in which I compare myself to a centaur

If I had a nickel for every time I was told that being a student was the best time of your life, I would have enough nickels to have paid in full for those very expensive best years1.

And yes, I am the first to admit, being a student is great. Being a grad student is better. You immerse yourself in something you are passionate about, study it, improve yourself and expand your knowledge about it. You surround yourself with people who push you, and compete with you, and make you better.

But at my age, being a student also presents some difficulties. Namely, limbo.

Now what I mean by limbo is that, as a student, I exist in a state where I occupy two spheres. A piece of me still lives in childhood, in the way of life I have always known, namely relative comfort and financial stability where I could afford to spend my limited funds exclusively on social engagements. But another piece of me has slipped out of that world, and trespassed across the borderlands into adulthood, where suddenly nobody is giving me food or a place to live.

And really, it’s not that one is better than another, or even that one is easier2.

What bothers me is where I am right now – stuck in a weird half-way point that is simultaneously neither of them, and also both.

Some examples:

  • I’m tired of calling my parents to ask their permission before commit to an apartment, but I’m glad they’re there to go over things when the landlord emails me the lease.
  • I’m tired of my parents going over my debit card statements, but when they offer to give me some financial support, I don’t say no.
  • I’m tired of tired of working jobs that aren’t my profession, but I don’t feel ready to commit to a real, full-time job yet.
  • I’m tired of sitting in classrooms learning about the work I’m someday going to be doing, but I’m terrified of the day when I’m actually doing that work with the possibility of real failure at it.

So as you can see, limbo is a state of perpetual dissatisfaction.

Right now, I have virtually no money, yet I am participating in a lifestyle3 that requires spending a great deal of it. That lifestyle dictates I live in an expensive city, and that I pay a lot for my education with money I do not have. I have a good job, but at 20 hours a week, I’m not exactly rolling in the dough. You see? My life is one giant contradiction.

Sometimes, I feel like I am shouldering the burdens of both an adult and adolescence. My weight feels twice as heavy because not only do I have to do things like pay bills and file my taxes, I have to learn how to pay bills and file my taxes, all the while trying to swallow the feeling that I am too young to be worrying about paying bills and filing my taxes. It’s not just the weight of a new responsibility, but it is the pressure of having to learn and have it perfect without practice.

Which makes me wonder – all those days in public high school, when I spent hours of district-required credits getting dodge balls thrown at my face or learning how to balance a chemical equation, where was the class where they teach you how to not freak out the first time somebody hands you a lease? Where was the class about learning to grocery shop in a way that didn’t end in overpaying for milk and then throwing it out a week later because you can’t drink it that fast? Or what to do when you’re living with crazy people who eat your ginger snaps, or what to do when the money runs out, or how to keep yourself on task at work when no one’s looking over your shoulder. Why the hell was I wasting space in my brain on syntax and differential equations4 when there were so many scarier things I needed to be learning about?

This is not meant to be a poor little rich girl post5. I appreciate my middle class upbringing, and the support my parents are giving me to help me get where I want to be. All I’m saying is that there are some days – many of them – when I resent the duality of my current state in life. I do not want to be half child, half adult – I don’t care which I am, I just want to be something, and know what I am. It’s like being a centaur – half of two things, but neither of them. And nobody likes a centaur6. I do not want to be half student, half professional. Half reliant, half self-sufficient. I want to stop walking the line between dependence and independence and stop feeling like a fraud in both worlds.

I am tired of being aspiring. I want to be.

  1. I’m not sure how the government feels about paying off student loans in nickels. Hold on, let me get back to you on that.
  2. It always bothered me as a kid when adults said kids have it easy, because really they don’t. Maybe they don’t worry about mortgages and debt, but they have other problems that in their world are just as earth shattering. As a writer of children’s lit, it should be no surprise that I subscribe to this category of thought.
  3. By which I mean grad school.
  4. That’s a thing, right?
  5. Only two of those words describe me, and they are not ‘little’ or ‘rich.’
  6. Speaking of things that are half animal half human, once at NPR during a table read for Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, the staff indulged in probably a good hour of discussion about the reverse mermaid, which they named the fishtop. They were all hysterical by the end of this. And I just remember sitting at the end of the table, thinking, “These people are the finest of American media.”
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3 thoughts on “in which I compare myself to a centaur

  1. Dude. That sixth footnote makes me INCREDIBLY jealous. Sigh…

    Methinks you’ve already done enough cool stuff that I think you can consider yourself a grownup. But even at thirtysomething, I still keep one foot firmly in childhood. It’s possible to navigate both, and to indulge in the best of each world; it just takes practice. And take heart–you won’t always feel like you do now!

    (P.S.: For my Spanish lessons I write a story every day that incorporates the day’s vocabulary and grammar instruction. In one story, Peter Sagal was even more excited to meet me than I was to meet him. Obviously this was a work of fiction…)

  2. Billy says:

    As I read this I though of a passage from an E.M. Forster book (I think), though I can’t recall which one (maybe Room With a View), he likened “life” to a musical recital where you get to practice and perform at the same time. I have thought a lot about that passage over the years and after reading your blog, I think I may have finally understood what he was trying to say.

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