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I need a break.

I crave change and stimulation, but usually it works out that these come in bits and pieces. My life is fairly status quo, or at least has been for a while, and so new things can be rolled in (or out) gradually, like my own personal “soft launches.” But then last fall, everything changed. The job I had had for five years became severely scaled back to make room and time for my new program at UCLA.

Not only was I back in school, but I was back in school with fellow students significantly younger who often seem to know significantly more. Not only was I back in school, but I was in classes where I felt hopelessly out my league, where the gaps in my own (mostly self-taught) education felt painfully evident and awkward. So I had to play catch up — a lot of catch up — and I had to get good at swallowing the fear. I had to get good at faking it, and pretending a prowess I didn’t actually have.

That first term was an exercise in confronting anxiety on a daily basis. Anxiety about my work, about my capabilities, about my writing, about my knowledge, about my life choices, about how I was being judged, about everything. This last term has been moderately less overwhelming in terms of the basics. I know where to park, for instance, and where to find the bathrooms. I still get lost sometimes, but I know where the library is. 

But in terms of stress, it’s still been up there. I had an independent study this past quarter, one-on-one with me and a brilliant professor, and I started feeling panic a few hours before each session. I wouldn’t breathe properly for the entire duration of our meetings. And only when I would collapse into my car afterwards would I start to feel like I was a human being again — and that would last until approximately the next morning, when I would begin to do my work to prepare for the next meeting, as well as for my other two classes, causing the routine feeling of stress to churn my insides.

For the end of the term, I had to write three final papers, each one about twenty-five pages, on totally divergent topics. So that was fun. 

And on top of all that, on top of the three demanding classes and the constant confrontation with the possibility that Who-I-Am-Is-Not-Enough, on top of the change and upheaval and the newness of it all, I also started dating someone recently, which maybe for some people who are more “normal” is fun and exhilarating and comforting — but for me, and especially in this specific circumstance, provided even more of the Who-I-Am-Is-Not-Enough concerns, not to mention the newness of having to adapt to another person, addressing not only the newly rediscovered vulnerability that comes as a housewarming gift to early relationships, but also the constant push to grow, to open up, to be the kind of person who exists in a relationship, rather than the kind of person I’ve been over the last few years of hermitude. 

It’s been a lot. It’s been a lot non-stop.

And it reminds me of this bit by Camille Paglia about Madonna: “A self-described ‘work Nazi,’ Madonna is overscheduled and overprogrammed…’I hate to waste time,’ Madonna says. But artists recharge themselves and their imaginations precisely when they are doing nothing.”

I know I need to recharge. I need time to process everything. I need moments of genuine respite where the damn learning curve can plateau rather than skyrocketing upwards to the sky. I need a couple days of staring at a beach or watching House of Cards. I need that nothing. I need long walks and solitude and emptiness — emptiness in my calendar and emptiness in my brain. But unfortunately, life does not offer that at the moment. All I can do is try to carve out the occasional evening or afternoon between working through my to do list — and then classes start up again on Monday.

But much as I, too, hate to waste time, I really do need a break.

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