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My Empty Closet and Full Floor

I’m going away for school in about a month and had to buy a whole bunch of new clothes for the endeavour, so I thought it would be an opportune time to finally clean out my closet. I haven’t done so in at least a year, maybe even two. I tend to tackle such tasks by taking everything out, and separating it into piles: “keeping”, “tossing” and “maybe”.

I filled two garbage bags with stuff to toss, a bunch of clothes have gone back into my closet and everything else is in the “maybe” pile — mostly stuff I have to spend some time trying on and making tough decisions about. That was where it stood on Monday. It’s now the end of the week and not much has changed. I still have a garbage bag of stuff to “toss” on the floor by my bed and next to that I have two “maybe” piles. My desk chair is usually occupied by my pile of new clothes, but that pile has temporarily been relocated to my bed so that I can sit at my desk to type this. Shockingly, I look around and — aside from all the mountains of new and old clothes — I consider this to be a somewhat “clean” day in the land of My Room.

True story, except replace “toys” with clothes, books, notebooks and other miscellaneous crap that has no place on the floor.
Credit: cootcartooning.com

Earlier, my younger sister came in for something. “Your closet’s so empty,” she said — in shock,  and perhaps somewhat in envy.

“Yeah,” I said, “but my floor is so full.”

The reorganization (upheaval) in my closet is kind of like the reorganization (upheaval) going on in the rest of my life. I’m leaving home for school soon, and (don’t tell anybody) I’m kind of freaking out. I subconsciously tried to reroute my anxiety, focussing it on concrete things within my control, instead of all the uncertainties and unknowns I’m being faced with and am trying to avoid looking in the eye. I guess I thought this might help. It just led to a minor nervous breakdown over bed linens — one of the few things about the room I’ll be in next month that’s within my control. It accomplished about as much as rerouting my clothes from my overflowing closet to my (now) overflowing floor.

My excess clothes — the ones from the ever-expanding “back of my closet” — are like my worries. They both take up valuable (physical/emotional) space, drive me insane and are completely unnecessary. But, unless I actually do something about them, they (my worries and my clothes) will just continue to lie around, doing no one any good.

But then, even if I do move them around, there are productive ways to do so, and unproductive ways. And whatever I do, the clothes and the nervous energy won’t just disappear. They’ll still be somewhere, all that I can control is where. I think I’ve figured out where not to put them. My clothes are no better off taking up precious floor space. My anxiety didn’t help much while I was trying to choose bedding.

But, like a certain Anne Shirley, “I never make the same mistake twice” (well, actually I do, but that’s entirely besides the point). I think I’ve figured out where not to redirect my clothes and general anxieties, and realized that they should probably be redirected elsewhere, in healthier, more beneficial channels.

I could get my act together, figure out what to keep and what to toss and then put away the keepers, while sending the “toss” bags to a charity-clothing-collection type place. That’s generally where all my old clothes end up eventually, but the sooner I get it done, the sooner my clothing donation can help others in need. And then my new clothes can replace the old ones in my closet.

As for the stress, such things are pretty hardwired into me, but rather than wallowing and redirecting stupidly, I could probably deal with it in a healthier manner. Like by writing more often, because, ironically, it’s the thing that keeps me sane, but also the thing I tend to shy away from when I start leaning towards insanity — and I’m pretty sure I’m not the first one to feel/express that sentiment.

And, if I can shuffle around the anxiety a little and maybe get rid of just a little, there may be some brain space left over. I wonder if that ’empty’ space might be the right place to entertain some excitement about the incredible opportunity I’m about to seize?

Who knows how it’ll all turn out, but, in this moment, I’ve put my worries aside and I can’t wait to see. Until then, I’ll just be here, cleaning out my closet.

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Sitting Around on the Couch 101

Credit: agweb.com

You know how they say the grass is always greener on the other side? They’re wrong. It isn’t always greener — just most of the time. Like, sometimes your neighbours go away for two weeks, so they aren’t watering their grass and there happens to be a heat wave. Then, chances are, their grass is looking pretty brown and however ungreen your grass is, it’s probably still greener than theirs.

I think the reason this idea has become so overused and clichéd is because we’re always comparing ourselves to others, whether the green grass is on their side of the lawn or ours. Good and Bad, Wealth and Poverty, and Green and Ungreen are all pretty relative terms and ideas, so we tend to look at others when we measure ourselves.

For what seems like every other person in the entire world, it’s the first week of school. Yesterday was the first day for both of my younger siblings, who go to the high school where I spent the past four years. And a bunch of my friends are starting at university today. I’m doing a gap year programme this year, and the place I’m going doesn’t start until mid-October. So yesterday, while everyone else spent the day either at school or making last-minute preparations for it, I sat around in my pyjamas until four, watching old episodes of Community on Netflix.

It’s funny how I’ve had the exact same level of freedom for the past three months, but now that everyone else is back to school, I feel a shift. Technically, for me, yesterday was exactly the same as the day before and I was no more free to sit around on the couch yesterday than I was the previous day, and yet it feels different. My freedom feels more free when compared to my friends’ and siblings’ imprisonment in classrooms.

Because everyone else’s grass is on the brown side, my grass is looking pretty green. But, because I’m human, and especially because I’m me, their brown grass looks kind of nice right about now — mostly because it’s on the other side of the fence.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a completely normal person (well, sometimes I am) and I hate school just as much as the next teenager. Especially high school and especially the “elite” (i.e. “phony”) private school I went to — it kind of reminds me of Pencey Prep in The Catcher in the Rye. I probably hate my (former) high school much more than other kids who go/went there. But, while I do hate school in principle — the waking up early, studying for tests, interacting with morons — I tend to enjoy learning and I tend to be an “overachiever” type. Not a good overachiever, who never procrastinates and is super organized and actually wins awards for participating in/leading school activities and getting good grades. But an overachiever to the extent that I don’t count my three consecutive 90% Honour Roll certificates as actual awards (and yes, that was an explainabrag right there).

I love Community.
Credit: http://www.capturedcaptions.com/

And this over-achieving isn’t really because I define my life based on school and think that my grades are a judgment on who I am as a person (well, not anymore…), it’s because I tend to be a weirdo who genuinely enjoys learning. I do well in school because, in subjects that I care about, I want to do my best and I want to actually learn something. I’ve never liked back-to-school time in principle because it signifies the end of summer and therefore the end of freedom and sleeping in late. But, once I can get past the fact that summer’s ending, I kind of like going back to school. September’s exciting. You see certain friends you haven’t seen all summer, you have a new schedule with new courses and new teachers, and hopefully some of the old teachers who you loved so much last year. I kind of miss that. The beauty of going back to school is that there’s often a very comfortable mix between new and old.

I’m so over high school and would not want to be going back to that retched place, but it’s kind of weird not to be going somewhere. And then, the overachiever in me feels like such a slacker for not going back to school while everyone else is. Sure, I’m heading off to my gap year programme in a month, where I’ll learn for the sake of learning and really grow, and then I’ll be off to University the year after, but still. 

My brother came home from school yesterday with some friends and needed me to drive them somewhere immediately. It was three in the afternoon and I was still in my pyjamas. And then one of his friends whom I had never met asked me if I’m in university, to which I responded “no, not yet, just sitting around watching TV all day, ’cause I don’t start school until October.” While to most kids this may sound like a dream come true, to my ears I sounded like an incompetent loser, who is doing nothing with her life. Pardon my melodrama.

I know, I know. I probably sound ridiculous complaining about how much time off from school I have and how much leisure I have to just sit around watching TV. It’s great, it really is. I think (thought?) this extra time off would be incredibly beneficial because I really don’t feel ready to move away from home yet and start with the next stage of school/life.

I think (thought?) this nice, long summer break would be a nice, comfy transition between the end of high school and moving away to start the rest of my life. It’s just weird not to be going back to school in September like I always do and like everyone else is. And I think I might be getting what Holden Caulfield might call a “goddam inferiority complex”. Of course, it could just be that your neighbour’s grass really does always look greener, even though from their point of view it’s looking kind of brown. And maybe instead of complaining about how ungreen my lawn is, I could stop comparing it to my metaphorical neighbours’ and see what happens if I actually try watering it.

Shooting for the Moon, Landing on the Ground

I haven’t really written much this summer. There, I said it. I mean, I’ve written plenty. I’ve been somewhat prolific. But it feels like I haven’t written anything at all. Same goes for reading. The two activities, for me at least, are completely and utterly intertwined. I planned on writing so, so much this summer. I thought I was going to blog nearly every day, I thought I was going to write some stories, I thought I was going to write a novel. I was also going to sit around reading all day. I was going to read every book on my somewhat vague, somewhat ambitious, somewhat long (and ever-growing) “to-read list”. And this is all on top of my handful of other household responsibilities, occasionally interacting with other human beings and sleeping in until noon. There were also TV shows to watch, plays to see and places to go. I was also really going to clean/thoroughly organize my room. So, while technically I had “no plans” over summer break — no camp, no job, no major commitments — I planned on getting a lot accomplished.

I did accomplish a lot. I “published” some blog posts, I wrote a story or two, made some decent headway in Novel Number One during Camp NaNoWriMo — at least as far as word count goes — before abandoning Camp NaNo along with that failure of a “novel”. I started planning Novel Number Two — although, at the rate planning is going, I may be ready to start actually writing the thing by 2020. I read about seven books in the past three months, which for me is pretty good (it probably would have been more if I hadn’t tried out the habit of reading more than one book at a time, but that’s a whole other discussion). I’ve travelled and slept in and just hung out this summer. I socialized, I watched TV, I saw some great movies. I even made some form of dent in the room-cleaning endeavour (by which I mean that now I can totally see what colour my floor is).

So, I had a great summer. A somewhat productive summer. But doesn’t really feel like it. And I think that’s because I aimed too high.

“Shoot for the moon,” some guy once said, “even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Generally I hate inspirational/motivational quotes, mostly because they tend to be nauseating, thoroughly overused clichés. This is one I hate in particular, and, looking back over my summer, I’ve decided that I strongly disagree with it. I just don’t believe it. The higher the stakes, the farther you can fall — and the more that fall will hurt. At least in my experience.

The font and background in this image are about as tacky as the actual text
Credit: recoverygraphics.com

I tend to have a very “all or nothing” personality, so when I do set goals, they tend to be big and somewhat vague, and then if I don’t meet those ridiculous and all-encompassing goals in the ridiculous and arbitrary amount of time I’ve given myself to meet them, I see it as a failure. Furthermore, for me, just the setting of these enormous goals is enough to keep me from meeting them. I get overwhelmed and paralysed by what I have in front of me, so I just avoid starting. Forget the moon and stars; if that’s where I’m aiming, I’ll just end up dawdling around on the sidewalk, trying to work up the courage to get started on my upward trajectory.

I think “shooting for the moon” is often the clichéd equivalent of “biting off more than you can chew”, or piling up too much onto your proverbial plate — both things that the mighty clichés warn against.

I’m not against ambitions — I certainly have plenty. Ambition and goals are important, but I think it’s also important to remember that whole thing about moderation being key. Last summer, I had a couple of little goals that I wrote down on paper. The only one I met was along the lines of “write something, anything, every single day.” I have a nice journal filled with all sorts of ramblings from that summer and I was actually able to meet that goal. Sure, that journal contains nothing “publishable”, nothing that will directly achieve any of my hopes and dreams. But it was something I accomplished. Something I kept at. Something I felt good about having done. The self-confidence, and creative exercise, that it gave me led to more creativity and the confidence to move on to bigger, more substantial goals. Sure, I imagine I wasn’t completely satisfied by the end of the summer by how I’d spent my vacation — who ever is? But I had accomplished one of my goals and so I was okay. I look back at that summer as being very prolific, although, in terms of quality, I would venture to say that this summer has been far more of a success.

It really just depends on how you look at it. My plans this summer were too grand and so the results fell short; I aimed too high so missing made me feel like I had landed on the ground. Whereas last year I aimed just high enough. Writing (something, anything) every day was something I’d never done before, so while it wasn’t difficult, it was new, it was a challenge. I didn’t write everysingle day. There were days I missed, days I skipped. But there was always the next day and the day after that. Because I didn’t aim to high, I was able to stumble at times without much more than a bruise and then keep going.

Maybe this summer wasn’t a failure, I simply didn’t manage to reach an impossible, insane, unspecific goal. I think the real failure, isn’t that I didn’t meet that “goal; the failure was in the nature of the goal I set.  And if you remove the vague, all-encompassing plans and aspirations I had for the summer, and just look at what I accomplished, I think you’d find I did pretty well for myself.

I guess it’s all just a matter of perspective.

Do you set yourself up for failure by setting absurd goals? Did you get what you wanted out of the summer? Is this post starting to sound kind of like a super lame self-help book about how you can most effectively shoot for the stars? Would this be more interesting if I was giving out chocolate? (That was a joke. There’s no chocolate. Sorry to get you all excited.)

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