Golden coins

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Yesterday, I woke up in a panic freaking out about the sticky kitchen floor of my apartment, manically planning how I would make it to chemistry office hours and dreading the small jazz concert in San Francisco that I had to cover.

On this fine Wednesday, I would be spending most of my time working for our college newspaper — figuring things out on Slack, writing an interview piece and going to review the UK jazz band Ezra Collective. The Daily Californian is what I’ve done my whole college career. But journalism is not my future and somewhere along the way, maybe yesterday, this hobby of mine felt like a chore.

I have started to become increasingly aware of the fact that I am applying to medical school and that I should be spending more time on that than on my journalistic endeavors. So as I ran from my shift at the Berkeley Free Clinic to BART to catch a train to this small San Francisco concert, I found my phone out of battery and I cursed myself for signing up to do this instead of studying.

How did I end up compulsively writing for the past six years when I am not going into journalism?

When I really think about it, I realize that it is largely because of dependencies I developed during high school. My friends, room A11, Roy Peter Clark’s “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” and most of all, my journalism teacher, Ms. Balmeo.

Balmeo (yeah, we were cool enough to drop the “Ms.”) said she hated those hero teacher movies such as “Dead Poets Society,” because she thought teachers could never accomplish as much in real life. It’s funny that she couldn’t really see how much of an idol she was to me and my friends.

In a competitive high school adjacent to the headquarters of Apple, she demanded that we consider art and writing in every aspect of our life. As our journalism adviser, she pushed us to find something beautiful in our boring suburban environment. You didn’t have to wear a painter’s hat to be artistic. For Balmeo, art was a part of the daily routine.

She coordinated her outfits every morning. It was never out of the ordinary to see her dressed in bright yellow dangly earrings complete with a popping patterned dress and matching flats. Her captions on her Instagram which we all closely followed incorporated Peter Clark’s writing techniques she taught us. Her videos of her daughter’s bright red hair and hilarious personality captured the “gold coins” that we were to include in our pieces.

Yes, AP classes were difficult, and yes, our GPA was important to our futures, but Balmeo said that we could afford to take a few hours a day to write or design. And after some time, we could see that we were worth more than a college application. A few years out of high school, Balmeo still stands as one of the most significant mentors in my life, because she reminded us that art is worth it.

So here I am, a few days before my 21st birthday, demanding myself to incorporate art into my day and honestly, it’s exhausting. But yesterday, when I arrived at Slim’s and Ezra Collective started dancing on the stage for us, I rediscovered what Balmeo had been saying this whole time.

The drummer took a moment to explain that years ago the five of them were just teenagers jamming together in a London youth club, best friends with different instruments. Now, the band has been blessed enough to go on a North American tour this year. The joy in being able to create, dance and laugh at each other on a world stage was hard to ignore and I immediately remembered why I have to continue to push myself to produce and appreciate art.

Even though I never made it to chemistry office hours, the end of my day yesterday contrasted starkly with the beginning. I found myself completely relaxed, hooting as the drummer went on his solo and taking note of gold coins for my review, like how cool the trumpet player looked when he drained his water key.

And as for today, I hope that I’ll get back to my schoolwork. But I woke up and spent a good 20 minutes thinking about Ezra Collective and watching the videos I took at the show. For now, as I remember Balmeo’s lessons, I’ll just accept that sometimes my life will be put on the backburner for art and that’s okay.

Contact Malini Ramaiyer at [email protected]. Tweet her at @malinisramaiyer.