Lessons

“Faculty and students from other countries have something different and important to say about history and psychology, about business and engineering, about chemistry and biology. Study abroad is for all students, and it provides students with the opportunity to gain a richer understanding of their major. Study abroad is fundamentally an academic program.”

What I did I learn abroad?

In England, summer of 2009, I learned that I could read a map and navigate the Tube and the Paris Metro. I learned that I am hard to live with, hard to reason with when I am stressed or tired, and too indecisive for the liking of many. I learned that place and time have more effect on you than you realize. Especially geography.

In Amsterdam, for a week in 2012, I learned that I am a good tourist. That I like to eat food I can’t name, that I don’t mind making an ass out of myself, that I am not a very outgoing person, but I’ve known that all along. I don’t need people to make an experience for me. In a perfect world, I do anything I want to do alone, alone.

In Ireland, for 5 weeks in 2013, I learned to appreciate Guinness and hot weather. I learned that I love water, I love to walk, I like to work with my hands and I like to work outside. I was reminded of the agricultural side of my ancestry, of the distrust I have for people with privilege, of my love for kindness and dogs and honest people.

In Costa Rica and Guatemala for a week each, in 2014, I learned to trust my gut, I learned that language can be learned like any other skill. I learned that people everywhere are mostly the same, regardless of the differences they try to display. Regardless of how different they want to appear.

Instead of this

I think this generation is the advice generation. People always seem to want to know, how did you do it? What did you do? How do you feel about it? Looking for that reinforcement, that sign, that reassurance. I went to coffee with my two WI friends this morning. I slept a lot. The latest I have in a while, like old times. And I was lying in my bed contemplating the day until I finally checked my phone and realized I had been invited to brunch. This is why I should check my phone more often; this is why I don’t like to make plans way in advance. I like spontaneity.

I had coffee and a green tea latte and a frenchie. (french toast bagel sandwich with eggs and cheese and bacon and syrup. Holy Shirt.)

I was chatting with my friends when someone noticed my FYE advisee in the corner with her science notes. I went over to say hello and ended up sitting with her for half an hour as she poured out her weekend to me; her worries; her stressors; her typical college concerns. It made me laugh a lot cause just like your teen years, your college years have that progression, but you feel so much more independent and grown up in college that you don’t realize everyone’s story is so similar, despite where you are or what kind of school you go to or your major. Or if you like to drink or if you study a lot or if you’re an athlete. But she did that thing that people do that catches me off guard. She looked at me directly and asked what I thought or what I did or if my experience could inform hers at all. I stuttered; I stammered; I looked away. Yes, yes, don’t worry, it’s all the same, but agh, don’t put me on the spot.  I keep telling my students, you have lots of time, but maybe I should clarify: you do, as long as you don’t waste your time. “The only mistake is if you stand still.” If you’re not roaming about trying to figure it out, then you will run out of time, but if you’re actually managing your time and doing things, you will find yourself in the right place at the right time. I think.

On a totally unrelated tangential note, I realized the other day I’ve been suffering from culture shock my whole life. “I am a native of the North Pole, and that could mess up any kid.” My parents divorced when I was very young, and my brother and I stayed with my mother in Illinois but my dad moved back to Arizona. Every summer, we would pack a suitcase and drive to the St. Louis airport where we would depart for Phoenix. I was reading this book, The Art of Coming Home, somewhat out of boredom, but also due to work responsibilities, and even though it’s a book for ex-pats, I found myself shocked as I could relate to the different pieces I had never considered before and that hadn’t been pointed out to me. The book discussed exchange students and their experience returning to their family roles. Most of it I knew just from work and talking to students and having traveled a minuscule amount myself. But some of it I really hadn’t considered. For example, there was a bit on families and and re-adjusting to family life and your expected family role. I remembered the end of summer feeling of returning to Illinois and being expected to load and unload the dishwasher and clear the table and fold the bathroom towels and dust the living room and vacuum the stairs and help with the gardening and shucking the corn. It was a struggle, because in Tucson there were just the three of us and the chores were minimal, also my father is an ex-Marine and very particular about the way things are cleaned, so some things we were excused from just for that. Returning to Illinois to readjust to not only being a part of the foursome of sibs, but also the expected leader of the foursome, and as another member of a large, messy, functioning unit was always difficult for me and my brother. I remember feeling suffocated by the Illinois humidity and the attention of my younger brother and sister and the silence of the country roads and the coldness of my basement bedroom. And the greenness of it all. The smell of the cultivated summer earth. It can best be described as sensory overload. I remember always feeling like I couldn’t relate to my classmates who had spent the whole summer together, swimming, chasing crushes, playing ball, getting dizzy at the fair. I don’t know. It’s strange to imagine that the back and forth between Arizona and Illinois resulted in culture shock. I remember my godmother getting it though, before I could really articulate what I was experiencing or what was happening to my brain. She said once, “You’ll just be able to go wherever, Laina. You will never feel tied down or obligated to stay in one place. You will find comfort in the uncomfortable. You won’t feel held back.” I remember being so perplexed by that conversation, being unable to relate to it, because when I was younger I was kind of afraid of new places due to my introverted-ness. But I sense it now more. My advisee asked me today if I would stay here, and I couldn’t even lie or hesitate. “No. This is fine for now, but this is now.” I have too many worldly possessions to be a nomad.

Actors

I don’t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud, or the smart-ass, or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script. It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless automat of characters. -Gillian Flynn

I walk around campus, and I scroll my social media accounts and the online magazines like Elite Daily and the world reeks of it. People trying too hard; people pretending not to care, not to try at all. The disingenuity of people everywhere. I’m not the Genuine Police, alright. It’s cool. Do your thang, honey. I just think we’re losing some real gems in the process of all trying to be the cleverest or the dryest or the most sardonic. The most original. The most hilarious; the sloppiest. Some girl called a boy “the peachiest” last night for doing her a favor. And I thought, ‘oh, that’s nice, peach.’ But then she proceeded to call him a peach about 3 more times and I lost interest. That’s obviously her thing, not a random she threw out there. [She was also being really loud. I looked over at her and watched her sitting there being loud. She looked up at me and challenged me a bit with her eyes. What, girl. You obviously want attention, so I’m going to give it to you.] It’s fine. It’s a problem though, don’t you think? The character mill. We are an assembly line of awesomeness. Except we’re overloaded. We’ve soaked up each other’s awesomeness by never unplugging, unconnecting, unattaching. I want real. I want. I read an article at the aforementioned Elite Daily about how ‘nice’ girls finish last. Like ‘nice’ guys. And she didn’t say it very well, the author, but I got what she meant. We need to stop being doormats. All stop trying to make other people happy and be ourselves. Stop playing the games, and worrying about what other people think and give ’em double middle fingers and show them our true colors. Stop reading from the script. Ad lib. Freak out. Get judged. OMG, get judged so hard. What will happen? Your mind missile will go off and obliterate everything you stand for? Fuck up a little bit, you know. Every now and then, say “What the fuck.” Forget your role; forget your character’s motivations and unwind.

This is your brain on fall

I’m just another adult here. I know; I should be. But I walk around the campus and I feel like a dog walking on its hind legs. No one actually realizes at first glance that I’m an adult. The students who don’t know me assume I am another student. So do the faculty and staff. Even once they realize I work here, they assume I am fresh out of undergrad. Fresh from the world of parties and mixers and TA office hours. Fresh from home. Not me.

Despite my high cholesterol, I don’t want to be another adult telling them to do things. Sending emails they won’t open…But I also don’t want to mingle with them. I don’t want to be one of them. I won’t go to their toga parties– I don’t care how many signatures they get on the petition. I just miss the in between of my grad student status. Yes, I was an adult, but I wasn’t. That’s how I feel every day. I am, but I’m not. I still have to Google “why do I have high cholesterol”; I still want to wear my favorite jeans with old t-shirts and my converse. I still want to not brush my hair for days and not wear make up [my co-worker was like, “‘oh, i’m so early today’ and then I realized I forgot to put on make-up.”] and give off the “I don’t care vibe.” I do care, but I don’t care enough, and I don’t want to act like I care because then that will seem superficial, won’t it?

My brain is on scatter style this week. The shit I’ve said to students. “This is my favorite pen.” “I’m on autopilot.” “How do I say this so that it doesn’t sound mean.”

What? Who is this person? I blame it on the season change. I blame it on the red leaves and the cold mornings and the early sunsets. I blame it on the north. I blame it on my reluctance to change, to admit defeat, to admit I need to start anew. I don’t want to give up grad student me because that’s the adult version I know. Maybe these kids don’t get it, but that’s not for me to change. Maybe I don’t fit into their college flavor. That’s another thing. They look like college students, they smell like college students, and for the most part they sound like college students, but they’re different in some way. I can’t quite pinpoint it. They care. They ask me lots of questions. They ask me the same question in multiple ways. They ask me questions I’ve already answered. They don’t talk about their weekend or their friends or their families. They don’t really talk. They ask. I’m not used to this. I thought it would feel more familiar than this. I thought the strangeness of it all would have faded by now, 3 months in. But it’s just as odd as it was the first day, except I see familiar faces and I know names. I guess that’s how you know, how you know you’re not settled or done or ready. It’s not comfortable enough.

On a totally unrelated ending note, my snap game is starting to fade, and I think I should look into adopting a dog because that might really spice things up.

human emotions

I think I’m having an outer body experience (Yes, I realize it’s out-of-body, but that’s not what I’m feeling). My friends had big news this weekend. One got laid; one got engaged; and I was in the upper Midwest getting drunk off of a sapporro, a spotted cow and two PBRs. I find myself suddenly struggling with the puzzle pieces of my adult life, squinting at them without recognition, fitting pieces together that almost but don’t quite fit…wondering why their puzzles look so much better than mine when we’re working from the same materials. This is nonsensical. I’ve lived my life rarely seeking external validation. I have little concern for the timelines or the expectations of others. My uncle actually tried to give me a pep talk once about maybe trying to pretend to care what my peers thought of me, because maybe, I’d have more fun. I forget his exact phrase, something about getting distracted and getting caught up, yes, that’s what it was “get caught up in your peers once in a while.” I’m just not that girl. I’ve always done my own thing. My parents don’t joke that I raised myself, they spout it as gospel truth.

I mean, I’m an okay adult. I pay all my bills well before they’re due, and I regularly go to the doctor’s and the dentist’s office of my own volition. I floss (sometimes). I wear my glasses when I should and I try. I do. I try. I recycle. I eat my vegetables. I even wash my face with this weird paste made of salt and baking soda because, well because my grandma is into all that holistic shit, but it actually seems to be good for my skin. The salt is like an exfoliant and the baking soda kinda soothes and soaks up all the oils. I digress in a big way.

But I’m not going to dinner with the love of my life and I’m not meeting warm bodies and having fun, casual sex on the weekends and I’m not taking my dog that I adopted for a walk. I never think about any of these markers of adulthood as having any meaning or place in my life when I’m at work with a student sitting across from me or when I’m having my ass handed to me in a great, sweaty package at boot camp in the campus gym twice a week. But all of a sudden, I’m thinking about it.

My friend gave me her news and I had a Bridesmaids moment. I, up until now, never really empathized with Kristen Wiig’s character. I admit. Why, why is she so crazy? But I felt it, when my friend told me. That selfish pearl of panic and loss and everything’s suddenly different and I get no say and holyfuckwhatamidoing? I’m doing this right, right? Lots of people my age and younger are pairing off, getting their mates, but no one tells you growing up how it will be. That you’ll have your heart broken one million times over by the friends you make and fail to keep. By the people you lose sight of and the people you grow away from and the people you genuinely just lose because the world is a bitch. Things change; people change. This is why people start to freak out that they will be alone forever. Because there is a legitimate possibility you could be alone. Forever. Your friends pair off or move away and you continue to orbit independently. It’s not bad. Not at all, but I see why it is a freaky feeling to have. It’s one thing to be alone by choice. It’s another to feel like you’re alone because everyone left you. Pulled the rug right out from under you and were out the door before you landed on your ass. It’s daunting if you try to swallow it all at once. A work friend said something I thought was so true the other day. She was pissed at a married friend who told her she was so lucky to be able to go out and meet guys and Internet date (such a thing). And her response was, “which would you rather do? Go to a bar and have rambling conversations with strangers? Check your computer/phone and have conversations with strangers that feel like you are climbing a mountain? Or be at home on the couch with someone you like a lot watching Netflix and YouTube?” I hadn’t thought of it like that before, but it was hard to argue with her logic. I shrugged for lack of words.

And I am ridiculously happy for both of my friends. The one who had consensual sex and the one who has made a great decision to share her life. It’s an incredibly joyful feeling. The world is a great, happy place where unicorns dance and sunflowers never die.

Human is such a weird costume.

Old girl

I’ve been binge watching New Girl like I’m a crack addict and it’s crack. I resisted it for a long long time, but I finally gave in and I can only say the wait was well worth it.
I like NG for several reasons. It has its flaws, as does any new shiny thing, but these are minute in comparison. Mostly, the show reminds me of the time I lived in West Lafayette. Three men in their mid-twenties lived in the apartment above me, and for 4 glorious months, I had the best friends I had ever had in my life. It was one of those friendships that happened effortlessly, seemingly overnight. They had a party and invited me up. I wore my “thesaurus” tshirt and carried over my six pack of Dos Equis. I don’t remember the first conversations we had. I do remember the black licorice taste of the shots from the alcohol Billy brought back from Finland. I remember the sweat that pooled off of Paul’s handshake fresh from his run. I remember the way Jao tried to hit on me in what I would soon recognize as the Jao way.
I vaguely recall the Qdoba breakfast burritos at 3am. I wish we had kept the sunglasses we stole from Steven Lee without shame.
The show reminds me of Friday nights with those guys, smashed on the couch together, watching baseball and drinking water out of mason jars. It reminds me of running up in my sweats to order a pound of Insomnia cookies. It reminds me of Taco not Tuesday and grocery store runs and pooling our money together for cabs when we were too drunk to drive. Always having someone around for anything. For the highs and the lows and the dull times and the hilarious times. I’ve never been a good roommate, but I was a great neighbor. For a bit.
NG also presents a bunch of adults that don’t have their shit together, in a typical way that people my age just don’t have their shit together, which I appreciate. I try to relate it to other shows I’ve watched, but I can’t really, because no other show has captured the fucked up-ness, the spontaneity, the uncertainty, yet the comfort of friendship and love of life after college and before marriage and kids and mortgages and dogs. I can relate to the ridiculousness of it all because it’s grounded. It’s balanced. I like that. We are messy and shitty and crazy and it’s cool. We can make dumb decisions and the world’s not going to implode or end. Things will just keep going. I like that it reminds me of that.

Also it makes me laugh really really hard out loud frequently. Schmidt that bastard. And Nick Miller, who is my fictional soulmate on some weird level.

The very best

The best thing I’ve read on the Internet today…well…probably all month: I think a lot and write a lot, and in order to do that I guess I have to take things a little too seriously sometimes, but I’d like to think I get right up close to things so that I can then step back and see it whole. What is the point if you can’t laugh at it all. Honestly, none of this stuff really matters. I mean, everything matters in some infinitesimal way. It matters to me; it matters to you. But if you put your arms above your head and jump up and look down as your feet clear the atmosphere, you remember that the world is so small and so big at the same time, and we’re just a bunch of ants scurrying around. Even if I live 100 years, I would rather just laugh at you.