I’m not sure how I made it to the age of thirty without hearing of the poet Rumi. Personally, I think this a basic flaw in our educational system. Of all the poets I have ever read, Rumi is by far my favorite. And today’s post is fully inspired by him.
I am not this hair,
I am not this skin,
I am the soul that lives within.
(No doubt, I have a college professor snickering at me for my poor referencing skills. This is a blog. MLA and APA shall be outlawed.)
I love the simplicity of this poem interwoven with deep meaning. I find there is a constant dialogue in the world about our appearance. Even those who want to de-emphasize its importance actually end up doing the opposite. I mean, if you have to teach me that my appearance doesn’t matter at all, then maybe you are not being quite honest with me. Appearance is influential, which can make it important at any given time.
I know what “they” are trying to communicate though. Your appearance is not all you are and this poem says the exact same thing, but in a better way. It seems poetry can do what a 60 second Dove commercial does too – and in less time.
For me, when I read this poem, I extrapolate. I am not the surly wife or disconnected daughter – I am the soul that lives within. I am not the college dropout or failed business owner – I am the soul that lives within. I try to respond to pretty much anything I dislike about myself or that I’ve failed at this way. I’m not sure its entirely effective 100 percent of the time, but what is?
Control Your Narrative
Control is one of the words that makes me cringe, truly. Yet, this is a phrase that I think people are hearing more and more. Despite that icky word, it’s an empowering process. Maybe they should change the phrase to “Participate in your narrative”. Yeah, not quite as memorable.
My best friend once saw a therapist who shared that we all tell ourselves our own story, regardless of whether it is the truth. When I said earlier that I was a college dropout – that was a story I told myself. Now, as a demonstration, I’m going to attempt to rewrite that story here in this blog post.
**Cracking knuckles. Stretching muscles. Let’s do this.**
My siblings were older than me and the dialogue about college was a constant in our home before I can even remember. My brother went to college when I was in fifth grade and we would visit him in the great city of Charleston, SC (seriously, my favorite). College was adventure, independence and growth to me. Those were the things I saw about college from a young age. My brother entered the Citadel as a boy. I remember him. He graduated as one of the best leaders I have ever met to this day.
Yes, college held the answers.
When I arrived on campus at Indiana University, a young inexperienced freshman, I would get stopped and asked for directions. Now, I’m a smiley person, but I also looked like I might actually know the answers to their questions. Most of the time I did or, if I didn’t, I helped them find it. I remember talking to my dad about it on the phone and laughing. I gave someone directions on my first day!
He was proud of me. He knew I was going to succeed. I was responsible. These were the loving things he said in my ear. I believed him. (Also, I have really great parents.)
I had been at college for all of six weeks when I started to feel claustrophobic. No, not in the traditional sense, but in a metaphorical, restless sort of way. Classes that were interesting at first, became boring. Quizzes, tests and papers seemed pointless. I remember turning in a paper and the teacher really liked it. She wanted to share it with the class. Then, she proceeded to give me a “C” due to incorrect formatting in my MLA citing (now you know why I hate that shit).
Maybe she was just a bitch. Maybe quizzes, tests and papers were pointless.
On a campus of 40,000 students, college felt small. I was depressed and stopped attending classes, reading, studying. I managed to pass with decent enough grades. As I looked at my courses for the next semester, I decided that maybe I just needed a class or two that would be more interesting, more challenging. My first day of class was spent outside my advisor’s office, waiting my turn to make changes.
I told her that I had hated last semester and I didn’t want to keep doing this if it was going to be so boring. She asked what I had liked. I said that I loved my Italian course. We decided to keep that one then. She noticed I had aced Spanish 375. Maybe foreign language was more of my thing than music. We added French, because it was applicable to some classical music. A way to test things out. She asked if there was anything else I was interested in.
Jesus, was my answer, because back then I was a religious zealot. We added Biblical Hebrew.
I loved it – Italian and Biblical Hebrew. French was annoying and to this day, I really don’t have a desire to go to France or know French at all. Yet, college still felt constricting and small. My depression was awful and I started going to the mental heath center regularly, without telling anybody, of course. My dad, as always, knew there was something “wrong”. I still didn’t love college. What was wrong with me?
They paid for me to move to a single person room that semester. Maybe I just needed some autonomy. They gave me a car so that I could go places when I wanted. They bought me basketball tickets. Yes, more than one! They bought them so I could take a few friends. They tried. I tried. I almost failed that semester.
(All of that support from my parents – they really are amazing people with lots of love. They just didn’t know what was really wrong, because I never told them about my depression or that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.)
Convinced that living off campus in an apartment would be better, I returned for sophomore year. I don’t even remember most of that semester. My good friend, Matthew, tried to encourage me – go to class, get out, do things. He was worried about me. I tried. I really did. I was so depressed. Again, I almost failed the semester. In fact, I got an incomplete for my vocal jury so that I didn’t have to do it until after break.
I came back after Christmas break and didn’t even bother going to any classes besides Italian. I even skipped my voice lessons. I wanted to die, but I told no one. The one bright shining star in all of it was my engagement to Jesse, who didn’t know I had suicidal thoughts either. I’m pretty sure that without his love, I would have killed myself that January.
It was the beginning of February, I was still lying in bed at 2 pm. I didn’t want to get up, because I was pretty sure that I would hurt myself if I did. My phone rang and it was my dad. I’m not really sure why I answered, because I was definitely not up for talking. I am so glad I did.
“Honey, I need you to drive home today.” He said. I sat up in bed. Someone had died, that had to be it.
“Why?” I said with alarm.
“Nothing serious, we just need to talk and I have a meeting so I can’t come down there today.” I wasn’t doing anything better so I picked up and drove the hour and a half home.
We met at a Paradise Bakery. It is still very vivid to me, as I remember it. He told me that he wanted me to dropout of college. I wept, literally wept. And then, I could finally breathe.
It felt like I was breathing for the first time in years.
Life moved on and I called myself a college dropout for the next 13 years, except when I took courses. Because I did take courses, many courses. I tried to do college in different ways over and over again, different career tracks, different methods. I never finished, though someday, maybe even soon, I might.
That is the story. How it happened. What happened when I went to college.
The Story I Tell Myself
College couldn’t contain me. I couldn’t be forced into studying ONLY one thing or even two things. I needed the freedom to breathe, to search and quest. And now, at thirty-three years old, I finally have found it. This writing beast within me that can’t be tamed. She’s a writhing, living thing that must be let out.
It has been worth every tear, every college loan, every disdainful look from my family, every moment of time spent in the cage – to set her free.
And I can finally breathe again.