burning the candle at both endsThis week, I’m counseling debate camp.  I’m back in the brick buildings of my high school, selling incoming freshman on the merits of giving up weekends and school nights for tournaments and researching.  I’m telling them about the friendships they’ll make, the community they’ll be a part of, the ways debate will benefit them in the classroom.

And all of this is true:  My best high school memories center around debate.  My boyfriend of two and a half years is a former debate partner; two of my closest friends I met at debate.  Pictures hang in my room of our tight-knit group frolicking around Boston, DC, and the North Carolina boondocks at tournaments that were more fun than any exotic family vacation.  I’ve had more interesting conversations on the backs of buses or in hotel hallways than I ever did in classroom discussions.

But I found myself wavering when my dad confronted me at dinner last night:  “If you had to do it again, would you?

Because as much as I believe that debate is one of the most valuable high school activities, as much as I treasure every trophy and photograph still displayed in my bedroom, the energy that it required was enormous.  And it was counter to the other things that mattered to me:  writing and school.

I was burning the candle at both ends.

It’s the real-life equivalent of what William Faulkner called the writer’s darlings:  those fragments of stories or poems that don’t quite move the piece forward—but that we love.  In one of my stories, an old man mowed the lawn in a Speedo—an interesting quirk, but an irrelevant one.  Indeed, once the story developed and the man’s more human qualities were revealed, this detail held him back in its bizarreness.  In poetry, I am constantly cutting lines and phrases, scribbling them on index cards to use later.  Lines I’m enormously fond of.  Lines I want desperately to work.

I remember vividly a debate tournament this January, one I spent all week preparing for.  I had averaged four or five hours a sleep each night, and by the time the tournament rolled around, I was exhausted.  My partner and I did well despite my sleep-deprived fog, but I can’t help but wonder what I missed as I ran on empty. 

We qualified for an additional national debate challenge the following day but I couldn’t make it—I needed to board a plane for youngARTS, a conference for high school writers.  And I spent the entire week making up a sleep deficit instead of taking full advantage of the incredible resources around me.

Would I do it again?  I couldn’t say.  But I won’t be debating in college—I’m killing my darling.

What are your little darlings?  A time-consuming sport, an impossible academic team, an elective that you love but requires more work than you have time to give?  Share in the comments