January 6, 2013

Mid-Afternoon, at home in Flagstaff (Or, the way it never was)

I'm beginning this blog knowing that I won't be able to get across the feeling that I have right now. I arrived back in Flagstaff yesterday afternoon to my grad school apartment. By the way, there is clearly some sort of right-of-passage to labeling everything "grad school" as though it's something more important.

The apartment was just as I'd left it, except for the remnants of a sewage back up in my bathtub--yes, I won't be taking a bath in there ever again. But besides that...well, shit, everything was just as chaotic as when I left it three weeks before. My desk and printer stand were piles of past to-do, urgent assignments, old student papers, and insurance statements that I saved for a less busy time.

Back to Flagstaff. Back to my life.

I felt this incredible weight of nostalgia that yearns for a time in the past. I saw the trinkets and boxes from the care packages that my Mom and Grandma have sent over the past two years. How have they known the times when I've really needed a little sign from the outside world that I'm valuable just for being? I saw my giant life to-do list that still has things about a former boyfriend I haven't been with in six months and the big test I took in August and the wedding of the friend whose brother tragically died not long after that. I took in the worn carpet in our narrow hallway that snakes from my room to the bathroom to the kitchen. I rarely spend time in the living room. Why is that, I wondered. I felt both burden and relief that this will be my last semester. I thought about all the things that I thought I would have done by now that I haven't, like more hiking and more classy nights downtown and more road trips through the amazing scenery of Arizona. Better papers about important topics, more interesting discussion participation, more attentiveness to my friends. There are so many things that I haven't done, for any number of reasons--the sometimes extreme demands of grad school and my equally extreme quest for just a little more perfect being two of the top.

It also occurred to me how much I love what I do and how scared I am to finish grad school. Despite the deadlines and commitments that make grad school so hellish at times, there is a comfort to me that I know what to do. Read, write, take tests, get evaluated. It's a simple cycle in academia that I have always excelled in. The real world, on the other hand, has been much tougher for me. I'm not sure I've ever really been there, but returning to live a my parents' house and work part time jobs because that's all I could find was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Grad school provides me with the intoxication of a very busy schedule. I don't have time to stop and think about my life and what I really want from it. In some ways, I think the business is a defense mechanism that humans have to avoid thinking about life because life can be so perplexing--and downright shitty--sometimes.

What is the purpose of my life? Why am I on this path? Who am I?

These are the big questions that surface when I slow down a little. Spending a few weeks at my parents' house was just the break in my routine that I needed. I had to slow down and change pace completely. Now that I'm back in Flagstaff, I still have my home mindset, and it puts my "grad school" life in a new light.

I truly have so many advantages in my life. I have sensitive, caring, and fun friends who support me and know how to help me shine. I have a family who, though they don't always understand my life, understand that I need to make my own way, wherever on this earth that may take me. I have the support of faculty at NAU who want to see me succeed. I have amazing students who remind me every single day why I teach. I have access to technology that makes my life easier. I have good health for the time being. I have so many many things that are in my favor, and I am so grateful for that. One more thing that is a blessing in my life is the amount of opportunity that waits for me after I graduate.

In five months, my world will probably change in a big way. I'm applying for teaching jobs all over the world. I think this is why the nostalgia hit me like a ton of bricks yesterday and today. This wonderful phase of my life will end soon. Five months is still a significant chunk of time, but grad school time doesn't work the same way. Once the semester is underway, you better just hold on tight because you'll be out the other side before you know it. To me, the days just blur together and suddenly it's finals week and I'm thinking, didn't I just start this semester?

Anyway, I wanted to acknowledge this intense emotional experience that I'm having and I am interested to see where it takes me this weekend. Moreover, I'm excited to see how my final semester of grad school shapes up and what adventure I'll be taking in May. Look out, world.