Oh, hello. I forgot about you.
Yes, yes, I know – a 2-month hiatus on a blog originally intended for a 4-month deployment is a little . . . flaky. Can you tell I’m new at this stuff? I’m trying, believe me. I have a few stories in the queue – let’s see if I can get through them in a reasonable amount of time. Or maybe I’ll just keep this blog going, telling stories about this one deployment, for the next decade or two.
Seriously, though, the primary reason (read: excuse) for my lack of commitment to this blog for the last two months was the efforts I had to devote to my masters thesis. I’ve been pursuing a graduate degree in national security with a concentration in terrorism (who doesn’t want to become a Master of Terror?) since I graduated from the Academy, and in December I enrolled in the 4-month course that drags students kicking and screaming through a 50-100 page paper. I wrote mine on the tendency of ungoverned regions to encourage terrorism . . . real shocker, that one. I spent every other day flying, too exhausted at the end to do more than read a couple of paragraphs of my book before dropping it on the floor as I lost consciousness, and then my off days consisted primarily of thesis-writing. The free time I did have on the rare days I stayed focused enough to feel confident in my progress consisted of gym trips (all in the name of balance) and hanging around with my one-of-a-kind crew. Deployment is rife with life lessons if one only listens, and I have definitely learned the importance of “being where you are” during my time here. More on that in a future blog post, perhaps. I should probably finish this one first.
Two weeks ago I turned in the final draft of my final thesis for what may very well be my final formal schooling program . . . though I doubt it. I need a break from the books and the homework and the constant grading rubrics, but I have a hunch I’ll end up roped into more academia sometime in the future. In fact, I look forward to it – at a time when sprung from necessity and a feeling of obligation and responsibility, borne not of a true desire to learn and grow, but rather of the knowledge that the Air Force would require it and I would never find a better time to begin than my time between graduating from the Academy and beginning pilot training.
The freedom of these last two weeks has been almost shocking. I can read, write, peruse magazines, watch movies, all without feeling guilty because there is something more pressing that should be monopolizing my time. Balance has never been a strength of mine, and when I have a deadline to meet, working towards it becomes the only path my mind will take. My life is slower, quieter, but in many ways more full. My time is now my own; for the past four years at least, more likely eight, ever since I started at the Academy, I have felt like the moments that truly belonged to me were rare, precious, and often tainted with the knowledge that the very next moment would yield another demand, another requirement for complete disregard of my own desires. Predictably, my voluntary activities have involved self-improvement and growth, from improving my language skills by reading books in Spanish, to picking up a copy of National Geographic in an attempt to learn more about this world I know so little of, to keeping up with weekly sermons back home. But they’ve also included a book of easy crossword puzzles and fitness magazines. I’ve always been satisfied with my choice to attend the Academy; however, it left me devoid of the ability to really enjoy and appreciate free time. I’m learning, though, and through this process am becoming much calmer, more balanced, and in general a truly joyful person.
Part of my newfound ability to think, “I feel like doing ________ today,” and then actually do it, has included a renewed commitment to writing. It’s something I’ve done since I was a child, spending my school’s staff development days at my dad’s office clicking away at a typewriter, creating fantasy lands or chronicling the epic adventures of my stuffed bear, Wesley, for the world to read. (He’s sitting next to me on my bunk bed at the moment, by the way. Yes, I’m a child. I’ve come to terms with it; you should, too.) I don’t care to count the colossal number of pages I’ve written for my masters degree in the past four years, not to mention the myriad more I tallied during undergrad, but needless to say, my ability to write for enjoyment died just as one’s ability to read for enjoyment wilts in the face of 500 pages of academic reading. Then, last week as I researched barefoot/minimalist running during my glorious free time, an article on the REI website surfaced in my Google search. At the top, in the spot reserved for the author’s name, was the name of a high school friend of mine. I had lost touch with her over the years, as we all do when we continue our lives away from the cookie-cutter shapes of high school, but I sent her a message to say hello and tell her that I had read her article. She replied and told me of her life since high school, which has included a creative writing degree, a period of time writing articles and blogging for REI, and now a job as an associate editor of Trail Runner magazine in Carbondale, Colorado. She sent me her blog address, and as I read her musings and some of her published work, I was reminded of the passion and freedom and license to create anything my heart desired when I put a pen to paper. Heaps of political science essays in the past eight years had suffocated that direct line to my soul, but one hour of reading my friend’s work rekindled my deep need, my almost animalistic instinct to write, that has lain dormant in me for too long.
The divine combination of more free time and an inspirational impetus has led me to commit to writing more, and writing for me. No grades, no requirements, and no critiques for starting sentences with conjunctions. Such a goal does not come to fruition overnight, however; I find myself writing dryly, and the images that used to flood my brain and threaten to crush my soul from the inside if I didn’t set them to paper immediately aren’t gone, but they’re very dusty. My vocabulary has become academically specialized and my previous skill for personification, analogies, and descriptions that could give life to any scene are reluctant to surface. But I mean to resurrect them, and my efforts thus far, rather than frustrating me and leading to tears and a concession of defeat, have brightened my days.
Today, as I sat idly tapping my itching fingers on my keyboard, willing the blank screen to yield a literary masterpiece, I began telling my best friend of my current bout with writer’s block. Punches were being thrown . . . and my opponent was winning. She asked about my blog, and suddenly the solution seemed so easy – my abandonment of this effort has lasted so long that I almost feared returning (I hope you all can forgive me!), but she’s right, especially on the days when inspiration simply eludes me. I intended to write a one-paragraph explanation of my absence before diving into a deployment story, but true to my writer’s persona, a small thought has evolved into an entire (and somewhat lengthy) post. Maybe there is hope for what I’ve come to realize is a central tenant of my soul. Maybe I can once again create life with just pen and paper.