Heart palpitations are not an unfamiliar feeling for me.
I went through my “socially awkward” phase in high school (and certainly into my first few semesters of university, if I’m being honest with myself), but it took me years to realize that, perhaps, at the root of that phase was anxiety.
The word anxious is a double-edged sword. It can refer to perpetual worry, to nervousness, but also to the kind of excitement that sets hearts pounding. My grin is quick to take over my face, my laugh obnoxiously loud, but when it comes to feeling anxious, I more frequently associate myself with the first definition, with the addition of the heart pounding from the latter.
Summer vacation should not be a time of heart palpitations, but for summer vacations following graduation? It certainly is that time.
As an English education major, I always had a response to the question of “What do you want to do?” When I began to doubt that response, to wonder with a sprinting heartbeat whether or not I wanted that response to be my future, I tried to ignore my anxiety.
These feelings are normal, I told myself. Every future teacher has that moment when they question everything and question whether or not they actually want to teach, surely.
If I had trusted those feelings, trusted that those heart palpitations were simply trying to save me from future pain, where would I be? The idea that everything happens for a reason is meant to be comforting, but I live in the realm of what-ifs.
There is no comfort in what-ifs. What-ifs are infinite and are the number one cause of heart palpitations. I have lived twenty-two years of scientific research devoted to the study of this.
I have vague answers to the “What do you want to do?” question now. Publishing is my buzzword for these ears as I try to settle my heart that has no idea that life isn’t actually a series of one-hundred meter dashes. I am certain this is how my heart views life, at least based on the number of palpitations I count like stars in the sky. Publishing feels like the finish line, like I’m running for the same finish line that everyone wants to reach.
I have never enjoyed running.
There was a time when I thought that this made me quirky. That liking reading more than running made me special, but the last four years of my life have shown me that this is not the case—to assume otherwise is to live a life in ignorance of other people’s intelligences and interests.
I defined myself by books and still do. I define myself by the things I like (and have agonized for weeks over which stickers to buy for my laptop—how many Pokémon stickers is too many? What will Legend of Korra stickers say about me compared to Sailor Moon stickers?), and, recently, I have begun to define myself by what I write.
When I was an English education major (I type “English education major” with the same cadence I spoke this phrase in for years—to be anything but an English education major is living where dragons lie), I could easily define myself. I was a future teacher.
I am no longer a future teacher, at least not as far as I can skip a rock into the future.
(If only I could skip rocks into the future—if only they could return to me with messages from times yet to come. Perhaps these rocks would settle my heart palpitations. Perhaps these rocks would cause new heart palpitations.)
How should I define myself? is the question I currently face. I am a wannabe essayist, an accidental and anxious poet. I am an amateur, self-taught graphic designer.
I am an artist? I am a writer? It feels wrong to call myself these things.
I am a reader of books. I am a defender of Disney princesses. I am a student. Being a student is comfortable—I have lived the life of a student for twenty-two years, in as many guises as being a student comes in. I know how to be a student (the Ravenclaw in me is happiest being a student—the parts of me that long to be defined by facts other than my interests pinch me for letting something like my Hogwarts house define who I am).
I am a student of creative writing.
This feels like one of the truest iterations—or at least one of the easiest labels—of who I am, if I attempt to boil myself down like sugar and butter can boil to make caramel.
As a student of creative writing, I must read. Within the past month, I have been to two library sales (one twice) and no longer have room for all of my books on the shelves in my room. At these sales, I attempted to stretch my definition of who I have thought myself to be through books I would never have bought four years ago.
As a student of creative writing, I must read and write. The old adage of “you are what you eat,” in the world of creative writing, frequently becomes “you write what you read.” But what am I if I struggle to pin myself down to a genre? I devour young adult literature, have just begun to dip my toe in the water of reading nonfiction and poetry, and yet I would hesitate to call myself a fiction writer. Must I pin myself down to a genre? I feel as if must, as someone who’s thinking of the possibility of MFA programs, as someone who’s had her one-allotted quarter-life crisis at the end of her undergraduate program.
What am I? A fraud?
Who am I?
I am someone who is discovering their new dreams, and these dreams no longer include teaching at the secondary level.
This is palpitation inducing, but I find comfort in the fact that these palpitations will ease as I exist within the world of a student once the fall semester starts. Surely they will ease. I feel as if I need them to ease in order for me to begin to truly shift my perceptions of who I am.
One new dream—stop attempting to so frequently define myself and just exist.