Horseshoes and Shamrocks

February 21, 2016

 

Some superstitious folk speak of carrying horseshoes around for luck. They also speak either fondly or spitefully, depending on their heritage, of the luck of the Irish. I’m one of these superstitious folk—it’s a stipulation for loving baseball as deeply as I do. And though I’ve never owned a horseshoe, my blood is Irish.

Most people who will read this post know that I spent last January through May studying and living in Ireland. The time I spent there transformed me in ways I’ve written about before—ways that terrified me about my future and made me cripplingly vulnerable.

I’ve never needed anything as much as I needed that fear and vulnerability.

***

I remember telling Mrs. Albertson in third grade that I would be both a Cardinals player and a writer. I had no doubts; nine-year-olds never do, nor should they. My two loves were baseball and books, and it didn’t make sense to do anything else with my life. So for the next three or four years, I assumed that plan would be my reality. And then puberty and peer pressure happened.

In seventh and eighth grade, I stopped reading so much. Few of my friends liked to read, and I felt uncomfortable admitting my love of books. I looked like an ostrich in those years—puberty and buzzcuts are a cruel combination—so of course I felt that I must prove something to my new classmates. Being a nerd who buried his oversized nose in books? Not a chance. Thus started my unconscious need to conform and please.

It grew more pronounced when I got to high school, although I wouldn’t understand as much until I made my way back to my natural course some time in the past two months. In American high schools and colleges, the science, technology, engineering, and math fields—STEM—dominate. Teachers push the brightest students toward the pursuits of medicine, research, engineering, and the like. Scholarships are given based on which students demonstrate the most potential to make a difference in the STEM fields. Decisions are made based on which college offers the best STEM opportunities.

STEM fields are great and necessary. But they’re not the only way to make a difference in this world. For six and a half years, I thought they were.

Last night, I sat with Mr. Steve Missey, my former English teacher and Prep News moderator at SLUH, at the SLU-Fordham basketball game. Conversation spanned school and plans and sports, and as good conversation so often does, it sparked an epiphany. As SLUH continues emphasizing STEM opportunities, I voiced to Mr. Missey that I believe that acronym, STEM, was the heart of my uncertainties over my life, uncertainties that I only cleared a few weeks ago. I felt this need to pursue a STEM career if I were to impact others. But Ireland, certain friends, and a reminder from several books of the power that words carry all combined to help me shed that STEM expectation. I went off track years ago. Somehow I needed to recourse. These factors made me do it.

Until my experience abroad stripped me of all the comfort I’ve known, I had no chance at recognizing my own dispassion for anything STEM-related. I sat through essentially two and a half years, on and off, of science classes I hated. I saw passion in the room, but I never recognized it because I’d forgotten what real passion looked like, having not experienced it for years. I didn’t experience my own passion until my creative writing class this semester. Even in Ireland, disinterest bound me. But the vulnerability that living in the land of luck forced me to feel set me up to be remolded—not by social expectations, but my own dreams.

***

Not so long ago, I dreaded graduating. I thought I’d be at a job I would hate, living for the weekends I’d end up being disappointed by. But here I am, a year and a half away, and though I’m far from ready to leave my home at SLU, the prospect excites me far more than it frightens me. I used to think life would cease to be new and rewarding when I left this place. But then I realized that that’s when life begins, as long as you let it. And letting it do so involves risking it all to chase what you love. Not to settle for the expectations around you.

Finally embracing my passion feels like I’ve found the feeling that the late Marina Keegan wrote about upon graduating from Yale (http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2012/05/27/keegan-the-opposite-of-loneliness/). She calls the feeling “the opposite of loneliness.” STEM was lonely for me. Writing feels like the exact opposite.

I took a horseshoe-shaped track to end up back where I was for most of my life before high school. Ireland and the months since forced me to branch away from the STEM fields that for the past half-decade or so have been the root of my uncertainties and anxieties.

I carry no horseshoe, but Ireland has stuck.

***

“The wire was about pain too: it would always be there, jutting into his feet, the weight of the bar, the dryness at his throat, the throb of his arms, but the joy was losing the pain so that it no longer mattered.”

– Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, page 241

Begin Again – Noosa

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You’re Probably Not An Insomniac

February 9, 2016

 

Can’t sleep. No idea how to diagnose insomnia but I do know my average bedtime is 3 am and my roommates are always asleep when I get home. Here’s a chronicle of a not-uncommon night.

1:51 am: Snapchat some of your Best Friends and Recents. Roll the dice on the Needs Love category. Label the uneventful picture of yourself “When your bedtime is over an hour away” and tag the digital clock filter.

 1:55 am: Shuffling through the Defying Gravity playlist, you’re exactly halfway through “For Good”—2 minutes and 33 seconds, that is. You swipe three fingertips across your MacBook trackpad to switch from this Word document to you six open tabs on Safari. You search “how do you get insomnia” because you’ve been changed for good because you know college, much the same way Glinda and Elphaba have been changed for the better.

1:59 am: You still haven’t clicked a link yet, but “Popular” just came on. Hah. Funny how true popularity—the kind where people are attracted to you more than you’re attracted to drawing their attention—comes when you stop begging the world to notice you. Like you said, college changed you for good. Thank God. You wonder when you became an insomniac.

2:01 am: Are you even an insomniac? What is insomnia even? Is it that second wind you get from 11 pm to 3:06 am every night after struggling to stay awake during that afternoon block the Spaniards so wisely reserve for their siesta? Pull your shit together, America. Develop insomnia. If that’s what insomnia is, that is. Whatever, be like Spain.

2:04 am: Sleepfoundation.org. Sounds legit. It was Google’s first hit, so you clicked it and then scrolled to the middle of the article. Did you even read it? Something to do with unhealthy sleep patterns. That could be you. Remember when Mom finally found out about your sleeping habits last Fall? Thanksgiving, maybe. It’s not that you hid them from her. She just didn’t know. It’s like how you never realize that teachers go out some Thursday nights when you’re in high school and their hangover makes them hate Friday morning classes more than you do. Then go to college and you see your recently graduated friend-teachers at Grizz or Big Daddy’s or Hump’s or the party that Burns keeps trying to break up. You just learn things. College changes you for good. But yeah, your mom. Your shitty sleep schedules. She nagged you for three days about your baggy eyes and propensity for colds. Then she sent you that email with a subject line that read “Study shows one in three American adults don’t get enough sleep” and linked an article with an accompanying, “Now that you’re an adult…” You love her. But you’re okay. You swear. Okay, you don’t sleep and don’t know enough about this insomnia business, but you’re okay. Your mom can stop worrying. Start dancing through life a little more, you think. Mainly because that song just ended. Not because you think your mom should be more spontaneous. But she might have more fun that way. JESUS, GET BACK TO THAT DAMN INSOMNIA WEBSITE AND FIGURE THIS SHIT OUT.

2:14 am: You finally check your phone for the first time since that Snap. Madrid friends are waking up and replying. You’re more awake than they are, probably.

2:17 am: You have to pee. When you’re back, read that damn article.

2:21 am: You read a little bit of that article. But you also saved this document because your laptop has been a bipolar bitch lately and refused to stop spinning that rainbow pinwheel until you force it to restart. When you saved it you saw that you hadn’t saved anything in your “Journal” folder since January 15. Matt Holliday’s birthday. You didn’t write about his birthday, but you probably owe him that, owning his jersey and all. Oh well. You’ve just been low on time and writing on your own has been a challenge. Your classes demand tons of material, and you’re in love with your Creative Writing class that has you writing at least twice a week. Plus your Psychology of Oppression class has led to roughly 20 pages of reflections the past two days alone. But hey, you made it before going a full month without a journal entry.

2:26 am: Are you ever gonna stop procrastinating and actually research insomnia a bit? You aren’t even procrastinating for a class. No professors are asking about insomnia. You’re just up and your brain won’t shut off so here you are on the green couch in the Palace—people must think you’re a douche for referring to your apartment as that name—that Doug slept on four nights a week before he ditched SLU for Hong Kong. But look! Apparently “researchers have begun to think about insomnia as a problem of your brain being unable to stop being awake.” Sounds about right. Your brain doesn’t shut off. It never has. Not even when you were 10 years old and reading about Harry Potter’s failure to shut down his mind during Occlumency. You could never shut down your thoughts, either.

2:30 am: So apparently medical conditions can cause insomnia. Your allergies and asthma have been fairly dormant in recent years. Probably neither of those to blame. Oh but apparently insomnia can be related to other sleeping issues. Restless leg syndrome—your brother has that—and sleep apnea—your dad almost certainly has that. Nah. Neither fits your mold.

2:34 am: Snapchat from Blake. Why the fuck are they in the waiting room on a Tuesday night?

2:35 am: You’re starving but it’s money-saving time for spring break. No midnight snacks. Wow, you have a lot of emails to send tomorrow. At least you cleared 124 from your inbox today.

2:37 am: You wonder if that free burrito from Chipotle tonight gave you E. coli. Your stomach has been sending mixed signals about that all night. Ironic. You got that burrito because they had a meeting at all Chipotles yesterday causing it to close. The meeting was about health concerns because their burritos actually were giving people the shits. And not the normal I-just-ate-Mexican-food-now-I-have-sprint-to-the-bathroom shits. Nah. Like the E. coli shits. You probably don’t have E. coli.

2:41 am: So apparently depression and anxiety can cause insomnia. Those aren’t concerns of yours now, but who knows what was happening to you in Ireland last year. Maybe one of those conditions is why you stayed up till 4 am practically every night. Maybe that started it all. But WAIT. Fuck, that sounds in your head like Billy Mays, and you remember seeing his infomericals for Oxyclean every afternoon you spent at the Gauvains’ when they had cable and you didn’t. Then he died. From cocaine, maybe? You can’t remember. It’s not important. Anyway, you’ve waited long enough since you sounded like Billy Mays. So, yeah, insomnia is linked to lifestyle. Well, you do work on your computer late into the night most of the time, but you’re fundamentally against naps (not relaxation, like you would have during a siesta; just naps) and prefer to not sleep in. Nor are you a shift worker.

2:49 am: You began this research nearly an hour ago and you have no fucking idea what insomnia really even is or how you get it. But you just heard the lyrics “we can’t give up” and you’re compelled to heed Noosa’s advice.

2:53 am: Shuffle brought up “Go That Road” by Iration. You told Krauss you’d love to see them in San Diego with him this summer, and that’s true. But who knows if that trip will happen.

2:58 am: Ignore previous advice. You’re not figuring out whether or not you have insomnia tonight. Just give up and go out bed. Goodnight, world.