Post Mortem

Last week I visited Rice University.

If you’re a Rice University young alum, you’re probably saying: “You were a week early!” To which I’ll reply, Not this year.

When I graduated almost two years ago, I thought I’d be dying to return and re-live the glory of Beer Bike morning, the only day I can think of when college kids not only wake up at 4 and 5 a.m. but gleefully and loudly do so. Waking up to “Hells Bells” and racing down to the sun deck to paint up and dance with all my friends … I do have very fond memories of Martel on Beer Bike morning.

But I never imagined that I’d get invited back to Rice University as a guest artist and example of a successful English major. Definitely not so quickly after graduation either.


I’ve been working hard in 2015. I script coordinated an amazing show at Tarragon Theatre, which meant getting to know a German playwright and her English translation of Abyss, a play which has been playing in repertory in Berlin since 2009. I’ve been working at the house as a mentor, which is rewarding (as this article demonstrates) but also exhausting. As much as I love living in a house and hanging out with my housemates, it’s difficult to create work/life balance when work is at home and I’m still trying to build a career to support myself.

I forget it a lot, but I actually am listening to my own New Year’s resolution advice: surrender to thrive.

I thought my return to Rice would feel odd, like so many new students and events had changed the place since I last walked through the Martel College sally port and across the main academic quad to the English Department offices. Instead, it felt eerily similar. When I ate at my college servery (cafeteria or dining hall for non-Owls), I could feel myself slipping back into the same patterns. I could see returning to those same haunts and acting the same way I had two years ago, before I worked to save money, moved to Canada, and completed graduate school. One of my friends said it was a place filled with ghosts and she was sorry if she’d invoked any of my demons accidentally.

But that wasn’t what frightened me, not really. I saw the same ambition and drive I did when I studied at Rice University. The constant competition to be better, to do more, to make not only better grades but to make personal careers zoom forward with more extracurriculars and leadership positions, another internship on top of 18+ hours of class. That frightened me because I began to feel those same pressures tugging on me again–and realized that I never really pulled away. I still put too much pressure on myself, assuming that everyone around me works as hard as Rice undergraduates do and piling on as many simultaneous tasks into my schedule as is barely possible.

Even as I was speaking with students as a graduate, a supposedly wiser and more experienced member of the “real world,” I could feel myself comparing and starting to tick off how much more I needed to achieve.

I’d really like to break that cycle.

Not because I want Rice students or myself to achieve less, but because many of us are already driving down that path. We’re already plowing deep into the direction of our goals. We have to give the world time to catch up with ourselves, listen to those gut feelings that say, “This is the right place. Work here. Wait here. Breathe here.” We need to have confidence that we are talented enough and that trusting in that fact doesn’t mean we’ll sell out or become air headed arrogant assholes; it just means we might be able to enjoy the unknown just a little bit more–and outlast anyone else who gives up for easier plan b.

When I was managing coordinator of the Rice Players, we had an under-appreciated tradition after every show. After the set had been struck, the cast party thrown, and the hangovers appeased and faded, we held a post-mortem. As young theater students learning how to run a company, this meeting meant the difference between repeating mistakes and making new ones with the next production. I don’t know if any of my fellow Players remember these meetings, but they are what I thought of when I boarded the plane to return to Toronto.

This year, my classy "beer bike."

This year, my classy “beer bike.”

Speaking to a playwriting class at Rice University and speaking at the English Department’s Career Con was my post-mortem. I can lay the old parts of Rice University to rest–the partying, the blind joy of living within those hedges, the madcap competition to suffer the most–and remind myself of the accomplishments: The Failures, a senior thesis project including the beginning drafts of at least four of my plays and two of my first screenplays. Friends who have given up on the competition for collaboration. Mentors who continue to invest in me not because I’m paying tuition or actually read for class, but because they still believe in the work I’m doing and the integrity I possess.

I didn’t get to say everything I thought I wanted to say to those Rice English students. But I think I said the words we needed to hear: if you’re here, if you’re reading this, if you’re thinking about where you want to go and what you want to do, you’ll figure it out.

Thank you, current Rice students, for reminding me of what’s important and what success I am already making of myself. I promise to let the old and present mistakes fade. I’ve already mourned.

Post-mortem. Time for new mistakes.

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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