BY ANNA J. STAINSBY

It’s not particularly novel to experience one’s first September sans back-to-school. Everyone does it. For the larger part of my own life, September will come without textbooks, without syllabi, or the (somewhat fun) drudgery of stuffing all my belongings into a car and moving out. It’s no doubt why my mother gets nostalgic and teary-eyed watching frosh storm the streets downtown — back to school is exciting, and a privilege granted to the youth.

But this year I’ll be standing by my mother, watching. It makes me feel old and yet, the yearning with which I look at those who get to go back makes me feel incredibly young, so uncooked, and unfinished with learning.

My undergrad at Queen’s flew by quicker than the cliché could have prepared me for. I would’ve thought that a degree under my belt and 4 years of studying would’ve made me feel more accomplished, more like a full-fledged adult as opposed to a clueless kid with a degree I still haven’t gotten framed.

The anticipation of an anticlimactic end to summer frustrated me to no end in the months leading up to it. It didn’t help that I’d been waitlisted for law school, left unsure until the very last days.

I self-soothed with reminders that a year off was the perfect opportunity to write the great Canadian novel (but about what?), to make money to spend on travel (where? and who with?), to have a breather between degrees (but I thrive when I’m busy and get antsy when I slow down! It’s why I suspect yoga makes me anxious, but MMA calms me down). I kept telling myself that this was the only year I’d have to myself before my final degree and years upon years of work. This both appeased my anxiety and put pressure on what I’d make of it.

Ultimately, my fear centered around the idea that the year would be wasted, and that I’d come out of it having learned nothing, having done nothing. But it wasn’t until I was complaining to my boyfriend’s mother about my frustration that I got the answer I truly needed.

For most of the summer, I’d doused those reminders onto my anxiety and let others band-aid it with consolatory meant-to-bes and promises that next year I’d be in law school. But instead of repeating the same reassurances, she opened up her laptop and pulled up the TDSB’s Continuing Education website. She had me peruse the classes offered and scroll through all the categories until that little knot of back-to-school excitement started filling my chest (reflecting on this makes me realize just how much of a nerd I am deep down).

It gave a whole new meaning to “actions speak louder than words”. That although people’s words gave me comfort, none gave me confidence that this year wouldn’t be one I wasted, one I’d come out of unchanged. The only thing that did was taking action and control over what I’d make of it.

I ended up signing up for metalsmithing class. It’s something I’ve always wanted to learn but didn’t when I was focused on more academic ventures. Whenever dream jobs are brought up, goldsmith is my go-to answer — I’ve always wanted to work with my hands in a creative way and design my own jewellery.

The second I did, I felt relief. Relief that I was doing something wanted, something I chose. Relief that I didn’t have to go back to school to learn. I realized that what I had needed all along was something concrete to know I’d make the most out of this year.

And just like that, it opened the floodgates. While I didn’t write a word all summer, I’ve since funneled out two think-pieces, opened up a draft of an unfinished novella, and started to fill out a notebook with ideas for designs and pre-emptive notes on the process of working with metals. I also have a new venture in the works to document my learning process and feature creatives who inspire me. Almost cartoonishly, I’ve done a mental 180°, more grateful than ever to be able to use this year to learn and create.

A couple of days later, my own mother texted me a Tony Robbins quote: “The path to success is to take massive, determined action”. It all made sense.

So, here’s to the year of action, of doing, of taking control when a door slams shut and punching out the window with freshly made rings

Anna J. Stainsby is a recent Queen’s grad and former MUSE Online Director. If you have a story you want to share or an article you’d like to see on MUSE Online, you can submit your pitch here.