Youth, Opportunities and Sore Knees

The reasoning behind the mass appeal of the summer blockbuster ‘Inside Out’ was the simple fact that everyone could relate to the concept.
Between four and five unique personalities, living inside everyone’s head, commenting about everything and anything. Often having headfits, arguments and occasionally fistfights over the group consensus and subsequent outcome.

That is how I feel now.
Or should I say, that is how my head feels now.
Along with twirling like Julie Andrews atop a mountain in Switzerland, banging their heads against the walls or muttering profanity laden tirades to themselves in corners, irate at the sheer chaos overwhelming them as they try to process the simplest of problems.

Stepping off the predetermined path always takes a period of adjustment.

It’s not the first time I’ve stepped away from the mainstream. But like any new adventure, the unknown is more canopy jungle than tarmac.
And right now I’m finding the metaphorical slash & burn labour emotionally draining as the physical action itself. And the lack of structure and timing, not to mention the workload – which would make Hercules’ eyebrows rise – is all enough to sow the first seeds of doubt into whether I’ve actually done the right thing.

One of my oldest friends says this is natural. She said that she’d be more concerned if it wasn’t the case, if I was relaxed and carefree. Glad to see I’m no cause for concern, then.

But in a sense I am.

Like The Public Enemy, both the rap group and the late ECW wrestling tag team, anyone my age walks where they want to walk, and when they want to walk there. Like Kipling’s famous feline we know what we want to do and we do it. Walking in pods, it’s so ubiquitous now it’s been inducted into official university lexicon, for safety reasons, getting posters of Breaking Bad quotes, and going gaga over jello shots all faded once I started my nurse training.
Three years of 45 weeks each, placements morning, noon and night and a variety of crisis’ to deal with (including my mom’s radiotherapy and subsequent surgery for breast cancer) made me grow. Not by much, but by more than what I was the three years prior, which was all that mattered.

And now, coming back to finish what I started I find myself not only a minority outsider – something I’m used to, it’s why my lot invented bagels – from an age perspective, but my actual worldly experience seems to be more of a drawback than a advantage.

Case in point, this evening I was invited to a departmental meet and greet. Standard fare for this department. The new postgraduates; Masters, PhD’s, returning undergrads, all armed with wine or juice, and blintz topped with cheese, garden salad and chorizo stood around chatting in a room that was too small for the numbers, with an enthusiasm that I clearly understood to be pretentious, or self-aggrandising in nature.
Naturally the decibel level was bonkers loud, ambient ricocheting all over the place like wayward squash balls.

To compound the agony everyone was forced to wear a name sticker, not only proclaiming their name, but also their intended course.
Now, to be fair, I did choose not to stick this sticker, a tacky cheap thing, proclaiming my ENTIRE name (first, middle, family) and my course on my breast. Instead I stuck it on my ribcage. Though, I am not blessed with much upfront, and when wearing a khaki green jacket with multiple pockets it didn’t look out of place.
This was the highpoint, it all went downhill from there.
Despite the buffet, people around it seem reluctant to move and let others by to actually reach the food. So deep in their conversations about their recent writings, their latest book of poetry or the exhibition they featured in a fortnight prior, that moving less than a foot one way or the other to allow someone to snatch free food seemed frightfully poor form.
When I reach the food my heart sinks. There’s little I can eat, and I know I shouldn’t eat anyway given Yom Kippur is fast approaching.
The big YK passed me by this year. Stuck in a university seaside town, one severely behind the sort of religious variation of a metropolis, I know I’ll have to make do with just curbing my calorie intake and hoping The Man Upstairs doesn’t hold it against me too severely.

One of my classmates introduces himself, turning up and high-fiving me when he learns we’re sharing a lot of the classes. He introduces me around, and I feel that unfamiliar and slightly sour feeling of displacement, of unfamiliar boundaries, and being included, for better or worse, into a group that’s gelling more through sheer force of will than actual positive dynamic.
At this point another classmate, close friend of the first boy says hi. She tells me she’s just come back from Norway, has been gone for a year and is now ready to embark on her MA.
I smile and nod in all the right places.
She asks me when I graduated. I tell her back in 2007. A white lie but I think to err on the side of mistruth is better than the whole truth which might bring more scorn than I am ready to endure.

I tell her the problems I’m having with the concepts of having everything online. She smiles becomingly, and at that point I see this student doesn’t think of much aside from herself.
I also mention a tutor, nameless, who was present, and who I had had a few run-ins with back when I was an undergraduate. She looks to where I am looking with a mix of surprise and vinegar. Lips pursed.

I look back blankly, if this is a ‘getting to know you’ affair, isn’t honesty the point?

She asks me what I’ve been doing since I graduated. I tell her nursing. Her eyes glaze and she looks away. It is at this point one of the department heads wanders over, resplendent in dark suit, minus tie, obviously projecting the image of professional yet approachable.
Both the student and the lecturer know one another. There’s small-talk, she preens as he asks her how her year away from college was, proud to tell him of her travels and her father’s company.
The lecturer turns to me: “And I supposed you’ll be finishing your PhD soon”?

I peal the sticky label off my flank and show him what it says.
He says nothing, offers a platitude and takes his leave, crossing the room to speak to someone else about something much more important than me, or the Masters, or the age I should be, to be working at the level I should be working at.

It’s at this point I take my leave. The entire experience has lasted less than 15 minutes and left me with a taste in my mouth I won’t soon relinquish.
A mix of embarrassment, of discomfort on the part of the faculty as exactly how to treat someone who isn’t 22-25 and a known face.
Of someone who is maintaining a professional and personal boundary, while simultaneously dealing with a rapidly advanced IT system, and an education format that is more than they remember, even when they were nursing little over a decade ago.
Someone why can be raucous, opinionated, crude, abrupt, course and curt, but has the decency to refrain from the f-bombs until she has her feet well under the table and/or her personality established as competent and powerful, and at the very least, non-threatening.

Do you think the Seahawks would put up with Richard Sherman for a second if he wasn’t phenomenally good at what he does?

Be your very best and many will overlook the rough spots.


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