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New Beginnings

Phase endings in life usually cause reflections

This is my last week of work. On Friday, I'll say goodbye to the school, and about a month from that, I'll say goodbye to the city in which I've spent my whole life.

It's a strange mixture of bittersweet relief and anxiety. I once accused someone of being bound to the place they were born, refusing to leave it, but it's taken me years to realize that, actually, that's me. I'm the one that is too scared to leave. I'm the one that clings to this place that I call home. It took me over two years to really accept that my parents had moved from my childhood home, and even now, I get tears thinking about it.

What are the things that tie us to places? Is it people? Is it memories? It is fear?

When I came to my soon-to-be-ending job last August, I was a different person. I had just finished my master's, and proud of the work I had done. I was living with my then-boyfriend, hoping that my parents would come to accept my decision to move in with him. I was excited for graduate school applications, feeling like I had finally settled into my chosen course.

Six months later, I had a quarter-life crisis, or whatever they call them nowadays. I woke up one morning and realized that I hated what I was doing. The four hour commute each day wasn't just exhausting, it was making me hate every day. I had gotten interviews at half of the grad schools I applied and was rejected from a school I loved post-interview. Animal work, once fulfilling despite its challenges, had lost its appeal to me. I no longer cared about the importance of what I was doing--and it was (is?) important! But that didn't matter to me. For two months, I'd barely written at all. I spent my commutes either driving or sleeping on the train.

As undergrad taught me, writing is necessary for my mental health. Adding a creative writing minor in my last year likely pulled me out of my deep depths of depression. When I transitioned to my master's program, I was lonely and had a hard time adjusting--so I spent a lot of time writing.

Now, in mid-February, something broke in me. I was sick of writing taking the back seat to the other things in my life. What was wrong with wanting to write full time? I know so many brilliant, successful freelance writers, and if I pitched myself as a science writer, I might be able to make it. Maybe.

And my writing communities were encouraging! They gave me thoughts and advised that if I wasn't fully committed to a PhD program, then I shouldn't do one. It's the same advice I've given my students over the years: you have to really, really want it.

I finally mustered up the energy to talk to my parents about the issue. I had interviewed at all of my schools, fairly certain I had botched my last one at the University of Pennsylvania with my intense apathy. I was deciding with every passing day to switch my focus to science writing. I would apply to go to a science journalism program in a few years, after Gabe was done with his master's.

The day that I sat down with my mother, it hit me: I didn't start off in the hard sciences in college. I began as a psych major, because my IB/AP psychology class in high school was so intuitive to me. I only became a bio major (and almost a biochem major, until my organic chemistry grades begged to differ) because my former best friend/sort-of ex/abusive partner-in-all-things had bullied me into it. Psychology isn't a real science, he scoffed. He took great pride when I switched majors. He credited himself with the change. He was right.

Realizing that sent me in another spiral.

Somehow, despite my questionable interview, UPenn offered me a spot in the program. After a long talk with my mother, in which she informed me that my true love has always been human behavior (when just hours before, I made my horrible revelation) and that I would love switching to human research, I went up to my dad as he was washing the dishes. He had told me that it was ultimately my decision, but that he could give me some tools to help me figure out how to best achieve my goals. I didn't have any goals anymore. I didn't know what they were.

"Tell me honestly, would I be a fool to turn Penn down?" I asked him.

He looked me straight in the eyes. "Yes."

I accepted later that week.

These last several months have been a struggle at work. I think everyone can tell. I feel like my boss secretly is disappointed that she didn't get what she paid for--that when I joined the lab, I was energetic, excited, and productive. Now, I feel like I'm dragging through each day, digging closer to the end of the tunnel.

Friday. Just a few more days, and I'm done. Just a few more days, and I get to spend three glorious weeks with my husband, writing, playing video games, and writing some more. The latest novel, about two-thirds done, will be finished by the end of it. At least, it better be.

But all of this is still confusing, because it still begs the question: what do I want from my life? What are my new goals? What are the best ways to achieve them? Is leaving everything I know--from my research to the city of my birth, from the comfort of my parents' nearness to living with my husband--worth it to pursue a "perhaps"? And if I'm not sure who or what I am now, what will happen in another six months?


I wrote this during the last week of June, when it was released through my newsletter

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