The two hardest things about living on my own this year

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Everyone’s experience with becoming an adult is different. Everyone’s experience with living on their own for the first time is different.

This is mine.

Now that I’ve been at this a year, I realize there are many themes that are caught up in my thoughts on living on my own in graduate school. Themes of family and love and loss. Life and death, waking and sleeping, crying and laughing, working and being still.

So, today, to narrow it down, I asked myself: What have been the two biggest challenges of living on your own in graduate school this first year? These are the answers I came up with:

  1. The experience of graduate school itself
  2. Loneliness

I say these things not to lament them, but instead to be honest about my experiences, to learn from them, to grow from them. And, perhaps, to give you a window into my life that maybe you didn’t have before. So here goes.

 

The Experience of Graduate School Itself

I’ll try to describe graduate school for you.

Imagine you wake up in the morning to the three alarms you set for 6:30am. You make some coffee and eggs. For a moment, as you sit at the kitchen table, everything is dark and quiet. Then, you take a breath, chug the rest of your coffee (you drink it black for a number of reasons: cost, convenience, etc.), and pack your bag for the day.

You spend the morning teaching your classes, grading homework, and lesson planning for the next class. If you have time, you’ll get started on other projects. In the tiny office you share with 3 other graduate students, you snack on stale animal crackers that make your mouth dry. For lunch, you eat the same thing you ate yesterday—which is good and healthy, if perhaps slightly boring.

In the afternoon, you do a number of things: Sometimes, you go to your own classes. Most of them are once a week, three hours long. If you’re on a committee, you go to the meeting and take notes about what’s happening. If you’re not in class or meetings, you read the reading you’re already behind on, work on class assignments, schedule travel, try to scrounge up funding, do some tutoring for extra money, or perhaps get involved on one or two or three of the “side projects” that, while no one tells you to do them explicitly, you know they’re implicitly expected of you—”as an academic.”

As you work on many of these “side” projects, you’re expected to plan, organize, and complete them all with little or no outside guidance. You receive nearly no supervision, except for extreme moments of scrutiny from your superiors, peers, or the “academic community” at large. These side projects include presenting at conferences, writing and publishing (or trying to) material, doing research for your thesis, serving on the editorial board of a small journal, etc. This is normal.

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You go home around 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening. You eat dinner—maybe the same thing you ate for lunch, the same thing you ate for dinner the night before, and lunch yesterday, as well. Which, again, is perfectly fine. It’s just a little boring and probably has some kind of beans as a main ingredient. You remind yourself that this boringness is your own fault—after all, you usually only have time to cook one or two main dishes over the weekend, and you usually try to cook for the week. To be efficient. You almost never go out to eat.

After dinner, you spend some time answering emails (really, you’ve been answering them all day). You also use this time to pay your rent or other bills; perhaps send some messages to family members; try to untangle any kind of paperwork, medical, house or car repair, billing, or financial disorders; and generally catch up on the kind of maintenance that managing a life requires, a task that’s sometimes pretty excruciating.

If you have time to work out, you often do that.

After you’ve worked out, you do some reading, answer more emails, grade papers, and/or continue doing the work that you were essentially doing earlier in the day until it’s 8:00 or 9:00 pm. Your eyes burn from looking at your laptop.

Then you go to bed, falling asleep to a YouTube video and the sound of a fan because it’s always hot in your room.

If you’re not careful, this pattern will consume your life.

If I’m being honest, this has been my experience during the times that I’ve let it be. Like I said, if I’m not careful and conscious, I will let it consume me. Much is to be said for budgeting my time, making time for social events, staying in touch with friends and family, going out of my small college town for a day. There is truly an art to healthy balance. And while I can’t say I’ve figured it out quite yet, I think I’m getting closer.

tightrope

 

Loneliness

Loneliness is a strange thing that I think everyone experiences in different ways.

I left home a year ago. I’ve carried bits of it with me. I own things like childhood books, stuffed animals, pillows. I have jewelry from my grandmothers, recipes from my mom, scarves from friends. On my desk is a small candle that smells like vanilla and fits in the palm of my hand. A porcelain bird sits atop a stack of books. In my pantry is a jar of coconut oil whose contents are now flat and mirror-like from the many times when the AC was out. Still, it feels like gold.

Although I can say with confidence that I’m rather happy with my lot as a single lady and don’t really have any concrete reason to be discontent, in moments of weakness, I do often think of what life would be like to not be alone. This “not-being-alone” can take many forms.

I might think of the day when/if I’m married and have my own family. I might think of what will happen after I finish my work here and look for a job—perhaps and ideally I’d find one closer to my family. Sometimes I think about ways I can try to develop my support network here more.

It can be difficult to develop these close friendships in Oxford, Ohio. Because it’s a college town, the population is often strangely either permanent or transient. There are two large groups of people: students who come and go and people (usually married with families) who work at the school. In the church I attend, which is large, I have never met another graduate student. I am constantly aware that there simply are not many people like me.

If I’m being honest, there have been times when I doubt my decisions. The knowledge is ever with me that, while I am away, my grandparents are getting older—but I’m not there to lend a set of keen eyes or a strong hand. My little sister is growing up and doing things that make me proud—but I’m not there to see her do them. My cat is getting fatter—but I’m not there to put her on a diet.

When I ask myself, “What do you value about your life?” certainly high on my list is my relationships with family members. And I wonder: What am I sacrificing by being gone for so long with such a short life to live and to give?

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These are the things that have crossed my mind. These are the things I think twice about.

However, I’m so thankful that I’ve reached the point where I can be honest about them. In many ways, living on my own through graduate school has been exactly what I’ve needed to grow up, mature, do things on my own. And it has led me to many amazing places and amazing people.

Those parts, I don’t think twice about.

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No Fences

August 4, 2016

It’s been so long since I’ve written. There are a lot of excuses that I could make, but perhaps it’s better just to own up.

This first year in grad school has been a difficult time. Going into it, while I knew that my life would be tough, I don’t think I was ready for how materially and viscerally I would experience it. I’ve been lonely, afraid, anxious, buried in work, bored with nothing to do and no one to talk to, elated and downcast, running and still, quiet and outspoken. And I feel like I haven’t told anyone.

Perhaps as any fan of him knows, J. R. R. Tolkien was a person who understood human nature better than many people. He said: “The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.”

This means some especially interesting in the sense that it recognizes that we, as people, will sometimes try to cut ourselves off from the world—in many different ways and, usually, rather unsuccessfully. Perhaps it’s through social media by creating the life we want to live; or through work by losing ourselves in dreams of success, recognition, awards; or through hobbies by pursuing and pursuing and pursuing them until we’re so wrapped up in their fabrics that we’ve honestly quite forgotten why we thought they would make us happy.

What I’m trying to say is that I’d like to use this blog, over the next few months or so, to write about some of the things and experiences that I’ve left out, maybe even censored, because I thought they were just too difficult or too complex to own up to. For instance, these are some of the things I want to talk about:

  • Trying to live life on my own
  • Working through my faith as a graduate student in an environment that is 1) hostile toward religion and 2) has some great critiques of things that people have done in the name of Christianity
  • Being a single woman who wants to follow Jesus [in Oxford, Ohio]
  • Dealing with the work and stress of graduate school
  • The importance or non-importance of politics (given it’s an election year)
  • Shame
  • Societal/cultural issues that we have to deal with as the church
  • Loneliness
  • Living at a different economic status than I was used to growing up
  • Death
  • Relationships
  • And perhaps more

I’ve been the kind of person Tolkien was talking about. I feel like I’ve been trying to fence everyone out—but that can’t and shouldn’t go on forever.

In the spirit of no fences, I want to use my blog to get honest about the experiences and struggles and joys I’ve been having.

My name is Angela. I’m 23. I’m single. I live in Oxford, Ohio, where I take graduate classes and teach college courses. I want to know what it means to run after the heart of God in a world that points in the opposite direction.

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It’s been a while…

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post! It’s been over a month, actually, so I figured it was about time I did so again.

Fall is slowly coming to Oxford. The days have been alternating between being cold or balmy, but these past few days have been the latter, and I’ve been enjoying walking around campus knowing that the next few weeks might be some of the last times that I can wear shorts and sandals before winter comes. There are now ample displays of pumpkins and squashes and cornstalks everywhere, and I’m actually looking forward to cozy days of scarves and soup.

Every day, I feel like I’m learning something new. I’ve never read so much in my life, but it’s all crucial material. There are so many opportunities, so many projects, to get involved in here that my problem is choosing which ones to commit to.

While on the one hand these first few months have been intellectually rich both in experience and in academic knowledge, on the other, I still feel that I’m not quite sure where I’m going with everything. That is, on nights like this, where I’m sitting on my futon in the dark, thinking about what I have to do tomorrow, part of me thinks about the tomorrow after tomorrow and then the tomorrow after that. I’m not quite sure where this road is taking me, and I’m often tempted to feel like I’m alone.

In many ways, I am. On nights like this, I also think of all the people I’ve left behind, and I wonder: What on earth am I doing? Was it worth it to leave the people I knew and loved—my church, my family, my friends—to pursue this opportunity? Will I have what it takes? It’s hard to start over. It’s hard to go to a new church every Sunday, to go through the week without a close group of friends to see on the weekend, to go home every night to a house that feels very empty. Will I find that here? A group of people who surround and encourage me when I’m down? These are the thoughts and questions that keep me up at night.

At the same time, I know how self centered these thoughts are. I also know how useless it is to worry. I know that I’m not really alone. Jesus straight up said in Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (ESV). More than anything, I want to use my time here in the right way, to get my mind off myself, to love others, to trust God to guide my path when I have no idea what I’m doing. This is my prayer every day.

Life in Oxford, Ohio

Oxford, Ohio, has a population of just over 21,000 and a median age of 21.4 years. It covers an area of 6.68 square miles. Oxford is a small town.

That said, there are things to do in the community. The local farmer’s market happens every Saturday morning. My roommate and I went to a small concert in town that was quite enjoyable. The weather has been lovely the past few days.

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I start teaching and classes tomorrow—and, wow, that’s a weird feeling! This is the building I’ll be teaching in:

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I’m not complaining.

As for my courses, this is some of the material that I get to read:

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Yay, me! Courses in Rhetoric and Composition are heavy with writing pedagogy and the nuances of rhetoric (understandably). Rhetoric in my field means something other than the typical derogatory way it’s commonly used. When I say rhetoric, I’m talking about the old art of persuasion, the ways to speaking well.

Because graduate courses are so much more intense than undergraduate ones, I’ll usually be taking only 2 or 3 courses a semester (instead of five or six). The workload is amped up—instead of reading a book over the course of a few weeks, I’m expected to read whole books within the span of a single week and know the material reasonably well. This is what I knew I was getting into, and the material is often compelling—but this adjustment is a big one.

Here are some ways that you can pray for me in the weeks to come:

  • I’m excited—but also nervous—to begin teaching! I’ll be starting this at the same time as I’m taking my own graduate courses. I’ll need to quickly find a way to balance my teaching responsibilities with studying and finding time to manage the everyday duties of life on my own. It’s an adjustment.
  • My hunt for a home church continues, but I’ve only had a few weeks to really try out churches. If you remember only to pray for me about this, I would be grateful. I’m really missing my old church family back in York, and I’ve forgotten how lonely it can be to not know many people who are brothers or sisters in Christ.
  • Additionally, with a grad school stipend also comes the creeping worries of budgeting. I need to impose some pretty strict measures on myself, and while part of my revels in the challenge of working things out on my own and trying to support myself, the other part of me is conscious that I may at times find myself in precarious situations.
  • I’m missing my lovely friends and family, and I have yet to really make any heartfelt connections with people my age here. It’s been a while since I’ve had to start all over again in this respect (probably around 8 years), and it’s definitely a challenge.
  • There are a lot of professionalization pressures that begin when you enter graduate school. I want to rely on God to lead me in the right directions and help me make the right choices in this respect. It can easily become overwhelming if I’m not trusting in Him.

In all of these things, there is the temptation to rely on the fulfillment of these wants and needs for my own happiness—but I have to remember that I already have all I need in God. There is nowhere that I can be more safe and secure and happy than with Him, and these are the things I cling to.

All of this said, I feel so blessed to have such a wonderful opportunity to study in this program. The faculty here are top notch, some of the most well-known in the field, and there are a myriad of opportunities for me to explore at this school. The city of Oxford has a considerably low cost of living, and it’s a safe and quaint and quiet (usually) place to spend time in graduate study. I’ve hit the jackpot in that respect. I miss you all back home, and I’m praying that God will lead me to people who love Him as much as those that I’ve left behind—for now. 🙂

Logistics

In the fall, here are some of the new things I’ll be doing:

  • Teaching a freshman writing class.
  • Taking graduate-level courses.
  • Adjusting to life on my own in a completely new place.

I was really excited the other day to look up the course schedule and see my own name listed as the instructor’s:

So exciting!! (and strange)

Boo-yah! So exciting!! (and strange)

In the fall, I’ll have around 20 freshman to look after for an hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—bright and early in the morning! (All the new teaching assistants get the really early courses to teach. lol) Oxford, Ohio, a cute little place, is the epitome of a college town—there’s not really much else there. The population is just over 21,000, and if you drive too far in any direction, you’re going to find yourself in the rolling cornfields and cracked asphalt so common to rural Ohio. Cincinnati lies an hour southeast. “Uptown” is what they call the semi-downtown-ish area close to my apartment complex and a short walk from the campus itself. In Uptown, there are eateries, boutiques, coffee shops, and more. It’s not cheap, but it’s there.

Then there’s the campus itself, which is gorgeous. Brick everywhere. There’s a clocktower, ample space to sit on the grass, and a fantastic rec center. I hear the trees make it beautiful in the fall and that everyone’s more interested in the ice hockey games than any of the other sports that go on there.

Hueston Woods State Park is a ten-minute drive away. It’s got a lake with a beach in the middle of it, a plethora of activities (depending on the time of year), and a thick covering of trees that the cool breeze off the lake constantly comes up against in a rustling kind of way.

Still, it’s a lot to think about, and it’s hard not to let the looming complexity of everything seem overwhelming. I want so badly to be successful, to do well with the responsibilities I’m going to be given. I keep asking myself if there’s anything I can do now to prepare myself for what’s going to seem like a lot of work all at the same time. The whole thing seems steeped in uncertainty. On the other hand, it’s been really hard lately to not let my life become solely about me. I keep feeling like I’m straining toward some indefinable future, but the fibers of myself are stuck here, in the present, in the now, which is always the place that’s simultaneously the most immediate and the hardest in which to live comfortably. I become so consumed in myself and my timeline and my future that I forget I shouldn’t even be focusing on myself in the first place. The world isn’t wrapped up in the complexities of my own head. Part of me also laments leaving what I have here. There are a lot of things in York, PA, that I now realize I care desperately about. (The threat of separation seems to do that, make you prioritize.) That same part of me also wishes that those things would care with the same desperation about me—and also fears that those things do not, did not, and never would have, even if I had stayed here forever. Still, I find myself examining the logistics of my relationships, who I see, what I do, trying to find some evidence that tells me that this place knows my name and won’t actually forget about me, even though it might seem like it sometimes. I know that this will change me—perhaps not fundamentally—but this move will alter my perspective, my priorities, and my relationships in a way that I’ve never encountered before. Perhaps, what I’m most scared of is the idea that I will find that the things I care so desperately about now will diminish in importance, that they will be replaced by new things. I’m not sure why the prospect of this seems wrong—I know there will be things that are always important to me: My family, my closest friends, my faith. Yet part of me still balks at the unknown.

Open Skies

Only about a month remains until I move to Oxford, Ohio.

It’s such a weird feeling! I’ve moved before, but this one feels different. Before, I was younger; maybe I was less conscious of what it meant. Now, I find myself getting lost in the complexity of it all—how much there is to do! Thank God for supportive friends and family.

The past few months have been spent gathering items for a new apartment—kitchen appliances, dishes, shower curtains, spatulas—all of these things that I’ve been taking for granted. This past week, a good friend recounted to me an unintentional proverb that seems to sum up perfectly what it feels like to move out on your own for the first time:

You have to buy lightbulbs.

Lightbulbs.

Lightbulbs.


Part of me is savoring this last month with my family all in one place (my brother will be moving shortly after me, and my sister might remain home for a while before moving to pursue more of an international career). Every thing I do with them feels like it’s the last time I’m going to be doing it with them the way things are right now, right here, in York, Pennsylvania. I find myself feeling stupid for having not savored it more before, for having not paid attention as much as I maybe should have—as though being more conscious of it would have better prepared me emotionally. But I know that’s just sentimentality.

Because the other part of me knows (realistically) that this isn’t the end, of course. I may be moving away, but my family is still my family, and I look forward to the many ways that our relationships are going to grow in different ways—but different in richer, new kinds of ways in the future.

At the end of July, I’ll be facing open skies, new skies. Psalm 139:7–10 (ESV)says:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.

It’s so comforting to know that my God is God here, and he is God there. His being and his sovereignty are not dependent on my physical place in this world—a simple thing that I know is true but so often feels hard to trust in.

I’m looking forward to growing as a person, teacher, and scholar in Ohio—such an incredible opportunity! God has opened doors for me beyond my imagining; I barely can believe it. But I know it will be a difficult transition, and there will be times where I don’t want to deal with it, when I’d rather be home.

But this is me—this is my attempt at grad school. I’m so excited for the ways in which He could use me in this field to make a difference in people’s lives, to point them to Him. Lord willing, I’ll be successful.

Travel Journal?

May 26, 2015 — Expectations, Appearances, and Reality

I spoke with my grandmother this morning—my dad’s mom—and she had an interesting admission to make to me. A little background: This past weekend, I attended (along with my grandmother) a bridal shower for my future sister-in-law. My brother’s getting married this August. At this bridal shower, I had been in the kitchen for a while, helping set out all the food and getting to meet all the attending family members. When I walked back out into the living room, I saw my grandmother had arrived (perhaps some time ago) and was sitting on one of the sofas.

“Oh, I didn’t know you were here, Nannan!”

What I expected her to do was give me a hug or to smile (at least) and acknowledge me by name. Her response:

[a bit quiet, a bit unsure] “Hello…”

I was baffled. Had I offended her? Was my skirt stuck in my belt, giving all these women a view of my winter tan? (It wasn’t.) I quickly shook off the strangeness of the exchange and continued to help with the set up. This morning, when I called my grandmother to chat, she said to me: “Angie, your Nannan was a little embarrassed at the bridal shower. When you came in wearing those wide-rimmed glasses, I didn’t recognize my own granddaughter!”

Cue my laughter (and slight relief). Everything was explained: Here’s what had happened: I had decided to wear my glasses on the day of the shower and thought nothing of it. In my own mind, I had been the same person I always had been on that day. I talked the same, walked the same, thought the same, looked the same—or so I thought. The Glasses What I had forgotten to take into account was perception. My glasses changed my appearance just enough for someone well-acquainted with me—my own grandmother—to fail to recognize me! But I had approached the greeting with my grandmother the same as I always had, not taking into account how this one change might affect our interaction.

Just as my glasses gave someone who knew me very well the impression that I was a different person—completely changed from the one she thought she knew—so I wonder if graduate school will do the same. I am certain I will still be the same person, just with new life experiences, new perspectives, and new skills. But how will this affect my relationships with my family? Those close to me? Will it be the same? Or will their greeting in response to my enthusiastic approach be a small and hesitant:

“Hello”?

Institution travel As I am preparing to move out to Oxford, Ohio, this blog feels like a good way to keep everyone updated about what I’m doing. Hopefully, for the next few months or so, I’ll post updates about what I’m doing (and probably how I’m feeling about it). 🙂 Here goes!

My name is Angela Glotfelter. I’m an aspiring graduate student (and maybe professor one day). This is my journal. By the end of July of this year, I will have moved from York, Pennsylvania, to Oxford, Ohio, in order to start my Master’s in Composition and Rhetoric.