Ventilation

I always wanted to be a prodigy. I easily took to things, and if I liked it, I practiced it obsessively.  My phases were rife with flares of thwarted, perfectionistic fury–until I achieved proficiency, at least. I wanted to be the youngest, the reliable, the extraordinary. Not the best, necessarily, but undeniably impressive.

Yet I always seemed to come late to things. Gymnastics, for example. I cared little for the sport until the 2004 summer Olympics. After a single night, something arose from within me, and I knew this was going to become a key passion. Something that would mark the rest of my childhood, perhaps even my entire life.

But I couldn’t enroll in classes right away. My friend did, though, and whatever she taught me, I practiced constantly, relentlessly. Finally, at 12, I was able to start recreational classes. In a fortuitous string of events, I was admitted onto the level 4 team. The typical profile of level 4 gymnasts was 8-10 years old, and under 5 feet tall. I was 15 and 5’5″. I can only imagine what my coaches must have been thinking when they decided to give me a shot. I struggled and fought my way through conditioning. I had such a long way to go to build the muscle necessary to support my adolescent frame, while the younger kids were downright feathers. But despite any pain, frustration, and countless ripped blisters, back problems, and aching muscles, I loved it. And I progressed quickly. In two and a half years, I was training to compete level 8–though the demands of my senior year of high school and college preparation drove me to step out of the sport earlier than I had planned.

Gymnastics wasn’t the only late-manifesting obsession. My interest in drawing became preoccupation when I was a sophomore in college. It not only rose to prominence as a main hobby, but completely changed my career focus. I spent the summer after that year drawing from noon to 5am every day, with the exception of the month I studied abroad in Costa Rica. Sometimes I look back on that time and think to myself. I’m insane.

Science and writing are the two exceptions to this trend. I’ve always been a science nerd, and I’ve been writing fiction since I could piece together words.

Essentially, I need a forte, something to be really good at, along with a network of subsidiary proficiencies. I need to have something constructive available to constantly channel this persistent, nagging drive to pursue and create–a drive which has led me to writing, drawing, crocheting, unicycling, gymnastics, book-binding, biology, Spanish…among other things. My overarching journey of self-betterment and spirituality interfaces with and informs this need as well, but it seems to have its own distinct category.

And sometimes–these days especially–I wonder if my life would be less stressful if I wasn’t trying to pursue so much. In fact, I know it would be.

But my key pursuits are like ram ventilation: I have to keep moving to breathe. Like a shark. (Maybe I’m a shark.) And school has always imposed itself as an appreciated/hated mandatory reality, so it doesn’t quite count for me.

This need to find something to work toward and live for is not uncommon. Perhaps this is something sharks and the human spirit itself have in common. We can’t stay still. Except, with humans, our ram ventilation can get misdirected and land us into very deep trouble, or we run into trouble trying to quell the feelings of suffocation of having stopped. Some humans never learned the necessity of continual movement. Some came to a deliberate halt.

Some, like me, can feel the pace accelerating to a speed far beyond what we are perhaps capable of handling. But we try anyway. We angle ourselves directly into the flow and let the current buffet us. And it’s too much–so much that, interestingly enough, we can’t even breathe sometimes. Moving forward in such a torrent can strain and weaken us until we start to break under the pressure and pain of holding on.

We know we can technically step out of it, find out what it actually feels like to have everything stop. Sometimes suffocating in the cessation looks more appealing than continuing forward.

But we don’t remove ourselves. We stay in the current. In the pain. In the overwhelming hydroelectricity.

Because, despite the pain, it’s still worth it.

Because this is breathing, dangit, and we feel alive.

We feel alive.

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.

I’m not dead, I promise.

While I’m making adequate progress on editing what I hope will become my debut novel, as well as trekking through writing another book, one would think I’d be able to write just as avidly about other stuff.

But blogging is hard for me. Pathetically hard, in fact.

I forget about this blog for excruciatingly long stretches of time and only remember when I want to rant. And I don’t want a ranting blog, so I don’t post what I write. And then I get squashed under an overwhelming lack of anything meaningful to say, or I feel like I’m saying the same things over and over again…Especially when much of anything non-fiction I write tends to wax optimistic every single time, or have some kind of hopeful message that, after a while, feels dishonest or overly positive. It even happens when I’m generally feeling hopeless–whether it’s purely from habit, or it’s an attempt to soften the angst in my life, or insecurity about fully expressing said angst, or feelings that my life isn’t interesting enough for anyone to be truly interested……and I could continue muttering about possible reasons until the rise and fall of the zombie apocalypse…

I’m inclined to say I’ll do my best to do better. Maybe when school starts up. Maybe when I publish my book. Maybe when I figure out my life. But to be honest, I’ve determined to be better many times, with little actual progress to show for it. And I’m still fed up with pressuring myself to do anything.

But I still want to keep trying. Because, like everyone else in the world, my voice matters–and I’m still trying to convince myself of that.

So while this blog has had a fitful update schedule of late (meaning mostly no activity whatsoever), I haven’t given up yet.

To those who have stuck around: Thanks. :)

A Happier Best

I generally entertain the idea that I don’t run away from a fight, that instead I relish a good challenge and embrace growing experiences wherever I may find them.

After two and a half years as a science major, I’ve realized my desire to better myself manifests as less of an intentional pursuit of opportunities as me finding something that looks cool, and then throwing myself in to see what happens. For example, I wanted to go to a private Christian university, so I did, not worrying as best as I could about the financial burden. I am very grateful my parents are currently shouldering it until I get a higher-paying job, but the loans have started to make me nervous. Upon entering said university, I wanted to be a science major–partly because I liked science, partly because I liked the idea of being a physical therapist, and also because I wanted to prove I could pull it off. In addition, I thought it would be good to learn Spanish, and I knew immersion would be scary and uncomfortable. Being a Spanish minor, studying abroad was optional, but I did it anyway. I liked the idea of doing research, so I ended up contacting my professor about an open spot in his lab this summer to see what might come of it. This week, I submitted my research proposal and, if accepted, I’ll be spending a couple months in Arizona studying hummingbirds.

I want to write novels, so I’m working on one. I want to be an illustrator too, with a particular interest in graphic novels—an endeavor I’m just in the beginning stages of pursuing. I’m not sure how I’ll do either of these, and sometimes I drown in my own mediocrity, but it’s a work in progress.

So I like to think I’m ambitious. But the last few weeks have made me wonder.

As the semester is quickly drawing to a close with tightly packed projects and exams, I’ve been procrastinating like mad, and a great deal of hemming and hawing goes on before I actually finish anything. I get distracted, spend far too much time on tumblr, and get caught up in drawing for five hours on a school night. But I’ve been doing this all semester.

So I ask myself if I’m not focusing well enough, or if not caring as obsessively as I used to is a lowering of my standards. I always want to do my best, but this pursuit has started to look different than before.

Freshman year of college, my “best effort” looked like pushing most everything by the wayside, my only free time being my self-imposed Sabbath Friday night to Saturday afternoon. I didn’t write or read much at all. I wasn’t even really all that much into drawing at that point. I was usually stressed out, and attended school functions with a sour feeling somewhere deep within my being—the constant worry that I would regret the diversion.

This semester, however, I write and draw quite often. I procrastinate perhaps more than I should. I tend to wait for inspiration to hit me before doing anything academically significant. I don’t get as much sleep as I used to. I’m in bear hibernation mode with regards to my physical condition. I wear makeup when I have the patience to put it on. I am adamant about not letting academics run my life (any more than it already does, that is.)

This can’t be my best, can it?

I still manage to turn in quality work on time, somehow. My grades aren’t really suffering, last time I checked. I still don’t understand how—maybe magic.

I’m tempted to think I’m slipping, because my amount of general life effort isn’t tightly controlled. It’s a lot more noncommittal and easygoing in parts, but I really do believe it still is my best.

And it’s a happier best, I think. I like it better than the stressed basket-case variety. Here, there’s room for failure and frustration, but ample space to breathe.

Even as finals and projects clamor for my attention and stress breathes down my neck, I operate under the general assumption that things turn out all right in the end. I’m doing my best, after all, and if it’s not enough, God will fill in the gaps.