I’m Going to Need a New Planner

2015 was a year of change and challenge.

By the middle of December, I was always tired, and holding desperately to a dwindling sense of motivation to keep up with anything. In the midst of it, I didn’t understand why I was having such a hard time, but looking back, it makes a lot of sense.

(Me being too hard on myself? Surprise, surprise…)

Exactly a year ago, I was yet to begin my last semester at George Fox University. I still didn’t know what I’d be getting myself into by electing to take Advanced Anatomy, and I’d already been feeling the beginning stages of burnout. I was in the middle of writing my second book, and I didn’t yet know how it would end. I hadn’t even applied to grad school yet, but I had decided I was going to go for it, and had initiated contact with a graduate admissions counselor.

By the end of May 2015, I had:

  • graduated from George Fox University with a biology degree
  • applied and been accepted to launch straight into an MFA Illustration-Graphic Novel program at Academy of Art University in September
  • arranged and embarked on another four-week trip to Costa Rica to visit my host family–my first time traveling internationally without academic affiliation.
  • finished my second novel (which I actually did in Costa Rica)
  • started initial stages of my next large writing project
  • made headway in plans to move to the San Francisco Bay Area with my prospective roommates

Graduating college heralded huge changes I didn’t understand until I was far removed from the graduation ceremony itself. The undergraduate science major life I’d grown accustomed to was no more. The friends I had made were spreading out across the country, or staying in the area while I planned to leave to attend a completely different type of school.

Having finished a 10-month writing project, I found myself struggling to keep my creative drive satiated. I had to be writing something. Editing was its own animal. I was practically scrambling for something new to work with. Fortunately, I had something in mind, which develops further by the day. I’ve unofficially started it. School and the other two novels needing attention have to come first. I exhaust myself when I try to work on four large projects at once, much to my annoyance.

I had a great time in Costa Rica, thanks to the very gracious hospitality of my friends and adopted family there. I hope I can go back and visit again someday.

The next couple of months saw preparation for the fall, trying unsuccessfully to secure an apartment from afar, hoping my meager savings would be enough before my financial aid kicked in, undergoing a plan B trip to find work and an apartment before the actual move. A lot of lists and changes of plans took place during this period.

My sister and I drove down August 15, and stayed at a friend’s house for 3 weeks (THANK YOU SUE!) until our apartment was ready. September 15, we were faced with moving into an apartment amid school and work, which proved to be much more exhausting than I had anticipated. Apparently apartments need a lot of things like food and soap, and lack of furniture makes it hard to do homework?

I started work about the time of the move, and I loved the people I worked with, but the amount of energy it took from my already burnt out countenance took a huge toll on my mental health and interfered with my classes. Thank God for financial aid. After two months, I had saved up enough where I could quit and have a reasonable stipend until things shift next September.

Moving away from home was hard for all the reasons I didn’t think to expect. I was suddenly separated from my support group, and I wasn’t yet up to the challenge of putting forth the effort making a lot of new friends at my new school would require. So I found myself rather isolated. The last couple of years have been relatively low seasons, so everything took too much energy and attention. Self-motivation was difficult.

New school meant new expectations, as well as a new area of study I still wasn’t accustomed to. Being a biology major in undergrad, homework was studying and reading and research presentations, not charcoal renderings and figure studies. I felt like I had absolutely nothing under control, and I resented the fact that I needed so badly to be in control. I know having a type A personality is nothing to be ashamed of, but man, I was sure hating it there for a while. (Sounds like freshman year all over again, doesn’t it?)

Stress is needed for growth. I just wish I was able to handle so much stress with more composure.

Despite everything, I actually did well my first semester. I love the school. I learned a lot, improving my grasp of anatomy, learning how to render with charcoal and pastel (something I had very little basis in), learning new media, etc. I again came to grips with the finiteness of time and energy, learning to do what I can to pay attention to my limitations and adjust my movements to allow for them.

I’m really looking forward to next semester, and I hope that it will go more smoothly than this last one. I was so incredibly burnt out.

I still kind of am, but I’m ready to step out a little more, make friends, explore more than I’ve had the ability to.

As things are right now, my first book is nearly finished and I’ve yet to begin looking for agents/publishers (more likely the former). I’m dead set on traditional printing, which is perhaps the hardest way to go.

It’s been rough, coming into a terrifying stage with my art and writing. I’m studying to be a professional artist, and, with my first novel being on the cusp of professional pursuit as well, I’m definitely out of the dreaming stage. The years of working more recreationally than anything else and hoping everything will come together someday. Well, someday is now, and truly stepping out with both my most cherished forms of self-expression, into the zones where risk and failure abound is daunting. I’ve started to feel all the doubts, about life, my passions, my ability to function as a person. Nothing too sticky, mind you. I want this too badly for them to really prevent me from pushing through them.

This year’s been crazy, to say the least. 2015 was like grabbing hold of a cord that proceeded to drag me through all kinds of mire and foliage too quickly to really have time to realize what was happening. Or I was left too drained by it all to want to think about it anymore.

I look forward to working hard and growing more in 2016. An awful lot happens in a year, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Perpetual Low-level Panic

I don’t think my family and roommates quite thought through what it would be like going through this transition with me. Or maybe they did, and didn’t tell me they knew what they were signing up for.

Because I certainly didn’t.

Soft road-raging and regular word-vomit, escape mode when I should be enjoying the novelty, fussing up a storm about things that aren’t technically my responsibility, sleeping in the same bed as me for 5 weeks, broken ranting sessions full of things I mostly don’t mean but need to cleanse myself from at 11pm when you have to be up at 5:20am for work the next morning, tearful, timid conversations about how scared and anxious and tired I am, random texts about how California’s the worst because money and traffic, unexpected fits of “I got the job but I still feel like the interview went badly and I can’t stop feeling so incredibly awkward about it.” And so on, and so on.

I used to think I was generally pretty easygoing. But perhaps not in a time of such transition when I was in the middle of one of those “off” years anyway—when everything feels forced and painful and borderline useless, yet everything’s changing out from under me because of this step I’ve made. I’m still hurting from the burnout of this last year, but I’ve launched myself into a position where nothing is familiar or straightforward; and swift, multifaceted adaptation is demanded or else.

So, my brain’s been crying a lot, but somehow the knots are gradually untangling. Things are generally ok, and though I seem to get lost every time I step outside, I’ve managed to show up for where I need to be. There are still some hang-ups we’re working on, but I pray those will be resolved soon.

Thanks for sticking it out with me. You know who you are.

Needless to say, I haven’t been in a great position the last few weeks to write a coherent blog post. It’s been a lot.

But in the midst of the ongoing “Sara-is-losing-her-mind” times, good things have been happening. I’ve made it through orientation, for one. Training for my job starts a week from tomorrow, which is also the day we can hopefully move into our apartment, which is within walking distance of the transit station (aka no more swearing/praying while trying to find a parking space is making me late first day of orientation). I’ve attended both of my on-campus classes once, and though I’m not sure how to approach homework efficiently, I think I’ll get used to it pretty quickly. I’ve already learned so much and I’m really looking forward to all this semester will bring.

It’s all going to take so much work, so many extra miles with hurting feet. Admittedly, I still don’t feel ready, but I’m unsteadily bracing myself anyway. I feel like I’m training to become a wizard. Illustrators are wizards, truly. And training for wizardry’s intense, man.

We’re not in undergrad anymore. No social events, no indeterminate bedtime, no room for procrastination or “I don’t want to do homework right now.”

It’s time to break out the upbeat anime protagonist music (though I’m more the sarcastic, tired, awkward protagonist these days—but they’re a part of happy slice-of-life shows, so it’s fine, I think). I’m here to work. It will take early mornings, late nights, dead recovery Sundays, hardcore time budgeting, probably some blood, and lots and lots of charcoal.

But I think it’s going to be worth it. I really do.

How have I been? Well…

I used to think autopilot was a bad way to live life. I’ve since come to find out that a measure of autopilot-ing in life is good. It frees up headspace for more important things. Avoiding “reinventing the wheel,” so to speak so I have more energy to spend on writing, drawing, and coffee dates.

My autopilot’s kind of out of commission these days because I’m moving away soon; taking a foolhardy, unprepared step further toward full-blown adulthood and my dream career. Admittedly, it’s hard for me to imagine professional life. I’ve learned so much, I have experience in a wide variety of areas, and I learn quickly, but I forever feel like I’m not quite there.

Looking for a job to pay for my rent just intensifies the feeling—that I’m still just a derpy kid not ready for the world. Not ready for anything.

Everything’s displaced and I haven’t even left yet.

This Saturday, my family is accompanying myself, my sister (roommate #1), and my friend (roommate #2) to the SF Bay Area for a week while we scramble to find affordable housing and good work compatible with class schedules.

And right now, I’m just sitting alone at the kitchen table, music blaring through my headphones, typing away and thinking. Thinking. Thinking.

I’ve felt a little out of touch with reality lately. The reality I’ve naively tried to ignore.The burnt out biology student throwing herself into graduate art school and needing to work a good 30 hours a week to stay afloat. I don’t want to have to face the dark sides of that reality. I’m not sure if I can take it.

I wish I could hype myself up, get myself to believe that it will be challenging but fun nonetheless like I did freshman year of undergrad. The most recent semester felt like a constant state of being run over, and I can’t stand the thought of that happening again with an added hour commute, alien terrain, and monthly bills on top of it all.

But God has worked me through self-worth issues, an arduous path of personal betterment, and classes that I thought would be the death of me. He has led me into things I never would have thought I’d have the heart or the courage for. He encouraged me in the science route for undergrad, challenged my obsession with writing, pointed me toward professional storytelling the moment I pried my hands off what I thought I wanted for a career. He saw me through 2.5 years of a sport my family couldn’t afford. He found me a good car for under $2000 that I really should have paid a lot more for.

If He can pull off all He’s already done for my family and me in my short 22 years of existence, I think He can get me a job and an apartment in the Bay Area.

As much as I complain in this anxious, listless limbo, I still believe it will work out.

Because there’s still a part of me that leans toward naïve optimism out of a deep sense of necessity. As cynical and burnt out as I still am from the last four years (which really were a good 4 years), and as this move is becoming more and more complicated (impossible housing market, losing a roommate, car trouble, etc. etc. etc.), the interface between logic and faith as I understand it demands I recognize the need to look for the bright side of things. To not lose hope in optimism and the excitement of new seasons realized. To above all look to the God who has proven Himself faithful countless times over.

Coping with Transition

I am on the line between seasons again. And, as I’ve come to find out, struggling hard during these transition periods is a bit of a trend for me.

Right now, I just want to go, but my classes are determined to hold me here, demanding far too much work, threatening to sabotage my ability to apply to art school, to further my creative pursuits, to possess any sort of joy in my current efforts. I’m having to devote a troubling percentage of time and attention to a waning season. I worry that this percentage is at the expense of the season to come.

I write lists to keep my head clear. Last week, writing my list for the next day sparked an emotional breakdown.

I drag myself out of bed in the dark, trying to convince myself that skipping early morning class is a bad idea.

As I receive two additional assignments in class, panic rises in my throat.

I trudge back up the stairs to my house in the rain, exhausted, shoulders forward, gaze distant.

I think about the weekend and I want to cry again. What weekend? What rest? What respite?

I sit closed off in my room, trying to rise enough above the anger, depression, and stress to work on the elicitors of these emotions. Because I need to study. I need to sleep. But I also need to prepare.

I sleep, but I’m tired. I feel like I’m barely treading water, legs cramping, lungs burning. I begin each day with low energy, and I end it even lower. Breakdown low. I-can’t-handle-anything low. How am I to prepare when dealing with the daily routine of classes and work take almost everything out of me?

Trudging to and from, feeling stepped on, dragged around. Am I just supposed to take it?

I oscillate between brief sparks of “Bring it on.” and much longer fits of “I hate everything.” It’s hard to cram pages of human anatomy in my head when I hate everything.

I don’t want to be optimistic.

I’ve fallen so many times. I don’t want to give up. Due to some inner compulsion, I can’t stop completely. I feel like I can’t do this, but I have to. Because I’m so close. There is no other option this close to the end.

So I have no choice but to pick myself up. As if on strings, dragging myself up from the ground, from the depths of utter desperation. I stop sobbing. I stand up and creep to the mirror. I look at my damp, red eyes, and the futile fatigue in my face. I go to sleep. I start again.

I don’t want to be optimistic. I don’t want to lie to myself. I don’t want to pretend everything’s fine, like I don’t feel trapped, cornered, dominated. I want to be honest with myself and this pain.

But this is not who I want to be—angry, thwarted, pessimistic, so stressed and emotionally unstable that I only want to skip beyond the next three months of my life. What do I do then? Plaster a smile on my face and blatantly lie to myself while my heart fractures under the surface? Let the darkness take hold and drag me down to become something I never wanted to be?

I can’t pretend this doesn’t exist. I can’t run from this if I don’t want to drown.

I’m not necessarily afraid that I will not be able to pull it off. More, I am afraid that I will manage to do what is required of me, but that something much more important will be lost to compensate. That things I need at the forefront will inevitably fall through the cracks. That something will break again.

I avoid conflict, but in matters of my own life and wellbeing, I can be stubborn. Incredibly stubborn. To the point where studying even 2 hours for advanced human anatomy feels like giving in. Listening to an arrogant opponent laugh and taunt me, its foot pressing down across my neck. But I have to submit anyway, however livid, because I am proud and I want good marks. I refuse to let this semester take me over, but my weaknesses are being exploited and I haven’t been handling that well.

Perhaps this is training for reality. Life isn’t fair. I can’t expect it to do what I want, but somehow I expect it anyway. And I’m angry and hurt and disappointed when I can’t control anything or have my way.

I thought I fully dealt with that life lesson in gradeschool…but I guess not.

Over the last two weeks—in which I neglected to post a blog update because it would be pure rant (this is only partial rant)—I have decided that it’s ok if I break down. It’s ok if most days are hard and I just hate everything. The only thing that matters is that I maintain the ability to pick myself back up when it’s over, to take more care to recognize instances—however fleeting on some days—when I am happy despite everything looming over my head. To pay attention when I’m doing ok. Appreciate the fact that I’m still going. Still trying.

Also, it would probably be good to get over myself a little bit.

(Or a lot).

Biological Honesty

I was at home having great time talking with my dad and younger sister around the kitchen table when suddenly, the symptoms of “day one” hit me.

And I tried to act like it didn’t feel like someone had started scraping out my abdominal cavity with a serrated spoon. (Which didn’t really work.)

Being female really sucks sometimes, and on day one, I tend to feel like we female body types received the rougher biological allotment. Not that males don’t have it rough in other respects. But menstrual cramps, man. I’ve once heard it described as giving birth to the lining of one of your internal organs, which I feel is accurate. I try to pretend I’m all intense, bleeding and hurting and whatnot and being like, “Psh, this is normal.”

But on day one, when the cramps are worst and ibuprofen-resistant, I just kind of mill around dead-eyed and think, “Why?” Heaven forbid it happens on a demanding day—which, sometimes, it does. And that’s the worst.

So yesterday, I put off going back to school longer than expected because I didn’t want to drive 45 minutes with the distraction of my internal organs creaking and groaning like wood about to crack in two.

My little sister suggested a heat pack, so I planted myself in the living room with said device across my middle. It felt good. My dad was also in the room. A part of me thought I should remove myself from his presence or continue to pretend I wasn’t hurting. Because who wants to face blatant signs of everything menstruation means?

But the thing is, he knows what it is, and he doesn’t seem too worried about the nature of this weirdly taboo subject. American society talks about sex all the time, why should menstrual cramps be something to be ashamed of and tough out in silence? I mean, I wasn’t whining excessively about it. I was sitting quietly on the couch with a heat pack, typing away on my laptop. I was dealing with it. This was normal.

In high school, in the early days of this feature of female biological maturity, I used to get bad cramps for a good two or three days of the cycle. And one day my friend, who happened to be a boy, noticed I looked like I wanted to die, and he kept pressing me if I felt all right, trying to figure out what was wrong. I said I didn’t feel good, but he didn’t want to accept such ambiguity, because he was worried about me.

Still, I couldn’t bring myself to admit it—though I assume he got the message eventually. Now, I kind of wish I had told him outright. Because I was ashamed of it back then. I didn’t want anyone to know. Like no one seriously believes that women face this monthly process.

I felt like crap because my uterus was freaking out. I shouldn’t be ashamed. None of us should be ashamed.

Obviously, puberty is strange and horrifying so I can’t really beat myself up too much about those days. But still, I’ve started to appreciate honesty quite a bit.

Including biological honesty.

Work

I came here to work, so why am I not working? This has been repeating in my head for a good two days at least.

Seniors are told to “finish the year strong.”—a phrase that feels more and more thwarting every time it dances saccharinely through my recollection. It brings me more restlessness than motivation. A threat that perhaps I’m not doing as well as I should be.

Luckily, no one has seriously said it to me, but I think it every now and again as the countdown to graduation begins. I look at the next three months: book writing, art school application, finishing my first book and seeking publication, planning a month trip to Costa Rica, professional preparation, preparing to move to a different state after graduation….

…Classes…?

Finish strong.

Can’t I wheeze by? Doesn’t that count?

For most of my classes—formatted to small, intimate groups of people studying a subject in depth—wheezing by will make me the obvious weak link. The one who isn’t willing to work anymore and therefore sabotages the experience for everyone.

And I’m familiar enough with myself that I know I’m far too proud for that.

But is it really that I’ve lost all desire to work? I’m entering life, for crying out loud. How can I lose all desire to work now?

I’ll have to start structuring my life again, time managing and discipline and the like—which I get a little dark, whiny feeling inside just writing that down. Resorting to the life survival tool of time management feels like admitting defeat for some reason. Like I’m not really in control and can only try to organize the storm. That classes this semester are going to take over my life so I have to start putting up walls, making priorities, taking sides.

Like: Do I want to sleep or complete my novel? Or: Do I really have time to doodle babies right now…?

JHSbabies   I understand I’ll be better off if I buckle down and work now, but why does it have to be so hard?

Why am I so incredibly unmotivated to the point where I’d rather go to bed early than do even what I love to do? Where things are feeling so repetitive and tedious that I simply can’t be bothered to care anymore? These days I feel like only my underlying perfectionism, this drive to excel and succeed and finish what I started, drags me along like dead weight on a string.

I blame stress. It usually freezes me up. Also, burnout. The undergraduate life is wearing on me.

In light of all this grumbling and muffled whining noises, I have spent the day organizing things, washing dishes, cleaning my room, doing laundry…things I have been putting off that have been slowly stripping my wires over the past week. I learned the three colors of acrylic ink I purchased are compatible with my dip pen. I also made pancakes and eggs and drank coffee from a mug with a map of Middle Earth on it. So that was cool.

All that to say I’m figuring out how to reconcile pride with necessity and find some kind of enjoyment in the middle ground.

Because I can’t stop here.

2014 in the world of brooding sweatered corner-dweller (aka me): a recap

Summaries are hard. Which is perhaps why I write more novels than short stories.pajamas

But this year was certainly an interesting one, so I’ll attempt it before the clock strikes midnight.

2014 brought a significant season of moving forward in my creative pursuits. I have edited 6 total versions of my first novel, which will be ready to submit for publication hopefully sometime in the first half of this year. I officially began writing my second novel, of which I am 485 pages in. It will likely end up split into two books.

I incorporated drawing classes into my academic load, which provided my first introduction to being part of a community of artists, and to being brave and letting people much more skilled than myself examine and critique my work. I have contacted my top art school choice, and am working on the application for the MFA program for Illustration, even as I make initial movements for marketing myself as a professional artist. Throughout this crucial preparatory phase, I have been learning to take myself seriously as a writer and an illustrator, despite the fact that I’m nowhere near as experienced as I want to be.

In May, I went overseas for the first time. This year, my travels took me to South Korea, Hong Kong, and Vietnam, which landed me more confidence in traveling, learning and navigating new systems, and grew me in ways I’m not even completely sure of. God willing, May 2015 will see me back to Costa Rica, making my first voyage outside of the United States unaffiliated with academics.

This year also brought biology research—physiological and ecological studies on hummingbirds at high elevations in the mountains of southeastern Arizona. This was unlike anything I’ve ever done, as I know I’ve said before. Excruciating heat, all-nighters, 6-hour DLW sessions in the disgustingly early morning, strange living conditions, wrath-invoking bugs, harrowing work hours, and a terribly inconvenient visit from the BBC. My lab partner and I were just a couple of derpy kids left without a supervisor for three weeks in the middle of nowhere—but we nailed our research anyway. And those six weeks taught me so much about pulling through, of doing whatever it took to woman-up and show up and find gratification in the work I had accomplished.

And by the end of the summer, my lab partner had become one of my closest friends. (Which is a story I’ll have to tell another time, ‘cause it’s a good one.)

I seriously wanted an easy fall semester. But the latter half of this year brought a cold season spiritually, and a persistent state of social exhaustion—juxtaposed with an increasing passion for alleviating the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community, and a quest to reconcile my more traditional religious foundation with what I have come to believe regarding gender and sexual identity.

By the end of the year, I ended up retreating for maintenance and recuperation—recognizing limits and taking care of myself and trying to let go of the crippling insecurities that had made this new journey so stressful. As the new semester swiftly approaches, I am still feeling out where I am, and looking to treat this new year like a blank page.

On the verge of a new year, with new adventures and experiences and challenges, I want to thank everyone who has held a part of my life thus far. I am truly affected and honored by all your love and support. Thank you so much. I wish you the best this upcoming year.

In which Andromeda failed me

Sunday night, I had procrastinated long enough.

I had spent the day being industrious, immersed in story-planning and also weighing my options for housing in San Francisco in a year, which were painfully restricted for the sheer lack of monetary resources I have at my disposal. But it’s fine—stuff works out. And now I have a more concrete foundation with which to start planning, so things are generally looking up.

I thought it was high time I bought some mochi (doughy rice cake with red bean/taro paste in its center), and I figured I might as well refurnish the fridge with milk while I was at it. And I had a car, so I could just go and retrieve said comfort food to help me push through the remainder of my homework for the evening.

So I found my roommate and we mounted Andromeda, my little white 1999 Saturn, which I had completely paid for up front just three weeks ago. I don’t mind its quirks so much because it runs well enough. After overcoming its wayward glove compartment, which was refusing to close after I had opened it to retrieve something, I finally settled into the driver’s seat. I stuck the key in the ignition and turned it.

Silence.

Confused, I paused, turned it back, then tried again.

Nothing responded. No clicking, no revving. Absolutely no response whatsoever.

“Are you serious?” I laughed sharply, trying it again with a greater amount of desperation.

Surprise gave way to anger. Seriously. I’ve only had this car for three weeks. I bought the thing with my own money. I had so much faith in that car. And I’m sorely awaiting my next paycheck. I’m saving up to travel—a trip I have been looking forward to for a good year and a half. How much money would I have to spend on this car? Would it jeopardize my finances for my trip to Costa Rica?

I called my friend with a car to see if she was available to jump it—which was a dumb idea, I realized, because I wouldn’t have wanted to drive it anywhere anyway—because it would likely leave me stranded wherever I took it.

As I tried to remember how to jump a car without getting electrocuted, I received a text from my dad to call home when I had time. I had texted him about the car.

I called and, as I explained the situation, assuring him I wasn’t stranded, I fought to keep my voice steady. I was so freaking angry. I wanted to demand an explanation from my silent little car. It just sat there, quiet, unresponsive, unapologetic. It should have looked downright penitent, but of course, it’s a car, so that wasn’t happening.

And it wasn’t really the car’s fault, I guess. I had just desperately hoped something like this wouldn’t take place. Because it was the last thing I could afford. An acutely disconcerting event I pray is not an indicator of its performance in the future when I can afford it even less.

My dad thought it was the battery, which I had been a little too flustered to even think about. I had just assumed my car had called it quits. He offered to bring me a new one next weekend, meaning I don’t have to pay for it, and I’ll learn a bit about cars for future reference—which kind of puts my mind at ease.

But still.

My friend offered to drive us to where we needed to go, but while we were at a gas station headed through town, her water pump started leaking a rather alarming amount, so we had to turn back (she has an old car too). So I gave up on excursions for the time being and made myself coffee, having received a whiplash reminder that unexpected things happen. Stupid, inconvenient, last-thing-you-can-tolerate-right-now things.

But alas. Life goes on. And it generally turns out all right in the end, wherever that may be.

I shouldn’t freak out so much.

Bitter

Bats fluttered above the amphitheater.

The two dark figures rose and wheeled, dipping in and out of the trees in the dying light–so close I could almost see their faces as I tipped my own toward the sky.

I stood among hundreds of my classmates. Feeling alone in the crowd, I fought the unidentified emotion tugging at the back of my throat as I sang.

Every word uttered with the music translated to a repeated, burning question.

            Why, God? Why do I feel this way?

Because it was still just the Saturday before school started and I was already overwhelmed. Disillusioned. Angry.

I had little to no interest in meeting new people, of “putting myself out there,” of participating and pressuring myself to go along with everything because I’d be hiding in my room otherwise. But it hadn’t really mattered during the summer, because I spent half of it in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona, and the other half on a relatively deserted campus crunching numbers.

But now, here were my peers, all showing up in excitement and enthusiasm, looking forward to a great year with their friends. Families had helped their loved ones move in. Couples strolled around campus with fingers interlaced. The air was filled with a stifling amount of high spirits and enthusiasm.

Not like I’m a grump and I hate that sort of thing, but it certainly felt a little sand-paper-esque to me.

I had grown accustomed to emptiness and moderate seclusion, partially from my summer exploits, and also because of the fact that the two-story house serving as my on-campus housing this year remained mostly inhabited for a good two weeks before anyone other than myself and my roommate moved in.

An altar call was issued that night in the amphitheater. The instructions were simple. We could make an origami fortuneteller with the provided paper and instructions we received upon arrival, and write inside it what we felt we needed to lay down. To let go.

I sat turbidly on a layer of concrete set in the grass, my back a little sore from standing and sitting upright for the duration of the sermon. I contemplating not having anything to do with the altar call. I wasn’t going to follow along with this. To let myself be inspired to press in, get closer. Again and again I have scoured my soul, searching for what’s wrong, taking everyone’s word as exactly what I needed in the moment I heard it. For years I have done this. Endless repetitions of playing along.

I know something specific is broken these days, but I’m still not sure what.

And I didn’t want to be taught to anymore. I didn’t want to hear a sermon and every single time agree wholeheartedly, to internalize and soul-search and aspire to follow the advice and figure out how I can apply what I heard like Christians typically do.

I wanted to leave as soon as the music stopped, but out of courtesy and an aversion to attracting attention to myself, I stayed through the message.

And when it came time to perform the altar call, I scowled inside, reached over, and grabbed one of the crayons provided. If I couldn’t think of anything, I wouldn’t write anything, simple as that. I wanted to be honest with myself, so I would be honest. Even if it felt like succumbing to a game.

Three words came to mind. Three words I had hoped weren’t actually the things plaguing my aching soul. But they came to mind, so I gruffly shoved my pride behind me. Broodingly, I picked apart the fortuneteller until I found its center, and wrote them down:

 

Bitterness

Cynicism

Fear

 

I’ve been justifying bitter feelings for quite a while. I just never pictured myself as a bitter person, and I loathed to think that I was capable of bitterness. Or that cynicism could truly start to turn dangerous. And fear—that’s always there, isn’t it? Just when I think I’m doing relatively well, fear seeps up through the floorboards like acid.

So those words have appeared, but I still don’t quite know what’s broken. I don’t understand why certain things that shouldn’t hurt still elicit a sharp stab when I encounter them. Why I still feel alone when I know I’m not. Why I run.

But since that night, though I’ve been frustrated, fatigued, and angry over the course of the first week of classes, though I still feel the chronic stabs, while I’m surrounded by droves of new faces, I feel something’s changed.

Not sure what that is, either. Perhaps I’ll never know, but for some reason I’m coming back.

Tentatively, warily, I’m coming back.