My body has achieved that point of greatness in which I can now narrowly outpace a chubby prairie dog on my bike, assuming I slept well, had a light breakfast, there is no wind, and I didn’t over-exert myself going up a steep hill. I think I’m nearing my peak, the zenith of my fitness, the point at which I have physically self-actualized. In other words, it doesn’t feel like I’m dying when I go up the stairs to my office anymore. For the first time in a little over 6 years, I can say I’m not on a steady mortal decline.
I’ve spoken to a few people who are about to start grad school, and both my college freshmen and my high school sophomores asked me what it was like because, I don’t know, maybe they want to start saving money now so they can spend as much as they need on cheap food and expensive liquor when the time comes. Grad school and college in general was an unhealthy but necessary part of my life. I’m pretty sure it’s that way for everyone. I took care of grades but didn’t really care that my body was basically decaying like a jack-o-lantern left out long after Halloween. I caved in on myself, and the candle inside got moldy, and some kids dragged me out into the street and smashed me with their malicious child feet.
The next time a student asks me what grad school was like, I’m going to tell them the truth: I lost 25 pounds in 2 months once I didn’t have so much work that it felt like I was being punished for wanting a degree. School makes it so hard to think about anything else, so it’s really, hard to treat yourself like a person. I have eaten more shitty peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the last two years than I did all through my childhood of getting free lunch at school. It’s easy to convince yourself that getting 5 hours of sleep a night is a lot if you’ve only been getting 2 or 3 lately, and that’s the kind of arithmetic bullshit I lived by.
I don’t feel like I’m dying anymore. It feels more like I’m rejoining society after having been locked in an office for a sad long while. The next few years are just going to me going outside and being astonished that birds exist beyond the hours adjacent to 5 am because that’s when I’d hear them the most. I’ve been getting to campus about an hour and a half before I teach because that’s when I used to lesson plan and do homework, but now I’m relaxed and have planned the class in advance, so I just take a walk, chat with colleagues, look at flowers and dogs and grass and people. I sat on a bench and glared at a tour. I wouldn’t have been able to burn my way into the optimistic souls of those young people if not for having this sudden free time.
I was a bad student, and I was a student for a long time. Those bad habits became bad rituals and those became just a shitty way of living. If I’d continued on for a Phd, I’d end up on the news a few years down the line as the first fully realized human-goblin hybrid, having slowly transformed while wasting away in the dark, eating buckets of cheap instant noodles and gallons of expensive tea. I’m not unique in that I had shitty habits in college. I’m actually comfortably part of a trend. However, to all the people like me, the ones in school or out of it, get out of the shitty habits fast. Cook an onion or something. Look at a leaf. Pet a cat you meet outside. Eating bad food and getting no sleep didn’t help me so much as it saved up fuel for my inevitable crash and burn.