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.

Sailing on Pungo Creek, October 30th, 2016

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Diamonds on the water, precious and fleeting, beautifully alive. A school of shining silver fish,  leaping to the surface, only to disappear again beneath the waves. Stars in the inky blue-black firmament.

Our captain cries a greeting to Jonathan Seagull, the radio app on his phone broadcasting classic rock across the water.

The sun bakes our faces, the wind is behind us, filling our sails. Floating down the creek toward the sound, the only sure signs of movement are the trees on the horizon. There are no clouds, just a blue expanse of sky, fading into white where it meets the water.

Laying on the deck, a baseball cap protecting my eyes from the sun, I say “this is perfect.” The sailboat rocks gently as the wake from a motorboat reaches us.

A bald eagle circles lazily overhead as we turn to head back. The glittering diamonds follow us all the way back to the dock.

Dream Journal 10-29-16

[Content Note: guns, assault]

This dream was basically entirely influenced by the fact that I was re-reading Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler into the wee hours of the morning. In my dream, I was a human foster child of an Oankali family living on Earth (except it was modern Earth, not the reborn Earth in the book), and they’d made an arranged marriage for me with a human male who was also an Oankali foster child. I was still in contact with my human family, and invited them to my engagement party, because I was really happy I was going to become an adult and be able to have children and have an ooloi. When they arrived, though, things quickly deteriorated. They were afraid of the Oankali, and my father even brought a gun, which sent my foster sisters (who were mixed human-Oankali constructs) into panic. I made it very clear, in no uncertain terms, that either the gun had to go or he did, if my parents returned with my betrothed’s parents and found the gun, they’d destroy it, and possible ban my father from the house entirely. So he threw it on the roof, thinking he could retrieve it later, but I knew my foster parents would find it and destroy it. When my Oankali parents arrived with my betrothed and his Oankali parents, things started getting awkward. I liked him okay, but I didn’t feel the “draw” that I was supposed to. I realized that I was more strongly drawn to my foster brother, another human fosterling (who I was not biologically related to). Since Oankali families usually have brother/sister mating pairs (plus their ooloi), we’d been raised without that human taboo, and when I approached him (ostensibly to ask his opinion about my betrothed) I could feel the electricity of our connection. I realized then that I couldn’t go to my betrothed, and started struggling with the fact that it would disappoint my Oankali parents (and probably shock my human ones), but that they’d probably be happy eventually. I was still agonizing over how to approach them about it when I woke up.

The oddest thing about the dream was the complete lack of ooloi. In the book, the ooloi are basically the ones that hold the family unit together (both literally and figuratively, such as in the group matings), but I didn’t have an ooloi parent present my dream, or a prospective ooloi mate (although that could be partially explained by the fact that I didn’t have a male mate yet, hence the betrothal, since the ooloi prefer their mates come to them as a pair). Obviously the dream referenced ooloi, but near the end even my dream-self was like “wait where are the ooloi”. XD

Obviously this dream doesn’t make a lot of sense if you haven’t read the books. 😉 Do yourself a favor and go read them, they’re easily one of the best sci-fi trilogies of all time. One of my favorite things about it is how alien the Oankali are. A lot of aliens in modern sci-fi tend to be simply “weird-looking humanoids”, who aren’t truly alien at all (they have the same motivations and passions as humans, because we have a hard time relating to them otherwise). The Oankali are so completely alien that it’s a little disturbing to read about them. And yet there’s also this longing, this mixture of fear and desire that the humans in the book feel, that the author so expertly expresses and makes the reader feel too. Truly alien aliens are so rare in sci-fi, and so often played as hostile or unknowable, that it’s really a pleasure to read about aliens who are so utterly alien and yet also so enticing.

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.

Dream Journal 10-7-16

[Content Note: police brutality, slavery, racism, incarceration, spiders]

The dream started out, from what I can remember, with my character (not me, but the person I was in the dream) making a plan with a group of friends. Apparently we’d discovered a door to another world, where cows and dogs were sentient and ruled the world, while humans served as slaves. I went through the door on a cart drawn by a couple of my friends, magically disguised as the sentient cows. I witnessed a young woman standing half a mile away from a store, and when I asked her if humans weren’t allowed near, she said “I’m not allowed near” with fear in her eyes. We had learned through our reconnaissance in this world, that humans were basically given just two choices. Either they could serve their bovine masters, or they could go to “school”, which was actually run more like a prison. They weren’t allowed to go out alone, they couldn’t live their own lives, they were slaves or prisoners and nothing else.

I made my way to the school, and found the underground group of rebels. They were so badly oppressed that they told me their top goals were being able to go out on their own in groups, and having a say in their meals. They showed me a bookshelf that contained all the books that they’d found from my world, things like “Magic Knight Rayearth” and a series of “slice of life” comics (not real ones, sadly) that they loved best because it showed the heroine just living her life freely. They thought they were fantasy novels. I had to laugh a little, sadly, and told them I was glad they’d found them, especially the “slice of life” one, and they stared at me incredulously as I explained that that was really how life was, in my world. Then they became angry, really angry at the cows who oppressed them, and asked me to help them start the rebellion. I agreed, and we started a riot in the “school”, culminating with a huge number of people gathering in the “gym” (normally off-limits except during specific periods and with close supervision) to hear me speak. I gave a rousing and passionate speech about life in my world, how we took so many little freedoms for granted, how even our leaders were totally human (I didn’t explain that we were the only sentient life, or mention that we ate cows, which would’ve seemed like cannibalism to them), and how with some work, they could have a world similar to ours, where they were allowed to live and work freely. The principal (also human, but given his position by the cows in charge) came over the intercom to say that a “rabble-rouser” was loose in the school, and they needed to turn me in. The crowd around me laughed at him, and instead of turning me in, orchestrated a break-out. The crowd swelled as we left the “school” and mingled with slaves who were told about our plans and enthusiastically joined in. We marched through the streets, demanding our freedom, and fought off all the meager attempts to dissuade us (the cows were used to their slaves being meek and easily bullied, and had never had to respond to this kind of situation before).

As we stopped to rest in a little shanty town where many slaves lived (and they fed us and let us rest), I had a lot of people come up to me and beg me to tell them more about the utopia I came from, how amazing it was, and with mingled fear and hope in their eyes, asking me if it was really true, that I was free, had always been free. I was bothered by their assumptions that my world was perfect, so I gathered the crowd and started another speech, where I told them about racism (which didn’t exist in their world), and the current “plague” (my actual word in the dream) of police killings of black people, how many people in my world saw people with dark skin as lesser, and how we had struggled, as a society, with this problem, with some people denying it even was a problem, as others created Black Lives Matter in response, and many people in the middle, not sure what to do or say.

Shortly after that speech, which received a confused response (many of the slaves, especially some darker-skinned ones, had very complicated feelings about it), we were attacked by an odd piece of technology, it was sort of a flying land mine filled with venomous spiders. We managed to evacuate the area before it arrived, and then I took it on single-handedly. I’d summoned a stream of water to wash away the spiders when I woke up.

I Refuse to Settle

[CN: frank discussions of sex and sexuality, possible TMI]

A couple months ago, I was contacted on Facebook messenger by someone I didn’t know. It was a guy who said he knew one of the women I knew in my undergrad, which was confirmed when I checked his friends’ list. He said that she’d told him I was his type, so he asked if he could friend me and we could talk. I told him I wasn’t looking for anything romantic right now, but we could be friends and talk a bit.

It didn’t take too long for the thread to unravel. It was clear that he was only interested in sex. We exchanged pleasantries a few times, but then he started leaving bigoted comments on articles I shared. This was right around when Brexit happened, and he posted things like “the English are understandably scared about all the immigrants taking their jobs”. I was miffed, because I’d told him when he first reached out to me that he should read my wall to get to know me, and he said he had, but he obviously didn’t (or else didn’t think my extremely strong-held liberal beliefs mattered, which is worse). When I looked at his profile, I found he was unemployed and living with his parents in NC (I was still in OH at that time), and often commented on his friends posts in condescending tones. There was no evidence that he was looking for a job or to improve his lot. Being unemployed and living with your parents isn’t a deal breaker, but not caring about changing that definitely is for me. And acting like a douche to people who are supposedly your friends is even more of one. I resolved to mostly ignore him, which wasn’t hard because he didn’t really try to pursue me. I finally unfriended him a few weeks ago, and haven’t heard from him since.

What bothers me about this experience isn’t that some dude came onto me on Facebook, or that he was mildly douchey. The problem was that a girl who had known me (admittedly quite a few years ago) had told this guy that I was his type. I don’t know exactly what else she may have told him, because even though she’s my FB friend we don’t really talk, but either his ego or something she said made him think that I would welcome his attention. And therein lies the really infuriating subtext to this whole encounter, because guys like this (and many other people) seem to think that I should be grateful for any attention because I’m fat.

Time and again I’ve had friends and acquaintances try to set me up with men I had absolutely nothing in common with, simply because said men liked fat women. I once had a gay friend point out a girl in a crowd to me, and said “you might like her”, when it was obvious all we had in common was being fat (and bisexual, according to him). True, I often used to bewail my single status, but not liking being single does not equate to being desperate, at least not for me. If I had truly been desperate, I would’ve dated (or at least had sex with) this one guy I knew in my undergrad, who was creepy and always telling me he’d like to sleep with me (I mainly used him as a free ride, since I didn’t have a car at the time). That ended one day when we were watching a movie at my apartment and he did something that pissed me off and I half-jokingly said “I could poke you with my knitting needles” and he pulled out a knife and said “and if you did I’d stab you” and I said “get the hell out of my house”. Thankfully it ended there, which is a happy ending compared to what many other women have been through in similar situations.

The thing is, I’ve made peace with my perpetual singleness. I used to worry that there was something wrong with me, because it seemed like the only people who ever expressed interest in me were online and very far away. I never got to date in college, and it wasn’t until a few years after I graduated that I had my first boyfriend. That didn’t last long, mostly because I realized the basis of our relationship was me being happy someone liked me, and when that faded there was no point in continuing. A couple years later and I had my first real boyfriend, someone I really cared about and enjoyed spending time with. We were together for a couple years, although physically we were apart for much of that time (because I was overseas for 18 of the 36 months we were together, and only saw each other on weekends the rest of the time). He was a good guy, but when he asked me about where he fit in to my plans to move overseas, I realized I didn’t want to be with him any longer, and I certainly didn’t want him to move to a foreign country where he didn’t speak the language just to be with me. I broke his heart, and I’m sorry I did, but it was the best for both of us. I broke up with him last Fall, and despite a few brief online flirtations, I’ve been single since. And I’m okay with that. I definitely wouldn’t mind having someone to cuddle, because I miss physical contact, but I don’t want to get involved in anything right now, especially because I’m still job searching and not sure where I’ll end up.

To be totally honest, the only thing I feel like I’m missing out on is sex. Neither of the two men I’ve dated did much for me in that department (for various reasons), and I feel like I’d really like to find a good partner (or partners) for that, someone who isn’t creepy about it, who cares enough about me to make it fun, but not necessarily wants to have a relationship. A friends with benefits situation would suit me just fine, I think. But it feels almost impossible to find someone like that without already being friends with them, y’know? And I don’t exactly have a lot of friends (and an even smaller number I’d even consider in that regard, let alone whether they’d consider me), especially in limbo here in NC.

So I’ll just be single, I think. And I’d rather be single until the day I die, than entertain another well-meaning friend’s chubby-chaser acquaintance who doesn’t see me for anything but my fat body. I am not your fetish, goddamn it, I am a person. And even in a potential FWB situation, I reserve every right to choose someone who finds me sexy for more than just my fat. Because I refuse to settle. I refuse to be the desperate fat girl. I refuse to be anything less than who I want to be, and be with only who I choose to be with. If you’re going to set me up out of pity, then don’t fucking bother. I’d rather my vibrator than some douche who wouldn’t even admit to his friends that he wanted to fuck me because I’m fat. The vibrator’s quieter and more focused on getting me off!