have a job, and I have friends who live in the area (my best friend from college and her husband and daughter, specifically), but another part of me shouts that this isn’t what I want, it isn’t where I want to live, it isn’t what I want to do (admin assistant, not translation stuff). My mom assumes I’ll take it if they offer it, and I probably will, but it rankles that after months of job searching, this is all I’ve gotten offered. It’s so frustrating because I want so much more. On the plus side, I would be using my German regularly, as the parent company is German, and I heard German being spoken while I was there waiting for my interview (as well as during the interview, of course).

Next year, when I turn 32, I hope it’s with a night on the town, or a quiet dinner in my apartment, with friends. I hope it’s in a town or city I love (whether I thought I’d end up there or not), with people I care about (or at least have a good time with). At the very least, I hope it’s with a job and my own apartment, feeling more like an adult again. Although spending my birthday with my mom was pleasant, and going sailing yesterday was really fun, I definitely don’t want to be here next year.

Dream Journal 10-12-16

I was found by a group of young people, who took me to a Halloween parade that their town was having, and we were all seated on a bench along the side of a building to watch it. I realized that things weren’t as they seemed, though. A bunch of otherworldly figures approached, pretending to be part of the parade, and I warned the people around me not to leave their seats (I think my exact words were “don’t separate your butt from this bench”) or they would get carried off by the spirits. Only a few people listened to me, and when the spirits left, we saw that almost the entire group was gone. There were only about eight of us that hadn’t left our seats, and a couple more that had but seemed fine, but I whispered to the others that they shouldn’t be trusted until we were sure. I discovered that one source of strange things was an open door (we were inside a house at this point), through which they’d previously let their pet cats roam, but now was letting weird green smoke and ghostly figures in. I figured out that if I laid my hands on ghosts and spirits pretending to be alive, I could shout a mystic word at them and they’d dissipate. So I shut the door tight and went around shouting until the only people left were real people, and we kept getting fewer and fewer in number. Finally there were only four of us left, me, my mom, my oldest brother, and an old lady (in the dream she was my grandma, but she doesn’t exist in real life). My oldest brother ignored my warnings and went into another room (I’d discovered that basically any door was an entry point for the ghosts, so I was trying to keep them all shut, with only moderate success) and became possessed by Something Evil, a big bad ghost that was much stronger than any of the ones I’d dealt with thus far. It was so powerful that I couldn’t even get near it to put my hands on it, and I was wracking my brains to try to figure out how I could free my brother and hopefully end the haunting. My mom helped by distracting it, although it wasn’t super intent on harming us right then, it was focused on doing some kind of ritual (probably to open the gates of Hell or something), so it was only taking pot shots at us, not actually attacking (hence why I was willing to let my mom help). I finally figured out that even though I couldn’t reach it with my hands, my voice was the real weapon. So I quietly began warming up, and when I was ready, I stepped out from under the fake plant where I’d been hiding, and let loose a really loud burst of singing, culminating in a super high note. He sent wave after wave of birds to try to peck at me and stop me, but they couldn’t even get close to me because of the shockwave effect of my singing, and finally it reached him and he was defeated. My oldest brother came back and was apologetic about not believing me, and I gathered him and my mom and grandma in a central room (that we’d figured out was pretty much the safest place in the house), and told them that the house felt different, and maybe it was safe now, but I had to do a seance to communicate with the remaining spirits and see what they said. Before I could start, though, my brother took off and went through one of the dangerous doors without any warning, but even as I shouted at him to stop, I realized he was coming back and everything was fine. The same thing happened with our grandma, she ran through a different door and then came running back, and I saw a laughing spirit who looked like me when I was 11-12 years old. The spirit then approached me and told me that I’d freed her, and now the house was safe, she could go to the next life and the rest of the spirits would move on as well. I took her hand and she smiled, then faded away in a burst of light.

There were bits before and after this, but the before has no relation, and the after played out like a really bad movie sequel (basically having almost nothing to do with the plot of the first one, just having the same name), this was the important part. 😉 I haven’t really managed to get across how vivid it was, how gory and terrifying the specters were, how amazing it was at the end when the nice spirit came to me. But that’s why I write these short synopses down, when I read it, I’ll remember.

Family Photos

(Quick summary of what’s happened since I last posted. I’m now living in NC, in a rental house my mom was living in until two weeks ago, because she bought a house in the area, but her lease isn’t up on the rental until the end of August, so me and my cats are living here (with only a mattress, an armchair and a couple laundry baskets for furniture) until I find a job. Moving out was pretty stressful, but everything was more or less okay, and me and the cats are doing fine for the most part.)

This evening I went over to my mom’s house to just hang out with her (I’ve been feeling isolated because I don’t know anyone in the area besides her, she moved to the coast of NC a couple years ago, I grew up in the Triangle area), and we talked about this and that, she’d had kind of a rough day because her dog got out and ran off and got down in a ditch that was full of green slime so it wasn’t a lot of fun to try to catch her and then hose her off. She told me she’d gone through the big box of family photos that she had, and sorted through all the ones she had of my dad from when they were young and during their marriage, and put them aside to mail to him.

She asked if I wanted to see the photos she’d collected of him, and I said sure, so we pulled them out (she had them in a bag, waiting to be mailed to him) and we went through them and she told me when they were taken, who the other people in the picture were, or so on. There were a couple of him with me and my brothers, but she’d carefully made sure there weren’t any of him and her together, because his wife dislikes her. There were pictures of us on vacation, or of him cuddling one of our family dogs, a bunch of him graduating from medical school, some of his family (his younger sister’s college graduation, or visiting his parents), some of him as a young man. It was such a bittersweet experience, seeing pictures of him when I was a baby, or before I was born. Most of them were in a specific context, like his graduation, or a party with his medical school friends, or a trip with his parents. But there were a few, sprinkled in between these mundane memories, of just him, looking at the camera. Sometimes he was serious, sometimes he was smiling, sometimes he was dressed up, other times he was totally casual or even messy. My mother said “those are the ones I look at and remember who the man was that I loved. I wish he’d come back, not so I can be with him again, but because he was a good man who loved his family.” And I see it too. I look at those pictures of him and I see the man I called Papa, the man I played with as a child, who loved me unconditionally, who called me silly names and threw me into the pool as I squealed with delight. I miss him too.

I’ve already talked a bit about my relationship with my father. It was so strange, looking at the face of the man he used to be, before the gulf grew between us, before my parents split, back when we were a family and we were happy. Like my mother, I wish that man would come back. I really miss him.

Decluttering

So I’ve been pretty busy the past couple weeks, not just struggling with my mental illness, but also trying to go through my stuff and figure out what I want to take with me and what I don’t.

I think I mentioned in my intro post that I’m planning to move to Germany. And that’s still true, but since I still haven’t gotten a job there (which is necessary for me to get a visa, which I need to get an apartment and stuff), and my lease in my current apartment ends on July 28th, I’ve been preparing to move.

As a 30-year-old adult, I have a lot of stuff. Not just the stuff that I’ve accumulated over the years, but a fair bit of stuff from my childhood that my mother made me take (she’s not a sentimental person at all, basically she said “get your junk out of my house”). And I do like stuff. I have the tendency to buy anything that tickles my fancy, including things I have no real use for. And once I have it, I want to keep it. Even if I have no use for it. This is partly because, as a child, I always felt like my mother was taking my things away. Every time I turned around, she was getting rid of my toys, my stuffed animals, my clothes, my furniture. It seemed like we couldn’t go six months without her taking a box to Goodwill. I was so mad every time, but she seemed to have no pity.

Of course, the reason she was always getting rid of my stuff was because I had TONS of it, and we moved many times when I was a kid. I think we’d lived in more than ten different houses (mostly rentals) by the time I was ten years old. And since my father was busy being a doctor, and my brothers and I were kids, all the packing fell on my mom’s shoulders. So yeah, over time she got pretty ruthless about getting rid of things. If I hadn’t played with a toy in over six months, she wanted it gone. There were exceptions, of course, I was allowed my collection of Barbies and my special stuffed animals and my blankie, because I still used them regularly, but everything else came and went. So when I became an adult and got my first apartment, I pretty quickly started collecting things I didn’t really need. And it took a few moves (including the harrowing year where I was stuck in a bedbug-infested building and couldn’t break my lease) before I began to realize just what my mother had been dealing with all those years. I had enough stuff to fill a midsize U-haul truck, and I was living alone with my cat. How much stuff did two adults and three children have? Way too fucking much, I’m sure (which also explains how my favorite teddy bear went missing for 3 years, and only when my mom unpacked an abandoned box in the basement in anticipation of the next move did she find him).

The thing is, even though I’ve started purging during every move, I still end up collecting stuff. It isn’t even a conscious thing for me, most of the time. A lot of stuff is just “oh, I might use that eventually” but then I pack it away and when I need it I have no idea where it is (or even forget I have it), and so I end buying a new one. While going through a bin of things I’d never unpacked from my last move, I found seven sets of stationary. I haven’t written a letter in years (although I do like hand-writing letters). I found a whole box of pens and pencils and markers that I definitely could’ve used for school.

But this time, because of my plans to move overseas, I’m forcing myself to be much more ruthless than before. If it’s something I can buy elsewhere, it goes. If it’s something I haven’t used in a year, it goes. If it serves no discernible purpose and isn’t worth anything, it goes. Kitchen stuff that I can replace easily (plates and bowls and silverware) are going. My Rock Band set for XBox 360 is definitely going (I haven’t used it in years). My board games that I never play (as opposed to the ones I play regularly) are definitely out. I’ve had friends who have been coming by and helping me, reinforcing the purging by asking me if I really NEED such and such (the answer is usually no). And I’ve mostly paid them for their services by giving them anything they want that goes into the “no” pile. 😉 I cut my yarn stash in half and gave the overflow to a friend who crochets. Most of the stationary went to another friend who’s an artist. Most of my furniture is already spoken for as well (and some of it has already been taken, I’m down to only one bookcase).

Everything that’s left is going in a yard sale I’m having tomorrow. I created a Facebook event and invited everyone I know in the area (which ended up being over 40 people), and I’m gonna put up signs at the end of my street to point more my way. I have friends who are going to help me with set up and take down and taking money and stuff (I even have a cash box, I bought it for a bake sale last year). I still have a lot to do before I’m ready for tomorrow, but the yard sale doesn’t start until 10 and my friend is coming at 8:30, so I think between us we’ll manage to get everything done that I don’t manage before I go to bed tonight. 😉 And once it’s over, everything that’s left will get loaded into my car and taken to Goodwill to be donated.

The goal, by the time I move out, is to only have enough stuff (including clothes and cats) to fit in two cars (my stepdad’s SUV and my sedan). So that when I do get a job in Germany, I have less to ship over there (including clothes and cats). I’m not totally sure what I’ll do in the meantime (I’m moving into my mom’s place for a month while I try to find a job, hopefully it’ll only be a month because my two cats and her cat and dog is a lot of animals for a small house), but I’ll deal with it when I get there.

It Could Be Me

Last night, there was a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. Today, my friends are sharing their stunned responses to this tragedy. A lot of people don’t know what to say, and I can’t blame them. But I do have a few things to say.

Not. One. More.

I am 3o years old. I remember Columbine. I remember Sandy Hook. I remember Virginia Tech, and Fort Hood, and so many, many others. I remember last year when a young man killed several people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. I remember the horror, the helplessness. I remember the anger, so much anger, at all the lives lost. And I remember the frustration, every goddamn time, when people would try to start a dialogue about gun control, and they would be shouted down. Even though the crimes just keep getting worse and worse. Even though more and more people die from guns. Even though the very simple things that are called for (harder background checks, licensing, closing manufacturing loopholes) are things that most sensible gun owners agree should happen.

I am shaking with rage and sorrow as I write this. I may not have known anyone who was killed in Orlando, but I know the LGBT community. I’m part of it, I have many friends who are part of it, and we are all full of rage and sorrow because we live every day knowing that our lives are less valued, our chances of rape and death are much higher, because of who we are.

And I have something in particular to say to my family and friends, the ones who might be saddened by this, but will forget in a week or so, move on with their lives, because thank goodness, it wasn’t anyone they knew.

I’m someone you know. And I could be next. I’m a bisexual woman who believes in equality and has friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, so on. I could have been in that club. I could’ve been there for a fun night with my friends, for dancing and drinks, and I could’ve walked in and never walked out again. It could be me whose phone keeps ringing and ringing as the rescue workers walk through the club through the cacophony of desperate people trying to reach their loved ones. It could be me whose voice you never hear again. It could be me who’s lying in a morgue, marked as “Jane Doe” because in all the chaos I dropped my wallet and they haven’t had time to figure out who I am yet.

Don’t turn away. Don’t stop reading. You need to know this. Those of you who might not have known my sexuality, who might not have thought about it, who might not have considered that it could be me. I want you to think very, very hard about that. About what it would feel like, to not know if I was okay, to wait hours in agony, trying to tell yourself that maybe I’m out of town, or maybe I lost my phone, or maybe this or maybe that because you don’t want to believe that I could be dead. To find out from my mom or brothers that I was killed, violently. I want you to think about how you’d feel. I want you to think about it. Because it could be me. Because of who I am, because of what I do, because I’m a bisexual woman living in the United States, I could be killed. It could be me.

We can’t let this continue. We can’t.

Throwing the Rope

Imagine you’re standing at the edge of a canyon. The canyon is very wide, and deep, but you can make out the other side, and you can see the bottom. You really want to cross the canyon, but there’s no bridge. You can see someone across the way, and you know that if you could get something to them, a rope, that you’d be able to cross it. You’ve yelled at them your plan, you’ve thrown the rope across many times, but they don’t see it, or they can’t catch it, or they let it slip through their fingers. You keep dragging it back and throwing it across the canyon, hoping that they’ll catch it, so the two of you can try to build a bridge, even a simple one, so you can cross over and meet them, and they you. But no matter how many times you throw the rope, they can’t catch it. Sometimes it feels like they let it go on purpose, and sometimes it seems like there’s something or someone else deflecting the rope, but you don’t know. You just know that you’re getting tired of throwing the rope when they never catch it. You can see the broken remains of a bridge at the bottom of the canyon, and you remember a time when you used to be able to cross it, but that doesn’t help you now. You have people on your side of the canyon, who try to help, who sometimes throw the rope when you’re tired, who pull you back from the edge when you get too desperate or careless and almost fall. But you still want to get across the canyon, so you keep throwing the rope, over and over, hoping that this time, they’ll catch it.

This is the analogy I used this morning to talk to my therapist about my relationship with my father. It started simply, with me talking about the canyon between us and trying to throw the rope, and fleshed out quickly, every aspect of my relationship becoming part of it, the broken bridge as the remains of what our relationship was when I was a child, my feeling like I was always trying to reach him but he wouldn’t or couldn’t catch the rope, my mom and brothers on my side of the canyon, helping me. I talked about how if he’d just catch the rope, that then we could both start building a bridge. I took responsibility for my part of the bridge, saying I knew I’d have to meet him halfway. My therapist asked if I felt I could trust him to build his part. I said I don’t know, since he still won’t or can’t catch the rope. We talked about people in his life who might not want him to catch the rope, and how tired I was of trying to throw it when he wouldn’t catch it, and who might be across the canyon with him. I compared it to my relationship with my mother, a tiny but sturdy wooden footbridge over a small creak, where even if the bridge broke, I wouldn’t fall far, and it wouldn’t take much effort to fix it. She asked if my brothers ever threw the rope, and I said sometimes, although it didn’t seem that they did it as often as me. My mother couldn’t throw the rope, because he would never accept it from her, although she had tried a few times in the past. Mostly they were there to pull me back from the edge when I needed them, and to commiserate about the width and depth of the canyon. I talked about how I felt like it got wider and deeper every year, and sometimes I was just resigned to it, but other times I would start throwing the rope again, harder than ever.

The fact is, I love my father. I want to have a relationship with him. I call him regularly, far more often than he calls me. I try to visit, although the visits aren’t particularly pleasant. I invite him to come visit me, but he never has time, or never has money, or something. I want him to be part of my life, and to be part of his, even though I’m far away. But my arm gets tired, and I get discouraged. Sometimes I wish I could just stop throwing the rope. I look down at that broken bridge and remember how easy it seemed when I was a kid, how effortlessly we played, how happy I was to see him. I remember him being gone a lot and often being tired when he was home, and I remembered him yelling at me sometimes when I did something dangerous, because I’d scared him and he didn’t know how to show it except to yell. I remember playing with him and how happy we both were. I remember the nicknames he gave me.

I know that I can’t go back to my childhood. That bridge is broken, and it’s beyond repair. But I still want to build a new one. I still want to try to have a relationship with my father, because I love him. If I didn’t love him, it wouldn’t hurt so much that the canyon was between us. If I didn’t love him, it would be a lot easier to turn and walk away from the canyon. And sometimes, very briefly, when I see him or talk to him, I feel like he’s caught the rope for just a moment, things are like they were when I was a kid, and I think “maybe this time, we can build the bridge.” But then he lets it go, or it slips through his fingers, and I have to pull it back again, and every time, it seems to get a little heavier, a little harder to throw. But I haven’t given up yet. Maybe someday, he’ll be able to catch it. Maybe someday, we’ll start building the bridge, slowly. Maybe, someday, I’ll get to cross it again, and everything will be good.

All I can do is keep throwing the rope.