Somehow I've Been Away for Two Months?

I've been wanting to start a blog for a while, and tonight while procrastinating on my college applications and reading my friend’s blog, I decided that now would be as good a time as ever. There are so many people back home that I want to share my experiences with, and Instagram captions just don't cut it (although I hope you like my artsy pictures anyway).

Looking back, it's hard to believe I've been away from home for two whole months. In some ways it feels like just minutes, and in others it feels like years. Let's start with how much I've learned. First of all, I am absolutely in love with my academic classes. My Biography and Memoir class has given me a new perspective on the years of adolescence and growth, and I've learned that it's okay to not have everything figured out (which happens to be a super relevant lesson in my life right now). On top of that, you can always tell that it's a great English class when you and your classmates continue class discussions at the lunch table... and again at dinner... and again at that study session you were really looking forward to. My math class, although it hasn't taught me to look at the world any differently, has taught me a lot about myself and my need for structure and definition in everything I do. In addition to learning tons through my academics, some of the most important lessons I have learned have to do with taking care of myself and being responsible. I considered myself a responsible person back home, and I still do, but sometimes it is definitely hard to wake up an hour early because I forgot to do my laundry or drag myself to dinner even though I'm on a roll in the composition lab. I don't think I realized how independent I had become until a few weeks ago, when my parents came to visit. They tried to take care of me like they used to, and I got a little upset (sorry Mom) because I felt like my capability was being questioned. Even though it seemed like a huge stumbling block of immaturity at the time, I think those moments with my parents just show how independent I am now, even though it was kind of a shock to all of us.

Most importantly, I have learned SO much musically. I have the opportunity of taking piano lessons, playing piano in 3 jazz ensembles, taking clarinet lessons, and playing clarinet in band, even though I'm still a composition major and I have the privilege of taking composition lessons and doing what I love every day. I'm so lucky to be in a place that encourages me to pursue everything I'm passionate about, while still challenging me in all areas. I have listened to more music than I ever thought humanly possible, and I've come to love many different types of music that I never thought I would. With listening has come a lot of new influences in my writing, and I'm really excited about it. I'm currently working on 3 pieces and have a concept for another, and I can't wait for my friends and family (and possible future college professors) to hear them.

Speaking of college, no senior year update blog post would be complete without at least a couple sentences on college. People have told me a lot of things... "Undergrad doesn't matter", "Find the best fit for you", and even though I know these things to be true, it still feels like the biggest decision of my life. This is probably because it is... so far. Thinking about being completely independent and hopefully in a supportive college environment in less than a year is the most terrifying thing ever. I have narrowed my list down to ten schools, and I feel that I could be happy at all of them, which I think is extremely important and often overlooked. Too many high school seniors apply to schools because they think the name of the school will somehow prove to the world that they are smart or talented, regardless of how happy they may be. Some of the best college advice I have ever been given is, "Don't apply anywhere you don't actually want to go. Make sure you'll be happy at your dream school and your safety." For me, I think I've achieved that balance, and now it's just a matter of writing essay after essay and trying to make myself stand out from the millions of other also qualified applicants. I do, however, feel that being here has prepared me for the college environment much better than living at home would. I know how to do my laundry, cook easy things, wake up by myself, go to class, etc.

I don’t want to pretend like I have everything figured out and this experience has brought me closer to any form of knowing what I’m doing. I’ve struggled in many ways and one of the biggest challenges for me has been making friends in a new social environment. I realized a couple weeks ago that I haven't really had to make new friends since I was 9 entering middle school. All of the "new" friends I've made since then have been introduced to me by a mutual friend, so I didn't actually have to meet anyone completely new to me. Here, that was not the case. Although I had met a handful of my fellow students at camp this summer, I was only close with two other composers, and I clung to them for a while. It worked out because they seemed to do the same. All introverted people, we enjoyed each other's company while still being able to give each other space when we could tell they needed to work. However, this small circle (triangle?) of friends quickly became a problem when our friendships started to get complicated and I realized I was not friends with any potential performers for my music. In an attempt to be social with these two particular people, I neglected finding other people to hang out with and I've ended up feeling more lonely than I thought I would. Over the past couple weeks, I have tried to meet new people and form deeper relationships with those I had already met. Although I still eat lunch with my same best friend out of our triangle, I have branched out and met some incredible people. Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely still working on it, but at least I've made some progress at this point.

Another challenge for me has been time management. After failed attempts at practice schedules, organization techniques, and "designated writing time", I've been feeling pretty discouraged when it comes to organizing myself and staying on task. In the end, I get everything done that needs to get done, but often I don't practice as much as I should or take that extra step to proofread my score before a lesson. I think this has a lot to do with my aforementioned desire to be social. Back home, I was used to seeing my friends from 8-3, sometimes 4:30 and then going home and getting work done. Here, I see my friends from 7 AM to 10 PM, and it's tough to balance "Sure I'll walk to get ice cream with you" with "No I'm sorry I have homework". It is also hard for me to manage having such wide interests and so few hours in a day. I want 4 hours to practice clarinet and 4 hours to practice classical piano and 2 hours to practice jazz piano and 2 hours to transcribe Wynton Kelly solos and 10 hours to compose music every day. However, that's a little impossible given that there are only 24 hours in a day, so I'm forced to prioritize all the things I love and decide what's most important.  

On top of that, often composition is "most important", but I'm not feeling inspired. Maybe it's because I'm so new to composition, but I don't really have a pace. Either I'm beating my head against a wall trying to figure out what key to write in or I'm writing a whole piece in a few hours. In addition, I haven't found what kind of space I work best in. I love the composition lab, but I get distracted by other composers. I love my dorm, but I get distracted by food and movies. I love the porch down by the lake, but I have a feeling that in a few weeks it's not going to be so pleasant. I don't even know what time of day I work best... Well. Actually I do, but I'm trying to improve my work at times other than 2 AM. It's all about finding a routine, which only comes with time. I'm hoping it comes soon, though, because I'm definitely having a tough time figuring out the most efficient way to get everything done that needs to get done.

That being said, I'm super excited for what the rest of the year holds and although I'm going through some challenging moments and will probably continue to struggle, everything overall has been extremely encouraging to me. I've found a wonderful church home, I've found my (small) group of people that I love to be around, and I've found a magical place to explore any creative and artistic endeavors I could possibly imagine... which right now happens to be a lot. But I don't mind.

ThoughtsReagan Casteel