I’m retaking ENGL 404, the advanced poetry workshop, this year. I felt like, due to conditions beyond my control, I didn’t get as much out of it as I could have, so when I learned that I could get credit from repeating it (it is a terminal course in creative writing, after all) I jumped at the chance like a lizard at a cricket.
(Sorry, that was the first thing that came to mind.)
I feel like this spring is a do-over of last spring, complete with all the requisite opportunities and challenges. This time around, I’m stronger, but I’m still not invincible, and just like last time, this week several things hit me, one after the other.
This time, they weren’t all bad. I accepted a job offer with Rice that starts this month, reasoning that, living as close to the poverty line as I am, turning down any opportunity to earn money would be foolish. The job pays really well and lets me stay on campus this summer, in the heart of the city I love. But now I have to figure out where to fit five to twenty hours of work per week around my seventeen credit hours.
Additionally, the next three weekends will be crammed, both Saturday and Sunday, with events, all of which are fun, but the sheer number of which is overwhelming.
Then there’s my lab, which only counts for one credit hour but oddly requires at least eight hours of work per week.
I was excitedly telling my friend about my job this morning and his response was a lukewarm “Oh …” which made me realize that all of these things I’m successfully (so far) balancing really don’t seem like much to other people. Since I am a junior in college, my friends, professors, classmates, and even total strangers are constantly asking me, “What are you planning on doing after you graduate?” I want to grab them and respond, “Isn’t what I’m doing right now enough?”
Exactly one year ago, this uncertainty would have terrified me. One year ago, I was taking twelve credit hours and not working at all and the responsibility was still too much.
But this year, I’ve learned to trust myself more, to believe in the capabilities I do not consciously know I have. I might still not know what I want to do after I graduate – or more precisely, what I do want to do (find a good job, a house, adopt a cat, and be healthy) still might not be enough for Rice – but I’m no longer insecure about that.
ENGL 404 requires a cohesive portfolio based around a central topic. This year, I chose my topic to be mood disorders and the process of recovery. Too personal? Yeah, probably. I haven’t yet started crying while reading my poetry in class, but I’ve come close.
One of the primary goals of this project is to dig through layers and layers of trauma and repression, and to do that I have to rely fairly heavily on automatic writing, which is where you just sit down with a pen and paper (or a computer) and write whatever words would like to come out. I submitted my first automatic writing piece about recovery, without editing it at all, to Rice’s literary magazine last fall, “because why not, right?” and it was accepted. (You can read it in the new edition, coming out this month.) That made me think there might be better things buried in my subconscious than I realized.
But I also realize that “recovery” from a mood disorder, or any sort of chronic illness, is a precarious thing. A friend of mine recently passed away from complications related to her mood disorder, and I know too many people who have similar health problems but are afraid to look for help.
I couldn’t have predicted my friend’s death when I began this project, but I now have a new motivation to complete it and complete it well. Sometimes I forget what I’m fighting against, and the people who laugh at me for getting excited over little things like obtaining my first job or scoring average on a midterm have no idea what I’m fighting against or how much I’ve already fought.
And that’s okay. Because I know. Recovery doesn’t mean winning. It means fighting with different weapons against changing enemies.
To everyone fighting something, no matter how overwhelming the odds, keep going. You have my support, for what it’s worth. And my poetry.