Gallivanting Between Grad Schools

The Engineer and I are trying our hand at the travel side of adulting: namely, booking our own flights and transportation to all the grad schools he plans to visit before making the final decision about where he (and I) will live for the next five-ish years.  So for most of the month of March, we’ve been traipsing around the country.  For the week before spring break, we visited two schools in five days:

Purdue

At my boss’s urging, I scheduled a visit to the Purdue Writing Lab, from whence came the amazing resource that is the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) that we use for virtually every tutorial involving MLA, APA, or Chicago style citations.  Needless to say, I nerded out a bit.  Although I plan to find a job off-campus after this year, it was interesting to see how another writing lab operates.

The student union building is basically a castle.  There are stone arches and stained glass windows and double staircases and a hall where people nap on couches that look like they belong in a museum.

Also, we found the not-at-all-sketchily-labeled “Tunnel to Phys. Bldg.” on a door that looked like it should lead to a bomb shelter.  Sure enough, despite some pipes sticking out of the ceiling and a few random sets of stairs that led straight into walls, we found ourselves in the physics basement!

Though I spent most of the days in the hotel or at the Panera next door, the Engineer brought me along to the final dinner with a few professors from the physics department.  One of the profs asked each of us at the table about our area of study.  “Astrophysics.”  “Nuclear.”  “Creative writing…”  He was a tad confused.

The Ohio State University

The day after the Purdue visit ended, we rented a car and road tripped to Ohio (which was weird, since we’re used to much longer trips just to cross our single state, and also when did we get old enough to rent a car unsupervised?).  I was looking forward to this visit even more than the Purdue OWL tour, because I got to hang out with Bird!  The Engineer was whisked away on physics department activities, so I met up with my beloved sister for the evening.  She bought me chocolate covered coffee beans and we talked for hours, as we tend to do.

On our second day, after a slow start thanks to our travel-related exhaustion, Bird and I got breakfast while the Engineer saw the physics research building.  When we went back to her dorm, Bird was shivering and yawning, so I sent her to take a nap while I got some work done at her desk (leading 2 of her roommates to greet me with Bird’s name when they came in the door…for some reason people think we look alike).  Turns out she had a fever, so the Engineer and I told her to go straight to sleep and just got dinner ourselves.

The Engineer and I explored while Bird was in class the next day (she had slept for 16 hours and her fever was gone, so that was good), and then he flew home.  Bird wanted me to go with her to Bible study and a praise and worship thing at church that night, so I stayed an extra night.  It was great to meet everyone at her Newman Center – one of her friends actually ended up giving me a ride to the airport at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, having extended the offer after 5 minutes of conversation!  Sleeping on a dorm room floor for about 4 hours isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it was well worth it to spend time with my sister.


The next week was spring break, so I actually saw Bird a few days later after a brief return to our own college town.  The Engineer had gone to North Carolina right after Ohio to tour another school without me, so his spring break was a bit abbreviated.  Our vacation was lovely (more on that in another post), but at the end of the week we flew straight out for another round of visits:

Santa Barbara

We’ve agreed that the next time we go to Santa Barbara, we’ll just fly straight in to their airport rather than taking the cheaper-but-much-longer-and-more-headache-inducing route that involves LAX and a 2-hour shuttle ride.  California was pretty, but I was under the weather during our one full day there, so I didn’t get to do much exploring.  On most of these visits, the Engineer and I have sort of tag-teamed it: he goes on the academic, scheduled tours, and I try to get out and get a feel for the surrounding area, since I hope to live and work off-campus for the majority of the time he’s in grad school.  Then we compare notes on our general impressions.  Santa Barbara was fine, I guess, but I am not a warm-weather person.  (As Bird once put it, “We are of strong Norwegian stock.  We were built for 6-month winters and icy fjords.”)  Since the visit was only one day, it was most whirlwind of our visits.

And then we had another 2-hour shuttle ride to get back to LAX.

Boulder

After one full day at home (well, my home, the Engineer’s being 3 hours away), my dad dropped us off at the airport yet again for our final trip: University of Colorado, Boulder.  I got a tour guide of my own on this trip, too, since the Commodore lives in Colorado!  She was kind enough to shuttle us around, bringing us from the airport to our hotel and meeting up with me while the Engineer was busy even though she lives an hour away.

The Commodore and I being bookworms, we spent our first two days wandering around the downtown area of Pearl Street and perusing multiple bookstores.  I limited myself to only two books this time, despite the Commodore being a blatant enabler when it comes to spending money on literary pursuits.  (To be fair, I was equally encouraging of her desire to get yet another book about Tolkien.  But it was one she hadn’t read before!)  We also just hung out in our hotel room and talked, which I’ve missed doing with her since she moved.

Our departure from Boulder was weirdly scheduled, thanks to the Engineer realizing that he had to be back at school on Monday for an unavoidable commitment after we had already booked separate tickets.  My flight was Saturday night, so the Commodore came to pick me up and took me to see her new apartment, where I finally got to meet her guinea pig, before taking me to the airport.  The Engineer stayed in Boulder one more night before I picked him up Sunday morning and we both drove back to school.

The visits were definitely beneficial and will help us make our final decision, but for now both the Engineer and I are just excited to stop hopping time zones and stay in the same place for more than 3 nights in a row!

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Purpose

the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal
determination; resoluteness
As the Engineer waits to hear back from grad schools and I wait to hear what part of the country I’ll be living in come September, I itch to start a job search.  But not just any job search.  At the risk of sounding like An Entitled Millennial, I admit that I want a job that gives me a sense of purpose.  I wouldn’t mind working as a waitress, a barista, a data entry person – at least, not at first.  There are many necessary jobs that make our society run smoothly in the ways that we are used to, and I respect the people who fulfill those needs.
But it turns out that I am the kind of person who, if she is unsatisfied in her job, is unsatisfied in general.
I blame some of this on my brain’s deeply entrenched habits.  I’m already much better at exaggerating negative emotions, consequences, and difficulties than celebrating and remembering victories and little happy things.  And if I spend a week writing down good things for my Gratitude Jar and journaling every night and Naming and Recognizing My Emotions, I do notice that life is not quite as Blah as it seemed the week before.  So I do try to do that.
The problem continues, however, when I try to make my job relate too closely to my passion.  I have already figured out that I don’t want writing to be my career in a traditional sense, at least not now, so I thought working at the Writing Center would be a good way to earn money while sticking close to the field that already provides me with a sense of purpose.  So I spend several hours a day showing students how to better put words into sentences, and then I come home and I open my laptop and I open my own Work In Progress…and the last thing I want to do is put words into sentences.
I read an article in a magazine a while back about the concept of “reservoirs of energy.”  The gist was that everyone has three reservoirs: Mental, Emotional, and Physical.  A full day at work might deplete your Mental reservoir, so coming home and being asked to figure out what the heck is wrong with the refrigerator because it’s making that high-pitched noise again is only going to demand Mental energy from an empty reservoir, making you feel more exhausted.  The trick is recognizing activities that might drain one reservoir and not pushing yourself past your limit in using that type of energy; for instance, you might exercise after work because your Physical energy is still nearly full, giving your Mental and Emotional energy a chance to refill in time for dinner with your family.
I think working too closely with writing on a daily basis does something similar.  I think it depletes my Writing Energy (more probably just Mental energy, but humor me).  This, of course, wouldn’t be a problem if my job were only focused on my own writing projects, where I could finish the day tired but satisfied at a job well done.  But right now, I’m so focused on helping other people with their writing that I still feel dissatisfied with my day’s work because I so rarely manage to make progress on my own projects.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “A vocation is a terrible thing.”  He was talking about the call to one day join God in Heaven, to go through the difficult work of preparing for that kind of relationship, but I think the quote applies equally to those of us who know what we are meant to do on this earth but don’t know how, exactly, to go about it.
Writing, it has long been clear to me, is my God-given purpose.  It is “the reason for which [this person, Grace] exists.”  But while this gives me a long term goal, a desired result for my life (fantasy books, and maybe a historical fiction or two), and though I have been determined and resolute in this goal for years (despite every unoriginal snarky comment in the book), that leaves a bit of a gap in my daily life.  Because I’m still trying to figure out how, exactly, I’m supposed to find a job that gives me a Daily Sense of Purpose without sapping energy from my Big Picture Purpose.

Succulents and Stress Spirals

I potted some plants the other day.  I pulled on my brand new neon orange gardening gloves, scooped Miracle-Gro into an azure blue pot, and settled some spiky purple blooms around a central plant with trumpetlike white flowers.  Promptly forgetting the names of the plants, I have dubbed the spiky purple ones dragonsbane after a plant described in Dealing With Dragons.  I haven’t come up with a name for the white ones yet.  There’s also an adorable tiny succulent on my windowsill, which I have named Junior after the asparagus from VeggieTales.

I was proud of this attempt at gardening.  I was adding life to my home (and the plants seem like they’ll probably survive!).  That burst of productivity even extended to vacuuming, cleaning the kitchen, and balancing my budget.  It was a good afternoon.

Then the next day I came home from work and didn’t move from my couch for the entire afternoon.  Dinner was forgotten.  The dishwasher did not get unloaded.  Nothing happened except that I sat on the couch, coloring, until Netflix asked, “Are you still watching?” (a message I can’t help but read with a judgey inflection, even if Netflix is truly just concerned for my wellbeing).  Even my mindfulness coloring book didn’t seem to help my mood.

And all I could think about was, “I never do anything anymore.  I am so unproductive.  I’m going to completely fail this year” – and there I went, slipping and sliding down a Stress Spiral.  Basically, when I get into this self-overwhelming mindset, I use my current mood/emotion/situation to build illogically dramatic visions of the future.  In this case, it went something like:

I’m not feeling productive today ⇒ I’m falling behind on all the things I wanted to do today. ⇒ I’m going to fall behind on all the things I wanted to accomplish this year. ⇒ I won’t get any writing done. ⇒ I will be a failure at achieving my dream of being an author.

Looking at this through a logical lens, of course, the extrapolation falls apart.  For one thing, this year is not the only year I have in which to become an author.  I have my whole life to do that; this is just some time I happen to have set aside to work toward that specifically.  Scaling it back down, the dishwasher could conceivably be unloaded the next day.  And a bout of unproductive-ness one day does not mean I’m that way all the time – just the day before, I’d potted plants!  I’d budgeted!  I’d been an adult!  But the funny thing is that on those Good Adulting Days, I never think to myself, “I am always like this.”  Those thoughts only come on days when I am not being who I want to be.

IMG_20160714_121549My favorite counselor once told me, “Emotional states are not personality traits.”  It’s a helpful thing to repeat to myself when I’m scrabbling for a toehold in a Stress Spiral (and not just because it rhymes).  At some point I developed the habit of mistaking my darker moods for reflections of my Core Self, and as painful and overwhelming as that is, it’s a difficult habit to break.  So I journal, because sometimes just identifying the twists and turns of the Spiral helps me unravel it.  I talk to the Engineer, whose belief in my abilities is dazzling and unwavering.  I text my friends, who tell me I’m putting too much pressure on myself.  And I stand at my window and see that Junior seems to be doing just fine.  So odds are I’ll be fine too.

Gonfalonier

When Saturday dawned, though I’d slept poorly from nerves, I was honestly more anxious and emotional about my friends’ graduations than my own.  I was proud of them, and excited for them, and a little bit sad, but my own arrival at this academic pinnacle didn’t quite seem real.  I got up early to see the Southern Belle and the Commodore (who carried the gonfalon!) at the 8 a.m. ceremony.  I teared up several times, and I clapped and cheered wildly when my two best friends walked across the stage to receive their diploma covers, and I took many blurry, zoomed-in pictures from my faraway seat because I was determined to capture the moment.

I met up with the Engineer and his family, who were in town for his brother’s graduation (having earned a master’s degree) at the next ceremony.  I walked back to my apartment in the sun, meeting soon-to-be graduates in their regalia going the other way, and I still couldn’t quite think, “Me too.  I’m graduating.”

For most of the day, Bird and I read quietly at my apartment, with brief flurries of activity when the Commodore’s and my own family descended for visits and hellos between events.  Rather than wrapping my head around my own reality, I escaped into the adventures of The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden (highly recommended, by the way).

Then it was time to start getting ready.  Rented gown, a stolen stole (borrowed from the Commodore, signifying that I had studied abroad; I didn’t get my own because I never bothered to get my Fancy Summer Institute in Nottingham credits transferred to my own university), honors cords for my major, honors cords for a national honors society, a medallion from the Honors college, and the rented yoke.  Cap pinned in place (I had finally decided on a C.S. Lewis quote the day before – appropriately, the Commodore’s hat featured a J.R.R. Tolkien quote…in Elvish).  Tassel draped to the right.

Dad drove us to the coliseum and dropped us off, where I headed in through the behind-the-scenes passageway because I was carrying the Honors gonfalon.  What exactly is a gonfalon, you may ask?  Basically, it’s a banner.  A flag.  The standard behind which I will amass my armies as we ride forth into battle.  By virtue of my carrying this 10-foot-tall piece of fabric on a stick, my family was seated in the VIP section.  Bird, Mom, and my cousin all took pictures when they spotted me standing in the back.  I looked around the coliseum, all decked out in university colors, and took pictures with the deans in their regalia as my co-gonfalonier and I stood next to our banners.

When the band played “Pomp and Circumstance,” the Engineer caught my eye and made a swimming turtle with his hands.  “My turtle swims sideways, your turtle swims upside down…” were the lyrics he and his brothers sang to the graduation march.  Naturally it was stuck in my head all day.

Once all the other graduates had filed in, we hoisted the gonfalons overhead and strode down the center aisle.  I had expected, seeing as it was the whole College of Arts and Sciences graduating, that I would barely know anyone in the graduating class.  Instead, my friends and coworkers shouted out to me as I walked by with the gonfalon.  They made me smile, a realer smile than the one I had directed at the cameras lining the aisle.

The ceremony proceeded apace, with speakers and applause and occasional technical difficulties.  We gonfaloniers stood to be recognized and tried not to smile too awkwardly while the cameras stayed on us.  Eventually, an usher pulled us out of the front row to join our respective groups, and I squeezed in between two of my friends from English.

Had my picture taken with the prop diploma cover.  Handed my name card to the announcer.  Smiled into the camera as he said my (thankfully phonetically simple) name.  Walked forward.  Shook with my right hand, took the diploma cover with the left.  Walked across to the center.  Shook hands with the university president, who wished me luck.  Slipped out of the receiving line to return to my front row seat.  Smiled and posed for the Commodore, who had gotten a great seat and was snapping pictures.

When I got back to my seat, I held the diploma cover in my lap.  Never mind that it was empty, that I will get the real thing in the mail a few weeks from now.  All of a sudden it hit me.  College was over.  I did the Thing, the Accomplishment toward which roughly three quarters of my life had been aimed.  It was finished.  All done.DSC_6072

When I took this picture, I stepped up onto a cement barrier (in heels, no less).  Looking out over the campus, I had no visual cues to reassure me.  It seemed as though I were at the immediate edge of a cliff, even though the drop to the flowerbed below was no more than a foot and a half.  Logically, I knew I was safe.  Irrationally, I felt like I was about to fall.

But for a moment, buried in the jolt of fear, it was exhilarating.

This feeling returned as I looked down at the crimson rectangle in my hands.  But I couldn’t cry, not really, not in the front row, not as several hundred others made their way across the stage.  So I smiled, blinked away the welling emotions, and looked around for the friends I knew would be coming up in line.

Stood back up.  Moved the tassel.  Cheered as the confetti rained down.  Slipped a few pieces into the diploma cover, hoping my bittersweet tears wouldn’t dissolve it later.

IMG_20160507_191312

Still Alive, Just FYI

Sorry about the radio silence lately, but my undergraduate thesis is due tomorrow so I’ve spent the past few weeks alternately crying, tearing my hair out, complaining a lot  to the Engineer (he is a saint and a far better human being than I deserve in my stress spirals), and occasionally hitting a great writing streak and slamming out a dozen pages at once.  At the moment, I’m trying to write my precis (basically an abstract, but I can’t use any “jargon,” which I didn’t realize was a thing that happened when you’re just talking about storytelling, but apparently it is) and then format my final draft.

And then I turn it in.

Eek.

So anyway, once that’s turned in and I give my presentation in 2 weeks, I’ll have more brain space to write blog posts, so there will be a regular(ish) schedule again after that.

Pinky swear.

Public Snark Announcements

Occasionally, as I walk through campus on my way to class, work, or a meeting, I notice people.  People whose life choices I can’t help but question.  So I have a few PSAs, collected here in force and therefore probably sounding a bit snarkier than they would individually:

To the guy sauntering along a few feet in front of me with his earbuds in, staring at his phone:

If I can hear the backup harmonies of the heavy metal song you’re blasting from your iPhone, you’re probably going to have serious hearing problems by the time you’re 30.  Also, this song I don’t even know is now going to repeat a single line in my head for the rest of the afternoon.  So thanks for that.

Moral: Turn down your music.  Unless you’re already suffering from hearing loss.  In which case I might have some ideas about why that is.

To the girl wearing a backpack over a short skirt:

You’re going to flash someone.  It’s just going to happen.  Backpacks pull skirts up as you walk.  That’s what they do.  At least you’re not wearing a two-layered skirt, where the opaque underskirt might get bunched up under the backpack and you walk along, oblivious, because you feel the transparent overlayer against your legs so you think you’re still decently clothed.

Moral: Proceed with caution when mixing and matching skirts and backpacks.  For everyone’s sake.

To the people staring at their phones as they walk down the mall:

There’s a lamppost ri- never mind, you hit it.  Good job.  Now avoid the bench.  And please don’t clip me with your shoulder and then throw me an irritated look because I couldn’t get out of the way fast enough.  Just because I’m the only one of us paying attention, I do not have the responsibility to clear a path for Your Royal Highnesses so you can continue watching your friends’ drunk Snapchats uninterrupted.

Moral: Eyes on the road, buddy.

To the people walking at a snail’s pace, four abreast, along the main campus thoroughfare:

You’re in everyone’s way.  So don’t look shocked when a bicyclist cuts between you and your friends, or when I push through as politely as possible to avoid being late to class.  There is no need for you to leave nearly two feet of space between you so you’re strung out across the whole path.

Moral: You’re clearly friends.  Get friendlier, walk closer together, and let the rest of us get to class on time.

And finally, to the guys still insisting on wearing their pants well below their buttocks:

Stop.  Just…stop.  You do not look cool.  You do not have swagger.  You look like a small child waddling around with his pants around his ankles in the process of being potty-trained.  I would say you look like a penguin, but penguins are at least spiffily dressed.

Moral: I don’t want to know what color underwear you’re wearing today.  Keep it to yourself.

Really Really Quiet Workouts

I hate having people I know witness me exercising.

Surprisingly, this is not due to my general clumsiness or lack of physical acumen.  I’m not nearly as awkward at exercising as I used to be in high school (I actually had to convince a skeptical PE teacher that no, I wasn’t holding back, yes, I was putting in every effort, and yes, I was really just that terrible at sports – she raised my grade after I nearly passed out trying to run faster).  I can make it through a Zumba class with zeal, and the Southern Belle has gotten me better at strength training too.

But I do all this semi-secretly, waiting until my mom is out of the house in the morning and making sure Bird is either asleep or going to join me.  I just don’t like having bystanders.  (The Southern Belle is an exception.)

I get the same uncomfortable feeling of being under a microscope when people (well, most people) ask how my writing is going.  If I don’t have anything super impressive to tell them, or if in fact it’s kind of at a difficult point and I’ve been stuck on the same scene for 2 weeks, I don’t really want to talk about it.  Even if I just hit an awesome word count milestone, or I finished a scene that I’m proud of, there’s something about sharing that part of my internal process with others that just makes me cringe.

I would often prefer to simply present my finished product (manuscript, weight loss, whatever) to the world and say, “Look at this thing I made.” The process of getting that finished product, however, feels too imperfect and messy, too personal, to willingly share with more than a few people at a time.

Some of this could be from academic pressure spilling over into the rest of my life.  We are well past the point of turning in an outline, then a draft, then a revised draft, then a peer review, then at long last the final draft.  My professors don’t want the process – they want the results.  In so much of academic life, the interest lies in the polished version of whatever you’re supposed to accomplish.  So maybe I want to present the same perfect face in other areas.

Or maybe it’s to do with responsibility.  Goodness knows I have plenty of obligations filling up my color-coded planner already; I neither need nor want to be accountable to anyone but myself in any more parts of my life.

Or maybe it’s like when I was learning to drive and it made me incredibly nervous to even go to the grocery store because every trip of a few blocks felt like a huge test.  I knew my parents were watching everything I was doing, which made me overthink it, which made me wonder if I had gotten something wrong, which is not a good thought to be having when you are directing a two-ton metal object along a road filled with other people in other two-ton metal objects.  The mere fact of observation, even when we got home and I sat shaking behind the wheel in the garage while my mom told me what a good job I’d done, made the whole ordeal ten times worse.

I don’t actually have an answer for this.  That’s okay, though – I’m pretty content to continue working out and writing as quietly and unnoticeably as possible.

Seniority

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The Senior Bench upon which I may now sit with impunity by virtue of completing 3/4 of my undergraduate education.

I had this weird thought as I walked past the Senior Bench the other day that I am now a senior and therefore may sit on the Senior Bench without fear of breaking some Long-Dead-But-Potentially-Resurrectable Tradition about not graduating on time or incurring the wrath of Actual Seniors.

It’s not like I was ever afraid to sit on the Senior Bench before – actually, Bird and I have a tradition of getting a picture together on the bench every time she visits me at school, and she doesn’t even go to college yet, much less this college.  There were never any passing Actual Seniors who snarled at me or threatened to drum me out of the student body.  I’m pretty sure half the people sitting on that bench at any given time are freshmen and sophomores, just because upperclassmen are too busy.

But it’s odd to think that that’s who I am now.  An Actual Senior myself.  I find myself with a case of nostalgia for the experience I am still in the middle of.  Mourning the coffee shops I still have months to visit.  Hugging my friends just a little too tight.  Grasping at the familiar walkways with curled toes inside my shoes as though I’m trying to make them stand still when I’m the one moving.

College is coming to a close.  Slowly, yes, and not unexpectedly, but still.

Candle Shopping with the Commodore

Some people decorate their homes visually, strewing fake leaves around for fall, some posies for springtime, and maybe a snowman or two in the winter.

The Commodore and I prefer to seasonally scent our apartment.

We go to the so-called mall just over the state border every few months to jointly purchase our new candles.  We take these shopping trips very seriously, solemnly marking them down on our Thomas Kinkade Disney calendar.  They are not without their hazards; Bath & Body Works, for starters, is in itself a dangerous place for our wallets.  Rarely do we make it out without purchasing some other item unrelated to our original goal.  But the important thing is that we never leave without at least two new candles for the season ahead.

20150902_191413Of course, there’s the sniff test.  Ranging from tried-and-trues like Fresh Linen and Sea Island Cotton to bakery-themed like Maple Pecan Waffles to cologne-ish like Black Tie, we sample pretty much everything.  We both have to like the scent.  It can’t be too sweet, or too sharp, or too fruity.  And the candles have to be the squat, heavy, three-wick ones, big enough to last at least half the season (we usually buy two).

This takes at least an hour.  Sometimes longer.

Then there was that time we dropped one of the candles while reaching for a bottle of lotion.

And then when we finally get the candles (and, if we’re being honest, a bunch of other fall/Christmas/spring/summer-y smelling stuff we don’t need) home, the hazards do not cease.  Once, I was blowing out the Sundress candle in our living room when a spark flew up and burned a hole through my shirt!

The Southern Belle later gave me a candle snuffer, “for your own safety,” as she put it.

I don’t really enjoy playing with fire (certainly not as much as the Engineer does…).  But it’s soothing to come home and let the smell of Harvest Gathering turned my mood autumnal.

Hermione Did It, Why Can’t I?

I quit something!

Normally I’m not the type of person who shouts this from the rooftops, or even whispers it across a table in a noisy coffee shop.  But in this case, having gotten overwhelmed and exhausted and emotional and angry and just generally drained on the second day of school, not to mention having three separate friends ask if there was any way I could cut back on my activities – well, something had to go.  I didn’t have many options; most of my time is taken up by classes, which qualify me as a full-time student, and work, which brings me a little money and which I also happen to love.  One of my internships is technically being taken for credit, and I only need 5 more hours to earn it.  So that left the newest internship, the one only a few days old.

I felt like a traitor, because I had pursued this opportunity myself.  I felt like a slacker because I had only completed one task (she had only given me one task, but that didn’t make me feel any better).  I felt like I always do when I have to make a perfectly legitimate excuse for bowing out of something, which is to say that I was certain my professor would think I was flaky, irresponsible, and ungrateful.  It took me a full five minutes of staring at the email I’d written her, analyzing its professionalism, to work up the guts to hit send.

And you know what I felt?

Relief.

This internship thingy had to do with organizing writers’ visits to my university campus throughout the year.  Now I didn’t have to worry about sporadic weeks of hectic stress cutting into my already packed routine, nor did I have to shove aside activities to make room for writers who may or may not have even worked in my preferred genres.

But even though I knew it was the smartest decision for me and my mental health, I still found myself justifying to all my friends who asked about it.  “Oh, yeah, I just didn’t have room for it in my schedule,” I would say, hastening to add that I was still very busy, not slacking off, not flaking out on all my other obligations.

My friend wrote a wonderful column in our university newspaper today about the problem with perfectionism, particularly in college students.  She points out that many of us strive for perfection in order to avoid shame; if we’re perfect, no one will chastise us.  The size of the failure doesn’t matter because the shame is always looming, gargantuan, disproportionate to most of the ways we fear “failing.” I thought pulling out of the internship would undo all the good work I had done in that prof’s class last semester.  Even as I happily marked down the hours I could now spend relaxing or doing, I don’t know, the homework I hadn’t had time to do, doubt poked at the back of my mind.  What if she got mad?  What if my thesis advisor thought I’d flake out on him too?  What if this was the beginning of my new slacker lifestyle?

I realize this is illogical.  The thing is, when it comes to shame and perfectionism, logic has very little to do with it.  Hermione took All The Magic Classes Ever in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I tell myself.

Yes, the more reasonable part of my brain answers, but she needed a magical Time Turner to do it.

As it happens, I got an email from my professor a few days ago.  She said that my schedule did look demanding, and she hoped that I could join the group for dinner with one of the writers anyway as a thank-you for the work I had already done.

I think I can pencil that in.  But if I can’t… it’s no big deal.