Higher Education: Summer Break

Barbara Jwanouskos lives it up while she can.

This summer is an anomaly that will probably never happen again. What I mean by that, is that for the first time in, what, 15 or 16 years? I don’t have a job-y job and my main duty is to write. It’s so strange! Some days I don’t know what to do with all this summer break freedom because it can be really tempting to not do anything at all. And boy does doing nothing take up a lot of time. I mean my schedule could be packed with it.

People ask me what I’ve been up to this summer and in my mind I kind of struggle and go, “????” When I really think about it, I’m amazed that I’ve even attempted to get anything done. To be honest, I spent a good month trying to wrap my brain around the whirlwind schedule of school last year. I feel like I woke up after a really bad accident where I blacked out, and I looked around, grabbed the nearest person, and said, “what just happened?! Where am I? What year is it?!!!”

After I’d gotten over the initial shock – that I had indeed finished a year of grad school – I looked around the broken down, wasteland of summer, and realized my fight was not over. Ohhhh, no… You see, I lost a lot of parts of myself last year that I really wanted to get back. I had all these good habits when I set foot on Pennsylvanian soil with my hands on my hips and an I-can-do-anything attitude. I woke up every morning with enough time to stretch, eat, and do meditation writing. I minimized my caffeine, sugar, and cheese intake. In a given week, I worked-out hard for seven hours on top of about six hours of walking around town. I used to make myself meals and save my money. I used to write on the train. Man, Year-Ago Barbara was a well-oiled machine.

And then, the school year happened. I pretty much did the opposite of all the above, except that writing and reading replaced everything that wasn’t class time. Sometimes, I slept. And I sure did eat a lot of chocolate croissants and coffee! Woo! (#noregrets) In short, I lost a lot of the habits that made me feel like a sane, whole person and replaced them with putting-out-fires habits. Survival mode.

In June, I started to remember my past life. “Wait, I’ve been here before… is this Theater Pub?” I started engaging in conversations with others again (albeit awkwardly). “Do you want to hang out or something, I don’t know, never mind, you’re probably busy, I feel so stupid, why am I still talking? Call me!” And I got some of my habits back, like writing in the morning, working out, eating/drinking things that don’t make my body turn against me.

I’d forgotten that I could write. In remembering my past, I remembered some of the creative injuries of the past year and I started to get scared that maybe I wasn’t actually evolving, but devolving. When you come out of a really difficult period and you’re standing on a plateau looking at the sheer cliff you’ll have to scale next, it can maybe be a little daunting. During this time, every word I’ve committed to writing down has become extremely expensive because sometimes I only have a few that I can afford to part with in a day. Words used to come more easily. I’d have millions of them in my arsenal to meet the demand. The summer varietal words, however, are extremely hard to come by, they are such a rare breed in this garden. I have to nurture whatever decides to grow for me.

In July, I started creative physical therapy. I’ve started to try more and push just a little harder. Go a little further. I started taking a lot of the pre-writing work I did in May and June for my thesis play, and developing it further, into a little play embryo. It’s coming along. When I used to think about it, I’d get really overwhelmed because a draft of it needs to be completed by the end of summer. It’s not that I have writer’s block all the time. I think it’s just that the writing comes in these really vivid flashes, which translate only into a couple minutes on the stage. I look at the page count on my screen, hoping to see a number more like 45, when it’s really more like 15. Ha, the reality is that even a page or two sometimes takes a couple hours. I look at the clock and my page count and I’m like, “man! What am I doing wrong??”

I feel like it’s okay that my writing pace has slowed down a bit for now. I have confidence that it will pick up the more that I record these little snippets of play. I see a reaction here, a look on someone’s face there, an argument here, a confession there, but it is not in order at all. It’s not linear. Often times, I don’t know what comes before or after these flashes that I write.

It’s an interesting thing, writing at this pace. Mostly, because it feels manageable and unintimidating. I sometimes read writer blogs or talk to people for inspiration, and I get frustrated because everyone says, “just write.” Yes, I agree with you, but how do I get over this fear that it has to be really good? Or that I at least have to write a lot? Well, “just writing” doesn’t work for me.

What works for me is writing small, possibly shitty snippets that I know are true to the story – at least for now. I often times reach a stopping point sooner than I’d like, but the good thing is that I am entirely exhilarated while I’m writing it. The best part is that I feel that while I’m writing whatever flash popped into my brain upon the page, I’m getting closer to the seeing the big picture. And that is a very satisfying feeling.

So, we’ll see what August brings. I’m actually really optimistic. I’m out of the creative wheelchair and am starting to use the creative cane to walk. I’m mending fast and hopefully, I’m creating even stronger habits for the future.