Back from involuntary hiatus.
That’s what it feels like ending this past semester, this past academic year–like coming up for air after nearly drowning. You may or may not (probably not) have noticed this blog has been inactive for months (so inactive its domain expired) and it’s the longest I’ve gone in nearly two years without blogging. So, in that time what has happened and what have I learned?
In short I’ve dealt with a combination of intense academic learning, stress and anxiety, and health issues (hooray for my first ever ER visit). For the first time I really grappled what it might mean to die, and it wasn’t much easier even after I figured out I wasn’t dying. My key takeaway from this three-month episode, besides having a better work-life balance, is to know one’s story.
One of the few things I learned in my psychology course was that stories stick–much better than facts. I don’t have to say much to back this up; just see the news, the fake news, and whatever fits into the story already in our heads.
I finally got around to watching the People v. OJ Simpson, which repeated this theme. The prosecution had a load of evidence against OJ, but there’s a scene in which Johnny Cochrane, after deciding his team will point to systemic racism in the LAPD, says something to the effect of “they have a strong case, but we have a story.” We all know how the case turned out.
Near the end of the semester I got feedback from a professor on a presentation I was going to give to the class. He emphasized again and again that I needed to be absolutely clear about the story I was trying to tell, rather than get caught up in the details that, on their own, didn’t have meaning. I did a lot better after taking his advice.
I’m not a stranger to stories. I’m writing one right now, and I went to my first writer’s conference about a month ago. I had the nerve-wracking experience of pitching my book. I cobbled together a verbal sell in the days leading up to the event, and there, sat down with two agents. I knew my story and the rest followed. I was successful in both pitches.
There have been dark moments this year as I’ve slipped into anxiety and flirted with depression, moments in which I wondered, What if this is the end? They called for me to assess what my life meant–what the story was. And I realized the story’s about adventure, to countries around the world. About attacking real world problems through a public policy focus. About the small, encouraging victories of getting published and getting opportunities to be published. About the chill moments with friends between class and homework and about the deep talks that make meaningful relationships.
In tough times like these it’s crucial to know what your story is. I’m going to live for more of this kind.