Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Gods of Social Anxiety

I linger outside the classroom for a few minutes before making my way inside. I haven't seen my professor yet, so I don't know if she's in there or not. I'm apprehensive that I'm going to walk in on someone else's class, and I'm going to get looked at. Better just to wait.

I see another student go in through the opposite door, and I feel instantly vindicated. In I go. Much to my desperate relief, no one looks at me. No one even so much as glances at me--not even the prof. Just the way I like it. I find a seat on the end, so I don't have to climb over anyone else in case I need to leave, and I sit down. I must be in a class full of keeners, because I'm one of the last to arrive, and there are more than five minutes before the class begins.

I take a moment to look over the professor. She's young--probably no more than five years older than I am--and it strikes me that I am almost certainly the oldest student in class. I likely have more in common with the professor than with my fellow students.

Her hair is black, and she has neat bangs in the front. The back of her head is home to a sleek ponytail. At first, she seems almost unfriendly--she doesn't look at the class and doesn't smile. Until, that is, she starts to talk about the course and its material. She welcomes us to the class, and suddenly she can't stop smiling. She almost certainly loves linguistics--the course she's there to teach.

After a few minutes, she introduces herself. She is French, like most of the professors here, and has a beautiful French name to accompany it. I remember thinking that of my Spanish teacher five years prior. Katie Cooper Butland seems clunky and large in comparison. It doesn't even roll off the tongue when you say it. It gets stuck, like when you try to swallow an almond you haven't chewed enough.

It suddenly hits me that we may have to introduce ourselves, and I'm full of apprehension. I move my hand across the desk, made of shiny plastic resembling plywood, and notice a streak of sweat left from my palm. My heart is racing. Please don't make us introduce ourselves. What will I say? "I'm Katie. I'm technically a fourth-year student but I've actually been in university since fall of 2004. I major in English. I am English first language. This is a French university. What the hell am I even doing? I'm twenty-eight, by the way. I'm married. I'm a home owner. I gave up a full time management position to finish the degree I was supposed to get 5 years ago." If we're going to introduce ourselves, can we just say our name and that's it? Pretty please?

The Gods of Social Anxiety have smiled upon me. The prof goes down our names, and then hands out the syllabus. She isn't going to make us introduce ourselves.  My heart stops racing and I get comfortable in my seat. No one will look at me. I mean, other than for the fact I have blue hair.

A cursory glance at the syllabus tells me that we have three exams total and no projects. Perfect. That means I won't need to work in a group.

About halfway through class, I feel that familiar nagging urge. I have to pee. Why now? Come on. I peed before I left the house. I've only had a cup of coffee and a glass of juice today. I haven't even touched the tea in my travel mug. What if I have to leave class? That would be so embarrassing. Leave on the first class? No way. I would look so rude--I bet you anything the professor would remember me as That Girl who Left Class on the First Day. She wouldn't remember me for my bright blue hair, my orange coat, or my plaid top. Not at all.

Hazarding a glance at my cell phone in my jacket pocket, I see that there are only twenty minutes of class left. I should be able to wait that long. No problem. Relief, again. I relax.

Class is now over, and I have an hour and forty-five minutes to myself. Lunch time. I brought my own, and there's a microwave in the student room as well. I hope there aren't too many people, though.

There aren't. I remember days of the past, when I'd come in here to sleep on the sofa between classes. Now I'm bringing my laptop so I can do reading for the class I just took. The times have certainly changed for me--I never have been so studious. I know I have to do well in this class, though, so studying has become second nature for me, compared to when I used to have to convince myself to study a half an hour for the midterm I did none of the reading for. I've grown tired of being a crummy student. I want to succeed. It took me a five year break to discover for myself how I could do that.

I eat my lunch, headphones in, and relax quietly for a little while. I don't have to worry about anything right now.

Until my next class, at 3 PM, when I'll repeat this whole sorry scene all over again.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year, New Leaf

(Alternate title: This is not another post about Animal Crossing, so don't worry.)

It's 2014. And things are changing for me.

Sounds cliché, doesn't it? A lot of people take the New Year as a time for renewal and changes. Lots of people make weight loss or fitness-related goals for themselves in 2014. That's not a judgment by any means; it's merely an observation. Whether it's cliché or not, it's still a great opportunity to stop and look at where you are in your life and think of what you'd like to change.

I did this a little earlier--August 2013, to be precise. I was thinking about where I'd like to be right now and school really stood out for me.

I've been on hiatus from university since spring of 2008. I'd had 11 courses remaining, but felt the need to take a break for personal reasons. I just wasn't ready to be where I was and didn't know what I'd do afterwards, anyway. So, I took a step away to figure things out. I don't regret this at all. I had people telling me not to take too long a break because I would never go back. This year, I realised that I was running out of time, and that I had two options: let my courses expire and not finish, or go back and get it all done.

It was a tough decision, because both sides meant a lot of sacrifices. I'll never regret the time I took away from university because I learned so much about myself during it. I worked really hard, made a ton of new friends and acquaintances and even wrote a novella. I took a couple of courses over the last two years and earned higher marks than I had while studying full time, leading me further into the idea that I had learned enough to finally give it full throttle. Doing that while working full time was very difficult and it took a lot out of me, but I succeeded. I now have nine courses remaining. Nine. I have 5 coming up in January, then I'm hoping to take some intercession courses in spring and summer, then whatever is left to take in the fall. I will, finally, finish in December 2014. One year from now, I will finally have my degree. Better late than never!

I struggled with the need to make a change a year ago. I wasn't sure what that change was supposed to be and ended up not making a change at all in the process. I'm glad I didn't, because I don't know if I would have made this decision otherwise.

So, welcome, 2014. I'm glad to see you. I know I have a lot of resolutions that I really want to make this year, but I think I'm just going to keep it to one: focus on school. What's even more exciting is that after this degree is finished, I'll be free, and I'll be able to move on to other things without feeling like I'm half-doing something else.

Who cares if New Year's resolutions are cliché? Who cares if you don't keep them? Thinking actively about your life and what you can do to change it for the better is still a worthwhile exercise. Better to resolve, try, and not keep your resolution, than to do nothing at all. Better to be self aware and fix anything broken than to be ignorant, whether you perceive that ignorance to be bliss or not. Try, and, in trying, may you succeed.

Happy New Year.