The title is from the refrain of the Santigold song "L.E.S. Artistes," and it should tell you something that I've been quoting it since she was Santogold to talk about my feelings on like, school and life and adulthood and the following heavy stuff.
(Before I dive into that nonsense, I feel obliged to point out that this is still an excellent song for when you're getting dressed to go out, especially this remix. I pretty much always have it in my head, in some way, along with a cast of Muppets and an unhealthy and possibly carcinogenic amount of glitter.)
And for the record (ha, see what I did there?) I would much, much rather talk about music for a couple hours and pretend that none of the rest of the stuff on my mind, is. But that's kind of the problem.
The end of this semester was very similar to most others, in that I procrastinated a lot of big projects and went into finals already behind, was in no way prepared for the extra curve balls my professors threw ("Oh hey guys, sorry, I accidentally gave you the wrong final, for a much harder graduate class, and I realize it was twice as long and you were totally not prepared, but it seems like you worked it out alright?"), and predictably, I really, really couldn't deal with the life and family events that were going on in the background.
So I say background, but really I mean the forefront of my mind. From the school's point of view, nothing is more important than a lab practical or some asinine paper because that's all they've got to do with you. Obviously professors have their own lives and mortality to address, so it's really nothing personal, but it feels that way when you are eighteen and interpret everything as all about you (oh really, Vicki? Just when you're 18 huh?). For the first couple years of higher education, I was scared enough to believe that school was the most important thing too. I literally cannot count the amount of times I've said to myself that I'll just put my head down, get all this stuff done, and then deal with whatever thing I can't handle.
But I'm thirty years old. I can't get behind that ostrich mentality anymore because I've spent the last decade or more of my life ignoring or second-besting my family, friends, and health... and like, for what?
So now I go to funerals and deal with grief when I don't want to. I have protracted and incredibly upsetting conversations about family members' health and friends' mortality. I pray for peaceful deaths or short-term suffering, I make bargains with God that if I can just get through this month without anything else tragic happening, I will become a better person, for real. I've stopped what for years was my instinct to say "no" to everything and then making exceptions if I could.
Going into my Biochemistry final, which was the last of this semester, I was half-listening to a classmate expressing his frustration at the way the grading system would work out for him. I should mention that this professor is incredibly generous because he drops the lowest of your four exam grades, so only the three highest go into the average. With the exams as 60% of your grade and the lab as 40% it's possible to calculate really precisely what your grade will be, and as intensely nerdy chemistry students, every single one of us knew the cut-off points for various final grades. My poor classmate was so exasperated because, as he put it, "If I get a zero on this exam, I will get a B- in the class. If I get a hundred on the exam, I will get a B. I have studied for the last three days straight, to try to go from the minus to the flat B... what is wrong with me?!"
A week earlier, I had hit my absolute breaking point (and I'm sorry I can't really get into details about the instigating incident right now, both because it's private and because I will start crying again and never finish writing this). It was in one of those sleep-deprived crazy states where I was stretched too far in every direction and couldn't make my brain operate anymore, when I heard this soft, barely perceptible little "click" somewhere near the base of my skull. The frantic voice that had been working out schedules and panicking about things I didn't understand shut up completely and was replaced with a firm, even-tempered utterance, "None of this matters."
I felt like my heart had turned to liquid and seeped into my chest cavity, as it was getting both harder to breathe and strangely effortless. I literally became incapable of caring anymore, and I went sort of numb all over. "I'll do what I can," I told myself, "but I'm not stressing out about school anymore, ever again."
These past few days my mindset has felt so foreign and abstractly calm that I wonder if I've actually overcorrected and become some emotionless automaton only resembling my former self. Is serial killing next? I mean surely this is what sociopaths feel like, right?
I have invested all of my emotional energy in school since I can remember. It's an ironic form of displacement because I don't even particularly like school - I just keep doing it wrong and feeling like maybe this time I can get it right.
I started this degree with enormously lofty intentions. I would immediately go through to the PhD in Chemistry in polymer science and materials chemistry. I would integrate my background in painting and art history and go straight into art conservation science. Somehow I would gain access to multimillion dollar spectroscopy equipment and government-funded projects in Italy, without having to put in the decades of work as a chemist that everyone for whom I've worked as an assistant needed to do. I honestly think that I told myself if I just put my head down and concentrated on it, the logistics and opportunities would sort themselves out because, well, they always have.
I don't want my whole life to be a trajectory toward my career goals. (Especially when I keep changing them and they are all over the place to begin with.) I don't want to give up getting married or having kids or seeing friends for like, all of my thirties, just to try for a more interesting job.
It doesn't feel like a sacrifice if you don't really want to marry the person you're dating, or if you keep going back and forth on having kids because, again, the person you're dating would make a terrible parent (no offense intended to my exes because I'm sure the version of me you dated would have been a dreadful mother too). Several times in the past few years, I've had to recognize which people in my life were toxic and distance myself from damaging situations. So it's reasonable that weddings and home ownership and children were way out in another galaxy from my day-to-day thinking.
But the problem with pulling yourself out of one area of life is that you also pull yourself away from the opportunities for a different life. I work in hyperbole and overcorrect constantly, so when I get my heart broken, I swear off romance forever. (I mean, until someone with lovely eyes and a gentle smile kisses me and my heart gets all fluttery again, I'll change my mind, but I carry a big cynicism albatross and sabotage everything, and I must stop doing that.) I have had a number of crap jobs that don't pay well and treat me poorly, but that doesn't mean that all jobs guarantee misery and soul-sucking demoralization (If I am wrong about this, please do not correct me).
I think at this point in my life, the smartest move is to finish this degree and get a real job that pays all my bills. A large part of why I am getting the bachelor's in chemistry is because it's one of the few remaining undergraduate degrees for which job options (however limited) still exist. I don't really need to make a ton of money right away (I mean, I feel like I do because I owe hundreds of thousands in student loans, but that's not actually the case). I need to just find something I can do for 40 or 50 hours a week that doesn't suck my soul out with boredom or the feeling that I am wasting what few talents I may have.
I need a substantial amount of time where I can live my life without it pointing toward something. I want to paint without worrying about working my way into a career in art. I want to go to work and come home and not think about work all the time while I'm at home. I want to allow myself to care about boyfriends and dating and get emotionally invested in things that I currently dismiss as frivolous wastes of time.
For better or worse, I think my brain has already gotten started on divorcing my emotions and priorities from schoolwork. It's ludicrous to care as much as I do for little points on a transcript that mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. If I get an A- or an A, or a B or whatever, it's kind of all the same after a point, and I've spent too many years of my life sweating for As and still feeling empty afterwards. I just can't and won't do it anymore, but that's not to say I'm not going to work hard. I just need to stop viewing the entirety of my self-worth by academics and start focusing on what's actually important.
I've also done this burn-out thing so many times already that I know the frustration and crushed feelings I experience have nothing to do with school, beyond the surface preoccupation. I'm not upset because chemistry is hard and requires a lot of work (I mean, duh). It's that I am capable of doing this whole shebang smarter while preserving (or creating?) some semblance of an adult life.
So in what I know has been a repetitive, rambling, poorly thought-out diatribe (see? Chemistry is making my writing go to crap too), I hope I've communicated the tiniest fraction of what turmoil lurks in my stupid, insipid little heart. A year from now, I hope to be a dramatically different person in a totally different place in my life.
I think it starts with breathing, picking my head up, and opening back up to everything in life, good and bad. Paying attention to beauty, following joy, and caring for people, because that's really all that matters.
2012 is going to be the year of saying yes to everything. I intend to be a markedly happier, healthier, more open and living version of myself, and I look forward to sharing it with you.