The Return

I took a break from this blog for a month in the hopes that it would help me focus on being at home and not always doing work. It worked and didn’t work. I was present in the warmth of Austin, TX, playing with the new puppy and our older dog Willie, baking copious amounts of cookies (that we sent off to relatives thankfully), meeting up with “old” friends, and spending lots of time watching old movies on TCM (enjoying that cable).

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I’m now back in Toronto and thankfully I have a few more days until classes begin. It bodes to be an even busier semester school-wise and this has been a much more difficult transition than I anticipated. Instead of trying to tell a cohesive narrative about my 3-4 weeks back in the heartland of Austin, TX, I’d like to list some things I think I learned, things I noticed were different, and take-aways from my sort-of time off the grid.

1) Gifts just weren’t my thing this year. I felt bad because my new friends in Toronto kept giving me presents. And don’t get me wrong, I loved all the thoughtful gifts I received from my family, too. But I didn’t truly buy any gifts for friends this year. Every time I thought about it, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. On one hand, this is because I’m broke as an international graduate student. But on another level, it’s because of this status that I’m just not privileging material goods this year. I’m not trying to be all high and mighty on my anti-commerical throne–it’s just what has naturally happened by the nature of living in a small apartment and knowing that anything I acquire might have to be packed up and shipped back to the United States at the end of the summer.

2) I love dogs. I knew this before I left, but at the same time, I totally forgot how much dogs= pure love. I got to share my family’s new puppy, Woodrow. I knew we’d bond as soon as he started responding to my voice over Skype in the weeks before I came back and I was almost happy that my mom had to work on my first night in town so I could spend 2 hours alone with him and Willie, just playing in the family room. They have the best toys now. And then on the flip side, I didn’t even allow myself to wake him up on the morning I left. I knew I really wouldn’t be able to handle it if I tried to say goodbye to him again. No offense family; it’s just that dogs love unconditionally and in such a simple, genuine way.

3) We’re not in college anymore. I loved going back to Houston to visit some of my other Class of ’13 friends and my mentor. I loved those conversations, learning about how my friends are coping with new jobs in the working world and other types of graduate school. I LOVED even more when some of those same friends came to visit Austin and I got to stay up late playing drinking games and/or watching Gilmore Girls into the early hours of the morning. But it was different. For one thing, if you’re still an undergraduate student at Rice and I didn’t see you I’m sorry, but I barely even allowed myself on Rice’s campus. It’s just over. That chapter of my life that I loved deeply is over and it’s painful to try and navigate the problems my undergrad friends have. There’s something different about this post-grad life that’s scary, exhilarating, and seemingly impossible and exhausting to explain to those of you not here yet. And then there’s jealousy. Jealousy that those of you back at Rice have a lot of guarantees in your life that I don’t. Mainly, I don’t know when I’ll get to visit with my Class of ’13 friends, my sister, and the rest of my family again. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen and that unknown could be exciting, but when faced with it over the break, my separation-anxiety-stricken self just couldn’t quite get over that fact.

4) I’m not alone. The happy side of that last take-away. Talking to my other alumni friends and even to the friends here in Canada that I’m reconnecting with, I realize that I’m not the only one struggling with the innumerable options and greater pressures of post-grad life. We all have our own anxieties and though it may feel like I’ve separated myself out to feel these things more, that’s not true in the least. I’ve taken on more challenges in some ways (graduate school in another country, moving to another country, winter . . .), but that doesn’t mean I have to keep taking those big risks to prove something, anything. My friends believe in me and have just as much confidence in my abilities (and sometimes more) as I do myself.

5) I miss the South. I sort of started to experience this while working on my design for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I just connected with the piece immediately. Living up here somehow also unlocked a play I’d been trying to write for years about my great aunt’s house in Tennessee. I might not be able to stay away from the South or the United States forever, but at the same time, maybe going away is helping me connect more deeply with “my roots.”

6) Reading is awesome. For some reason, I convinced myself that I had to read certain books for the first part of the break. Which meant that I barely read anything at all. By the end of the break I was going crazy (for many reasons), but I also realized this was because I needed quiet time with the right book. I don’t have the luxury during the semester of always picking what I have to read, but it’s a good reminder that if something isn’t working, don’t keep trying to make it work. And that some pleasures shouldn’t be over-planned and saved for later.

7) I’m really bad at turning off. I should have known this already, from every other break that I’ve had from school, but somehow the pressures of graduate school blinded me to this fact. It’s a holiday, a time for relaxation and not for getting ahead on all of my work for the new semester. It took me longer to relax and recuperate from the burn out that was the end of last semester. It’s time to strip the guilt away from letting email go fallow for 48 hours and letting projects percolate instead of constantly working on them. It’s time to stop comparing my work ethic to everyone else’s (especially since my mentor told me over the break that she remembers and deeply respects my disciplined work ethic).

I think that’s it for now. As I said, it was an emotional time of reunions and then goodbyes, returning to the familiar only to be reminded that I would be returning to the unfamiliar, and I’m still processing everything I learned about being back in Austin, TX. I don’t have any official New Year’s resolutions, but I would like to resolve to continue taking care of myself and listening to my gut as I learn more about where I am and where I’m going.

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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