Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Map Project. Or, "It's a big 'n!"

This first week back in Ellensburg was unspeakably different from the last two years of life here. I had been nervous about the new job and classes and meeting new people and getting everything sorted out. But every single person I cross paths with seems more willing than the last to go out of their way to be courteous and friendly. From the women at the grad studies office, who gleefully helped me file my paperwork and directed me to the student employment and cashiers' offices, to the group of young gentlemen who, on my walk home on a very icy and late Tuesday night, stepped aside to let me pass. Despite ever-increasing exhaustion,  I am so excited for each day that I have trouble sleeping at night. It feels a bit like Christmas Eve - every night.

I am taking two classes: Renaissance and Reformation at 9 a.m. with Dr. Easley, and Russian 152 at 11 a.m. with professor Dinara Georgioliani. I was mildly anxious about Russian, as I had to learn on my own last quarter. Dinara told me she'd give me a week or two to get acquainted with the class, though, so I wasn't too worried. On the second day of class, as we were reading from the book/answering questions, she called on me. My eyebrows disappeared into my hair. 


She smiled kindly, the shadow of mischief on her face. I felt bold - after all, she had announced to the class the day before that I was a new student, so I knew no one would expect me to be able to speak it well. I read it out, looking up regularly to try to gauge my progress. When I finished, Dinara's smile was enormous, and gave an enthusiastic "очень хорошо!" before giving details to the class. "This is a self-taught grad student." I don't think I've ever blushed harder in my life. Nevertheless, it was a confidence booster, and by Thursday I'd already made  friends with some of the top students in the class. By Friday they were asking me for answers. Every student I've met is friendly, helpful, and supportive. They're unashamed when they have questions, and are always willing to help me when I have questions.

On any day but Tuesday (when I work 5-9), I have an hour between class and my shift at work, so I have started eating lunch in my office, checking my email, and studying Russian. By 1 p.m. I'm at my desk on the third floor and, when I'm not answering questions for the library patrons, I'm working on a map project assigned to me by Chris-the-map-specialist (as he calls himself), who has been manning the desk with me. He's pretty much the coolest person who works at the library (which is saying something, because every single person I've met - and I've met almost everyone - is awesome), and I've learned a ton from him already. I pull out maps, check their record on the database, and make them available on the online catalog for the library. Then I put them back and repeat. It's an awesome job for me. It's repetitive filing and data entry, and I get to familiarize myself with the filing system, and learn about the maps we have available. It's a fantastic task, and I will be sad if they put me on another project. Dr. Easley is determined to have me for her own next year, and though I have been thinking I would decline a TA position, I now think - if I can manage it - I will accept a position within the history department (thus surrendering my GA position at the library to a "qualified" librarian), and then volunteer at the library a few hours every week. That way I can continue learning within the library whilst also gaining new experiences within the history department. 

Short of repeating myself, I can't explain how much I'm enjoying my life right now. Although it seems like it would be easy to enjoy every moment, I'm the kind of person who, in the past, would find something negative about even the happiest moments. However, as 2010 drew to a close, I decided to set myself a few New Year's Resolutions. I've never made any resolutions, I tend to think they're silly. But I'm 25, I'm starting a new degree, a new job, it's a new decade, and it seemed like now would be a good time to make big changes - by changing small behaviors. 

Resolution 1) Be an optimist. I'm tired of being negative about everything. This year I vow to find the silver lining in even the darkest of clouds. I will no longer expect every day to be scary and dreary. I will no longer prepare myself for the worst and hope for the best. I will expect the best, and be magnanimous, brave, and accepting when bad things happen to me. 

Resolution 2) Don't judge others. I pride myself on being an accepting, warm person, but I am guilty of impatience when it comes to others' emotions and how they express them. I try to be calm and in control, but that can be just as irritating to others as irrational hysteria is to me. When someone is obviously upset by something, insisting that it isn't a big deal doesn't help, and it makes me look cold and callous. If someone needs to cry because they're upset, I will let them, and I will not get impatient with them. Instead I will try to comfort them, and if I must say something about it, I will offer only supportive, constructive, useful advice on how to better process emotions. 

Resolution 3) Be a doer. This isn't as sassy as it sounds. I am the kind of person who likes to dream and fantasize, but I tend to do so at the expense of living my life. From now on I will not say "Some day, I hope to..." or "Maybe when I can work things out." I will select the experiences I want to have, the goals I want to reach, and I will work toward them logically. 

So far these things are coming along quite easily. They are things that I should have actively attempted long ago, so I am more than ready for them. But there is a real challenge ahead of me.

Resolution 4) Be unselfconscious. I've spent the last 20 years of my life as a concentrated bundle of insecurities, doubts, and self-loathing. Pete Postlewaite - one of the greatest actors of all time - died recently, and Daniel Day-Lewis - one of the other greatest actors of all time - made a comment about Pete's personality that struck me. "It was him we wanted to be like; wild and true; lion hearted; unselfconscious, irreverent." I want to be like that, too. 

I've had success in each category, but I know there are real tests ahead of me. I'm determined to keep moving forward, though, and in my mind, a failure is not a set-back, we do not start over from scratch each time. That's something that bothers me about "sobriety mathematics." Recovering alcoholics/addicts say "I've been sober/clean" for so many months/years, etc. But if they "fall off the wagon," they have to start all over. I don't think that's a fair or accurate measure of success, and it puts on unnecessary stress and pressure. If a smoker makes it three weeks without smoking before they have a cigarette, how many cigarettes have they gone without? A lot! It's okay to slip up from time to time, because we learn and progress each time we try. This is how I see life, and it's how I will continue to see life throughout 2011. I may have days where I am pessimistic, I may have moments of debilitating self consciousness. But every morning begins a new day, and I will try again. 

With these resolutions set firmly in my thought processes, I am mapping out the next few years of my life. I have written down what I want to do, where I want to go, things I want to see and achieve. It's a rough outline, and will change frequently. But it's a good map project, and I will enjoy seeing how closely I am able to navigate through my life.

-- Brooks Library photo credits to
1. The Stacks
2. My view from the Government Publications' desk
3. The view OF the Government Publications' desk