It turns out that I know myself very well. I am not good at studying on my own without deadlines. I am a skilled procrastinator, and I really mean that. I don’t waste my time like an amateur might; I do a lot of things I am very proud of. The problem is that none of them get me closer (at least in obvious ways) to that big thing I have kind of been working toward forever now.
This is not a cocktail party, so I’m not continuing to mention the fact that I’ve been reading a lot just to impress you.1 It’s just that I’m kind of surprised by it. No matter how many years of practice I put in, reading for fun is not a habit that came back to me as soon as I had a minute and picked up a book. Even after I picked up a book, it still took several months, and I am not there yet. I ask other grad students about their reading habits. I am entertaining the idea of reading before bed as if it is an experiment I should approach with caution.
A few nights ago when I was walking home from work, I had the thought my 14 year old self wanted to believe so desperately: reading a lot makes me a more interesting person. Right, except, not really. I mean, not alone. You keep reading, 14 year old Ashley, but don’t think that makes you better than anyone. This is what’s going to happen: you’re going to become a real person with a unique perspective and a lot of thoughts, and all that reading will deepen those thoughts and make you better at articulating them, but the act of carrying around a book does not make you interesting. Rory Gilmore is fictional!
What I’m getting at is that being a person is really important and it does not always keep pace with all the stuff coming at you. See, for instance, my first two years of grad school. I did not know who I was or where I was going, and that made everything really difficult. I like that I am a person who takes what I study and read personally, but for a while that was really hard.
That time was important, and I know that a lot of life is being faced with things you are not prepared for, but I like that things I am reading now resonate on a different level than they did before, because I know myself better. I think, “Why didn’t I read this book in high school?” And then, “I’m glad I didn’t read this book in high school.”
One thing I was certainly better at in high school: writing by hand. In another feat of advanced-level procrastination, I have been writing in my journal every day.2 Yesterday my hand hurt so badly that I was really excited to do my dishes, since it meant resting my hand in warm water. I write nothing else by hand, and I’m starting to see why. It hurts!
I have actually been doing all kinds of writing, which in my life has always been the thing I should be doing. For many years, I even listened to a podcast called I Should Be Writing. Reading Patti Smith made me think a lot about how much time I spend working on my art3, and then I realized that I already have a lot of momentum in this area, and please hold now while I pat myself on the back for that.
Just when you have forgotten what this post is about, I am here to remind you. These are the things that I am doing. They are awesome. But they are not the things I should really be focusing on. So I’ve been having a lot of conversations like this:
Coworker: “What are you reading?”
Me: [Holds up novel]
Coworker: “Is that getting you closer to passing your German exam?”
Me: No. [laughs]4
I need to finish my degree. Not for any reason more important than I want to. I like that these other things are part of my life. I hope they are always a part of my life. But I need to prioritize. School has always quite naturally been my top priority (behind being happy), and this is a really bad time for that to no longer be the case.
I made a decision over the weekend that was not about changing my plans, but rather putting them in perspective, and with this clearer (except here where it is totally vague) goal in mind, I am ready to do all that hard work that history suggests I am pretty good at.
- What if I could call my blog a cocktail party? How great would that be?! [↩]
- I was inspired by Cait. JEDIO (Journal every day in October), anyone? [↩]
- I am so uncomfortable using that word, but I think that’s actually part of them problem. [↩]
- This is a true story, but in retelling it I realize that it makes my coworker sound like a jerk. He was just joking and he’s actually in the same boat and was also reading a book for fun. I’m not sure if this coworker reads my blog or not, but in case he does, I just want to say thanks for putting up with me when I was in coursework. I know that stressed-out me is not exactly the most pleasant person to be around, and you had no choice but to be around me. I apologize for all of my glaring. [↩]