A Backward Glance Before Moving On

Chapter One: Overtures 

 By: Damiano Consilvio

Maybe these words will be like a great finale, like the great rumble of exploding gunpowder that you feel in your ear drums just before the firework show is over. These words fall onto the page as the black caps all fly into the air at commencement. It happens during the best of times, but also the worst of times, in an age of innocence as well of reason, of ambition as well as fear. Graduation, a great victory, is followed by great fear. I am afraid as I reach the conclusion of my Master’s degree. In choosing to study English language and literature, I chose to pursue what I loved, but what if there is not a market for it? Teachers are a dime a dozen, right? What if I don’t get accepted to a PhD program? What if my articles don’t get published? Will this all be for naught? People of the baby boomer generation fail to appreciate the uncertainty and fear that students face post-graduation. It is not a sure-in of success. You can have a college degree, and still struggle.

In trying to cope with my own post-grad life anxiety, I’ve taken to reflecting upon myself. While in no way a “Song of Myself,” I am using this space to take a backward glance before moving forward towards the last step of my educational journey: the PhD. Hopefully it will help me understand the person that lectures on college composition, and give me more confidence in his ability to succeed. I’ll need it. Many programs accept a mere two to three applicants a year. Applications are expensive. I plan to apply to fifteen schools. I need to look back to find out, what sets me apart from all the rest?

I have always been skeptical to the memoir form, just because of how reserved I am with my emotions. By trade I am an academic, and a literary critic, so I dispense my emotions into my research writing in an indirect way. Often the topic of my research will reflect the currents of how I am feeling. For example, I’ve studied the Anglo-Saxon Elegy poem during the year of my life’s most painful break up. I consider getting a tattoo some day of the Old English phrase “Wyrd bið ful aræd.” It translates loosely to “fate is fully fixed.”

But despite this deep emotional connection to my work, I don’t—and haven’t—ever used my writing to speak directly of my-self. I never wrote a memoir about how I felt during those times. Instead, I would study Poe, or Byron, and the rest of the Dark Romanticists, to empathize with their melancholy. Now however, I feel the occasion is upon me to commemorate the past six years of my intellectual life through the lens of my creative side. These past four years have been memorable, perhaps the most memorable of my life so far. And how better to show my appreciation than to capture those fleeting years in writing?

But where to begin? I write that question redundantly, because I know exactly where I want to begin this backward glance: at the end, where I am now.

On a Wednesday morning during the Spring of 2017 my eyes open at six forty-five am. My room is dimly lit blue as the sun cuts through the suburban New Jersey tree-line and into the blinds of my bedroom window. My alarm is set for seven, but I always wake up just before it.

I get up and put my black corduroy suit on my bed, then a grey V-neck sweater, underwear, socks. Then I get a shower. By seven fifteen I am dressed and having coffee, checking e-mails on my phone. Sometimes there a few, but today there are none, because nobody is likely even up yet. Most people make it to school by ten. The people who I am expecting to hear from today will not check their emails until at least ten.

By the time my brother has dropped me off at school it’s eight o’clock and I am at my most alert. I teach at ten, but I get an hour of reading and an hour of writing in before I walk over to my seminar room. I work on two papers in my office, one on the moral conflicts of men and women in The Canterbury Tales, and another one comparing the psychical models of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Then I read a few peer review articles for my thesis project, to compose a scholarly edition of Edith Wharton’s novel Ethan Frome.

Working like this before teaching has my intellect invigorated along with the peak in my bodily and cognitive energy. By ten I am ready to go in and review the students’ papers with them. They have submitted drafts to me, and I noted several stylistic errors, like when novice writers sometimes announce themselves in their writing  (like saying “For this first section I will take a look at students respond to online learning), or their use of colloquial expressions where a more sophisticated one would serve better (as in a student saying “Paid maternity leave is a hot topic among women workers because they need to take care of themselves and their families”—I would suggest that they say “A pertinent issue in the female workforce is the allocation of paid maternity leave, as women must balance between care for themselves, their careers, and their families, all within a delicate time in their lives).

This is typically how my class is run. I think of Composition as a workshop in academic style. I spend much of the class talking to the students about their work and their craft, but I do not talk at them. I do not tell them what to write. They tell me what they want to write, and I guide them. My design is to be a fellow artist helping to groom other artists, not an arbitrator enforcing rules.

How I’ve come to believe in things this way is a story written along the path the lies behind me. I don’t think about that enough, because right now I’m looking forward to the next lesson, to the next year, to my PhD applications, for instance. But I do feel something now as I glance at my reflection in the glass door to my classroom right before I walk in. I think that today I rose to complete a task, to serve a purpose to society. I am responsible for these students learning. They are depending on me to come and give them my service and knowledge for their own betterment. It is a responsibility that I honor, and that I love, but also one that I am thankful for.

In being important to them, I myself become important. I know that without my students, without people that want and need my knowledge, I am useless, I have no contribution to give to the world in return for my existence. But the fact that I can give my time and effort and mental energy to serve them makes me valuable. I realize that the importance I gain through my ability to educate, is what makes me a member of society, of the world. I realize that it is what makes me a man

But how? What got me here? Why am I so special? So lucky? I am on the verge of completing my Master’s degree in English at the humble age of twenty-two. I am the first in my blood to get a college degree, and I aspire this year to apply to doctoral programs and become a professor in the humanities. It is my life’s wish to earn a doctorate in English literature and become a professor, and write books about the literature that fascinates me. In my mind, to be a scholar would be the ultimate contribution of love and appreciation to my passion for art. But in order to achieve this, I must excavate those recesses of my mind that tell the story of how I got here, before I approach my last stop at the doctoral programs. I must look at that man that adjusts his tie one last time before walking into the classroom, and ask him of his origin. To be the person that I want to be when I reach for these great aspirations, I must look back, I must look back upon myself and understand the child, the child the father of the man.

To be continued

 

An Insight into Dating Someone with Anxiety

For people who haven’t experienced anxiety, it can be difficult to understand. For people who have anxiety, it can be even more difficult to understand and explain. The best way to explain my anxiety is this: imagine you’re driving a car 100 mph downhill when you realize that the brakes don’t work. Your initial reaction is to, obviously, freak the fuck out. There’s a million things running through your head, you’re hysterical, and all the while the cars just gaining more and more speed, the anxiety is getting worse and worse. You’re so panicked that you can’t even think about the end; eventually this car is going to stop gaining speed and run out of gas, eventually you will calm down. I envy those who can just jump to this realization, but for me this isn’t the case. One incident, one thought is enough to cut the brakes and send me straight into an anxiety attack. I cry hysterically, cough until I throw up and usually end up sobbing myself to sleep just to make it stop. The worst part of this is trying to make others understand something that I barely understand myself. I don’t exactly know what you should do if your significant other is experiencing anxiety, but I can tell you exactly what not to do.

If someone ever confides in you about their anxiety, I beg you not to dismiss it. Part of what makes anxiety so powerful is how little it’s talked about. No one talks about having anxiety, therefore a lot of people, myself included, are scared to reach out and ask for help or support. Your partner is supposed to be your secret keeper, your non-judgmental rock. If someone has chosen you to confide in about their anxiety, it’s for a reason. When you dismiss a person with anxiety, you break their trust and drastically decrease the chance that they’ll attempt to tell another person.

Dismissal can come in many different forms, but it all stems from a general decision to not even try and understand. When someone tells you that they’re suffering from anxiety, it doesn’t mean they want you to start studying for the MCAT, become a psychiatrist and cure them of their anxiety. You don’t have to understand why it’s happening, you don’t have to understand the symptoms that come along with it, all you have to do is be supportive. It’s not about understanding anxiety, it’s about trying to understand it. Make an attempt to understand what your partner is going through by listening, no matter how long that takes. When I’m shaking, out of breath and crying uncontrollably it’s hard to make audible words, but just the sound of someone breathing on the other end of the phone makes the end come that much sooner. Be patient, don’t try to rush the symptoms away, especially if you’re the cause.

Anxiety isn’t tangible, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. How you would react to your partner being in extreme physical pain is how you should react to your partner suffering from anxiety. Anxiety is like physical pain but doubled, it affects mental health and usually shows physical symptoms as well. This isn’t something your partner can just “get over,” it’s not spilled milk.

Different people experience different types of anxiety for different reasons. Try and help your partner to understand what the cause is and possible ways to help. For myself, a lot of my anxiety comes from my relationships. I allow my significant other to hold a lot of power over me. It’s not rational, but that’s anxiety. I 100% believe that anxiety is something couples can work though, but the key word in that sentence is “work”. Overcoming anxiety isn’t something that happens overnight, sometimes it’s just managing one symptom at a time. If you suffer from anxiety and find yourself in a relationship with a person who won’t even try to understand this beast, I urge you to end the relationship as soon as possible. You deserve someone who wants to see you through dark times, rather than insisting you just flip on the lights already. If you don’t suffer from anxiety and find yourself in a relationship with a person who does, I encourage you to support them through it. Whatever form support may be, find it and use it. Don’t lose someone that you love because you’re too lazy to put the work in.

Finding Your Identity

One thing that I think about often, is people who struggle with transition out of college and finding out who they really are. Let’s be honest, the four, sometimes more, years you spend in college do not shape you as an individual. They basically equip you with time management and social skills, if you’re lucky. So it can be eye opening to join the real world and not have any idea the type of person you want to be. Do you want to make as much money as possible? Do you want to help as many people as possible? Do you want to develop certain relationships with some more than others? Who do you want to be and what legacy do you want to leave?

Let’s slow down a little.

Just know that you don’t have to have the answers to any of these questions and most of us won’t know for quite some time. I still struggle with having sociopathic tendencies on a weekly basis. A lot of my free time is still spent wondering why I was such a dick in certain situations and why I have little to no filter. BUT I work at it every single day and compared to college where I was a full blown sociopath who didn’t care about anyone but me, I’ve come a long way. And that’s what it’s all about post-grad. Developing yourself little by little consistently every day until you look back, and after a year you’re able to think “Wow look how far I’ve come when I thought I was making no progress at all.”

It’s also important to understand that a lot of people will always see you as the person you were in college and their image of you may never change. It’s something that you have to accept and dismiss. If you live everyday with the drive to be better off today than you were yesterday, then there is nothing that can stop you because the only person you’re competing with is yourself. Don’t compare your jobs, don’t look down at others jobs and don’t put yourself down about your own job. Most people hate their first job right out of school and the “real world” is not like it’s made out to be where it all happens at once right after graduation. Some people will hit their stride out of the gates and others won’t hit it for a while. So live on the grind, compete against yourself and give positive enforcement to your friends. Some people will shit on your dream, or your job, or your decision to take a year off or whatever it is, but that’s because your vision isn’t theirs. You’re seeing everything through a different lens than everyone around you.

Just because you’re trying to find yourself and get control of the reigns doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Go out on the weekends- you can still even drink on Sundays, you’ll be surprised at how many people do. Go on trips- you have a steady income now and are able to do what you love. I love to write, so this is how I’m spending my Thirsty Thursday writing and watching the Yankees. Just have fun with it, whatever it is you do.

“Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in 1 year and underestimate what they can accomplish in 3.”