Fears. Moms. Advice. All of the Above.
I'm one of those Oberliners you'll meet whose Oberlin experience feels like a freight train: I get on, it barrels along, I hang on for dear life (often by the skin of my teeth). Last year was especially dicey. The exhaustion sank so unshakably deep that I spent more days than I care to remember in bed, in tears, capable of neither work nor play, because of some vicious cycles of self-deprecation that like to hook into my brain and tell me lies. No one is as good at tearing me apart as I am. Frankly, I'm amazed that I emerged from last term with a shred of sanity left, not to mention decent reviews from my professors, but the fact that I made it doesn't mean I count that as a success - not by a long shot. I shan't be repeating the experience.
But even as I type - with utter conviction! - that last sentence, there is the fear that I have no earthly clue how to build a new kind of Oberlin life for myself, because my modus operandi has always been "do ALL the things!", even before college. So while I know I can't go on abusing myself, I'm also painfully aware that I don't have much practice taking care of myself, and I wonder how successful I'll be at finding some happy medium between the total self-indulgence of summer and the total self-denial of school. I know I'll feel guilty for anything 'unproductive' I do, no matter how good it is for my emotional and physical health.
Now that I'm thinking about it, though, I was in this I've-had-it-up-to-here situation my senior year of boarding school, too, if not as dire and not as long-lived: I started the first trimester with an inhuman workload, three instruments to practice, college apps to write, and, in theory, a relationship. About the point when I started asking my boyfriend (who, mind you, also went to this boarding school and was literally less than an acre away at all times) to let me know in advance if he wanted to see me so that I could see if he'd fit in my schedule, I got fed up. Over the course of the next two trimesters, I cut the things out of my daily grind that I didn't like, no matter how guilty I felt about it, and ended up having a great deal of fun in the last few months. I also discovered that almost all of my peers, who I thought just sort of ignored me because I was weird, thought I was 1. super awesome and therefore 2. far too cool to hang out with them. Humans never cease to amaze me.
It's heartening to think that I've gotten myself out of this mess before. On the flip side, though, that also means that I didn't at all learn my lesson - I did it all over again, but worse. And this time, I'm horribly in love with everything I can cram into my schedule and also with about twenty other things, so paring down is going to be much more painful.
For real, dear reader, I have no idea how I'm going to pull this off. I just know that if I can do it, it's probably going to be the single biggest and best thing I can achieve this year.
There are lessons to be gleaned from this, but instead of saying something obvious and trite like "take care of yourself," I'm going pass on a piece of wisdom from my mom (who has always taken better care of me than I have, anyway). When I was home earlier this summer, I noticed a piece of paper she'd torn out of a calendar and laid on a counter in the bathroom. It was a poem on how to love. It advised the reader to love, not like a river, not by letting love rush torrentially through the self, in and right back out, but like a bowl, by gathering reserves and only passing love on by overflowing. I've been trying to think of my energy that way - which I'm sure is exactly what my mom intended - and I think it has helped. I recommend it to you.
While we're on the topic, though, I do have some advice of my own for all you new Obies: acquire moms. I have moms in Oberlin whose wings I am always welcome under, and I can't tell you how valuable they are to me - Ma'ayan, who runs these blogs and has guided me around Oberlin, the real and the virtual, since I got here; Sandy, my first year seminar professor, who has been meeting with me ever since our class for no other reason than to talk (which not only helps to clear my head but is immensely flattering, because she's got a magnificent brain, and she seems to think that my brain is worthwhile too); Sonja Boos, a gracious, vivacious intellectual powerhouse who has left Oberlin as of this summer but will always be my role model for how to approach academia; and Elizabeth Hamilton, chair of the German Department, who has literally always made time for me when I've asked to see her and has been so helpful and supportive in those meetings that I'm actually getting a little teary thinking about it. I don't spend time with these women every day, but every time I meet them, my life is richer for it. They make me strong.
Seriously, new Obies, build relationships here - not for career-furthering, selfish motives, but because the mentors here are glittering human gems (or teddy bears or firecrackers or encyclopedias or just really freaking excellent). Seek help. Get moms. You may survive without them, but you're not gonna thrive without them.
And that's all I have to say about that. See you in a week and a half, younglings! Say hi if you spot me. I'll probably be on my way to meeting up with a mom, but I can always take the time for a hello.
Best of luck to all of us.