Tag Archives: growing up

Breathing

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I can’t breathe.

I find myself pacing, restless, needing to do something yet having nothing to do. I have no deadlines. I have no commitments. I have no classes, no job, no rehearsals.

Is this what it feels like to be an adult? I wonder.

It feels aimless.

To be fair, I’ve submitted eight freelance job proposals, attended a wedding, read a few books, revised twelve chapters of a novel, and unpacked and repacked almost constantly since arriving home from university. I’ve played poker and gone hiking napped on a mountain. I’ve washed dishes, made pizza, and come close to dying because I thought I was in shape and tried to sprint a mile.

It’s not like I’ve done nothing since graduation—and yet I find myself still with these terrifying pockets of undesignated time.

It’s an hour here and three hours there, ten minutes while the coffee perks in the mornings and fifteen minutes while I wait my turn for the bathroom at night.

And suddenly, without more homework than a human being can possibly get through, without work to rush to or emails to answer or events to attend, I find myself hemmed in by spare time.

I’ve dreamt of leisure for years—while I was working during high school, while I was reading textbooks during university, while I was job-hunting and tax-filing and internship-applying and apartment-cleaning and…

…and I’ve spent so much time wishing for freedom that now, with time on my hands, I feel restless. What do I do with the moments, the hours, the days? I feel lazy if I sit for a few minutes and do nothing. I sleep badly because I must be forgetting to do something.

I’m free, but I can’t enjoy it. Like a scared dog released from a small cage into a new environment, I huddle, immobile, terrified in my spare time, certain the appearance of freedom hides some trap.

And somehow, in the midst of newness and change, aimlessness and fear, I find myself breathing. I find that time is not, as I’ve been led to believe, a valuable commodity that I’m likely to fritter away.

I find it’s something bigger.

It’s the silence in which my heart beats and my eyes blink and a thousand thoughts race through my mind. It’s the chance to work, to invest, to learn, yes—but it’s also the chance to breathe. To look around me, to be caught up for minutes together in the beautiful flicker of leaves in the wind, to bond by lounging in aimless togetherness with my family, to sleep until I wake naturally and to marvel at the unfathomable interaction of my waking mind and my unconscious dreams.

Living, I see now, isn’t a matter of getting everything done before you die—it’s a matter of breathing.

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Shelter Dogs, Graduation, and Temporary Love

Sometimes, I adopt a shelter dog for a day. The local animal control allows people to borrow dogs and cats for an afternoon at a time to socialise the animals, get them out of their cages, and, hopefully, encourage people to fall in love with and permanently adopt a needy animal.

My roommate and I have done this twice now. Twice we’ve fallen in love with wriggling bundles of unconditional affection. Twice we’ve seen an animal’s joy at romping on grass and in woods rather than on concrete and in cages. Twice we’ve known our hearts would break at the end of the day when we returned the dogs to the shelter.

We’ve been poor college students living in no-pets-allowed dorms with unstable lifestyles. We would be irresponsible pet owners and eventually have to give them up all over again. Still, every time we take them back to their cages, my heart cracks as I hand the leash over to a shelter employee. There’s an urge, every time, to withdraw a little, not to fall completely in love with an animal I can’t keep. But it’s better when I let myself go, forget the pain coming at the end of the afternoon, and abandon myself to the eager eyes and wagging tail.

And yet we continue to go borrow pets for the day, and I continue to believe it’s worth it—that in the few hours we take them out and show them affection, we do something worthwhile—that despite my heartbreak both the dog and I are better for our few hours of love.

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I find, now, that this principle applies to more than dogs. As I packed four years of my life into boxes and suitcases, as I turned the tassel on my flat cap, hugged close friends goodbye for perhaps the last time, and watched my university disappear out the back window, I felt a familiar shattering under my ribcage.

Like most people, and definitely most TCKs, I hate goodbyes. I hate leaving people I love and places I’ve enshrined in my memories. And when I know an ending is coming, the temptation is always to withdraw a little, not to fall completely in love with people I can’t keep. I want to close myself off, to hide my soul away, protecting myself from the very beginning against the ending.

And yet it’s always better when I let myself go, forget the pain coming at the end of the afternoon, or the semester, or the four years, and abandon myself to the laughter and the tears and the friendships. Somehow, I continue to believe it’s worth it—that in the few hours or days or months we share joys and sorrows, we do something worthwhile.

I believe that we build something beautiful through late night hysteria and midafternoon naps, through heart-to-heart talks over coffee and insignificant jokes over cafeteria food. Most importantly, I believe that something does not have to be permanent to be beautiful—that some friendships are precious in their briefness, that the ephemeral can be as needed and as sacred as the eternal. And I believe that, despite my heartbreak at the end, both my friends and I are better for our few years of love.

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Confessions of a College Senior

There’s a frantic energy that pulses through college life. It’s the exuberance of the first week back in the fall, the urgent scramble to get ahead on homework before mid-semester apathy sets in, the wild abandon of late-night giggles before finals. It’s a desperation that pounds like a heartbeat, like treading water to stay afloat long after your legs are numb from exhaustion.

Numb legs. Numb mind. Numb heart.

That’s what I get after four years of this. I’m equally beyond panic and excitement. That freshman year flutter of anxiety over low grades has given way to an apathy born of desperation and exhaustion. The thrill of anticipation over upcoming events has dulled to a weary acceptance of change, a deadened recognition of time’s inevitable progression.

“Are you excited?” people ask when they know I’m graduating next week.

“Yes,” I say.

No, I think.

Excited? Who has the energy to be excited? I can’t see graduation past the packing, the cleaning, the final exams, the empty bank account, the endless commitments.

Photo credit: Laura McIntosh

The achievement I’ve worked toward, cried over, dreamed about—suddenly, as it comes within my reach, I find I don’t care. Exhaustion robs me of excitement. And besides—somewhere in the distance, beyond the cap and gown and diploma, I see something else coming. Something bigger. Something grander.

A new goal.

I’m struggling so hard to survive the moment, straining so hard to see into the future, that I’m about to let this achievement slip away unrecognised.

“You’re almost there!” people say.

“Yes, but…” I say.

That “yes, but…” is subtle. It feels like small talk when I say it, yet by letting it out, I negate my own success. Yes, I’ve put in four years of hard work, overcome challenges I never imagined, experienced adventures and heartbreaks I never anticipated—but…

But what? But I’m not quite there yet? But I have loans? But packing is hard and I don’t have a summer job and I’m worried about this, that, or the other?

This is not an isolated moment—this is every moment. At the crest of every hill, I see the mountain beyond and allow that to diminish my sense of accomplishment, to somehow make my effort meaningless, as if the successes to come make this one not matter.

There will always be a “but.” That’s life. Nothing is isolated. No day is 100% celebration. No moment is an isolated pinnacle. Something will always be coming in the future, but tomorrow’s struggle does not negate today’s achievement.

I cannot live my life looking away from today. I can’t diminish every ending. I can’t let every new challenge ruin the success of the moment.

So yeah—I’m stressed, I’m tired, I’m overwhelmed.

I’m also excited.

Because no matter what today looks like or what challenges wait in the future, I’m near the top of this mountain I’ve been climbing for four years. Whatever might be waiting for me beyond next week, I know that what I’ve done is significant. Where I am is important.

I refuse to let tomorrow negate today.

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High Wire Lifestyle

Like a lemming nearing a cliff’s edge, I’m racing toward graduation.

Or maybe the lemming simile doesn’t hold up—maybe I’m more like a performer on a high wire, desperately stepping toward the other platform while juggling five plates and seven flaming torches.

My life feels like a loosely-organised collection of objects, all of which must be kept from crashing into the ground or each other, and none of which is ever at rest. My laptop always has half a dozen windows, tabs, and sticky notes open to half-finished projects, and my mind is a scramble of approaching deadlines, to-be-read titles, and chemistry terms I still don’t quite understand and probably will guess on when the exam comes around.

And at the end of all that, at some point after the nightmare chem exam and the squeaked-under deadlines and the last pages of books that consume my soul for hours at a time—graduation looms.

Yes, let’s call all of this a high wire act.

Graduation looms like the platform at the other end of the wire, solid and safe, but also small. There will be room for me to turn around, to abandon my torches and my plates, to smile, to bow, to feel something stable beneath my feet—but it will last only a moment. The platform of graduation is just big enough to make me feel safe for a few breaths, but I cannot live there. Somehow I will have to make my way from graduation to solid ground.

And somehow, I feel certain that when I climb down that ladder, I won’t find a wide expanse of ground to rest on, but yet another platform and yet another wire.

Perhaps I’ll be juggling differently on that next tightrope—instead of plates and torches, maybe bowls and batons. Instead of papers, exams, and packing lists, maybe lesson plans, foreign noun cases, and new street names will swirl through my mind. But I’ll still be on a high wire, still moving to keep from falling, still with my eye on that next platform and the momentary solid safety beneath me before the next ladder and the next wire.

See, the thing about a high wire is that you can’t sit still. You can’t relax. You can’t decide that balancing no longer matters or that you’re going to spend the rest of your life hovering on the wire between one platform and the next—and yet, in the end, that’s where we live, I think. We like to think we spend our time on the platforms, where we can let down our guard, set aside the props, and rest. But if we land on those solid boards, it’s only once in a while, only long enough to catch our breath.

Life, I think, is lived on the wires between platforms. It’s lived in the struggle to stay upright and the wild flailing to keep all the balls and plates and what-have-you in the air. It’s lived in the gasps when we think we’ll fall and the ecstasy when we think we’re flying. It’s lived in that first moment when we leave the platform and feel the empty air beneath us, and it’s lived in those last moments when we wonder whether we’ll tip to our deaths before we reach respite.

Life, I think, is lived in motion.

So here I am, running toward the graduation platform, eager for the brief rest, ready to let the plates and torches drop, ready to relax on solid ground even for a moment. But also, here I am, running toward the next wire—and I’m eager for that, too.

Photo cred: Flickr user Christian


On Adulting

“I’m an adult, but more like an adult cat,” explains the meme. “Someone should probably take care of me, but I can sorta make it on my own.”

“I cannot adult today,” another declares.

I chime in most mornings with, “Do I have to be a human?”

There’s a whole generation of us hitting this stage—too old to pretend not to be anymore, but not really sure how to successfully adult. We navigate the dark alleys of taxes, leases, and school loans on sheer survival instinct, but we’d rather be napping in a sunny spot with some more adult-like adult preparing dinner for us. We still binge-watch Nicktoons, but now we do it in between jobs, and we feel kinda stressed about it.

Where is that magical adulthood threshold? we wonder. When will I stop feeling like a kid playing dress-up?

Photo credit Paul Inkles

And yet, whether we see it or not, slowly, step by step, we wander (mostly on accident) from the playground to the workplace, from ninth grade homeroom to college graduation.

I’ve started noticing those steps.

One happened yesterday when I went to the doctor’s office all by myself. One happened two years ago when I signed my own lease and paid rent on a house all summer. One happened three years ago when I did my taxes myself for the first time; four years ago when I bought an iron; five years ago when I dealt with a fender-bender alone.

And I realise at last that there is no threshold.

There will not be the morning when I wake up and think, Ah, yes, now I’m an adult. I will not magically feel prepared or suddenly know how to navigate the world.

I will become a functional adult the way I became a functional kindergartener or a functional teenager—one tiny step at a time, so gradually I don’t notice, and mostly on accident.

Adult life, it turns out, isn’t so much different from the sixth-grade playground or the tenth-grade hallway.

I’ll make mistakes, probably walk into the wrong bathroom a time or two, lose my pencil sharpener, take notes on the wrong chapter, and recover. There will be drama and misunderstandings, laughter and in-jokes, and I will probably never stop watching cartoons or reading YA fiction.

Adulthood, I begin to understand, is not about the things you lose along the way; it isn’t about stopping eating ice-cream by the pint, giving up dumb bus games, or ending late-night giggles with friends. It’s about the things you gain along the way; it’s about taking responsibility, learning to walk alone, balancing real life and make-believe.

There is no adulthood threshold. And, really, as long as I go to work in the morning and do my taxes on time and make my own doctor’s appointments, why should I quit playing dress-up?

Photo credit Lauren A W


Lessons from the Children’s Section

Shelving is the neverending story of library work. You can unload cartful after cartful of books in the stacks, and when you turn around, there will be another shelf of returned books waiting.

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The easiest books to shelve are reference materials; they’re enormous, so you can spot the five-inch-wide empty space waiting for any given book practically from across the library. Of course, reference books all weigh a couple of tons, give or take, so perhaps the best books to shelve are adult fiction—small enough to carry in one hand, read often enough not to kick dust in your eyes, and interesting enough to distract you with cover blurbs while you’re searching for the right spot on the shelf.

But my favourite books to shelve are the juvenile fiction.

They can’t stand up on their own, so you have to keep a hand on the cart to stop the whole row from toppling. The shelves are a mess, because children are happy to chuck Dr Seuss, Patricia Polacco, and Eric Carle all together on the same shelf, never mind alphabetising. You spend more time rearranging chaos than actually shelving, but there’s something magical about the children’s section—something that doesn’t extend to the rest of the library.

In the children’s section, you never know what you’ll find. Jumanji might rest against Goodnight Moon one day and Cinderella the next. Books meant to teach children about serious topics—handling death or loving people with special needs—press against books meant to trigger unbridled imagination. Animals and children and monsters mingle together in a colourful blend in which the population is too diverse for stereotypes and the lines between truth and fiction blur. Illustrated historical fictions make friends with the wildest fantasies, and yet the whole colourful mass whispers one unified message, telling children to love, to learn, to dream.

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In my twenties, I still love children’s books. Over the years, I’ve grown from sounding out The Cat in the Hat to analysing Anna Karenina, but I can still hear the picture books telling me to explore thoroughly, live kindly, and dream vividly.

Green Eggs and Ham still reminds me to give new experiences a shot.

The Grouchy Ladybug still tells me to show compassion.

Harold and the Purple Crayon still promises that creativity can change the world.

No matter where I go, no matter what I learn, these incongruous worlds of colour and rhyme are with me. They underlie the jokes I tell, the choices I make, the dreams I pursue. They live in my memories and shape my ideas. And returning to them now, even if it’s just to put them in order after tiny hands have set them in disarray, feels like coming home, like visiting old friends who welcome me with love and send me back out with that one simple reminder that’s so easy to forget in the chaos of growing up:

The world is big, but not too big for you.


Superhero in Training

Being a university senior is kind of like being a superhero.

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It’s kind of like being a superhero in the first few frames of the superhero-in-training montage, where said hero still has no idea how to use her powers and does embarrassing things like slamming into billboards or falling off bridges, and she survives on pure dumb luck, and it’s a good thing that her homemade pyjama-style costume includes a mask, because it’s embarrassing for everyone involved.

By the time you hit senior year, you have a decent grasp on how some things work, and you’ve spent four years getting pumped full of new skills and ideas, and you’re ready to go out and save the world—but you also have no practice in most of anything, and you’re still more or less totally unprepared for the challenges (and, obviously, supervillains) coming at you. But you’re also an emerging adult, so you have this overdeveloped sense of your own prowess, which means you feel completely cool taking on your arch-nemesis supervillain immediately, despite being woefully unprepared to fight an evil that powerful.

And, of course, there are doubts. Clashing with the rash determination and blind confidence, there’s a certainty that you’re still just a normal human—that four years of training and preparation haven’t actually turned you into anything special, and that when you jump off that building, you won’t fly, but crash to the pavement, and people will crowd around to get a glimpse of your failure and shake their heads over your delusion that you could do anything special.

But here’s the thing about superheroes: they try anyway.

They fall off buildings, but they get back up again. They take a punch that colours the whole page yellow and red behind the massive, “WHAM!” and they keep coming anyway. They believe in something, and they fight for it in every frame. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. Sometimes it’s lonely. And yet, you’ll notice, there’s always someone else ready to join the fight against injustice and oppression.

And even when it feels like you’re alone and powerless, when the giant robot or power-hungry alien or vengeful mutant is a hundred times stronger than you are, there’s always hope, and there’s always someone the better for it. If you’re too late to stop the bridge collapsing, you may still be able to shield that little girl from the flying rubble. There’s always a loss, but there’s always a victory, too.

So, seniors, as we finish this training and head toward that cap-and-gown supersuit, it’s okay to feel powerless and powerful all at the same time. It’s okay to overestimate our new skills and underestimate our impact. The excitement, the terror, the impatience—it’s all part of the experience.

We feel silly and small now, but it isn’t about the number of people pointing at the sky and speculating on our bird-like or plane-like nature—it isn’t about the good-guy-beats-bad-guy frame at the end—it’s about the attempt. It’s about knowing the odds and walking in anyway, because we refuse to sit back and watch the world fall apart if there’s anything we can do to save it.

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