It’s a New Year

This is the draft of the post I started writing in early September, just after the school year began:

Things I regret the most:

  1. Not going to state school.
  2. Not at least making an attempt to run cross country here (or somewhere.  Although, I suppose that doesn’t apply to my DI state school.)
  3. Not branching out more in my church-hunting last year.
  4. Not going to state school.
  5. Not appreciating/spending time with my friends/peers more when I had the chance.

Things I’m glad about/grateful for:

  1. My friends back home, even though I don’t get to see them very often.  It’s crazy to think that I’ve known the person who was essentially my biggest mentor in high school (and continues to be now) for more than four years.  Also that I’ve known my two best friends for fourteen and eleven, respectively.
  2. The new friends I seem to have found at a different church here.
  3. The prospect of a gap year after college!
  4. The fact that God drew me back to Him during my senior year.  It was an…interesting…year, but God knew what He was doing.

The best days so far:

  1. Forest Park Cross Country Festival (September 2012): I miss it.
  2. The day of TubaChristmas and WUPops Winter Concert (December 2012): So much tuba.  So much tuba.
  3. USATF Cross Country Championships (February 2013): Joe Newton spoke the night before, and then I got to spend the next day watching incredible athletes.
  4. Kristi’s thesis defense (March 2013): That moment when you realize that the place you work has become a little less like a place you go to and a little more like a place you belong (even if at the bottom of the totem pole).
  5. The last day of being on campus for the year (May 2013).

That was a little less than two months ago.  A little less than two months ago, I could list my positive experiences here last year on one hand.  This isn’t to say the rest of them were negative; most were just neutral, mundane, and otherwise forgettable.  I will admit that I had few to no friends.  I tended to go for periods of more than one day without talking to anybody but the checkout lady in the cafeteria.  As a result, the attitude with which I approached the new school year was one of dread–and perhaps a bit of fear.  I knew I could survive being here for three more years, but the prospect of three more years of mere subsistence was undesirable at best.

And then, when I arrived on campus, something was different.  I changed churches.  I have friends now.  (You can start to see this change reflected in #2 of the Grateful list.)  I talk to people–usually my church friends–pretty much every day.  The funny thing about them is that I knew all but one of them from outside of church before figuring out that they went to the same church (one was in my mandatory introductory writing class; one went to high school near me, and I met though mutual friends; one is in orchestra with me).  Moments worth repeating don’t happen every couple months now; they happen every couple days.  It’s not just the big things, either: it’s standing in the middle of the sidewalk and talking for half an hour at midnight; it’s throwing a football around with people who don’t know how to throw a football when we should be doing homework; it’s listening to my friends play guitar while I (attempt miserably to) play drums; it’s walking for thirty minutes to the grocery store with a friend instead of biking by myself in ten minutes just because we can, it’s being the only science-related major at a tea party full of art, architecture, and English majors.

In the Regrets list, I wrote that I wished I had spent more time with my friends in high school while I had the chance.  I’m realizing that if I’m not intentional about spending time with other people, I’m liable to hide in my room with my computer/my homework/a book.  I don’t want this to be my regret for college, too.

This post is clearly starting to dead end, so I suppose what I’m trying to say (aka, the TL;DR version) is that people matter.  So, act like it.

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“On Tents and Running and Other Stuff”

All freshmen at my university are required to take an intro composition class (the only exception being engineering students, who can attempt to test out).  Since it’s required for approximately 1500 students, the quality can vary greatly based on instructor, class dynamic, etc.  It has an annoying workload, but I happen to like my professor fairly well, even if his personality/sense of humor confuses me deeply at times.  I suppose the best way I can describe him is a cross between my high school world literature/AP language and composition and world history/AP European history/art history teachers, but more cynical, which I sense is more related to worldview than any inherent personality trait.  Regardless, he grades a lot like my world lit/APLC teacher did, so I feel like my writing capacity is at the very least being challenged, if not actively improving.

All to say, this is an essay I wrote for my composition class.  The curriculum is standardized to a degree across all the classes, so everyone writes a “personal essay” along with four other essay types plus a research paper.  Our assignment was to write a personal essay about a place we hadn’t been in a while.  Even though I knew it could go terribly wrong, somehow, I decided to write about running.  Thankfully, this one turned out alright (at least judging by my grade).  I actually ended up liking this essay fairly well, though–behind my athletics’ banquet speech, this is probably my favorite of my running-related composition.  So I thought I’d share it with you.

I know the ending is kind of tacky.  No, it’s really tacky.  (Especially the first sentence of the penultimate paragraph.  Oh horrors.)  I was clawing for depth/implicit meaning…and kind-of-sort-of failed.  That’s why writing about running is risky for me–I can’t always get beyond myself and find substantive meaning.

I did change a few things here from what I submitted, since some of the people involved could, hypothetically, stumble across this blog.  And not, the original title was not “On Tents and Running and Other Stuff”.  It was “Personal Essay”, which is redundant for a blog post.

After (what seemed like) a long walk from the school bus, I chose a suitable spot on the grass and told the boys to put the eighty pound frame down; I put the large, but significantly lighter, Rubbermaid box down nearby.  (Being female and older than all my peers had its advantages.  Namely, making other people carry heavy items I could just as easily carry myself).  I opened the white-topped box.  A slightly stale, musty odor filled my nostrils; old grass shavings filled the crevices and creases of the forest green tarps I began unfolding.  The boys tugged the cover off the frame and began expanding the metal structure, like a butterfly inching out of its cocoon.  Soon, a frame became a tent, tarps became sidewalls, and a grassy patch near the eleventh hole of a golf course became home for the next eight hours.  Cross country season had arrived.

In western Washington, every bona fide cross country team owns a tent.  Not to have a tent is folly: knowing it is going to rain in late October in Seattle is as close to knowing the future as any human will ever get.  Besides, on the occasion that it is sunny, shade is a pleasantry afforded by a tent’s canopy.  Regardless of the weather, it is critical to have a base camp: a place to hold team meetings, to use as a changing room, to sleep after races, for parents to convene, to store the mountainous assortment of spike bags, shoes, three-foot long foam rollers, backpacks, food, clothing, and whatever other personal belongs people managed to drag with them.

Our tent had been to Portland, Oregon, for a major national meet, to obscure state parks in the very western-most part of Washington for tiny twenty-person races, to fancy golf courses near Microsoft’s headquarters, to dilapidated golf courses near neighborhoods I wouldn’t enter willfully unless I were accompanied by body guards, to rainy dual meets at our home course eight minutes from our school, to sunny eastern Washington four hours away for the state championships.  The settings changed, but the tent always stayed the same.

Well, almost always.  One season, we had not been anchoring the tent to the ground because the base stakes had vanished into the abyss, also known as the athletics department’s storage trailer.  All was well—until one day, a strong gust of wind caught the inside of the tent like a sail.  Except, with three sidewalls attached, the structure acted more like the drag chute of a fighter jet than the sail of a yacht.  We watched, eyes widening, as the sidewalls billowed and the entire tent began lifting upwards and tipping backwards towards the thistle bushes behind it.  As we let out a collective “Whooooaaa,” vocal inflection matching the rising of the tent, we rushed to grab the legs.  Too late, the tent came to rest on its top.  Fortunately, no harm was done to the tent—but the coach did purchase stakes that week.  At the next meet, we conscientiously hammered iron garden stakes into stone-infested ground.  The winds came, and like the Big Bad Wolf at the second little pig’s house, huffed and puffed until it finally blew our tent down.  But because the tent was anchored to the ground, rather than merely overturning the entire frame, the wind actually fractured two of the metal beams, causing structural failure.  Needless to say, we had no tent at the next meet.  Even after our coach replaced the beams, the frame never folded down quite as nicely as it had before it was visited by the Big Bad Wolf.  Some things did change.

Even at that one tent-less meet, the single tarp we laid on the ground symbolized home, rest, safety.  You could fall down from exhaustion, gasp in pain, embrace teammates in congratulation, cry from disappointment, or jump up and down from excitement (if you had enough energy left).  We could relax, eat, and do homework in relative calm after our races.  We could gossip about other teams—so long as their tents were set up on the other side of the field.  We could leave our belongings unattended, guarded only by the unspoken, sacrosanct eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not enter another team’s camp or touch its property without permission.  According to my own team, the slightly less-menacing corollary to the eleventh commandment should have read, “If you mess with Joy’s stuff, she’ll mess with you.”  Thus, everyone who had items they wanted kept safe put them in my bottomless black Under Armour bag.  As a result, I accrued a collection of homeless iPod earphones, spike keys, and not-so-lucky socks by the end of each season.

But as much as it was a place of refuge and safety, the tent was a place meant to be left.  One year, the third runner on the boys’ team panicked in the tent thirty minutes before the state championship race was to begin.  He had fought through a difficult season of physical injuries and mental frustrations; compounded by the fact that it was his senior season, he froze and refused to put on his racing spikes or leave for the starting line with the rest of the team.  Rather than face the challenges and risks inherent to the course and its competitors, he wanted to remain in the relative safety of the tent.  The coach was desperate: the alternate runner was slower than the top two runners on the girls’ team.  After much pleading, commanding, and reasoning, the third runner eventually put on his spikes and left the tent, but not before badly unsettling the confidence of the team.  Though there were many other influencing factors, the boys’ team finished eleventh that year—they had been seeded between third and fifth.  The tent was a safe place, but not a safety net: it could not protect from fear or the failure that followed.

Rather than a security blanket under which to hide, the tent was a place meant to be left behind.  The tent was where we would prepare us mentally, analyzing race strategy; where we would prepare physically, stretching our muscles; where we would prepare outwardly, donning our racing spikes.  But after preparation, embarkation.  In this respect, the tent served the same purpose as high school.  High school is a safe environment to learn information and practice skills and study how to perform tasks.  In high school, failure has few to no true long-term consequences: you might receive a poor grade or even have to retake a subject—but compared to failing board examinations as a medical student or making an error on a patient’s case as a doctor, failure in high school is nothing.  Yet despite this level of comfort, no one wants to stay in high school indefinitely.  By the time students are seniors, if not sooner, most are usually anxious to leave the safety of the classroom: like baby birds ready to alight from the nest, they want to be challenged, they want risk, they want to prove that they can use their accrued knowledge in the real world.  Likewise, the tent was a place to grow, to practice, and to train—but not to stay.

Humans cling to what they know.  We know best what we cling to most.  In general, we act in a manner that minimizes vulnerability and risk and maximizes personal security and comfort.  It is this self-reinforcing cycle that can yield situations like that faced by our boys’ team: situations in which something, once considered safe, becomes dangerous.  The third runner was seeking what he thought was refuge by remaining in the tent—a constant, known entity in a setting of turmoil, energy, and risk.  But in reality, staying in the tent posed the greater risk: his actions endangered the success of the entire team, of all the effort committed to the season by six other athletes.  The tent changed suddenly from a safe haven to a death trap, like a seatbelt in a car underwater.  Yet, it is important to remember that the probability of drowning because you drove into a body of water and could not detach your seatbelt is much lower than the chance of dying because you crashed on dry land not wearing a seatbelt and were ejected through the windshield.  Thus, the proper response is not to avoid wearing a seatbelt because the car might crash into a lake, but to be aware of the potential, albeit unlikely, dangers associated with this safety device—and continue using it as it is intended.  In the same way, though our greatest securities can become our greatest menaces, we shouldn’t fear them simply because they exist.  Rather, we should use them—and respect them.

Two years after that calamitous state championship, I returned to the same golf course for my final high school race—for what I knew could be my final cross country race, ever.  After a long day of races, it was time to tear down camp.  First, the sidewall tarps peeled off to be folded (by the girls’ team—the tarps always seemed to fit back into the Rubbermaid box more nicely that way), then the frame collapsed, then the canvas cover coaxed back over the top.  Finally, we began what seemed to be an even longer walk back to the bus, the boys hauling the tent, me carrying the tarp box. What I knew and loved was over, the future, uncertain.  But I had no option to remain in the tent.  It was folded, covered, and soon to be locked in the storage unit.  My only choice was to begin, to go forth, to compete.  And thus, as cross country finished, something new began.

tentIn case you were wondering: yes, the backs of those shirts say “FTW”.  It was supposed to stand for “for the win”.  Our attitude towards the shirts/slogan was FTW–in the other sense of the term.  Not one of our coach’s…brightest…moments.

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This Is Not the End

This is not the end, this is not the beginning…
we’re holding onto something that’s invisible there…
Until we dead it, forget it, let it all disappear
Waiting for the end to come…
It’s out of my control
Flying at the speed of light
Thoughts were spinning in my head
So many things were left unsaid…
I know what it takes to move on…
All I want to do
Is trade this life for something new
Holding on to what I haven’t got
Sitting in an empty room
Trying to forget the past
This was never meant to last
I wish it wasn’t so…
What was left when that fire was gone
I thought it felt right but that right was wrong
All caught up in the eye of the storm
And trying to figure out what it’s like moving on…
So I’m picking up the pieces, now where to begin
The hardest part of ending is starting again
~Linkin Park, “Waiting for the End”

You might say I’m a control freak.  I’m a quiet person, never the sort to run for student council or be on a leadership committee (I tried once, it didn’t work out very well), but I like being in charge.  I like bearing myself with an air of confidence and a (slight) carriage of arrogance.  How much of it, though, is merely a façade meant to cover my deficiencies and insecurities?

Do you know what’s worth fighting for?
When it’s not worth dying for?
Does it take your breath away and you feel yourself suffocating?
Does the pain weigh out the pride?
And you look for a place to hide?…
When you’re at the end of the road
And you lost all sense of control
And your thoughts have taken their toll
When your mind breaks the spirit of your soul
Your faith walks on broken glass and the hangover doesn’t pass
Nothing’s ever built to last
~Green Day, “21 Guns”

Everything is changing.  I leave for university in less than 48 hours (Ahck!  I have to pack!).  So much of what I’ve built up in the past eighteen years is being pulverized to sand.  Relationships, places, ethos, memories, habits.  What of that which I have made has any worth, any inherent meaning?

Just because everything’s changing
Doesn’t mean it’s never been this way before
All you can do is try to know who your friends are
As you head off to the war
Pick a star on the dark horizon and follow the light…
Now we’re back to the beginning
It’s just a feeling and no one knows yet
But just because they can’t feel it too
Doesn’t mean that you have to forget
Let your memories grow stronger and stronger
‘Til they’re before your eyes
You’ll come back when they call you
No need to say goodbye
~Regina Spektor, “The Call”

Ground into sand, perhaps.  But what I’ve had and who I’ve been still exist, albeit in a state of metamorphosis.  Tested in the fires of the kiln of transition, some of the sands will survive, heated into white-hot liquid, one day to be cooled into burnished glass.

I’ve become who I am–confident and deficient, arrogant and insecure–not only because of the choices I’ve made, but also because of those who’ve surrounded me and the atmosphere they’ve created.

I’ve heard it said,
That people come into our lives
For a reason.
Bringing something we must learn.
And we are lead to those,
Who help us most to grow if we let them.
And we help them in return…
So much of me,
Is made of what I learned from you.
You’ll be with me,
Like a handprint on my heart.
And now whatever way our stories end,
I know you’ll have rewritten mine,
By being my friend…
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better,
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.
~Steven Schwartz, “For Good”

Thank you, thank you so much, to those who have touched my life in the past eighteen years, the past thirteen years, the past four years, and especially this last year.  Thank you for the times you’ve laughed with me and cried with me (metaphorically, anyhow, at least on my part), struggled with me and yelled at me, listened to me and talked with me, encouraged me and advised me; prayed with me and prayed for me.  Thank you for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself; thank you for covering my back when I couldn’t do so for myself, much less for anybody else in return; thank you for correcting me when I was wrong; thank you for loving me when I was a jerk; thank you for trusting me when I wasn’t trustworthy; thank you for letting me trust you when I was too afraid to trust anybody–and for not being offended when it was obvious that I didn’t trust you, either.

For my own lack of eloquence, perhaps the words of others best describe my sentiments.  I went out for coffee with a friend yesterday, and what she said encapsulates my vision of friendship: “I’m here for you.  I’ll be here to be quiet when you want, or to talk at you when you want.  No judgment, only love.”  And, though, I know it’s hokey to quote (what is essentially) a soap opera, in Grey’s Anatomy, Meredith tells Cristina, “I know you that don’t want to talk about it.  But I’m here, so I just want to stay on the phone with you until you want to hang up.  I’m here.  I’m here.”  I, for one, rarely want to talk about whatever the current “it” is; thank you, to those of you who have been my Meredith.

This is not the end
This is not the end of this
We will open our eyes wide, wider
And you know you’ll be alright
~Gungor, “This Is Not the End”

Things I Fear (Regarding the Next Couple Months…and Years)

Continued from Things I’m Looking Forwards To

  1. The logistics of moving halfway across the country.
  2. Meeting new people.  “Hi, I’m an introvert.”
  3. Finding a church.  After three years, I’ve finally settled down, and now I get to start again.  See #2.
  4. Regretting not running cross country/not going to a school where I could run cross country.
  5. Dying (figuratively) of stress/confusion/too much chemistry and physics.
  6. Not taking the right foreign language, or regretting not taking one at all, or regretting taking one.
  7. Regretting going to the wrong school and/or not going to state school.
  8. Not having a car when I come home.  It’s dumb, I know, “#firstworldpains” at its finest.  But it’s also true.
  9. ALL THE CRAZY SMART KIDS.  If two of my friends from school–the guy is the is probably the smartest person in the class and the girl is definitely the most competitive–got married, and then we threw in another one of my friends as the crazy aunt, the offspring of that family would be the archetypal population of my university.  Yikes.
  10. Money, and the lack thereof.
  11. Failure.  Not just in the sense of #5, either.

Things I’m Looking Forwards To

Continued from Things I’ll Miss.

  1. Not having to take literature courses.
  2. Playing in the community orchestra.  “Lord of the Rings”?  Broadway?  Video games?  Aaron Copland?  Heck yes.
  3. USA Cross Country Championships.  Enough said.
  4. Getting to take whatever classes I want.  Okay, not really, but physics and chemistry and math classes sound fun, right?  (Ask me again in three months…).  Really, though, “Phage Hunters” and  “Writing for Medical Students” and “Biomedical Ethics”: I’m excited.
  5. Joining the running and/or cycling club teams.
  6. More stuff, but since I’ve never done this before, I don’t know what it is, yet.

(Yes, I know, I ended the title of the post with a preposition.  Oh horrors.)

Continued

Things I’ll Miss

I’m leaving alarmingly soon.  Ergo, an uncharacteristically sentimental post.

  1. Driving to school towards the rising sun and Mt. Index, peeking through the trees, on early fall/late spring mornings, windows down, music up.
  2. My teachers.  They’re not just teachers: they’re mentors, Christians, cheerleaders, friends.
  3. Cross country and track.  The coaches who have been so much more than just coaches; talking about nothing and everything on the van rides with the girls’ team; the long meets; the feeling of lying on the infield in the sun after a 1600m; the practices (yes, even intervals); the feeling of collapsing into someone’s arms at the end of a race, teammates who; though sometimes few in number, have pulled me through so much.
  4. Being able to talk about God/faith in an academic environment that’s not composed of stereotypical “academia”.
  5. Knowing the area well enough that I can plan pretty much any conceivable running route to the minute.
  6. My peers.  I didn’t value them as much as I should have for the past thirteen years, and I’m sorry for that, but at least it made me eventually realize exactly how valuable they are.
  7. Scaled, non-curved grading.  Hello, Chemistry 111A; bye-bye, happy GPA…
  8. Smells: the cross country tent on the grass of some golf course covered in morning dew; my car; the whiff of my friends’ laundry detergent that I get when I hug them; the school; the bio/chem lab at school; track season (Tiger Balm + sweaty spikes + artificial turf + something mysterious).
  9. Redemption Church.  After three years of pretty much being church-less and about eight particularly challenging months this year, thanks for living, not just preaching, Christianity.
  10. Club Northwest’s 12k’s of Christmas.  By far my favorite road race so far.  Silly schedule.
  11. Hills and mountains and trees.

To be continued

The End

It’s been a crazy past week.

Three days of seven straight hours of senior projects.  (What I thought would be) my last track meet ever.  Last day of school.  American Idiot: The Musical.  Senior breakfast.  Graduation rehearsal.  Evening of honors.  Graduation.  Three graduation parties.  Church.  Three more graduation parties.  Two job interviews.  Praxis (Ironically, it was all the adults who looked like they were about to doze off, while my friend from school and I were quite awake.  I guess sitting in class for six hours a day does help with focus…).

All topped off with eleven hours of sleep plus a three hour nap.

It’s really weird; thirteen years of my life just vaporized over the course of about two hours.  All the relationships, the ethos, the little oddities and quirks about the school, the goodwill points with faculty/staff/administration–they’re all just memories now.  There are some people whom, most likely, I literally will never see again.  And it’s funny: I always assumed that when I graduated, I would be glad to get away from the people but perhaps miss the academic environment a little bit.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to miss the people more a lot more than I thought: my peers, some more than others, but especially some of my teachers.

Another funny thing: “real” adults want me to call them by their first names.  This seems incredibly awkward, and not just because my memory occasional fails and I cannot actually recall their first names.  There are some adults I’ve always called by their first names, and that’s totally fine, but for those who suddenly start signing their emails with their first name, presumably because they are no longer my teacher/coach/other-person-of-authority…it’s just awkward.

I guess the summary of this post is: I’M NOT READY TO GROW UP.