Saturday, September 1, 2012

To Do: Breathe

Once again, it's been too long since I've written a post. Life has been chaotic, to say the least, since I got back from Jordan. I got to spend a few hours at my parents' place with the whole family -- human, canine, and feline -- before hitting the road and driving to Texas. Road Trip Part 2 was much less eventful than the first. Made a beeline for Austin, finished the drive in two days. I stayed in a hotel downtown for the first week and a half and moved into my sublet the night before classes started. Between compulsively making lists (really, you should see them) and checking things off the lists, I feel like I hardly have a moment to breathe. It's like I need to constantly be busy either running errands or doing school stuff, or else I feel guilty because I know there are so many things I need to get done. Is it okay to put "relaxation" on a to-do list? I would, but I don't think I'd be able to check it off. Ha.

My good friend drove down from California to keep me company the week before school started and to help me move into my new place. On the weekend, we went to a beach near Corpus Christi, a little over four hours south of Austin. Would you believe that you can drive down there on a whim and camp right on the beach without a prior reservation? It was a Friday night in August and there was hardly anyone there! A perfect weekend getaway. Tailgate camping meters from the water. Falling asleep to the sound of the crashing waves. Waking up to the sunrise. 

And the water is warm enough to swim in! As much as I whine about missing the ocean and the redwoods, there are more than a few good things about being here. This is one of them:

I learned that it's actually possible for me to get a sunburn. There must be a limit to how much sunlight my body can absorb, but I apparently haven't reached it. Just when I think I can't possibly get more tan, this happens:

I'm starting to get settled into my new place. I'm staying in a fully-furnished sublet for a few months until I find somewhere more permanent. Because I found out about this place the day after I left Austin during my visit in May, I didn't get a chance to see it until the day I moved in, and I knew almost nothing about the neighborhood. I got really lucky. It's a great space. Nice to have my pillows back, my teddy bears, my books, and the alarm clock my mom got me when I was in high school:

The one downside is that it's almost an hour commute from campus. A mile walk to the bus stop, then two bus transfers. And, as luck would have it, I have class at 9:00 every morning. But the walk is a nice chance to force myself to slow down and breathe, and the bus rides are convenient for last-minute Hebrew vocabulary review. A positive about the location: it's a five-or-so minute walk from a beautiful park with an amazing jogging trail. The trail tracks with the river on both the north and south sides of the city. I've hesitantly started running again, after giving myself a few months off to recover from the pesky IT band injury, and it will be hard to take it slow at the beginning, and frustrating to be slower than I used to be. But I look forward to getting my mileage back up and enjoying this scenery on weekend mornings.

Getting adjusted to being in such a demanding graduate program after a year of being unemployed and lazy is decidedly more difficult than getting adjusted to living in a new place. When I think about all of the school-related responsibilities I have, whether it's doing the reading for my linguistics class, or studying for my first content course conducted entirely in Arabic, or leading discussion sections, my brain automatically goes to its familiar negative place. I tell myself there's no way I can possibly pull any of this off, much less all of it at once. There's a little objective justification for that sort of thinking -- for instance, I don't have any of the prereqs needed for my linguistics class. Half of the students in my Arabic class are native speakers, and the other half have been studying the language at least twice as long as I have. I have almost no background in the material for the course I'm TA'ing. Etc. Despite all that, even if it's true, what good does it do me to tell myself I can't do it? I used to think humility meant putting myself down, telling myself -- and others -- that I really wasn't much good at whatever it was I was doing. I thought I was the least egotistical person I knew, because I never believed in my ability to do much of anything. But it occurs to me now that maybe ego isn't just false confidence or self-seeking.  Maybe this sort of "humility" isn't really humility at all; it is just another manifestation of ego. Who am I to say whether I'm smart enough or organized enough or experienced enough to be here? Who am I to say that my efforts are destined to fail? Maybe the truly humble thing to do is to stop telling myself I'm going to fail and start accepting the reality of the situation and just do the best I can with what I have. I just made a huge career change and am now studying something I have very little experience in but have an interest in and an aptitude for. And I'm at the very beginning of this new thing. (Is there a square before square one?) Of course I feel overwhelmed and inadequate sometimes. But I also know that I don't have to take those feelings too seriously. 


  1. Thanks for writing this! It made me feel not so alone. ;-) I have been feeling overwhelmed a bit as well. I just got a new job teaching ESL where I am in charge of a WHOLE class of basic level beginners! Teaching at the English Center is fun, as you know, but having to plan a whole lesson every day and keep track of the students' progress is another thing entirely...

    Anyway, I know you can do it, in sha Allah! Maher's students can do anything! ;-)

  2. Not taking your feelings too seriously is a great lesson to learn, and most of us never learn it, so I'd say you're off to a great start. And do you remember the to-do list that once was on our fridge, and it included "pace and worry?" "Relaxation" is a great this "to-do."

    Seeing Mama Bear above your pillows made me cry a little.