graduate school, sober lifestyle

Passion


You can take the girl out of English class, age her a few decades and put her through the wringer of trying to earn a living wage with the written word, but you can’t take the burning passion for English class out of the girl!

Safe to say I was totally in my element Tuesday night at Delaware Valley University’s annual Student Writing Conference, where I went to read one of my early-2022 blog posts, plus a short snippet of an even older piece that I struggled to slice and dice into a 100-word “Tiny Memoir.” (I only made it down to 126; shit, it’s tough being your own editor! 😫)

I attended the event to “celebrate writing” with classmates and kindred spirits, and just to soak up as much of “carefree” grad student life as I can before “the real world” hits — again — next semester in the form of an unpaid counseling internship that will usher in my second career transition in the past four years.

I was probably the oldest person in the room, besides the professors running the thing, and yet I was acting much like the 1990s tween/teen who sat riveted at a Park View School/Niles West High desk while Mr. Paulos or Dr. Graham led discussions of great literature and the art of storytelling.

Once a “try hard,” always a “try hard”…

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Silence


I enjoy running immensely — I mean, who wouldn’t, with this (👀⬆️) beautiful, soft, flat nature trail at their disposal? — but I am by no means a runner. Come to the Delaware Canal towpath on any Sunday morning if you want to witness the clear contrast between regular, middle-aged schmoes like me and the real deal.

I mean, besides the obvious difference in speed and overall physique, I’ve got music from a carefully curated playlist blaring in my ear buds. I will slow down or even stop, if I need to adjust said music. Serious runners don’t mess with those types of pedestrian creature comforts. They motor through the miles in steely silence.

Me, vs. Them:


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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Intermission

There are some things you never outgrow — I mean, I suppose you could outgrow them, if you snapped out of your unconscious stupor, got off your ass and put in some effort, but that would take…you know, effort. So, in some ways, I’m still the restless little baby who pitched a hissy fit every time an adult set her down and she had to stay stuck in one place for any length of time.

Knowing how much of a psychological game-changer it was for me to learn to walk, and how much movement has meant to me over the subsequent four decades, maybe I should take this master’s degree I’m earning and become an “eco therapist” who leads her clients on nature hikes. 🤔

Anyway, I think the fact that I sat relatively still through entire 3+-hour classes, all school year long, without completely melting down, is at least a small sign of maturity. And I didn’t knock anyone over, bolting for the door at dismissal time…I only shoved the occasional classmate out of the way when they took too long to clear the aisle!

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Release

Just a few more steps until it’s 3 YEARS! 🥳

One of the many strange things about me is my schedule. For example, I consider it “running late” to arrive at my local high school track any time after 5:30AM on a weekend morning, and by that point, I’ve most likely been awake for at least two hours, doing school work and/or yoga while awaiting the daylight.

I don’t even want to tell you when I usually go to bed.

This past Saturday, there was already someone else at the track, jogging laps with a visible sweat ring around the neckline of their T-shirt, when I pulled up. Nothing wrong with that, except it prohibits me from engaging in other strange proclivities, such as singing out loud to my workout playlist as I run.

I’m back to doing that again — under the right circumstances — now that I’m 35 months sober.

I find myself belting out lyrics at the top of the hill at Tyler State (when the sun is just rising and it’s still deserted), or out on secluded patches of the Delaware Canal path (why does a biker always come out of nowhere when I think I’m alone and catch me, mid-bellow? 😫), and I wonder where all this lightheartedness is coming from.

Even “normal” behavior, like cranking up the stereo and carpool-karaoke-ing as I drive to class on Thursday nights, feels a little weird.

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Perfectionism

The professors made it clear: Even though they’re given a 1-to-5 scale to evaluate student performance in each semester of DelVal’s Counseling Psychology grad program, getting a 3 is the actual goal. That rating is labeled “Adequate” on the official form, but it means you’re A-OK. You’re on the right track, exactly where you need to be.

In fact, if an instructor wants to give you anything higher (better) or lower (worse), they’re required to include additional comments that explain why.

If that sounds fair, reasonable, acceptable…I envy your level-headed perspective.

I’ve spent my whole life chasing 5’s, and telling me I’m “Adequate” sets off short-circuits in my head.

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Experience

The student finished reading his personal narrative, and one of the English professors running the panel commended him on his closing paragraph. “You see a lot of young writers struggle with endings,” she said, “and yours was really strong.”

I wanted to yell out from my seat in the audience: “YES! Endings are SO HARD! Even for OLD WRITERS!”

The moment kind of reminded me of sitting in an AA meeting early in my sobriety and hearing someone talk about the alcohol-induced anxiety attacks that hit like clockwork every day at 3AM. It’s one of those things that everyone in a certain group of people goes through, but you think you’re the only one, and when someone else brings it up, you’re so relieved to know you’re not alone.

You’re hit with this feeling…like, you’re finally home.

That’s how I felt at the Delaware Valley University Student Writers Conference last week. Not surprisingly, I was the oldest one there — by quite a large margin — and from what I could tell, the only grad student. But art knows no age, and one of the first things you learn in studying this particular art form, other than “know your ending before you begin,” is to “write what you know.”

I was super impressed and inspired by the undergraduate authors all around me — like, to the point of tears. But let’s face it: When it comes to knowing stuff, I blew their little butts out of the water. I’m a 43-year-old recovering alcoholic in the midst of her third career transition (and second month of unemployment), for Pete’s sake! If life experience is a key advantage in the writing “game,” this “competition” was not a fair fight.

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Performance

Imagine a precocious little girl in a homemade, red plaid dress with matching ribbons in her shoulder-length, sandy-blonde hair (she has bangs, so clearly this is a flashback from long, long ago), and white anklet socks and brown top-siders on her feet. She is marching in the door with a good — in fact, near-perfect — report card, her whole body tingling in anticipation of that intoxicating hit of parental approval she knows is forthcoming.

That girl is me. Did you guess? It’s funny I chose to paint that exact picture, because the outfit was from first grade, when I had…let’s just say, “social adjustment issues,” that led to regular trips to the principal’s office and my teacher installing a special study carrel in the corner of the classroom to keep me from being disruptive.

Legend has it I was doing somersaults one day on the carpet in the back of the room that was supposed to be for, like, naps and storytime and docile 💩 like that. 😳

Explains a lot, right?

I ended up killing it in all the academic subjects, to the point they put me in the “gifted” —sorry, “enrichment” — program, but my conduct left something to be desired. Read on to see just how much has changed! 🤣

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Compensation

This week has been all about making up for lost time. I don’t know if one can actually do that, without injuring themselves…but dadgummit, I’m trying!

It’s like every moment I’m awake, I want to cram it to the brim with activities I enjoy. I want to take full advantage of my freedom and experience life on my terms!

So, I’ve basically been walking/running around Bucks County like a madwoman for days on end.

When I entered Tyler State Park on foot Friday afternoon, eyes fixed upward at the pure blue sky (when they should’ve been checking the path for those little round ankle-killers that fall from the trees 😬), I’d already run from Washington Crossing to Bowman’s Hill Tower on the canal path earlier that morning, then flowed through my usual yoga program on my deck shortly after breakfast. On Thursday, I walked in the park twice, in addition to working out in my basement and doing another hour of yoga. On Wednesday…

OK, Jen; they get the point. 🤐

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