Thursday, June 19, 2014

Life of a Blogger (3): School

Life of a Blogger is a weekly meme hosted on Thursdays by Jessi at Novel Heartbeat.

When you look at yourself and your life, what do you consider yourself to be? I think most of us consider ourselves to be many things, wearers of many hats, and most of these titles are bigger and more important to us than ones that jobs or careers would place on us.

I'm a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a dog-mom, and a friend. I'm a reader, a baseball fan, a cancer fighter and survivor, a proud Michigander, a part-time and future New Yorker. I am a coffee and soda fountain pop addict, a compulsive shopper in the best and worst ways. I am anxious, I have both touches of ADD and OCD constantly fighting for control in my mind, I am bipolar type-II. I am an artist, a musician, a crafter, and a traveler. In a purely career-oriented mind frame, I'm a business owner, a blogger, a Mary Kay consultant, and someone who hopes to someday play a bigger role in the publishing world than I do now.

I still consider myself to be a dancer and a ballerina, even though I haven't seen the inside of a studio -- for health reasons -- in more than two years, a fact that brings me no small amount of pain. But I still can't separate that from my identity. It's one of those things that's there in everything I do. From the way I stretch when I first wake up, to the way I walk, to the way I absentmindedly circle my feet and ankles when I'm sitting and flex and point my toes constantly, always working my arches still. For better or worse, I'm a dancer.

I spent my summers from early childhood to my teenage years living at a Girl Scout camp. Even now that it's been more than a decade since I spent a summer at camp, I still feel that I am very much a camper. The instincts I had as someone who spent two and a half months living mostly outdoors has never left me. I love knowing my own two legs can take me anywhere I need to be. I look at life and daily living through the eyes of a camper. I am always prepared, usually with more things than I will need. I am constantly looking for new ways around, going off the beaten path. In the most contradictory place to a camp, New York City, I see this face of me come to life the most -- there, I'm the same explorer, I still get a rush from finding my way around the woods, or in this case, a concrete jungle, all by myself. And twice when I got stuck on a delayed subway train at a stand still, I knew for a fact that if our train got stuck all night, I'd be fine. I had two bottles of water, snacks, bandaids, a spare pare of shoes, books, a rapid phone charger, a booklight, and a sweater in my bag, not to mention emergency medication and a first aid kit.

One of the things that's really at the core of my identity is being a writer. I've known I was a writer since I was very young, mostly because people told me I was a writer and that I was good at it. And by the time I was 10 or 11 years old, I really started to understand what that meant. I loved working on the yearbook and the school newspapers. I found I could better express my emotions -- and navigate my way out of a conflict -- by writing about it. This annoys so many people in my life.

Chief among these things that I consider myself to be is a student.

I cried on my first day of kindergarten because I didn't want to leave my mom and I once I graduated to first grade and had to go whole days of school, I got homesick for the first two weeks. (A homebody is also something I can be, especially in the face of change.) But in general, I loved school. Even though I hated the social anxiety, awkwardness, and downright torture that came along with school for me right up until graduation from high school, I loved the construct of it. Learning, homework, studying, organization, pleasing teachers, these were all things I owned. I remember being in third grade and being frustrated with the lack of homework.

School is one of those topics that I could discuss endlessly for hours.

Few things in my life have shaped me more, both in the most positive and most negative ways. Nothing makes me feel simultaneously more certain and uncertain.

I don't believe in regrets, with few exceptions, because I like too many things about my life right now and if even one little detail about my past changed, I might not have something in life that I love right now. I'm a Trekkie. I see what happens when one tiny thing is taken away from a timeline or changed. It can create major rifts in the space-time-continuum. But I can look back at my education and point out a few things that are not regrets, but that might have been a better fit for me.

For example, I was given the option in kindergarten of skipping the rest of kindergarten to join first grade. The administration was also planning to have me skip third grade later on. So I would've graduated a full two years earlier. I was already painfully shy when I wasn't being a teacher's pet and had a lot of anxiety, so my parents ultimately decided against it. But I sometimes think it might've been better for me. Some of my classmates gave me a lot of grief and I might've been lonely two grades ahead, but I might've also been able to own it.

When I graduated high school, I went immediately to a "four year" institution. I put it in quotation marks because I know so few people who actually make it out in four years anymore. But anyhow, I went to Eastern Michigan University, a perfectly good institution with a lot of educational merits that is only 45 minutes from where I grew up.

EMU was never the initial goal. From the time I was about five or six years old, I wanted to go to University of Michigan. I bled maize and gold from a young age. But when I was a freshman in high school, I got a serious case of mono that stripped my immune system and I was out of school for a couple months. When I did go back, I had to do half days. And I was able to teach myself almost everything except the math because my mind was just not hardwired for it then.

Before I got sick, I'd been a year ahead in math, which was part of the plan to have me in AP math classes and to have me better prepared for chemistry and physics. But I ended up having to join in with the rest of my class and was under prepared for the science classes and knew I wouldn't be able to get an AP math class in. I was certain that I would not have what it took to get into U-M and so I kind of phoned it in as a sophomore when I learned that EMU had some really great scholarships. At that point, I'd also gotten really serious about dance and I liked that EMU was close-ish to my dance studio so that I could continue teaching, dancing, and training, and eventually join EMU's dance program.

And of course, there was a boy. A boy who decided to go to EMU a year ahead of me. And that definitely played a factor. It wasn't the main reason, no matter what my parents say. I will admit that it was a major factor, but even if he hadn't been there, I probably would've gone there anyway because I was too intimidated to go far and because I was certain that I'd messed up my GPA too much to recover and go to U-M, which is EMU's neighbor.

I never seriously entertained any other colleges. I sent away for information from TONS of schools. Like hundreds. But I lacked the emotional maturity and the confidence to seriously consider those schools.

In truth, I really should've done more college visits, explored all my options, and pushed my comfort zone. But I went to a really small school and though I had a few great teachers invested in me, a lot of kids from my school -- probably more than half -- graduated without college being a real goal for them. Most of them said they'd go to a local community college and transfer later, and most of them didn't even make it a year at those community colleges, if they registered at all. For that reason, I feel like our administration didn't really prioritize encouraging kids to search for schools that were good fits for them as opposed to what was close.

So yeah, I definitely should've done more research and applied at more schools. It also would've been nice if one of the guidance counselors had maybe tried to put to rest my concerns that my GPA was already too far gone as a freshman in high school. And if I hadn't found a better traditional college that fit me, I should've saved money the first two years, gone to a community college to get prereqs out of the way while I really figured out what I wanted to do and what my options were.

Had I done that, I would've learned about the many different degrees I could've pursued in writing or in creative areas, like graphic design, web design, musical theatre (had I known that was even an OPTION for a degree, I would've seriously looked into it -- seriously, if Glee had been on the air when I was in high school and my first year or two of college, my life might look totally different right now).

But instead, I knew that I was a good writer and I'd done really well in journalism in high school and I'd won a lot of awards at the school and at the state level, so I basically just went with what everyone told me I was good at and pursued that, along with dance, because that's what I really loved, and hoped for the best.

But by the time I was a sophomore in college, I was seriously reconsidering things and waffling about what I wanted to do and I really didn't feel at all educated about what I COULD do with my collegiate experience. Over the next two or three years, I waffled between dozens of majors and minors. And as all of this was happening, major health stuff started to happen, and I was just kind of coming apart at the seams, and so was my collegiate career.

I left EMU in 2010, went emergency alumna in my sorority, and took a break from school to deal with some major health problems I was having, both with my joints and my immune system. While I was dealing with that -- and a major breakup with a guy that was horrible for me, but also my best friend at the time and the only adult relationship I'd ever known -- I started looking into majors like marketing and communications, graphic design and web design, and started getting a better picture of what I was good at and careers that would play to many of my strengths and loves. I discovered blogging and the publishing industry and I wondered how it was that me, the bookworm, who loved to write, had never, ever been encouraged to look at that industry by any of the teachers who had taught me or the guidance counselors. And I also wondered how I had never considered it.

But by the time I got started down these paths, things were getting serious again with my health, and I learned I had cancer.

Luckily, along the way I started my Mary Kay business and found that I really loved it and learned I could make some real money -- Mary Kay directors make salaries in the six figures and up. I found something that could provide for me in absence of a college degree and that I could work around my health.

I've gone to about a half dozen schools now, in terms of EMU and other community colleges and places I was a guest student. I have amassed a ton of student loan debt, all of which I'm trying to get expunged because at least so long as treatment for leukemia is priority one, it's going to be very hard for me to pay it back. And in the meantime, I can't start school anywhere new because I need to get my old financial aid under control before I can get more.

So at least for the foreseeable future -- and by that, I mean the next 1.5-3 years -- school really isn't in the cards. But eventually, it's my goal to become a Mary Kay director and be able to put myself through school and finishing my degree. Even though I really won't need it at that point, I can't imagine not finishing it.

Getting a degree was a dream of mine. And being a student is something I love. I always feel like if you stop educating yourself and stop learning, you stop living. Luckily, there are many ways we can educate ourselves that don't have anything to do with a classroom. But finishing my degree is something really important to me. And I'd like to be in a position where I can afford to take classes and get other degrees just because I want to learn more.

I am so many things. And among those things and at my core, I am a student. I love learning and homework and studying and books, and I can't ever imagine saying that I would never enter a classroom as a student again. For some people, that thought makes them really happy, but for me, it would be devastating. School is definitely a big part of me and it's definitely something that I see as being a part of my future. At the end of the day, everything that I love and everything that I am somehow goes back to education or the classroom. I've had to let a lot of things -- dance, being a camper, etc. -- go. I hope this is a piece of myself that I never let go. I hope I always consider myself to be a student.

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