Sunday, December 21, 2014

And Finally

Less than a week before Christmas, my first semester of college at a Masters level came to an end, all assignments submitted, all the panic over and done with until the results officially come out in February. (I suspect the reason for the wait is actually because of the courses that have examinations after each semester, so we have them to thank for the delay in finding out how we did. Thanks guys!)

Despite the fact that being a Masters student is in some way supposed to be an indicator of maturity and adulthoodness (Blogger's spell-check doesn't recognise that as a word, but neither does it recognise its own name) we decided to go the way of the Undergrad. Namely, we went out for a few celebratory drinks.

Thirteen weeks before this, we hadn't even met each other. We had our orientation, in which we were commended on being mature, responsible adults, capable of the anticipating the challenges of adulthoodness. I might be paraphrasing. The point is that we were strangers, save for two trios who either (a) were in the same classes at Undergrad level or (b) were one year apart in the same Undergrad programme. That's about a quarter of the class entering with some sort of familiarity with someone else, even if that was just a face and a vague memory.

(Side note: as I mentioned in a previous post, one of my friends' girlfriends is actually sort of a neighbour of mine, whom I've never met. It also happens that someone else went to the same secondary school as someone else's boyfriend, the someone else originally from the States. And about a quarter of the class - at least - have some connection to Galway. We're not sure how to explain these small coincidences. Retrospectively, someone might say we were meant to come together as a class group, and I like to think that means we did/will do well enough after the programme to warrant mass-stalking of the group. Or just someone reading my blog.)

I could, once again, break down the thirteen weeks of the course for your reading pleasure, but it's much easier if you just read the previous posts about my progress in the Masters. What you'll find in there, aside from a brief overview of what I've been doing in the course and how sentimentally attached I've gotten to the group (on the few occasions we've gone out for drinks, I estimate I've been between 1-3 drinks away from "I love you guys!" Those of you reading this - that's how you know you've reached 100% completion in the game of Get Paul Drunk! Alternatively, just re-read this.)

[Insert incredibly subtle segue here!] 
No, today I want to talk about me, because eventually my egocentricity had to come to the fore.

Back when the course began, I hadn't considered much of myself. I didn't immediately introduce myself with "I've published 7 books on Amazon, and written a few more on top of that." I could have. The opportunity was there. Instead, I chose to talk about The Curve and my desire to get into publishing, and the fact that I come from an Education background but never managed to escape retail. Now, I want to talk to about another book - one I haven't gotten to actually read yet, but which I've taken part in a small section of a course based on the book: The Motivation Manifesto, by Brendon Burchard.

Early into the course, homework was set: write your own Manifesto. So I did. I'm not going to share the whole thing here. There are some things on it that are still quite personal. But the main point I want to make from it is the ending of what I'd written.

Life should be fun. Life should be full of joy. There will always be struggles. There will always be fear. But they don't need to define how you live. Let yourself be happy. Let yourself get to know people. Let yourself get hurt. It's all part of the adventure.

Okay, it's a little bit...dramatic? Sappy? I don't know. It's supposed to be something that keeps me motivated. And did it?

Well, as it happens, yes. Inadvertently. I guess putting it into words helped immediately. This is where we get a bit personal. Very early on, I got a feeling about one of my classmates - like, a vibe, not a crush. It's hard to put this into words - easier when drunk and talking with someone who knows him. The feeling said to me that I could be friends with this person. I won't name him. I'm sure my classmates know who it is. What was significant for me was that I hadn't felt this way about someone since I met one of my very close friends four years beforehand, and a year beforehand with pretty much everyone else from my Undergrad college I still talk to (including one who wasn't in my year.) I didn't get much of a chance for this to happen with other people, in fairness, but I hadn't felt something so certain in a long time.

And it was a scary feeling.

Historically, I'm not great at close friendships. I don't tend to be close in the right way. I know exactly why I behave this way, but when the other person doesn't, that's very difficult to deal with. So, I have a tendency not to talk about myself. At all. It's not healthy, I know. I didn't really break that habit until the summer of 2010, and not again until 2012, And then, nothing. Not until late October this year, and much more much quickly than any other time.

End result; more panic. More worry. It wasn't enough to talk about myself, if I wasn't sure it was the right idea. I promise that in due course this will all make a lot more sense, but the effective result of everything going through my head was a belief that I needed to alienate myself from that one person who I'd actually let myself open up, and who had been ridiculously supportive about the whole thing.

What happened next completely shocked me, and this really goes to show how far gone I'd become. A little bit of madness on a Monday morning was dealt with rationally and compassionately, and not with anger. Not with vehemence. Not with any sort of disdain for me having a freak-out in the same week we had deadlines for assignments. I hadn't thought that this specific person would react in this way; my fears were - and I suppose still are - founded on how I think everyone would react in this situation.

The conversation we had wasn't especially long - at least it didn't feel that way - but it was incredibly important. He talked me down from a freak-out, asked all the right questions to help me understand what was going on in my own head...and it seems like that was what I'd never experienced before. Historically, whenever I had a similar sort of freak-out (and it only ever seems to happen with people I feel like I'm getting too close to too quickly, because how unfair is it on me to dump any of my personal stuff on them) I didn't deal with it very well. It usually repeated itself on a regular basis. We're talking daily, here. But since Monday, nothing.

See, I didn't really pay much attention to the Manifesto I'd written for myself, despite the fact that it's within my eye-line so often. I didn't pay attention to a part near the top - Be Yourself. Be Honest. Be Open.

The thing is, I'm trying. I'm trying really hard to pay attention to my own Manifesto. I'm trying to be a good friend. I'm trying to be a good son, and brother, and uncle (as well as nephew, grandson, cousin, godson, etc.) I'm trying, and it's difficult coming from the point of view that getting close to people isn't necessarily the best thing I can do (there's a whole set of stories about that one, but basically things got better for a while when I started my Undergrad, and then plateaued until recently.)

I don't believe life should be spent alone. I'm not very good at practising that belief, but I carry it with me every day, and I try not to be alone when it matters, when it can be helped. It took a long time to get to this point. I definitely wasn't ready for this way of thinking a year ago. I wasn't ready for adulthoodness and the accompanying pressures, expectations, and maturity that come from it. Similarly, I was completely unprepared to make even one extremely valuable friend - valuable not because I'm allowed to talk about whatever's going on in my head, but because I'm allowed to just be myself and speak my mind, and even when our opinions don't match, they still fit. I'm not sure I can really count how many I've made this semester, and I can't quantify the good it's done me.

These past thirteen weeks have brought me almost entirely out of my comfort zone. I have practically no technical background that would have helped with the course. I didn't study art or the media at an academic level before. More significantly, more personally, I don't do well meeting large groups of people for the first time when the expectation is that I should be able to work with them. (The first three days of teaching placement every year were especially terrifying in that regard.) I haven't been in a new class group since 2009, and I've never started in a new educational institution without my twin brother. We've been with each other the entire way, from the first day of primary school to our graduation from Mater Dei in 2013. I was scared. I was nervous. And bit by bit, as the first couple of weeks went by, I started to get the vibe-feeling about other people. Bit by bit, I started to feel like I was in the right place. Finally.

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