Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Melancholy Months, Part 1... The Poison

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us." —Helen Keller
*Why am I crafting a retelling of my post-college triumphs and letdowns? I'm not sure if it will benefit you in any way. I don't even know if many people will read this. Nonetheless, I think there's something to be learned by sharing a story. I'm learning more about myself in attempting to write this out; and in some way, I hope that other struggling post-graduates reading this may realize that we aren't alone in our challenges.*


For a long moment, I had stopped dreaming.

It began gradually, without my noticing. I'm the type of person who has an optimistic personality, kept in check by a realistic perspective. I expect my life to have high points and low moments, but I try to see what I can learn from each experience — good or unpleasant.

So how did this happen, that I woke up one day and realized my dreams had been pushed to the very edge of my life's frame? Well, as any noxious weed, it started as a small seed and quickly took root. While I was vaguely aware of its presence, this weed took up space  in my life's garden, grew strong, and crept taller and taller each day. I didn't see it clearly until it bloomed its infected head — having pushed my optimism and dreams out of the way to make room for itself.

I discovered the poisonous blossom at January's beginning...

Yet this problem didn't appear out of nowhere. How could this sneak up on me? Looking back, I suspect it had started during the autumn months of 2012.

I-90 between Missoula and Butte
After graduation, I headed toward a busy and exciting summer of traveling and mentoring. Early June brought me back from Wisconsin just in time for Montana HOBY (Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership) — just in time to meet more of Montana's brightest 15- and 16-year-olds, gathered together in one place. July brought Upward Bound and the opportunity to be a resident assistant to 75 high school students as they explored colleges in Montana and the San Francisco Bay area. The end of July brought a week-long visit from my boyfriend, just before my birthday in August. 

Wrapping up the summer season, I was re-crafting my resume, networking with anyone I could contact, and applying for writing and editing jobs left and right. I knew I was fighting an uphill battle as a recent college grad, but I was determined to go after the job hunt like I did any other task — with hard work, dedication, and creativity. I was filled with optimism as I tried to make my way out of post-grad 'limbo land'.

Early September set me up for a long fall; the seed of doubt had blown into my garden, and it had found soft soil.

Like many in this country, I couldn't find work, even just a temporary local job. I missed the structure and challenge of higher academics... Had I made a mistake in not pursuing graduate studies right away? I missed my Wisconsin cousins and close college friends... Should I have dedicated more time to finding a job in the Midwest and less time to my final college studies? I missed my independent life, too; after four years on my own, the constant interaction with my parents (under their roof) was something I wasn't used to anymore. 

The silver-lining in all this was that I was planning a visit back to Milwaukee — for networking, job interviews, and seeing family and friends. Maybe it would ease my transition into post-graduate life.

In mid-September, this noxious weed burst up out of the soil. Actually, it felt more like a horse kick — one that hits your blind side as you suddenly find yourself kissing the ground.

It took me a moment to realize that I really had hit the ground, when out of the blue my boyfriend suddenly became my ex-boyfriend. Hindsight is 20/20; I hadn't perceived the tremors that the long distance had created for him, but I certainly felt the aftershock when the strain was too much. We all know that I could sit here and record the details of my relationship woes — but it would do no good. I will say this though: I still respect him for his honesty toward me and for being honest with himself. Having been strung along many times before by the indecisiveness and doubt of others, honesty was the preferable alternative. For me, I regret nothing, I have left nothing undone, and for that I am grateful. As for him, I wish him the best — and I hope that he will one day know what he's looking for and will still have the courage to seize it when that day finally comes.

Also in September, I found out from my sister that she was applying to study abroad in Ireland — the exact place I'd hoped to study abroad while I was in undergraduate studies, the exact experience that remained barred from me due to wrong timing and financial constraints. As thrilled as I have been for her, I've had to beat down the jealousy that kept rising within me as I had watched my sister prepare for an adventure I'd dreamed about for a long time.

Fires of 2012
September, 2012
You know how bad situations wear you down more when you're physically sick? Well, let me introduce you to 10 weeks of forest fires and smoky skies, courtesy of the burning eastern Idaho wilderness and an intense drought. Even with minimal physical activity and staying indoors, it doesn't take long for that kind of poor air quality to make daily work much more difficult. October's arrival couldn't have been more perfect. At the very beginning of the month, two friends (newly-weds) stopped to spend a day with my family and me — en route in their move from Wisconsin to Washington State. They brought the first snow flurries of the season with them too, and it cleared the smoke from the valley overnight ("Oh, what a relief it is!").

Seeing my friends ripped the weed's roots out of my garden soil, and soon I was on a plane to Milwaukee for a 2 1/2 week visit. I was flying independent again! Between visiting with  various friends at different coffee shops, seeing grandparents and cousins, taking a proctored test as part of a job interview, driving down to Chicago for another job interview, and enjoying the scenic views of Lake Michigan every chance I got — that weed lay uprooted for a time. 

Kenosha, Wisconsin
Lake Michigan - Kenosha, Wisconsin - October 2012
But the weed didn't go away. I flew home again, my grandmother making the journey with me for an extended stay with my family in Montana. I hate to say it, but the confidence boost I got from my trip faded pretty quickly. The jobs I'd interviewed for in the Midwest resulted in more rejection letters. I was starting from scratch again, with no prospects and no leads. I was also now living in a three-generation household — and we were all having trouble adjusting to one another. The weed took root again.

I did finally land a local job in mid-November, and believe me, all the advice about finding work through networking and the 'hidden job market'... is all very true. (I still wish I was a bit better at maintaining my networking connections, because it really does work!) I should've been happy. I was finally on my way to paying back my student loans. I was living in the beautiful, mountainous countryside. I could devote some time each day to writing. Each day I was learning new skills in a not-so-typical work field for a writer. My whole family would be all together for another Christmas season. What better way to get on my feet?

So what was the matter with me? I felt like my whole attitude had turned into that of the writer of Ecclesiastes. Why was I still so unhappy? Why did I act like I would never land my dream job? Why did I feel like I would never again travel beyond the United States? Why did I feel like my dreams had been shattered? Or had my dreams disappeared instead? I agonized over these questions while keeping up the careful facade — that all was well and that I was doing okay. I was even starting to fool myself.

That is, until I discovered that the weed had bloomed. 

I finally saw things more clearly at January's beginning. All it took was one conversation — with one friend — on one mountaintop.

... Continued in The Melancholy Months, Part 2 

"Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so." —John Stewart Mill

Bitterroot Valley, Montana
Bitterroot Valley, Montana, USA