It is nine o’clock the night before this is due and I’m just finally settling into the chair in the back corner of my house and opening a new document. You would think if I had learned anything in high school it would have been to plan ahead, to manage my time, to not procrastinate as badly as I do— I can’t help but smile into the steaming mug of tea clutched between my hands and chuckle at my self induced sleep deprivation.
I think as good as my intentions always are to get ahead, to study hard, to plan and manage like a perfect student, reality often comes up short and I end up either depressingly disappointed in myself or hyped up on about four shots of caffeine the next morning. It’s not that I don’t care about school or I don’t have the motivation to do any of it either, I really do. Every single day I sit through classes with my mind whirring on and on about what exactly it is I’m going to do when I get home. And usually these plans include grandiose study ideas along the likes of making a timeline for the entire US history course that I could stretch across the wall in my room and add to with post-its and sharpie as the year progressed or reading through the Bible as a piece of literature so that I might finally understand all the allusions that are made to it or maybe even drawing a life-sized skeleton on my mirror and labeling every one of those 206 bones it includes. I have all the good intentions of a closeted over-achiever, but when reality takes the wheel I end up where I am now, rubbing my eyes and staring at a computer screen during the wee hours of the night.
As much as I’d like to go back in time and do those things hand in hand with whatever class they pertained to, I know I can’t. And even if I could, I probably wouldn’t. I’d go back and end up doing just as much as I had to do, all the same things I had done before, while still daydreaming up elaborate ways to learn on my own which I would ultimately end up forgoing for an afternoon with my friends, the Daily Show, or more likely than not, nothing, nothing but sitting around and staring off into space for several hours.
But you know, that’s ok! In fact, that’s more than ok, that’s exactly what I was supposed to do. I wasn’t supposed to spend my summers reading textbooks or teaching myself calculus or memorizing Robert Frost poetry like I promised myself I would, I was supposed to spend them sizzling under the sun like a chicken on a spit, which is what I actually did. I think what I’ve come to realize is that high school education is not designed to be complete, it is designed to be introductory. We’re not aiming for depth here, we’re going for width. How many different subjects can you weed your way through? How many will you pursue later on? Really, to me it’s a foundation to kick off of. You’ve got to start building somewhere, and high school is just that beginning.
Now that I know that, I’m not quite so disappointed for not yet having read Common Sense, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Jungle, The Federalist Papers; it’s not the the end of the world just because I haven’t seen the photos from Riis’ How the Other Half Lives or researched all the many criticisms and commendations of string theory. It is enough that I learned of them in my high school classes and have been infused with the appreciation for them such that I can do all of those things post high school. So yes, I guess I can say I have learned what I wanted to; in four years we’ve graced the tops of almost everything I thought I would. My expectations instead falter in how deeply we learned each of those pieces. It seems like we’ve only been scratching at the surface even when I wanted nothing more than to gouge right into the material, although in retrospect, it’s probably better that way. I couldn’t have wanted to learn all these things if I hadn’t been given small “tester-sized” portions of them in class. And I think that’s the best thing I’ve gotten out of high school; not necessarily learning the material, but discovering it, and somehow still wanting more.
Throughout the years, one of my biggest struggles has been grappling with the differences between learning and education. As a child, I thought it was the same thing. But as I grew up, the two seemed to grow apart and more often I found myself sitting on the side of “learning” while watching my education go by, maybe not as successfully as I would have liked. Eventually it got to a point where I was so humbug about education (I can do this on my own, I’ve learned so much and look where it shows? Nowhere! Why should grades motivate me when they don’t even reflect what I know? You can’t tell me what to learn!) that I phooeyed it away entirely and decided that education was solely responsible for getting in the way of my learning, that it was a waste and I could live without it as long as I continued to learn on my own.
Ok, so that was a little extreme. But I think I had to see it like that for a while so that I could realize how wrong I was. Yes so learning is my first and only love, but education is like the buddy that got us acquainted in the first place. My heart will always be in the learning, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the education. At this point in my life, education has simply been that little push, that hand directing me towards a particular passion without pursuing it for me. From what I know of college, that changes a bit, I’ll be able to pursue what I choose and how I want to, though still the education is only the direction, not the full action. But in the meantime I’m really excited about taking the upcoming year off because I’ll finally have an opportunity to really immerse myself in the subjects I’m most entertained by— history, humanities, yes and physics (don’t ask me why I love it, I just do). And instead of being pointed towards a particular assignment and told that I need it to get some meaningless, phantom grade or other, I’ll finally have the chance to find my footing and forge my own path. Wow that sounds cliche, but really, for an entire year I can make all of my own decisions regarding what I should learn and how (I’m probably going to start with that US history timeline thing because… because I said so, how about that?).
Ok, I can’t just wave it all away like that. I did learn a lot of valuable things in high school. Not always on the education end of things, but in general. Hell, I wrote my whole graduation speech on the lessons I’ve gotten from high school; I learned how to search for myself, how to fall, how to try and try again, and I learned how to be. That’s an eloquently vague way of putting it, but I’ve just learned so much about myself and the world that I don’t want to put constricting boxes around it all. Surprisingly though, I think the most valuable lesson I learned was how to fall, and fall hard. Unfortunately, there’s more than one instance of this from the past four years, but I think the most poignant one was from the end of sophomore year because that was the time I fell all on my own, without being knocked over by some family problem or other. That was my problem, my mess, my madness and if I’m being quite honest here, watching it spill out all over everything and trying to clean it up? It sucked. A lot.
I think it began around the time I realized I wasn’t naturally good at Algebra 2 like I had been with Geometry. I probably should have worked harder, but all the homework assignments coupled with what seemed like a thousand other homework assignments for other classes— yeah, I felt buried alive. In quicksand. With great heavy bags of “insecurity” and “guilt” strapped to my ankles. I think the most characteristic quality of this whole time period was confusion, I was confused about who I was, what I wanted, and what I was doing here on earth. I felt like a complete failure, falling down, down, down (oh and did I mention I was also falling painfully and deeply in love for the first time in my life? That was not nearly as pleasant as they show it to be in the movies). But I’m so incredibly, oddly grateful for it. If anything, it shook me awake and taught me how to claw my way back up by finding strength where I didn’t know any to exist. And I’m pretty sure that out of everything I’ve learned— how to use the quadratic formula, calculating bmi, critically analyzing a passage— pulling myself together is going to be used most.
I’ve tried almost every method in the book to put myself back on track; music, jogs, singing, volunteer work, blogs, playing piano, novels, hikes, art, writing. I’d like to think that depression has made me a decently well-rounded, interesting human being. Silver linings, I suppose. But what has been the most important to me, at least consistently, has been writing. I can’t stop myself from writing most times, and I end up scribbling blurbs of poetry into the margins of all my notebooks. My walls are covered in butcher paper and slabs of balsa wood to catch all the words I throw onto them. I’ve made it somewhat of an art project; I experiment with font and typeface and notice how beautifully letters stack on top of one another. People ask me why my walls look like that, but I can’t imagine writing for any other purpose than because I have to. Because I like the way different words convey different things, but sometimes you can use the same words because it sounds pretty or feels right, and that’s really the only way I write, by instinct, by what feels right coming out of my black pilot G-2 pen. I think it’s always been like that for me, I wrote my first “story” when I was seven just for the heck of it. I don’t need any other motivation than myself.
I think that’s another important thing that I’ve learned; self-reliance (thank you, Emerson). This year especially, I’ve been given the independence I’ve felt all along and I’ve simultaneously come to a point where I actually really like the person I am. Going through high school I spent so much of my time hating myself and worrying about what everyone else thought of me. But here we are at the end, and I no longer care who likes me (or hates me, for that matter), because I like me, and that’s the only approval I need. Again, this sounds cliche, but I’ve gone over this in my head several times and I don’t know how else to express it. I’m really excited about moving on from high school, because I can see how much of a grasp I’ve got on my identity these past few years. Now it’s up to me, and only me, to decide who exactly I am and how I want to continue my life.
I don’t know how to reply… I don’t know who this is. If it’s any consolation, I don’t want to keep anyone. I have no intention of staying with one person for forever (at least at this point in my life). That’s probably not much consolation, but just so ya know.
Nothing cleans out your mind quite like the salt spray of the ocean,
the consistent waves drowning out the sounds of your worries
and the strong tides shifting and shaking the doubts out
from right under you. You can count on it.
Count on the sea to filter your thoughts, sift through the muddled madness
and pull only serenity, peace, contentment from its depths.
Well if sugar-coating is false sweet talk born of exaggeration,
then salt-coating is genuine simple talk, unmasked, only magnified
and real. As real as the salty swells in my mouth, as real as the current
of the ocean waves, as real as the sand wrapping around my sinking
feet, and the sea simultaneously burying me and saving me.