I had the incredible honor of meeting Kristen Clark Taylor on two occasions this week. A phenomenal MSU English alumna, Ms. Taylor has worked in the White House, authored four books, helped found USA Today, and so much more. Most importantly, she is a woman who retains the same passion for the craft as she had when she started reading. Hearing her speak of her experience and the integral part writing has played in her journey made me want to go out and start writing America’ next best story. To hear someone speak from the same place in their heart from which I write made me believe in myself in a way I have not in a while.
My past couple of months (read: the past semester) have been overwhelming. Keeping myself organized has always been something I’ve done well, mostly because without organization my number of commitments would slip into a huge, chaotic mess. But let me tell you, I am so sick of color-coding my planner. This week, I finished a massive project for my advanced fiction class, finished conducting interviews for the peer mentor program I’ve been helping develop, enrolled in my final college semesters (eep!), and still have an induction ceremony and interview yet to come. Basically, it’s been a week.
Sometimes I worry that I don’t know how to fully relax… especially this semester, trying to balance so many different things that all demand attention. Especially with my author study, which I’ve felt compelled to spend every free moment working on simply because of the quantity of research required to produce my 2-3 page reflective paper. Especially with assignments I know will creep up, slowly at first but then collectively demanding my attention. After our last interview on Friday with my author study complete, I had no idea what the heck I was going to do before my 3 o’clock class. My first thought was to stay later at work and start making decisions about applications. My supervisor gave me a questioning look, and I looked down at my planner then out the window. There was just enough sunshine to beg me to go outside and play, so I closed my planner and told my supervisor, “You know what? See you Monday. I’m going for a walk.”
I must admit, I haven’t often spent an hour of my time simply enjoying the fresh air and not thinking about the next thing on that color-coded to-do list. I also must admit that 20 minutes spent outside, listening to music and not rushing to get to class or rushing to get home and scarf down dinner before starting on homework, was serene. Serenity is not a descriptor I often use when describing my life, because it’s usually a mess of appointments and opportunities. That’s not to say I regret the time I’ve spent cultivating my professional and academic identities– on the contrary, without the opportunities I’ve been given and taken advantage of, I would not be the person that I am. All I mean to say is that the importance of balancing those opportunities with that serenity is something I felt most profoundly that Friday after our last interview.
Life has a tendency to pick up the pace in such a way that you don’t even notice it. Kind of like a smooth gas pedal in a brand-new car can have you speeding down the street before you even realize you’re going 15 miles per hour faster, it accelerates almost invisibly until it feels too fast altogether. How did that happen? When did I start accelerating? Learning to pump the breaks has been a constant process for me, because accelerating into the things I’m passionate about never seems like a bad idea– until I can’t keep up the acceleration rate. Balancing my ambition with my very real, very human limitations is a tough task, but I’m figuring it out.
There’s nothing wrong with recognizing those limitations– in fact, I’d say it’s pretty healthy. As I move through my time in college, I’ve learned the value of saying “no” and knowing that I don’t have to do everything. Sometimes, a few carefully chosen opportunities provide the same yield because I can give 100% to each instead of just 50% here, 25% there. I remind myself every day that being human is okay and relaxing is okay… it’s okay to snuggle with my kitty, watch Netflix, and not open my damn planner for a couple hours.
So what does this have to do with the incomparable Kristen Clark Taylor? A woman who has done so much and taken advantage of every opportunity… a woman who has shown all that can be done with a little hard work and a lot of passion? When she visited my rhetoric and cultures class, she told us about a conversation she had with the also incomparable Maya Angelou (because no big deal, she met Maya Angelou and got some life advice): learn to respect your own silence. Ms. Taylor told us with a laugh that she wasn’t sure if Maya Angelou was telling her to be quiet, but said that given time to reflect back she understood that she meant feel comfortable in silence and feel comfortable in stillness.
We all need our silence and our stillness. We need times when we aren’t running through our to-do lists or rushing to appointments or working on homework or working on a business report. It’s in silence that we hear the world speak to us… it’s in our breaks in speech that we can hear what others are trying to say. The stillness of a walk on campus after a long week of school and work gave me a chance to enjoy the sunlight, enjoy the birds who are (almost) as excited for spring as me. It gave me a chance to just slow the hell down and remember that no one needs to be going full speed ahead all the time. Listening to your silence and experiencing your stillness doesn’t mean you’re being unproductive– it just means you know how to respect the balance in your life.