I didn't go home for fall break or Thanksgiving. After eighteen years living in the same city and never leaving for more than a month at a time, I came to Oberlin in August and didn't go back to California until December, and that was tough. I had a really great first semester, and when I left for fall break to visit friends and family in Chicago I kept thinking, "I can't wait to go back home," and the home I wanted to get back to was Oberlin. But especially as it started getting colder, and as I struggled with final papers and projects, I started missing my California home. By the end of the semester I was definitely ready to go back to Los Angeles. I think for me it was good that I waited a little while before going home after coming to school. Mostly I made that decision because flights are expensive, but I'm glad I gave myself a lot of time to adjust to being at school before I went back. It made it so that school really feels like home to me, and it meant that by the time I went back to Los Angeles for a visit I was very excited to be there.
Why are people wearing heavy coats and gloves when it's sixty degrees outside? Has there always been this much traffic on PCH? Why does my room seem so much bigger than it did before? These are some of the many questions I began asking upon returning to LA. It's funny how strange a place that was once so familiar can become after just a few months away. My dog seemed older and slower. Things were out of place in the bathroom and kitchen and I didn't know where the measuring cups were. Interactions with my friends from high school weren't quite the same and I wondered if they'd changed or if I had, or if we just weren't as comfortable together as we had been before. It felt like I'd been gone for a very long time, or like I'd come back to a place that was pretending to be the home I'd left but not quite succeeding in its impersonation.
But then, after only a few days, it started to feel like I'd never left at all. Very quickly, home started to feel like home again, and I was happy to be back.
So I'd settled into home, I'd had a couple weeks to relax and see all the people I love, and I was ready to start my winter term project. And I was super excited about it. My project involved writing a short story cycle, a collection of short stories that are separate but related or meant to be read together. The idea started with a story I wrote for my creative writing class. The story was about one character in a family and I wanted to write about some of the other members of that family. I also read from a reading list of books with similar themes and styles of storytelling and kept a journal of reading notes and thoughts about the writing process. I've always had to try to find time to read and write amidst lots of other schoolwork and activities, so having a whole month just dedicated to reading and writing sounded delightful.
I settled into a routine of writing every day, and at first I thought having to spend a ton of time working on the same stories would become boring or exhausting and I would run out of ideas, but that didn't really happen. The more time I spent writing, the easier it became for me to keep writing. Sometimes I would get tired or feel like I was losing inspiration, but then I would read for a while or take a walk, and when I came back to my stories I was usually ready to keep going. Having one project that I was totally focused on was a very new thing for me and I really enjoyed it.
4. Health and Warmth (?)
Okay, so those aren't really feelings. But I got sick approximately four times last semester and was starting to feel like I was just going to have a cold for the rest of my life, so it was nice to be home where I could rest and get better. It was also nice to have a break from the cold weather that I'm not that used to and still trying to learn to manage. Because I had the time and I wanted to be outside, I started going for runs a few times a week in my neighborhood and I went with my mom to yoga. I went to the beach and really appreciated being able to swim in the ocean in January. It was just nice to be less busy and have the time to focus on enjoying home and taking care of myself.
A lot of the time in school, at the end of the semester we end up having a lot going on at once and it's hard to feel like I completely fulfilled my potential in all my assignments. I do my best to get everything done and end up feeling like if only there'd been less going on I could've done a little better. School is a constant balance of many different and often unrelated commitments, and it can be tough to manage all those different things at once.
The great thing about winter term is that it's a little more of a real world experience. Instead of being enrolled in a bunch of classes, we get one main project to really focus on, and there's more time to devote to that project. I felt a particularly nice sense of accomplishment when I finished my winter term project. Sure, I felt like maybe I could still revise a little more here and there. Nothing is ever perfect. But I really felt like I'd completed something that was as good as I could make it. I'd had the time to really give it my all, I'd written a lot, and I liked what I'd created. Often, during a typical semester of school, I turn in an assignment with some lingering regrets. There are thing I know I could've done better but I just didn't have the time to fix them. At the end of winter term I didn't have any regrets about my project. I'd had the time and the energy to give it my all, and I was proud of the result.
I think that going forward, this winter term has reminded me that it's possible to do more by doing less. Taking on less tasks means that there are less different things to split time between, and more energy to devote to each commitment. I think that I personally feel better when I'm doing my best at a few things than when I'm just barely managing a lot of different obligations. I think it's important to remember that you nobody can do everything, and I'm going to make it a personal goal for myself to only take on what I can handle.
6. Excitement! (Again)
At the end of my six weeks at home, I was happy, healthy, well rested, and ready to return to Oberlin for a new semester. Just when being home was starting to get boring, it was time to head back to school and I was very excited to return. A few days before I flew back, I got a package in the mail. It was a birthday present from one of my best friends I'd met during my first semester at school. It was full of cute gifts, including a hat she'd knitted to keep me warm in the cold we were returning to. We Facetimed for an hour after I opened the present and talked about our plans for and thoughts about the upcoming semester. Talking to a really close friend who I'd been missing got me even more excited to return to Oberlin. Leaving home and my family for another semester was hard, but knowing that I was returning to people who I love and care about made it a lot easier.
And here we are exploding with excitement over our upcoming reunion and our matching hats.