Writing anxiety shaped identity

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    Sitting down in front of a white screen with a small cursor marker blinking at the top left – I think that pretty much sums up college anxiety for me.

    In some way, the dichotomy built up between that little cursor and me is what I have to thank for every single achievement of my somewhat crippled and routinely underachieving student career. It was that cursor that ferociously stared me down when I decided to apply for an exchange program taking place between my Swedish college and TCU.

    The cursor blinked in a Morse Code only we could understand, just me and my Microsoft Word, as if it was telling me that there was no use to even try. It was taunting me; it seemed to be saying, “Ha, how dare you even think about challenging me?”

    I sweated and I cringed, I took long coffee breaks and I stared at it intensely for an eternity. I tried to be its friend, I tried to listen – as if I were subconsciously thinking that if I just gave it enough space, enough time, it would get on my side and it would change that lateral smirk into a welcoming smile. But it didn’t change.

    I waged war upon that cursor for hours until I had a cover letter for my application.

    It worked. I could hardly believe it. In four months time I was off to TCU, and there was nothing that little cursor could do to stop me.

    Trying to do justice to my first spring term at TCU on this page is impossible. I had the time of my life. I took some of the best courses I’ve ever taken and I learned from some of the best professors I’ve ever known. I was a sponge. I learned something every day. I learned about Jeffersonian democracy in the mornings and independent school district legislation before lunch. I learned that $4 can get you a lot of delicious food from Taco Bell. I learned about TOMS Shoes and polo shirts.

    I learned about Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the American writing tradition. I learned about happy hour at Blue Mesa Grill, and the art of practical moral relativism through discussions on whether driving after a four-hour session of beer drinking should be considered “drunk” or “happy” driving, depending on the context.

    I even learned that the most beautiful girl in the world was sitting two chairs over from me, and I learned that whenever I tried to nonchalantly look over at her she tried to hide a smile.

    Imagine my surprise when sitting in the computer lab, after logging onto eCollege and downloading my assignments, there it was again. My nemesis. My silent stalker. This time it was blinking with more intensely furious frequency than ever. It was saying, “They’re all going to find you out! You don’t belong around these people, look at them. They see right through you. You’ll never conquer me.” I almost didn’t. But I hadn’t come halfway across the world to let it beat me now. And besides, this time I had a girl to impress.

    I struggled with every letter, spent half of my student loans on tall, black coffee from the Bistro Burnett in the library (I think I might have single-handedly drunk half of the coffee ever produced in Nicaragua) but finally words started forming. Then sentences slowly came creeping onto the page. Occasionally sentences would form paragraphs, and on the best days, the same paragraphs could be grouped as if to resemble papers.

    I had to face that blinking cursor at the head of a blank page every day. I made myself do it. I read books on structuring essays, I drank even more coffee. I sweated, I shook, I mumbled, I tapped my feet, sometimes so loudly and obnoxiously that the other guests of the library passed the point of annoyance and looked at me with a sense of pity. But I got it done. I got it done faster and better every time. At the end of the semester what had started as an intense staring contest turned into a quick nod of mutual disgust.

    Had I won the war against my writing anxiety? Two years later, I can safely say that I had not. But I wouldn’t be who I am today if it were not for the university, and especially if it wasn’t for my cursor. I learned more about myself in the six months I spent in Texas than I ever had. I read, I wrote, I learned and I marvelled. I made friends for life, and I bought my first pair of snakeskin cowboy boots.

    And that girl from two chairs over? We got married in February. But that is another story.

    Gillis Hedlund was a spring 2007 exchange student from Malmo, Sweden.