I spent yesterday home sick, recovering from a bout of food poisoning that turned out to be thankfully mild. Granted, I spent much of Friday night trying to keep down emergen-c and mostly failing, but my girlfriend stayed here with me and said comforting things and was generally lovely and I woke up in the morning feeling pretty much human, so I'm not complaining too much. I spent the day napping, reading, sipping ginger ale and eating soup and saltines, and catching up on the backlog of internet stuff that built up while I was away over the holidays; today I feel mostly back to normal, whatever that means.
One of my friends has been working her way through at least some of the assignments from Learning To Love You More, a series of guided directives created by Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher that was/is intended to inspire art and creativity and other good things all over the world. Assignments include things like "take a picture of your parents kissing" and "photograph a significant outfit", and each comes with a specific set of instructions to be followed. I like the idea of making something personally significant from what is essentially an impersonal order to create, and also the possibility that you could learn something about yourself through such a loosely structured but somewhat formalized framework. Anyway, one of the assignments that my friend did was #53: Give advice to yourself in the past. The idea is that you write a list of things you would like to have been able to tell yourself at a specific age, things that you think might have made your life at that time better, but my friend did a more loose interpretation and I think I'm going to follow suit. Which seems fitting, because one piece of advice I would give my past self would be this: don't be so damn concerned about rules. It will only hold you back.
The self I would write to, in this hypothetical situation, is my grad school self, roughly ages 23-25. I actually spent some time over the holidays talking to my boyfriend about grad school and the way that most people go through it (hellishly for the most part, it seems, and at the very least fairly unhappily) and how there are different ways to approach it (the way he is, as just another experience) that can be much kinder and probably more interesting. 20-20 hindsight in my case, of course, but isn't that what this exercise is about? At any rate, some background: when I was in high school, my ultimate life dream was to go to Northwestern, study with the viola teacher there, and play in the prestigious training orchestra downtown. Which, of course, is exactly what ended up happening, four and five years later. It was the first time that something I had wished for had so literally come to pass, and despite the advice of numerous (and mostly bad) movies and books it was a shock to me to discover that sometimes dreams come true absolutely suck. During these years my always-present anxiety spiralled out of control, I had eye tics and crying jags, my relationship fell apart, my ability to value myself hit an all-time low, and I barely slept. I'm not trying to make you feel bad for me; this is just what happened, and I'm here now so obviously everything worked out okay. But if any past self of mine needed a ray of hope, it was that one.
Advice to myself, ages 23-25
Grad school won't impact your future as drastically as you think it will, so don't worry so much about being perfect. The things you'll take away--a few friends, most of whom you didn't actually hang out with while you were in school, and some new ideas about how not to live--will end up being more important than any orchestra rehearsal you suffer through during these years.
Probably you should have sucked it up and gone to therapy. Not because you're crazy, because you're not; it just would have given you some new ways to think about and cope with stress and anxiety, and would most likely have at least helped the eye twitches.
Getting grey hair is no big deal. And yours is apparently silver, which is actually a little bit awesome.
I'm glad you kept reading through these years, no matter how busy you were. I think that helped. Don't forget that even if your degree program doesn't value your brain particularly, you still should.
Never, ever drive to Alaska again. Or if you do, know what the hell you're in for first and prepare accordingly.
Even the really shitty things that happen will end up working out, and you'll learn enough from them to eventually be much happier. Try not to let those shitty things allow you to devalue yourself, because you're much more awesome than you think you are right now.
Take care of yourself, even if it means not always taking care of everybody else.
I most likely wouldn't have followed any of this advice anyway, because I was stubborn as hell and determined, it seems, to drive myself into the ground for the sake of god-knows-what. But it occurred to me as I was writing this that really what this blog is and has been for at least the last year and a half is a sort of extended version of this exercise. I think in some ways I'm making amends with my past, laying out for myself the ways in which things can and have improved and trying to make sense of how I got from there to here. I was twenty-five when I graduated, in the spring of 2006; as I'm write now, in the winter of 2010, I'm twenty-eight and I feel like an entirely different person. Maybe that's just what happens. But it's comforting to know that this advice, as relatively pointless as it is, is also unnecessary. I made it through anyway.