education or happiness

education or happiness

I’m taking a child development course here in Denmark, and let me tell ya, I am LOVING it. My instructor is great, the material is interesting, my classmates are nice. It’s rare that I find a classroom so inviting. Over the course of my school career, I’ve had a weird fluctuating relationship with my own education. And something I often find myself explaining is this: I hate school, but I love to learn. Now, both of those statements aren’t necessarily always true. There have been plenty of times when I loved school. And there have been plenty of occasions where I had no interest in learning. (Golf is boring, okay, I don’t understand how it works and I really don’t care).

I loved school when I was a kid. Of course I did, I was smart and I did well and I was a suck up and all the teachers loved me. What wasn’t there to love? I remember feeling weird because my favorite part of the day wasn’t recess or P.E. or art class or music class. It was reading or social studies, and before algebra and chemistry crushed my soul, I even loved math and science. I didn’t mind doing homework; sometimes I even enjoyed it. I loved to learn new things and I loved getting grades back that told me I was smart. My family encouraged this, of course. And up until middle school, I was a happy little nerd.

But then sixth grade punched me in the face, and suddenly school wasn’t as easy anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I still made straight A’s and most of my teachers still loved me, but suddenly I had to try a lot harder, and my sixth grade math/science teacher was a mean old lady who never smiled and always scared the crap out of me. I found myself in a place I hadn’t before: I didn’t love school anymore, not as a whole. I had an amazing language arts teacher who introduced me to poetry and I met my best friend in that class and we spent all of our time writing angsty preteen poems. I loved going to the library, but I hated doing my homework. I read my social studies textbook cover to cover, but I only skimmed through my science textbook to fill in the homework each morning before the bell rang. This pattern continued throughout middle school.

High school brought a whole new set of problems. Honors/AP classes, dance, dance team, a million other clubs, volunteering, part-time jobs, driver’s ed, making friends, sleeping. There wasn’t enough time for everything; but I had to do everything. I had to have a license so I could get from school to dance, to work. I had to have a job to get my license. I had to be in clubs and I had to volunteer for college applications. Good grades weren’t good enough, I had to make the best grades or I wouldn’t get into a good college and I had to go to a good college. I found that high school was a million times harder than middle school and it extended far beyond the classroom.

But I also found some amazing teachers that pushed me and supported me and invested in me. I had dance team coaches who taught me how to lead and how to have fun while doing it, and I had a french teacher who constantly cheered me on, and I had a math teacher who explained things in a way that made sense to me and almost made me stop hating the subject (almost), and I had a theater teacher who treated every single person he encountered with kindness and respect and who told shy, quiet Allison to hit the road, and I had an english teacher that made me laugh but also made me work for my grade, harder than any teacher had before, and I had a librarian who believed in me more than I believed in myself,  and I had a creative writing teacher who gave me a space where I could bare my soul and know that it would never come back to bite and that it was okay to not be okay all the time.

Despite this, I still suffered. I did everything, and I suffered for it. My grades did not suffer, my grades could not suffer. I learned to function on very little sleep and a whole lot of stress and anxiety. And I guess you can say that it worked out. I made almost entirely straight As (trust me, I cried when I got that first B) and I had great ACT and SAT scores. I got into a good college. I might even argue and say I exceeded expectations and got into a great college. But I graduated with a very different attitude than I had when I started school: mainly, I hated it. Like, it was a struggle to make myself go to class every day (an endeavor that I actually failed regularly my senior year) hated it. Like, I was not looking forward to four more years of school regardless of where it was hated it. Like, I don’t know how I didn’t have a major mental breakdown in the hallway once a week hated it. Senioritis is one thing, but I was miserable at school and even the classes and teachers I loved didn’t make it any better.

I approached college as a new start. Maybe I was just burnt out and a new environment would help. It turns out a new environment didn’t really help. While I was excited about all the new classes I was taking, I was quickly bogged down with the workload and homesickness and social anxiety. And so the cycle continued. I loved reading literature and learning history, but I hated sitting in philosophy discussing hypothetical situations and I hated butchering french pronunciations in class every day. I loved doing the readings, but I hated taking tests and writing essays.

Which brings me back to this class I’m taking now. We were discussing standardized testing (which I detest) and our teacher told us how Denmark didn’t score as well as they thought they would when compared to other countries. She made the comment that many Danish people were upset about this and in their defense, they said something along the lines of “we might not have the best test scores but our children are happy.” And I was floored. Because I was always taught to put my education first and my happiness second. I followed this philosophy to a fault until very recently, when I discovered that doing so was seriously detrimental to my mental health. But even still, it’s like it’s ingrained in my brain: education first, then happiness. If I do anything that goes against that I feel immensely guilty and lose most of the satisfaction anyway.

I have always suffered in order to excel in an educational setting. I’m sure I’ll keep doing so, to be honest. I am a firm believer that college is not for everyone. Because if I didn’t love to learn, if I wasn’t passionate about studying, if I wasn’t so fiercely dedicated to a future grounded in higher education, it would not be worth it. I would have quit a long time ago. America’s education system is flawed in many ways, and pushing children to choose that broken system over everything else, no matter what, is what I think is one of its biggest flaws.

I was lucky to find beacons of light, people who nurtured my love of learning and who taught me more than what their curriculum told them to teach. But I was unlucky enough to get caught in a system that prizes measured success over personal growth and forces you to chose between things like getting a good grade and getting enough sleep. And it made me supremely unhappy. So, the question is: when does it stop? When you get into a good school? When you graduate? When you go to grad school? When you get a good job that pays well? Or maybe the question is this: does any of that matter if you’re miserable the whole time?

Hell if I know.

 

 

welcome to copenhagen

welcome to copenhagen

I am writing this blog post from my room in Bispebjerg Kollegiet (I can’t pronounce it either). I made it to Copenhagen all in one piece and all by myself! When I got to the airport Sunday afternoon, I was pretty anxious about the whole situation. But somehow, the whole process went very smoothly and I didn’t get lost or freak out and cry and call Linda for anything (an amazing feat for me). The first leg of my flight was a pretty chill 9 hours; excluding the bit where this cranky old lady freaked out because the guy sitting beside me leaned his seat back and intruded upon her “personal space”. She yelled “I’m 82 years old and I don’t deserve to have to sit like a fricking pretzel!” at least three times. Rude. But other than that, a very calm flight. And my second leg flew by in 2 hours and suddenly I was in Copenhagen.

And oddly enough, I managed to socialize almost immediately. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I’ve found myself talking to other humans with something akin to ease ever since I got here. Now, I won’t lie, it hasn’t been completely easy, but definitely less difficult than usual. I’m happy that I’m not being my usual hermit self because it turns out that when you leave your room, you actually meet really cool people! And they’re nice too! Wild.

I’ve explored a tiny bit of the city, and we took a boat tour this morning that was really cool. Copenhagen is a really interesting city and I can’t wait to learn more about it. The public transportation (while a bit confusing as all the words are Danish and I don’t speak Danish) has been fairly straight forward and accessible. I’ve been to the grocery store where I faced the challenge of reading Danish labels and trying to figure out Danish money. I bought some cereal and milk, some pasta and tomato sauce, and some bread and pb&j. Even in another country, I stick to the basics. I’ve eaten at the Hard Rock Cafe in Copenhagen (we were starving and the menu was in English, ok), and at a vegan cafe called Hope. I visited a pretty cool Lego store. I’m excited to see more of Copenhagen.

My class met for the first time today and it was amazing. Our instructor is very friendly and laid back. She also seems really passionate about the child development and education, which means that she’s going to be a great teacher. There’s going to be a lot of group work, which I’m actually looking forward to. My classmates all seem like cool, smart people and I think working with them will be a fun experience.  I can’t wait to start diving into the material and doing the field studies. It’s going to be a challenge with the language barrier between us and the kids, but I enjoy challenging work. I’m also really looking forward to our week-long study tour in Helsinki! Finland’s education system is amazing, and I’m stoked to get a close-up look.

All in all, I’m just really freaking excited. I don’t think I’ve ever written a blog post with this many “really”s or exclamation points. Despite very little mental preparation for this trip and the preceding weeks of depression and uncertainty buzzing around in my head, I feel like I’m in a good place right now. Mentally and physically.

 

drive

drive

I haven’t written in a while. I’ve been struggling to find time, and when I do find time, inspiration. Not that there’s a lack of things for me to write about; I have no shortage of feelings I need to work through, believe me. But lately, I’ve found it difficult to put into words exactly what I’m thinking. I know this feeling well. It’s like writer’s block, except it extends past my writing and into my every day life: in simple conversations and common interactions. I know what I should be saying and how I should be acting, so I say those things and attempt to act normal. But it all feels forced. I feel as if I’m faking it.

The other day, someone said I was acting distant. And they were right. I feel distant and disconnected and a lot of other things that I don’t know how to explain or tell anybody that.

Yesterday, I was home alone for a few hours. I felt as if I spent another second watching TV or reading or mindlessly scrolling on my phone I would scream. But I had nothing else to do, nowhere to go, no one that I wanted to see or talk to. I impulsively got in the car and started driving, with no destination in mind. I didn’t pay attention to where I was going, except to intentionally turn down roads I didn’t recognize. Driving down the winding country roads under a grey sky, I began to talk. I talked like someone else was listening and I didn’t stop until I was at a stoplight and I realized I wasn’t in the middle of nowhere anymore. I was back in Gastonia, on a road I have driven down countless times. Despite my best attempts, I had not gotten lost, nor had I gotten very far away from where I started.

I kept driving through my hometown in silence, but the anxiety in my chest continued to grow. Finally, I stopped at a gas station and bought a pack of gum to have something to do and I sat in the parking lot and chewed through half of the pack before I started the car and headed home. As I was turning onto 85 to head back to Kings Mountain, my phone buzzed. I had a text asking about cat food and litter and suddenly the weird floaty feeling I’d had all night left and I was firmly back in the “real world”.

So I went to the store to buy cat food and cat litter and I picked up some movies I’ve been wanting to see from Redbox. Then I picked up Justin from work and we went out for a late dinner. And everything was normal. My anxiety abated, but I know it’s not gone, just pushed to the back of my mind. And I’ve decided it’s time to start writing again, finally, after weeks of ignoring my laptop and journals. I don’t know why I feel so out of place and helpless lately. But writing has always had a way of pulling me out of my own head and making me see things a little clearer. Just after writing this, I already feel a bit lighter. So, writing is good. I already knew that. Sometimes you just gotta drive aimlessly for a couple hours to remind yourself how to feel things. Or maybe that’s just me.

identity

identity

What is this week’s blog post about?

It’s about something that’s bigger than me, or any single act of legislation. This is about a matter that should be of the highest importance to every American.

My hair.

(Sorry, gotta quote Legally Blonde whenever I get the chance.)

Let me back up and just say that I love dramatic hair change scenes in movies and TV shows. Those cliche, staring in the mirror, angrily chopping off all your hair with rusty scissors as you cry scenes? I love them. I LIVE for them. I mean, I guess they’re kind of ridiculous. How can changing your hair fix anything? It can’t really, but I mean, I totally get it. You’re freaking out, things are falling apart, you’re grasping for something, anything to make you feel like you have some control. Sometimes, your hair is the only thing you have.

There’s a reason I chopped off several inches right before second semester of my sophomore year in high school. And there’s a reason I ditched my usual brown shade a year later. And there’s a reason I got a bob before I went to Stanford. And there’s a reason I dyed it purple a few weeks into my senior year. And there’s a reason I shaved half of it off two days before leaving for Yale.

When things are changing, when I don’t know what to do to express how I’m feeling, when I feel like all I want to do is be somebody else, the only thing I’ve ever been able to do is change my hair.

So second semester of sophomore year of high school, when I didn’t want to be the girl who’s mom died in September, I got the shortest haircut I’d ever had. When I didn’t want to be the shy little girl who’d been mooning over her best friend for years, I dyed it orange-red. When I wanted to leave the awkward, quiet girl who didn’t know how to make friends behind in NC, I sat down in a salon chair and told the stylist to chop it off and to give me some layers. When I came back home and realized I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile who I was now and who I wanted people to see me as, I let Mikaela take me to her stylist and I asked her to give me a daring shade of violet. And bangs.

And when I was days from leaving everything I knew behind and starting a whole new chapter of my life, I sat in a salon chair, staring at my reflection as the stylist gave me the trim I had asked for, and I knew it wasn’t enough. I could not arrive at Yale looking like the same old Allison I’d always been. It shocked me and the girl holding scissors when I caught her gaze in the mirror and said “Actually, can you shave it?” I closed my eyes when I heard the clippers buzzing. When I opened them again, my hair was gone, and I felt like the same person. But I sure did look different.

And now, I’m growing my hair out. It tickles my collar bones when it’s down, gets caught in my bra straps and tank top straps sometimes. I have brown roots separating my weird, reddish brown messy hair from my scalp. Sometimes, when it won’t stay out of my face, I have the urge to get rid of it, go back to that super cute bob I had in high school. But I know I won’t. Because I haven’t let it be in such a long time; I haven’t let it grow since middle school.  I’m definitely not the person I was in middle school. But I’m also not the girl trying to escape her mother’s death, or the girl trying to shake an “are we, aren’t we?” stuck-in-limbo high school relationship, or the girl desperately waiting to get the hell out of her hometown and never look back, or the girl not knowing who she wanted people to see her as, or the girl wanting to be a different person entirely.

Who am I? I’m not entirely sure. But I know that I can’t forget what got me here, and that I don’t care what people see me as, and that changing my hair will not make me a different person. But it’s fun to pretend sometimes.

This summer, I think I want to be a beach bum with no responsibilities and no cares in the world. That, unfortunately, can’t happen. But I have an appointment with my stylist soon. I’m thinking blonde.

 

 

 

phone home

phone home

The past couple of weeks, I’ve had a lot of trouble focusing and feeling motivated to get anything done. The first week post-show is overwhelming because suddenly, I have so much free time. Unfortunately, I have spent the majority of that extra time lying in my bed, staring at the ceiling, with this heavy, sinking feeling in my chest. Eventually, in the middle of last week, a rush of emotions just hit me in the chest as I was sitting at dinner, and I had to scurry to my room before anyone saw the tears welling up. Tears, I can handle. I’m a crier; it doesn’t take much to make me tear up. But as I sat on my bed, crying, I felt panic rising up in my throat, and I knew that it would not be a normal cry, and that I would be hyperventilating soon if I didn’t calm down. But, that knowledge only freaked me out more. How do you talk yourself down when the thought of having to do so is causing you to panic even worse?

So I did the only thing that I could do, the only thing that made sense: I called Linda. Because I always call Linda and she always knows what to say to give me perspective, to calm me down, and to make me feel like I have some control over the situation. After crying to her about literally everything that has had me stressed out, she did exactly what I knew she would and told me all the important things I needed to hear. Ever since that conversation, I’ve found myself going back to what she said and I want to share the wisdom. There are 3 important things that I took away from our conversation.

  1. You are only this young once. She kept telling me: “You are only 20 years old. You do not have to have your entire life planned out, and even if you did, it wouldn’t matter because life never happens how you expect it to.” I know this better than most, but the reminder was needed and welcomed. While it is important to think about the future and do things to prepare, soon I will not have the freedom to do whatever I want whenever I want and I should take advantage of this freedom while I have it. Before I graduate and get a full time job and suddenly am a full-fledged adult with a bevy of responsibilities.
  2.    The worst time to make a decision is when you are upset or stressed out about a bunch of things at once. Focus on what’s the most important, and leave everything else be until you can devote the attention it needs to it. Sometimes, the best decision is no decision. Sometimes, you just have to wait it out and see how you feel about the situation when you’ve had some time to take care of other things and clear your head. It’s okay to push something to the back burner and not think about in order to prioritize bigger problems. You don’t have to deal with everything at once.
  3. If you love someone, you can’t try to change them. You can’t love who you want them to be, or who they could be, or who they are going to be someday. You have to love the person they are right now, without any exceptions. If you love them, you have to accept every part of them.

So, like I said, I was freaking out about everything. But Linda always knows what to say, and Linda is always right. Her advice has never led me astray before (and she’s been alive for like 700 years), so I feel pretty confident that she knows what she’s talking about. And by the time I hung up the phone, the panic and tears had subsided. I washed my face and did my homework, and everything was okay. And everything is okay. I feel better now. I just have to keep telling myself the things written above, and I feel okay.

 

road trip pt. 2

road trip pt. 2

It’s been so sunny and warm and nice outside lately, and let me tell you: my productivity is shot as a result. You know the opening scene of High School Musical 2 where they’re all whispering summer at an increasing speed and the clock at the front of the room is getting bigger and bigger? (If you don’t, you should. Quality movie.) Well, the inside of my brain is like that, except everything is on fire and I’m rocking in the corner, sobbing uncontrollably. Summer. I cannot wait for summer. The weather is not helping; this is happy spring time weather, not sad school work weather. This is the weather spring break deserved.

Speaking of spring break, I never finished the story of our spring break road trip. I think I stopped somewhere around Pittsburgh. After Pittsburgh, we headed to Louisville, away from the snow storm that was chasing us. In Louisville, we stopped for dinner at a little bar that was having “Service Industry Night.”; meaning we walked in, made plates, sat down and ate, and walked out. Free food, cool atmosphere, cold weather, but a good night.

We headed out of Kentucky the next morning to get to Nashville. Once we got there, we went on a tour of The Grand Ole Opry, which is pretty cliche and tourist-y, but also really freaking cool. As a country music fan, I was in hog heaven. The amount of history in that building is amazing and I was so fascinated and kind of in awe at all of it. We even got to walk onto the stage and stand on the famous wooden circle that was moved to the current building in 1974 and survived the major flood that hit Nashville in 2010. I was only standing on it for a couple of seconds, but that couple of seconds was emotional for me.

You see, I get my love of country music from my mom. And after walking through the Grand Ole Opry, all I wanted to do was tell her everything I had seen because she would have loved it. I can’t think of a person who would want to hear about it or see all the pictures I took more than my mom. Standing on the stage was crazy because I remember watching grainy TV images of all the people my mama (and as a result, I) idolized stand on that same stage. It’s such a small thing, and not a particularly unique experience, and yet, for a few seconds it felt like my mama was still alive.

And after it was over, I called my aunt. Because I couldn’t call my mama. I tried to think about other things, but for the rest of the day, I had this uneasy, nervous tension because I knew I wanted to talk to my mom and I knew I couldn’t. Living with that is hard. Everyday, I think of something I want to tell her, and no matter who I tell those stories, I still feel like I have this unfinished business that I can’t take care of. Writing helps, but it doesn’t fix it. It’s been over four years since I’ve been able to call my mom and talk about my day. I miss that daily phone call more than I can even describe. It’s a constant dull, ache in the back of my mind that never goes away. But in a way, I’m glad it doesn’t. I’m terrified I am going to forget her, but this weird sense that something is out place or missing has followed me constantly for four years now; I don’t foresee it leaving. And even though it hurts, it reminds me that I used to have a mom who I loved so much and who loved me enough to answer the phone every day without fail, regardless of what she was doing, even if she was going to see me in ten minutes.

It’s a reminder that she was really real; the more time passes, the more she feels like a dream. There’s this great Ed Sheeran lyric from his new album: “A heart that is broke is a heart that’s been loved.” The pain I feel at her absence is what keeps her memory alive and makes her real. I need that, as weird as that may sound. Without fail, her memory sneaks up and punches me in the stomach when I least expect it, like when I’m standing on the Grand Ole Opry stage with my friends, laughing at something stupid one of them said. And I’m thankful for that.

 

if I’m not dancing with you

if I’m not dancing with you

Last week, I spent countless hours in a theater with 17 girls, preparing for our spring show. Saturday night, before our final performance, we stood in a circle backstage, holding hands (right over left). Each one of our six seniors said something to the group. I knew that this moment would come, and I had expected to be sad. I did not expect the waterworks that I produced however. It’s strange: I’ve known these girls for less than two years, and yet, the thought of them leaving breaks my heart. I can’t imagine not seeing their beautiful, tired faces each Sunday morning, or never learning their choreography again, or never taking a pre-sow selfie again.

I am overwhelmed by how dance–no matter where I am–always connects me to the most amazing people. I recently told another girl in Groove how I would be insane without dance. Being able to go to a studio and just forget everything else for a few hours each week is invaluable to me. But more importantly, the time I get to spend with people who love the same thing I love is invaluable to me. Where would I be if I had never taken my first dance class?

I’ve written a lot of essays about how much dance has taught me. But that is misleading. Because as much as I love dance and appreciate it for being such a beautiful, challenging, and cathartic part of my life, it has not taught me all of the things I am so grateful for learning. Dance has not taught me to be kind or generous. It has not taught me to always have an open mind and to accept people for whoever they are and to look for the good in everyone. It has not taught me to look at myself and like (love) what I see. Dance did not teach me these things; but it did lead me to the people that did.

I am so lucky to have always had a strong dance community to support me, encourage me, and inspire me.   And that’s exactly what all of the people I’ve had the privilege of dancing with do, from my high school dance team, to my studio family back home, to the girls in Groove. They inspire me to be a better dancer, and more importantly, a better person; the kind of person who inspires others to be their best selves too.

So when I talk about how dance has made my life better, this is what I mean. The people that I have met because we share a love for dance; they have made my life better, and they continue to do so each day. And I am so, so grateful.