Monday, December 25, 2006

Respite for the Soul

Unfortunately, recovering from the past two years is sure taking its time. After I turned in my thesis, I felt a periodic relief over that weekend. However, the next ten or so days felt continually stressful to me, even though there was almost nothing significant for me to stress myself over. I continually sought ways to escape from the intense fear and worry that I suffered day after day, usually though a combination of sleeping, running, video games, and watching anime. But perhaps the best medicine I have discovered is that of companionship. Simply going out, socializing with friends, and enjoying a more normal existence has done wonders for quelling my anxiety. A week ago while I was still in Austin I was hanging out with friends for the entire day, going to a brunch party, shopping, watching a movie at a friend's house, watching another movie at the Alamo.....I honestly can not remember the last time that I spent the entire day out of my house and with other people. I've decided that I'm going to make an effort to get out with friends more (once a day when possible).

I drove back to Phoenix from Austin on the 20th with a friend from high school (who is now a grad student at UT). We left at about 8:30AM Austin time and arrived at midnight Phoenix time, so it was about 14.5 hours to travel just over 1,000 miles. It was long, but it was surprisingly relaxing compared to taking a shorter 2 hour flight. Its nice being home, but its really cold here compared to what it was like when I left Austin. It doesn't help that my mom insists on not turning on the heat in the house (she claims that she can't afford it). I've made a lot of good progress in reducing my stress in the past five days, but I still have a long way to go. What frustrates me most of all is that I finally have loads of time to work on Allacrost, but I don't have a proper state of mind to work on it. Its really sad to admit, but my abilities in writing, reading, programming, drawing, and hell, everything are incredibly lower than what I am normally capable of.

Which brings me to my next point: I think graduate school did made me worse in more ways than it has made me better. I've been analyzing this over and over in the back of my head over the past couple of weeks. First, the good things. After finishing graduate school, I can now state with confidence that I am more intelligent than I was before. That is really the only solid positive I can find. Now as for the negative, in my current state I am now: less creative, less articulate, more selfish (I had to become selfish to survive, even though I hate being selfish), less empathetic, less emotional (emotions are good things: you should treasure them if you have them), more anxious, less ambitious, less motivated, more cynical, and the list just goes on. Basically: I think that I've become more intelligent at the expense of every other aspect about who I am becoming worsened. If I had the opportunity to take my degree and somehow trade it in to get back all of the things that I have lost, I would do so without a second thought. Isn't that sad? Isn't that really, really sad? This whole experience has almost driven me to reconsider practicing as an engineer and seek another field of interest. Hell, what am I talking about? That already happened a year ago when I applied to the damn school of neuroscience! Looking back at my actions then, I can clearly see that a significant portion of what motivated to do that back then was because I was seeking an escape from my present. I'm still very interested in the subject mind you, just not to the degree where I would actively pursue an education in the field.

On a more random topic, I'd like to discuss my dreaming as of late. In the past week, and especially since I've come back home, my dreaming has become unbelievably more deep with each passing night. What do I mean by deep? I mean that the world constructed by my subconcious is ever more real and tangible. Every time that I wake up, it takes me about 10-15 minutes to reconstruct the experience that is reality. I have to re-realize who I truly am, and accept that all of the experiences I have had were nothing more than fragments of a virtual world that I unknowingly constructed around myself. Suprisingly, I'm sleeping about a normal 8 hours of sleep a night. But every time I wake up I feel like I've been in a coma for weeks. Even more perplexing to me is that even though these dreams are nearly more real than they have ever been, I can't remember much when I wake up. I do know that each dream I've had in the past week has had me centered around a different major conflict. The memories I have of the past week of dreams are few and scattered, but I remember in one there was a princess, and in another I had given up engineering to become an actor (which I was talented at, in the dream at least). Perhaps I should make it a habit to record my dreams when I wake up so that I can actively recall the events that transpired. I do not dislike these dreams. Oh no, I much prefer living in my various dream worlds than in the real world presently. Sometimes I ponder to myself that if I could, would I opt to sleep for the rest of my life, with the conscious decision that I was living in my dreams? Or would the guilt of completely neglecting the going ons of the outside world overwhelm me? I have been unable to find my answer.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

And Just Like That, Its Over

On Friday, December 8th 2006, I walked into the UT Austin graduate school office, with a pile of signed forms clinched tightly in one arm along with a CD containing my thesis. I wrote my name down on a list, and waited in the office for about 20 minutes with half a dozen other anxious looking would-be graduates. During those 20 minutes, I was practically frozen in both body and mind. I just blankly stared at the floor, not knowing what I should be thinking. When my name was called, I rigidly stood up and walked with an older gentleman, a thesis/degree evaluator, into his back office. He looked over my forms to make sure that all the right signatures were in all the right places, and then took my CD and inserted it into his iMac to make sure that it met all the formatting requirements. The graduate school had "highly recommended" getting your thesis evaluated long prior to the deadline, but I didn't finish formatting mine until the night before, so I didn't have much of a choice. I was frozen in fear while he carefully looked all 106 pages of the document over (in fact, I still have a feeling of anxiety thinking about this moment), for this day was the last day to submit a thesis. If he didn't give his approval, I didn't know what on earth I could do about it...

Thankfully, he said it looked perfect, "exactly like a thesis should look like" in his own words. He then followed by mentioning that it is very rare for a person to have their thesis pass on its first evaluation, which made me feel like I swallowed a smooth stone that was the size of a large chicken egg. He clipped my forms and my thesis CD together and congradulated me. I thanked him politely, and walked out of the graduate studies office. The first thing I thought was "that's it?". For two and a half years, I've been constatntly fighting to stay afloat through a hellish struggle, the likes of which I could have never imagined. And then, just like that, it all ended. It seemed too simple, too easy. The climax of such a long and enduring battle should have been more dramatic, more signifcant. But as I walked out that office, I started laughing, almost in an evil genius sort of way, because I was now, officially, a graduate school graduate. As I walked out the front steps of the main building on campus, I stood above an overcast scene of downtown Austin, with the state captial building towering in front. I stared at that scene for a good minute and seared it into my memory. I'm sure that my eyes will never forget what I saw that day.

I chose not to attend the commencement ceremonies. I had no family visiting me for the occasion, and I didn't know anyone else who was graduating this December. I regret it only slightly, because I'm sure it would have felt damn nice to put on those graduation robes, and crisply snatch away that which I have rightfully earned. Perhaps that is the dramatic climatic ending I was hoping for? No matter. I bought myself a 2006 tassle as a momento at least, to hang next to my 2000 (high school) and 2004 (bachelor's) tassles.

Its amazing how much lighter my body is now. It feels like a 20 ton weight has been lifted off my back after being bound to me for nearly 2 years. I've lived this weekend in a constant state of disbelief. Somehow, a part of me believes that I'm still in that firey pit of hell, and that some other seemingly impossible task (or combination of tasks as is usually my case) is going to fall into my lap. But slowly, I think I'm subconciously starting to accept the truth. For whatever reason, I've been sleeping very deeply ever since I graduated. The dreams I have in that state of deep sleep are.....phenomenal to say the least. I can only remember bits and pieces, but they are very long stories where I assume a different role and struggle in a different way. Maybe I'm still fighting subconciously, I don't know.

So, what am I going to do now that I have absolutely no commitments to anyone or anything? I don't know, live a little maybe? I'm starting by cleaning up things in my life, and throwing away that which I no longer need. I had about 50 print-outs of academic papers that I've read over the past two years, which I had originally intended to file away, but I said screw it. I don't need this dead weight anymore, so I recycled them all instead. I'm also cleaning up all the junk that has accumulated on my hard drives over the past two years, since I never had a breathing moment to clean them. After all this cleaning is over, I'm going to attempt to build a social life once again. I really, really need to get out more and have fun with people my age for once. Not only do I deserve it and desire it, but it would be good medicine for my recovery as well. It goes without saying, but of course I'm going to work on Allacrost a lot now that I can finally afford to. I'm going to go home and see my friends and family in Phoenix for 3-4 weeks over the winter holiday as well.

Well that's enough rambling on about life from me. My brain is still pretty fried, to a degree that it really makes my writing a horribly poor read (compared to my usual ability anyway). I'm not really thinking about the long term too much yet, but I'll most likely seek an engineering job somewhere in Austin in the future (I don't wish to move out of the city right now). One thing I know for sure though is that I need a new goal, a new purpose for moving forward. I just don't know where to find that goal right now, or what form it is going to be in. But for the time being, I'm just going to continue to use as little of my brain as I can.

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