Back to School: A Tale of Realizing I Haven’t Had My Fill Just Yet

10885450_10205610089834464_1040553844830321121_nWe are the community congo-line of unskilled laborers: grocery store stockers, café baristas, builders, students, cubicle dwellers with hour long commutes… and then there’s me, the associate at Panera Bread who has to get to Walnut by 5 a.m.

There’s a saying that a trait of unskilled laborers is that they wake up before everyone else. Another trait: they’re quite fond of 7-11, which is exactly where we all congregated around 4:30 a.m. They’re there for snacks, drinks, and a coffee to start their day – me, on the other hand, cigarettes.

It’s a typical Monday start: wake up, shower, pick up some cigarettes, rush to Walnut, work the shift, drive home, and then crash once I get home, in which I don’t wake up until early next morning. Tuesday suddenly manifests, and before you know it, it’s Saturday. Days drift seamlessly into each other, interspersed with insomnia, cigarette smoke, and Netflix. Maybe I’ll have engaging conversations in text messages and Facebook, but rarely will I come face to face with actual people other than my family.

I decided I wanted to go back to school a long time ago. I only had an associate’s degree, and despite the fact that I was able to major in a field I was truly passionate about, I was restrained by someone else’s paycheck. It wasn’t until late 2012 that I began to find some footing in paying college fees, but a bulk of my dues where paid off by my parents. I couldn’t help but feel pressured to learn the bare minimum so that I could finally get out and work some mindless office job, just as my parents had planned in their minds. And I did get out – but I couldn’t find a respectable job behind a cubicle.

I decided to go back to school, and I verbally communicated that to my Panera coworkers… last year.

Day in, day out, I worked from behind a cash register. Sometimes I’d drift behind the production line and make sandwiches and salads. I worked Knott’s Scary Farm; the only time I actually enjoyed work other than picking up occasional freelance jobs, writing for anyone who would hire me.

My life was stagnant. I saw the same people every day, said the same lines anywhere from 5 to 8 hours. People open my closet and say I have a ton of clothes, but when it all came down to usage, it was the earth-toned polo shirts and work pants that made me seem like a cartoon character with the same outfit for every episode.

Let me just say, I don’t hate Panera Bread. I’m thankful to be working a job that many despise. For me, it’s easy – a bit daunting at times if I’m given a list of tasks I have to complete before the end of my shift – but at the end of day, I recognize that I’m around good people, working a job that’s undeniably easy, and I have different experiences every day. But something inside me was dying.

My imagination ran dry. I didn’t care about things that were going on in the world. I didn’t want to write because I couldn’t come up with the right words. I was eating wrong – so wrong. And then I became this mess that pitied himself for all the things that be – namely, being fat, single, and in a place in my life where everyone seemed to be moving forward and I was just, well, there. What a fuck up you are, I’d tell myself.

I opened up to other people about me wanting to go back to school and the first impressions are mixed. There’s the, “congratulations!” or the “I’m proud of you!”

But then there’s also the, “why are you going back to school?”

“What will you learn from going back to school?”

“What classes will you be taking?”

“Why don’t you just find a job with your awesome writing?”

I’ve always said that I wanted to transfer, and to this day, it remains true. I want to go to a university and hone my journo skills. What I seem to leave out, however, is the fact that I wanted to learn more about other fields: theater arts, photography, fiction writing, dance – all of which are offered at Pasadena City College by the grace of God. Maybe I can dip my feet into radio, videography, broadcast, script writing – I don’t know. I’ve always found myself to be a student in life, but YouTube and WikiHow can only go so far.

I leave the fact that I still want to learn because I’m so ashamed. I’m almost 25 years old, no where near the age of 50-somethings who’ve established themselves financially already, and are going back to rekindle a passion that’s been extinguished.

But in an insomnia-ridden decision late December, I registered for classes at Pasadena City College… again.

I quickly tried to sign up for physical science, philosophy, and statistic courses. I’m in for it, I remember telling myself. I remember this sense of pressure taking over, especially knowing that this would be coming out of my paychecks without the support of my parents. I started to stress out, knowing that those three classes might tear every fiber of my very being apart. It was just like being rushed out of college again – even if it WAS just community college, I knew I’d have to work extremely hard. And then I remembered… this is my paycheck.

I could do whatever I want.

I took up geology… and then I picked up another journalism class so I could write for the student newspaper again. Then I picked up two theater arts courses: an introductory course to theater acting and just for giggles, mime. Then I went about the rest of December, proud of myself for making that decision. My parents didn’t think highly of my decision, but at least I was backed with the support of extended family: my friends.

So here I am, about seven weeks in. I’m writing feature stories up the ass because that’s what a lot of my freelance jobs have been… and I think I found my niche: arts and entertainment.

IMG_3930My theater classes have been my favorite. Right now, we’re memorizing and performing monologues that we’ve been given based on personal monologues we’ve written about ourselves. I wrote about my substance abuse years, and for some reason I was given a monologue about a teenager who’s horny for a nun. And mime – well – it’s the hardest class I’ve ever taken at PCC. It’s a lot more technical than you would think. Movements, body and object placements, facial expressions, and the accuracy and consistency of performances have to be spot-on, otherwise the illusions of the storylines just don’t work out. Tis’ hard work, and I’m barely getting the hang of walking in place.

I don’t know what I’m going to get out of these classes in the long haul. I don’t even know why I’m taking theater classes to begin with. I don’t even know why I’m writing stories for the student newspaper now that my years there have been spent. If I had to say, I don’t know why I’m back here.

But I’m a student in life. And so far, I’m enjoying every minute of being back in a classroom.

That is, until I take Statistics.

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About neilprotacio

Freelance journalist who just so happens to know what goes well with certain breads.
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