Saved

The story of the past 24-hours is the story of my ass just barely being saved.

With an ominous Statistics exam set to take place on Friday, I organized a study group to take place in the Wells library. I had no idea if anyone would show, but I figured that at least I could try to figure things out by myself. I was completely lost with the material, just because our professor is difficult to follow and I had put off the homework a bit too long. Exams comprise the totality of our grade in this class, so this study session was the only hand that could pull me back from the precipice of failure.

3:30 PM, THURSDAY 9/25
At this point on a thursday, I’ve been in classes for over five hours straight. I’ve been running around campus all day, climbing stairs, being scholarly, often skipping lunch, and at 3:30 I burst from the business building with a special smile on my face that only means I’m going to eat half the contents of my fridge and watch Netflix for at least three hours.

This day would give me no such joy.

4:00 PM
By the time I get to my apartment, I have enough time to set my stuff down, think about dinner, and realize that I have no time to prepare dinner. I wolf down an apple and some raw veggies and run right back out to catch a bus.

5:00 PM
I arrive at the library and set up camp. I stare into the abyss while I gather the courage to open my textbook for the first time.

5:20 PM
At this point, other lost souls have begun to trickle over to my forlorn corner of the group study floor. We compare notes, set up a game plan, and I finally open my textbook.

6:00 PM
I do a stats problem on my own for the first time. All previous joy in my life is insignificant in comparison.

8:00 PM
“Guys, do you realize we’ve been here for 3 hours already? Hahaha…”

9:00 PM
At this point, another stats group has merged into our own. We form a loose government and apply for admission to the United Nations. A few people have left us to nourish their bodies with food and/or sleep, or maybe political reasons. Those of us still left are slowly making our way through every problem in the workbook. “Lean On Me” has become more than an anthem; its lyrics are our battle cry, our holy text, the core philosophy of this small group of reluctant statisticians.

10:00 PM
The group dissolves. I have never known such a hunger as this. I get fried rice at Fortune Cookies and check the bus tracker. 25-30 minutes for a bus? Looks like I’m walking.

10:30 PM
I gross out my roommates with my voracious eating.

11:00 PM – 12:00 AM
I think about homework. I don’t do homework but thinking about it is as close as I’ll come tonight. Sleep takes me eventually.

8:07 AM, FRIDAY 9/26
I awake violently and sit up in my bed. Is this a nightmare? No, I actually did forget to set my alarm, it’s actually one hour until my psych lab, I haven’t showered in two days, I have a two-page essay due at the start of class, and a “meeting” (AKA INTERVIEW!!!) immediately after class today at a place I’ve been trying to work at. I consider skipping lab to shower and eat, but then I remember how much I pay in tuition and I slide out of bed reluctantly.

8:15 AM
I finish the research for my paper and begin furiously typing. I pray to David Foster Wallace to give me strength and verbosity.

8:40 PM
Essay complete, I put on acceptable clothing, sort of come to terms with the way my hair looks, and run out the door. Too late for a bus. I take the bike.

9:30 AM
My lack of breakfast begins to wear on me. My stomach aches and my head hurts. I am having those weird hollow empty burps that you get when you’re crazy hungry (or maybe that’s just me??). My attention wanes.

10:00 AM
I might fail a field sobriety test at this point.

10:15 AM
I realize that in my haste to leave this morning, I forgot the calculator I need for my stats test at 11:15. I try not to panic. I send a text to my roommates and try to pay attention in class.

10:18 AM
I also realize that I will have no time to shop for appropriate shoes before my meeterview (©). My standard interview shoes were discarded in my recent move because they were actually pretty jank. I text a stylish friend of mine and try to pay attention in class.

10:30 AM
My roommate decides to bring me my calculator. I promise to make it rain cupcakes and cookies later.

10:45 AM
Michelle has shoes for me. I try not to cry tears of joy. I’m not paying attention in class.

11:00 AM
I get my calculator from Hannah, gather composure, and enter the stats classroom to get in some last minute cramming with the study group.

12:00 PM
The test went pretty well, so I’m riding high. Who needs food when your body can run on confidence!? I bike home relieved, but not complacent. No, not yet…

12:30 PM
I assemble myself in a professional manner. Necklace, tasteful makeup, tons of deodorant, baby powder in the hair, classy blouse/skirt combo. I run up to the fourth floor to meet Michelle. We pick out some snakeskin flats and I’m on my way.

12:57 PM
After a 20-minute car ride with blasting A/C (I’m sweating profusely from hunger and stress), I park my car at my employer and compose myself. 20140926_160233_1I was expecting to start working at the beginning of the summer, but due to classes and commitments to work in New Mexico, I was unable to be trained. They wanted to re-interview me before they started training me, presumably to make sure I didn’t become a creep or loser in the past few months. I walk into the building right at 1 PM, looking fresh as heck with a smile on my face.

1:45 PM
I leave the interview with a job guarantee. I have a blissful drive home. I change (still no shower though) and meet Matt for lunch.

3:30 PM
Burgers, beer, back to Matt’s apartment for some time playing with his adorable cat, then back to my place. I preserve the story in blog form (for posterity), and retire to my bed for a much-needed nap. I now better understand the limits not only of myself, but of the human body, the human psyche, and the human spirit.

 

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Until Next Year

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(Originally published on 25 August, 2014 on ummwhat.)

I recently had the opportunity to return to my summer job for a few weeks to help finish out the season. I left after my last class on the first of August, tearing out of the parking garage with no place to live but New Mexico. The drive was long, bad but not too bad, and over much too quickly. I arrived onsite early morning on August 3rd, parked at the HQ office, stepped out and breathed in the soft scents of infinite joy—hot canvas tents, quartz dust, ponderosa pines, the old band-aid smell of the infirmary, the sour muddy smell of burst earthworms drying out in the mid-morning sun. I could even smell the thinness of the air, a “sweet, lucid” taste as Edward Abbey called it, like synesthesia scents of clarity, reassurance, and navajo blanket patterns. I saw sights and heard sounds seared into my memory by overexposure: the iconic ridge over base camp, the rows of tents, the squish and scratch of ranger feet over that precise gravel in tent city, velcro, belt buckles, pack clips, carabiners, velcro, velcro. The language came back to me and flowed from my mouth as if I’d never been away. The sounds were mine, the sights were mine, the scents were mine, the coldwarm air was mine, the dialect was mine, the fine cardboard taste of the food was mine. It was as real as in my memories, as in the fantasies I’d had in the weeks leading up to my return, almost as if it had never really left me. It had never not been mine.

(I always get this feeling returning to the west. The first time I saw the Pacific Ocean as a child I remember thinking finally, I’m here. Every return has been a homecoming.)

Coming at this point in the season, my arrival lacked the larger-meaning zen profundity I’ve always felt in years past—I had a focus, a specific job, there was little time to do anything but good work. Finally, I’m here. I was whisked into the backcountry in a matter of days and then it was work work work, it was the rejuvenation of a burnt-out staff, it was the put-off and handed-down tasks that needed to be done. It was the tender, intimate end-of-life care necessary to prepare the place I love for a winter in the Rockies. Between the laborious work and customer service detail with visitors, I managed to get (most of the way) up the big mountain once, knock out a few smaller ones, walk some new trails, bag some ridges and unforeseen pleasures, make new friends, and visit old friends as close as family.

It ended quickly, and it ended well. I added new scents to my registry (coal smoke, paydirt, the cold must of the mine) and enriched my memories. It was a great, strange ordeal, like high-intensity-interval-training for the soul. There’s no better therapy than nature, no greater teacher than the need for self-reliance, no greater insight than that found on the trail. There is an essence to the west—from the big sky, over the rockies to the rainforest, down the ocean to the borderlands, around the big bend and back out to the high plains—that fosters rich thought, lucid insights, and a deep and unfocused love that fills you brimming. My hope is that I have managed to abscond with some of that essence inside my own heart, that I can hold onto that love for at least nine more months.

Until next year.