Friday, January 27, 2012

The "Worst of" List

2011 was a banner year for lil ole me, punctuated by extreme highs and lows. I tend to love/loath "Best of" year end lists but they always provoke me to think about what my "Best of" and "Worst of" lists would be. If one were to use my entire life as the platform, both lists would consist of a disproportionate number of events representing this past year. 

The "Worst of" list would include such events as the death of a dear close friend of literally my entire life. More uncle than friend, he played a larger part in my life than some family members. I grew along side his children and his death was truly a waste. Shortly after this, by a matter of days, was the abrupt ending to a profound relationship. The worst part of losing the lover is losing the friend too. Then, just when I thought I could not handle anymore heartache and grief, an F4 tornado ripped through my town. 

Recently, after another yet-to-be-mentioned 2011 "worst" arose, a good friend joined the chorus of loved ones chiming "Oh honey, you have had the worst year." In many way, yes, I have had a shit year. Looking back, it is hard for me to articulate exactly all that has happened and how it has changed me. Good friends and loved ones tell me that they wish "this" or "that" hadn't happened to me last year, specifically in regards to the break-up and the tornado. I am a dreamer, to be sure, but I am not one to dream the past were different. You can't change the past so why dwell on wishing it were different. You are the experiences you have had and the ways you move on from them. 

It would be easy for me to say that I wish those terrible things had not happened. But that would be a lie. For the last few years I have suffered from some manner of anxiety induced sleep disorder (self-diagnosed by yours truly, Dr. Smarty McSmartspants). I attributed this to anxiety regarding my school work; two programs at once is the dumbest idea I have ever had. I would lay awake in bed, damp from the humidity, unable to get my mind to be still while the Boy slept soundly next to me. I would have droughts of dreamlessness coupled with hypnagogic hallucinations of a man in black staring down on me. The anxiety would have peaks and valleys but it was always there. After the Boy moved out I would have wild nights of sleeplessness coupled with days where I could not open my eyes from the intense sleep I had fallen into. Sleep was the only place I could go where the constant reminder of my former life was not torturing me from around every corner.

After a few weeks I was able to drag myself out of the heavy and protective haze of sleep during the day so that I would not ruin all the hard work I had done in school. And for the first time in two and a half years I was able to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. It was not every night nor was there a consistent pattern but it happened. It was possible I could sleep like normal. I still do not sleep well as most people do. I still lay awake listening to the train whistle in the middle of the night. I still wake to see the blinking of the clock at some ungodly hour. I still struggle to rouse myself in the morning. But it is significantly better than before.

They say that Hindsight is 20/20. I happen to know this is factually true. I was shocked and utterly shattered when the relationship ended. But looking back now I see many things I did not before when I was blinded by love. Anxiety is often exacerbated by many factors. My worries about school were not the only things keeping me up at night, I just could not see it. Somehow, my body knew something was wrong, but my brain refused to recognize it for what it was.

When the tornado blew into town I was still very wounded and broken. When the destruction hit, I was sitting in the basement of the library. The lights had gone out and there was no light in the room save a single bulb across the room behind many shelves. My eyes adjusted to the darkness and I could see the faintest light bouncing off the shelves. In that moment, the subtle lines of the shelves reminded me of catacombs. I have tried over and over to articulate the terror and serenity I felt seeing those shelves and I am never able to do it. I suppose no one except those who were there could possibly even understand. Maybe not even them. At the risk of sounding cliche, it was a moment of clarity and closure for me. I emerged from the library knowing my world would never be the same.

In the days that followed I experienced the most life affirming displays of human compassion and solidarity. I, with countless others, helped people claim what they could of their homes and livelihoods. I opened my home to those who needed it and was able to provide them with simple comforts like food, beer, and laughter. I grew closer to my friends here and the community here more than I ever possibly could have without the tornado.

I cannot wish these things did not happen to me nor would I want to. If the relationship had ended sooner than it did, I may never have come here or followed through with my education. If it had ended any later, I would have been living a lie. Mistakes were made on both sides and while some may hate him, I cannot. It may have broken my heart but it was what needed to happen. If the terrible events of April 27th had not happened, I may not have realized that it was truly over. I may never have realized that I could move on. I also would not have seen the greatness that can come from tragedy and the resilience of spirit.

Last year was a hard year but I honestly can't claim it was the "worst." Worst implies there is no value to be drawn. It was the hardest year of my life, to date, but I am grateful for the "worsts." It is because of them I am able to appreciate my "bests."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mastering the Art of Being a Novice

Shit-Hot-Damn. Its 2012. As predicted last semester was so chock full of craziness that I managed to not post a single thing. And here I am, about to embark on the final semester, perhaps of my life, as a student. I cannot express how truly exciting and terrifying that is.

A lot of kids do nothing but complain about school and how they can't wait to get out. I did my fair share of bitching and moaning too but as I got closer to the end of my college days, I realized that I didn't want school to be over. For the semester, sure. But for good? Never in my life had I ever thought I would go to graduate school but shortly after graduation I knew I wasn't done. And now here I am again, staring down the barrel of graduation and not wanting it all to end.

I recently attended a conference where I assisted the moderation of a graduate student round table discussion of "Why Book Arts Now?" Aside from the awesome discussion which I'll talk about in a later post, I was surprised how many students were shocked that my program is three years. "I couldn't imagine being in a three-year program," one student said to me. In all honesty, I feel like three years is not enough. Can you really "master" an art, a craft or any discipline in a mere three years? Two? One even? In a little more than four months I will be able to claim that I am a Master of the Book Arts and a Master of Library and Information Studies. I won't be. I am but a novice.

But isn't that half the fun of being in a bigger world than yourself? I have never been the best student, but those who know me best know that learning and education is a big deal for me. I am constantly wanting to learn new things, read new things, see new things. Isn't that why we are here? To check out the wondrous variety that is out there and decide for yourself what is beautiful and fulfilling? In my lifetime I would like to become a "master" of the following:

The Culinary Arts
Rock Climbing
Deck of Cards Shuffler
Creative Writing
Creating new words that people think are real
Building a house that will be my Home
International Travel
Spanish, French and Italian (in that order)
Identifying living organisms by sight (plants, birds, puppies, etc)
Adobe Creative Suite
Performing basic math operations in my head (multiplication, addition, counting, etc)

Can I possibly master any of these feats in my lifetime? I doubt it. But I'll sure try.