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 love letters. During high school, I wrote letters and mailed them to myself. Sometimes I wrote letters to open on certain dates, other times, I wrote letters to be opened under certain circumstances.
This past week, I bravely decided to take on a challenge and sign up for a violin audition in February, which was a difficult decision to make… Let me elaborate:
In case you don’t know, I have a long and complicated history with the violin that dates back to when I was 4 and 3/4.
When I was 4 and 3/4, I felt like violin was my calling, so I begged my parents for lessons. I was determined to sound awesome and play the violin forever.
The thing was, violin was more difficult than I thought it would be. All the people who played the violin on television made it seem so easy! I wanted to sound like them, but when I practiced, I sounded much, much worse.
The thing was, violin was more difficult than I thought it would be.
By the time I was six, I was determined to be that good. And being good requires a fair number of practice hours. Needless to say, getting small child Alex to practice for more than an hour a day was extremely difficult, if not diabolical.
I quit at age eight, and vowed never to pick up the violin again.
I had decided that I wasn’t good enough and that I wasn’t willing to put in the practice time anyhow. But secretly, even though I wouldn’t admit it to myself, I still wanted to play.
But secretly, even though I wouldn’t admit it to myself, I still wanted to play.
And so one day in middle school, I decided to join the orchestra, where I discovered that I wasn’t half as bad as I thought I was. In fact, I got to play at Disneyland with my orchestra and got an A on all of my three-octave scale tests (even F major… eek!) in eighth grade.
But even throughout high school, I still felt like I wasn’t good enough to continue playing and practicing. Even when the 2nd violin section leader complimented me on my playing my freshman year, even when I finally stopped working out of the stupid Suzuki books and started working on more difficult pieces like Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro my sophomore year, and even when I got a solo part at the winter concert in my senior year, I felt wholly inadequate.
But even throughout high school, I still felt like I wasn’t good enough to continue playing and practicing.
I won’t lie. I still feel that I am a mediocre violin student. I still feel like I will never be that good. And I definitely still prefer to evade the camera man whenever possible at church for the fear that he’ll catch me messing up when I play.
A small piece of me is still that 4-year-old though- a small piece of me still wants to be that good. By signing up and preparing for this violin audition, I feel that I am challenging myself to be better at violin than I think I am.
Secretly, even if I can’t admit it to myself yet, maybe I am beginning to accept that I am good enough to keep playing.
But I wasn’t always very confident, particularly in high school. Or, at least if I was in the teeniest bit, I didn’t like to be.
I loved to hide out in my room and never say anything in class and let people tell me that I could never run fast, that I could never succeed in taking a heavy course load because (apparently) I am on the autism spectrum and would be overwhelmed. I let the haters hate and the blabbermouths blabber. And I let this negative tape play in my mind day after day when I couldn’t concentrate or think and felt like an air-breathing fish stuck in the water, over, and over, and over, in my head. I tried to justify my hiding.
I told myself that I was different, I told myself that I could not do anything I put my mind to, I told myself that the untruthful, dishonest words were right.
Each day became a battle for air in an ocean ten miles high with fish and more fish with too many mouths. Too many mouths, too many words, I let the words anchor me down in my place as different. I was different; I was incorrigible; I was wrong; all the words they told me were right.
a⋅self-ful⋅fill⋅ing⋅proph⋅e⋅cy (n)– a fish with air gills is submerged in an ocean of water ten miles high and ten miles deep. exasperated, it tries to reach for air, only to be told that, “well, you’re a fish, you don’t need air,” and that if the fish did, then they weren’t going to get any of it. because the others reason from their own experiences, that a fish has to stay in the sea and live life at whatever depth they belong. “fish belong in water and nowhere else,” they trumpet. so the fish stays in the water, and is unhappy, and cannot swim very far until they are deemed asthmatic and dysfunctional.
For a long while the self-fulfilling prophecy held true- I was an unhappy, air-breathing fish stuck in an ocean of all the swim swam swum people who loved the water. I stayed quiet and kept to myself and stopped being fantabulously floppy and air-breathing.
This was, until, the tree of wishes appeared one very fine day at the great big swim swam swum fishes celebration. And one of the blabbermouths asked me, “say, have you written your wish yet for the tree?”
Weary of the water, I wrote my wish:
I wished that it was okay to be different, I wished that I could be different, I wished that I could be all of myself, and that in being all of myself, I would be accepted, and I would be able to change how the world saw all fish- air-breathing, water-breathing, rainbow-scaled, gray-scaled, all fish the same. I wished to tell the world that a⋅self-ful⋅fill⋅ing⋅proph⋅e⋅cy (n) could be erased from the great big ocean’s lexicon all together.
wish (n)– something fish want to change or do, but don’t know how to go about changing or doing it.
I had a wish, and I had no idea how to grant it and make it true.
Until I did.
On a horrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, I granted it.
I spoke to some swim swam swum keeper fish of the great ocean.
I told them that I would no longer stand for my quiet, and that I would no longer breathe in the water that hurt my lungs and left me more and more hungry for acceptance (and air).
I decided that I would prove them wrong.
And for once, in their gibberish, they were quiet. And they left in a great wave of frustration and intolerance for air-breathing fish.
I was left standing. I was left breathing, gulping in air.
The noise in my head was gone, the negative tape was frayed and irreparable.
I was free to be a land fish. I was free to be all of myself.
I had dared to be me: I told the blabbermouths that my words, though different, were honest and truthful and right. I had stood up to the mumbled jumbled jargon and spoken for myself.
And I thought I had no idea how to speak like me, I thought that it was impossible for me to find a place to belong as this air-breathing fish that is me.
Until tonight, until I sat down to write in this great big world full of water and air, I did not realize that I was truly different simply because I had dared to seek my wish; I had dared to fight all the noise and the static still heaviness of the ocean; I had dared myself to be cool and confident in a way that I could only be for myself, and that the swum swam swimmers told me I could never be.
Stride out first in a jog and then grab a rope and keep pulling your legs out behind your arms before you go fast like everything you hear is slurred and blurred and then let go into a stride out.
That’s how I stride out.
I like when everything I hear is slurred and blurred. For then everything is running with me and that’s all that I hear. The sound doesn’t echo at all. And my patterings don’t leave a lasting dent on the dirt. So I have to stride out again and again.
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.