Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lit Rehab: Learning after Education

You could say that my senior year of college was my first real experience with hitting walls that confronted and disarmed my reality, made me into someone I was not. It was a test of integrity between societal conformity and self-preservation, trying to find that crevice wherein I could link my passion with what I was forced to do, to dispel monotony and complete a task I normally hated in a way that I could bear it. Ah, academics. It was in these months that I would lose the thick of myself, the core of my passions tossed aside for the sake of a finishing line. Rather than enjoying reading, it became “how many more pages do I have until I finish this?” Rather than write freely, I tensely stared at the new open Microsoft Word document that glared me down like an executioner.

I realized my dilemma with reading and writing became an intricate series of cause and effects, about how dangerous and simultaneously safe the academic world is. While I love learning, and would certainly consider myself a scholar – I’ve always loathed school and many people can’t understand that distinction. But it was in that distinction I lost myself, to be redundant: I was trained in my Alpha Female fashion, in the way Pavlov would know best – every book became a bell hitting an internal alarm, every phrase sought an answer to an essay question. I’d propel myself towards projects, wanting to read numerous books when I only had time for one. As time churned away, my migraines increased and my patience decreased – and I sabotaged the things I loved for a grade, to keep honors status, to graduate early.

Did the ends justify the means?

It is months later, and my head is still reeling in tension, searching for a deadline that was once there yet no longer visible – a self-inflicted worry. Every book is latched to a judgment, a due date, worrying for my future every time I pick up a book. To turn the things I love into a verifiable career, master’s thesis, time is ticking – you’re 21 and you haven’t accomplished enough yet.

I remember how I sought books for their imaginative refuge - to make me whole, to fulfill the honest yet unheard parts of myself I felt were threatened that needed some sort of knowledge hearth to supplement the insecurity. I sought liberation. And I think of people I know in prison right now, famous people I’ve known of that have been imprisoned in the past, and even the fictional manifestations of this situation – real: Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, fictional: V for Vendetta. How literature serves as a tool for imaginative escapism at first, but eventually transforms into a mode for realistic escape – an empowerment, a tool for enrichment. It was in watching V for Vendetta that the irony struck me – how I became a prisoner in a different way, perhaps the way society would want me. Manageable.

For, besides reading troubles, the academic system had also managed to destroy my creative writing by destroying the source: my emotions became completely unsafe. By attempting to follow the system and get things done as quickly as possible, my emotions imploded upon themselves within my last year of undergraduate studies, and then slowly burned out more and more. I had realized that in order for me to get through the rest of college, I needed to stop caring.

My emotional schema has changed dramatically from the impact. I’ve become more aloof, solid, and motionless. Angry – direct and focused instead of bottled in and unruly. It cuts at the source of everything, but runs deep in every single capillary. I seek to micromanage my emotions, a simultaneously soft and jagged form of sorrow. I touch my emotions enough to know they’re there, but not firmly enough to unleash them. I’m not comfortable enough to share. I splinter off and carry the thought that my own dilemmas are my own and are useless for talking about unless others share the grief currently, unless it can be used constructively, for good and healing. I’ve retreated to a world that is as hollow as a clock, listening to the mechanisms churn while the surroundings change correspondingly. I live so quietly now. I do not seek to argue my life to others as I find it hard to justify my own notions – not because they aren’t valid, but because I know they are things no one wants to hear, and that they will bat it out of their heads because it makes them uncomfortable.

I let others live their lives as I live my own. I exist in a self-imposed solitude. Writing exposes vulnerability, seeks empathy – I keep a safe distance from both of those things now, and maybe that’s the dilemma, the incapability of wanting to describe the slow, dissolving crush of reality upon a tiny human, one speck in the universe, trying to make a positive difference upon our very humanity. And so I only argue the facts, the struggles worth fighting for more than the justification of my only life – I stand firm behind on feminism, and advocate for sexual assault survivors – these issues are bigger than me, and I will not let them be denied voices. Does this imply I’ve let myself be silence and denied? I’m not really sure.

John Gatto, author of “Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling”, would likely find this hilarious and perilous – a well-meaning girl who loves books and challenging authority can no longer read without getting stressed, and thus does not read. How I was regimented out of feeling and writing. How true education became dismantled, wherein learning became trite rather than rebellious, and facts fell into the background as I did not learn them. The standardization and regimentation became the perfect weapon towards dissolving me as it does other potential activists and radicals. In his book "Weapons of Mass Instruction," he argues the point that the current educational system is in fact designed to dumb us down. And arguably, many newspapers have recently reported the decline of creativity. It is not hard to imagine why: I can report firsthand that it’s hard to attempt the psychological unraveling of core anxiety responses. To now turn towards my bookshelves full of unread books and think: “How can I make you safe again?” It makes me nervous that they’ve been able to take away my books from me psychologically, make them inaccessible. So what is left?

“Lit Rehab,” I joke to a friend – a slow progression back towards the literary and creative extensions of my root passions and motivations. It begins slowly: I can now write personal blog entries… which is a step up from being stuck in the groove of academic papers (although very far from actual journal entries and creative writing), I can now read 6 pages of a book/a long article in a newspaper/other blog entries – which is substantially better than panicking and not even touching a book, right? I make minimalistic attempts, I remind myself to breathe. I dance, I sing, I try to imagine taking the world by storm, I tell myself: imagine their reactions if I was full of breath, if I was truly living through passions. How easy the rebellion in educating yourself is: the power I could bring to the world by educating myself on the things that matter to me most. I try to overcome the fear slowly – write a little bit everyday until the emotions kept inside unwind upon the page, pick up a book of quotes to read – small bites of inspiring witticisms to consume. It is trying to learn, once again, for learning’s sake.

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