Ah, Southern Illinois summers. The days are hot and sticky, the woods are green and lush, and time seems to lose all meaning. Granted, having a job has given my summer some structure, but I'm still having trouble believing in the measurement of time. Is it Monday? Do I go back to Oberlin in three weeks? Is 9:00am an inappropriate hour for pie? Who knows...time is a foreign concept to be re-evaluated only when I am forced to be academically productive once more.
Not that I've had a vastly unproductive summer--I've learned about bacteria, traversed Utah, Wyoming and Montana, explored the forest that is my backyard, and eaten an embarrassing amount of pie. My most productive accomplishment, though, has been a bit more abstract-- learning about myself. Wow, I kind of hate how cheesy that sentence is. If it were a sentient being it would be covered in glitter and "good job" stickers. Eh, whatever, this entire post will probably end up being a bit cheesy. Regardless, the sentiment is true. Having time back in a grossly familiar environment has actually made room for a lot of personal growth...but I'll talk about that later. First: Bacteria.
So, this summer my entire understanding of what I want to spend the next three years (three? Is time real?) studying has been flipped around. For the past 3 months, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work in a lab of microbiology at Southern Illinois University. Oh, and, elephant in the room--no, I am not from Chicago. I am not anywhere near Chicago. This part of Illinois is so vastly different it may as well be another state. But I digress. Working in the lab has been great--I've learned so much more here than I could have in a classroom setting. Still, I'm not sure science is the thing for me. See, I have this wonderful (?) problem where I tend to enjoy anything I put my mind to, which can be pretty confusing when people ask me what my "thing" is. A couple of weeks ago, while listening to a linguistic podcast and cleaning my room, I realized a) I'm a nerd and b) I'd like to study something that I would spend my free time studying for fun. And while I definitely think learning about the biphasic developmental cycle of chlamydia is intriguing, unfortunately, I don't think I'd like to spend my free time cloning plasmids into cells.
I want to know words and to know people, past and present. I want to study culture and language, and admire the scientific discoveries of others from afar. Or at least, that's what I want now... don't hold me to it, I am immensely indecisive and subject to change. Still, I'm certain I harbor a vast love for words and creation, and have for some time. I'm hoping that if I hold onto that love, I will find my way.
That's really what this summer has been about for me--holding on tightly to the things that I love and separating myself from unnecessary negativity. Going home after spending a year elsewhere is weird--seeing people that were once close to you and the way their environment has changed them is beautifully nostalgic. I was part of a very large, tightly knit group of friends in high school and, oddly enough, most of us were back for the summer. Despite our closeness, being amongst old friends felt... different. Not that I love them any less, it's just interesting seeing the aftermath of personal growth and change without being there to watch it happen. Oberlin has changed me and will undoubtedly continue to do so, but you know what? I really like myself and the person I'm becoming. I'm really happy.
Looking back on the beginning of freshman year, I see that I let myself be ruled by fear. I was uncertain about the things I did and the things I wanted to do. I felt defeated by my course work and social interactions. Living independently is hard. Making friends is hard. Feeling completely comfortable and confident in a new environment is hard. Plus, I was in a toxic long-distance relationship that made letting go of home more difficult. But I think it's very normal for freshmen to feel lost and make some subpar life choices--I just didn't realize it at the time. (Honestly, I think it's normal to feel lost and make subpar life choices at any point of your existence.) As a result of this feeling of defeat, I stopped doing the things I love most. I didn't draw, I didn't write, I didn't sing. In an environment where everyone is awesome, I didn't want to mess up or seem out of place. Thankfully, by the end of second semester, I realized that sheltering myself from the things I love due to unwarranted fear was actually doing more harm than help, so I stopped. I wrote a song. I made new friends, and became closer to the ones I already had. I doodled on everything. I felt like I belonged.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is that it's a very universal and normal thing to feel out of your element when thrown into a new environment. Sometimes these feelings pass quickly, and sometimes it takes time, effort, and conscious self-love to dig yourself out of a rut. Being cognizant of the things that make us happy is important, and trying to do those things even if they can initially be scary or overwhelming is important. By the end of the year, I found that sometimes the feeling of fear is ultimately scarier than the fear itself. Of course, I'm not trying to speak for anyone's experience besides my own, but I know I would have appreciated reading something like this in the past. Even now, I continue to remind myself that sometimes self-love is Netflix, but sometimes it is trying new things, or continuing to improve at old ones. Staying stagnant is not a solution.
Some Things I've Been Doing That Make Me Happy
- Pushing the limits of my brain in lab. Although I do not want to pursue a career in science, I am thankful to have the ability to begin to understand the research I am partaking in.*
- Writing songs! After 8 months of refusing to even try to write a song because I was under the impression I wasn't good enough (whatever, past Radia), I can't stop making music.**
- Painting strange faces on t-shirts.
- Exploring the woods that are practically in my backyard. We live by a really beautiful national forest that I never before appreciated, so now I try to hike at least a couple times a week.
- Spending time with my beautiful wonderful best friend. Some people experience great love and loss in their life, and I think I've experienced at least one, but I'm not sure if many people are blessed with as great a friend as Kayla. I'm so thankful for her kindness, compassion, and ability to make sense of my thoughts even if I don't have the right words to express them.
- Moving my body and eating fresh, organic produce. Exercise and spinach do wonders for the mind and soul. I feel so much more alive.
- Reading. So much reading. Articles, books, the backs of cereal boxes. Reading also does wonders for the mind and soul. I'm currently in the middle of One Hundred Years of Solitude, and have a feeling this is the type of book that will change my life.
- De-cluttering my life/Dancing. I can't clean without at least dancing a little bit. My current two favorite jams: Wait for the Moment and Elevator Operator
- Getting to know my little brother. We went on a family trip to Yellowstone this summer and it was so nice seeing how he's become an actual person. I mean, he's always been a person, but now he's 13 and is so smart and great and ugh. Lots of feelings about that.
- PIE! There's a cute little shop called Rule of Pie about 15 minutes away from my town that serves the best damn pie that has ever existed. But only on Thursdays and Fridays, so it's become a weekly event.
The last three months have been great. I'm taking care of myself and working my mind. You should too. Happy Summer~!
*For all you microbiologists, in case you were wondering, we are studying Ser/Thr/Tyr phosphorylation in chlamydia to understand its role in regulating differentiation between EB and RB developmental forms.
**If you wanna check out my music: x
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