I’m heading to college in a month, and I am ready.
(or, as ready as I can be!)
My time management skills are on point, my confidence is running high. I am less adverse to risks, more open to unpredictability.
And for all of this, I thank my gap year.
The past few months have been far from easy and predictable. I have trained relentlessly on the track only to end up with a metatarsal stress fracture, moved houses, messed up sight-reading at church, logged sketchily few practice hours for violin, and had some overdue library books.
I wanted to quit playing and send my violin up in flames after I messed up my song at the warm old folks’ home of forgetting.
My mom tells me not to beat myself up over the imperfections and mistakes, which she insists, were entirely unnoticeable. She insists, instead, that they clapped louder than for anyone else and tapped their feet; she insists that I made them feel whatever warmth and comfort that I sought to convey in Vivaldi’s second movement of Winter. She insists that I helped them remember.
I’m not immune to forgetting, I realize, and playing for the old folks reminded me of this:
Sometimes I forget that I am no longer underwater and need not hold my breath. Sometimes I forget that mistakes aren’t fatal.
And now I remember. I remember being small and teaching myself the “happy song”. As I played hopscotch with the notes, I would close my eyes and imagine skipping out from each square, each measure, into the next, imperfect but vivaciously childish and joyful; temporarily blind to forced technicality; improvised and animated.
I remember that I can feel what had once been forgotten. As I remember this, I find myself back in the old folks’ home from the other day: I realize that in spite of all my errors, the piano plunks out rain and my violin blazes in a fiery spirit. My eyes close, fleetingly content to hear the warmth of the sound.
It was the end of July, and I was apprehensive about leaving for college. Between fretting over my schedule, fumbling through the audition excerpts for the symphony orchestra, and figuring out how I would balance my focus between running and academics, I felt completely overwhelmed.
I wasn’t sure I would be able to have a successful freshman year of college. For one thing, I had so far managed to avoid practicing the violin audition excerpts (and most practicing in general). And that definitely meant that my seat in the orchestra and any chance I had of getting a slot for lessons each week was null. Coupled with my shoddy time management skills (not much improved since senior year), and ambitious running goals, I felt like I was already ruining the beautiful, most perfect piñata (full of goals met and good grades and… candy) that I envisioned to be my freshman year.
I was in panic mode.
There was no way my freshman year of college was going to come anywhere close to a wonderful learning party (with streamers and good music and ice cream). And that was kind of sad. I was really looking forward to tasty sandwiches, and I didn’t know if I was ready for another pb and jam situation (that I had already created for myself this time around).
And unfortunately, since I was the creator of this ultimate party plan, I could not escape its sub-optimal-ness. I could not escape the impending piñata nightmare (that I was definitely not ready to take down with a convincing whack). So I decided to ditch the piñata and the original party plan.
I was going to find a new way to make sure that my freshman year was an awesome learning party.
So I went back to the drawing board.
I decided to take a gap year
for the reason that it would give me time, and that time would allow me to get the time management skills and confidence that I needed in order to enjoy the awesomeness of my college learning party. And most importantly, I could re-discover my passion for nonsensical questions and all things academic that I had lost in high school.
Gap years are their own learning parties. Taking a gap year meant that I could get some practice at planning and managing my time, AND still get to rock out to the learning song. EXCEPT, I wouldn’t have to risk ruining my freshman year party piñata. In fact, I would be more ready to whack it and meet my goals (woot! woot!).
And just like my freshman year learning party required some planning and goal setting, my gap year would too. I needed to figure out what was going to make my gap year totally rad and give me opportunities to re-discover my confidence and inquisitiveness.
Unconventionally, it would not include any sort of travel (at least, not for now, and not as a focus). Instead, I came up with a short list of goals and decided to structure my year around meeting those goals in three phases.
The goals are my recipes for having fun and make sure that my gap year is an epic learning party 100% of the time. The phases are the actual fun part- they’re the things that I do at different points throughout the year to make sure that I have a fantastic learning party*.
So, the gap year party found me in a spontaneous, sudden sort of way. And I’m glad. I get to learn new things about myself and revive the parts of me that I hid in high school. And I know that I’ll definitely be ready to take a good, confident whack at the piñata of met goals and good grades my freshman year.
the wide eyes darting
back and forth
back and forth
waiting for the race
the moment of glory:
sighing with the pound
gun shot through
the wide eyes distanced
forward and forward
faster and faster
I wrote this poem nearly four years ago, back when I first decided that I was going to run. The outdoor track season had just started and I found myself slow and impatient. I was ready to run, and I wanted to run fast. And after running the 800m during a track meet, I decided that it would be my main event for the season.
What I know now (and what I didn’t know then) is that the 800m is more than just glorified tenacity of a willingness to run fast for two laps. And I am just now beginning to understand that the 800m requires an extraordinary amount of guts, sheer speed, and skill.
My first season of track, I made it my goal to break three minutes in the 8. So I willed myself to PR each race and eventually broke the three minute barrier. Did I put in effort to break three minutes? Definitely- I was coming off of a tendon injury and a stress fracture. But I always felt like I had more to give at the end of each race. I felt good. I felt like I could keep running and running.
I was frustrated. I was frustrated the next year, too, when my time stood still in the 2:50s and the year after that when I squeaked out a 2:49. It felt too easy, and it felt like I was doing something wrong. I was definitely not doing something right.
My training had not changed much since my first year of running, and neither had my mindset. I was stuck like a metronome at 60 beats per minute, and I had nothing but a readiness to run fast and a tendency to run slow. I had no concept that I could really get better, crank up my internal metronome, and actually run fast(er).
The summer before my senior year of high school, I decided that I was done waiting for the race to find its way to me- I decided that I was actually going to run faster and faster. And I was not only willing, but I was actually going to do whatever it took to get there.
I went over to the high school near my house that summer and ran with their cross country team. And I told myself that I was going to run. So I did. And it was hard.
I was running much further than I had ever run before. And I was busting my behind running much faster than I had ever run before too. One week I ran forty miles. This was so much more than I was accustomed to! My metronome was on turbo at 100 bpm and I was happy that I had finally started to get better.
The outdoor track season began again and I found myself faster and decidedly tenacious. I was ready to work, and I was ready to run fast. I began dropping time- 2:48, 2:44, 2:35, 2:28.
I was now a minute faster than when I had started.
And this is just where my new race begins. This year I continue to work harder, get better, learn, and practice different aspects of running that I never knew were important. The 800m may or may not turn out to be my focus during the track season, but at least I know that I have the guts to try and run a fast(er) race. And this time, I’m more than willing to put the hard work in.
I was very excited to graduate from high school. Incredibly excited. Ecstatic. So excited that I didn’t even cry at graduation.
Okay. That sounds bad. But high school wasn’t the jam to my peanut butter (I like honey way more).
That’s not to say that high school was equivalent to sitting at the dentist or waiting in line at the DMV, though. For one thing, I learned that I love to run, and read, and write, and think, and make music, and ask ridiculous questions (more on these things later). I also figured out some of my strengths (and a lot of my weaknesses). High school was not a lot of sitting and waiting. High school was a lot of figuring out who I was and how I do me best (and worst).
Was it a tasty sandwich? No. Was it a tiny bit scarier than encountering a rattlesnake and more unpredictable than radioactive decay? Maybe. Did I ever break down and give up? You bet.
High school wasn’t exactly fun for me, but in truth, that was probably a good thing. I now know how to eat un-tasty sandwiches and how to encounter snakes without freaking out, for instance. I now also know what it feels like to break down and give up (and then un-give up and keep going).
And I now know that the keep going element is key to pursuing everything that I love. Insurmountable writer’s block? Keep writing. Mile repeats? Keep running (I promise, they get easier with practice)! Can’t figure out the funky shift in that etude? Practice it! High school gave me a lot of practice with the break-down-and-then-give-up-at-a-task-and-then-figure-it-out-and-keep-going.
Yeah, I’m not a big fan of jam with my peanut butter. But man, if I had never even learned how to make and eat the high school sandwich, what about the next one? Honey, high school was not the jam to my peanut butter, and that’s okay. Because now I know how to make a peanut butter and honey sandwich.* And that’s pretty rad. Because tasty sandwiches are awesome, and my gap year’s shaping up to be pretty awesome too!
*the sandwich being a metaphor for the break-down…-and-then-figure-it-out-and-keep-going life thing.