Friday, October 22, 2010

Gap-toothed Smiles

It's funny to me that before I "officially" made the decision not to apply to PhD programs, I was very comfortable with that choice. As soon as I decided, though, all the doubts and fears began to crop up in my mind. Now, I'm trying to do a bit of processing.

In 2008, I wrote about the scads of commentaries available from people weighing in on the pros and cons of taking a year off before grad school (Good gap, bad gap). In another post (To fill in the Gap), I called this blog "an exploration and a promise" of my personal plan to return to graduate school. I suppose I still see it that way.

On one hand, it's reassuring to look back at the post and affirm: yes, I did successfully begin graduate school in 2009 (even if I never made it through that beginning Italian book...).

On the other hand, a year can be a long time, and I remember how much I missed school during the last working year. There's a part of me that feels as if I've gone in a small circle, and come May, will be right back where I was in 2008.

Well, today, I think that part of me needs a good talking to.

Okay, self. Let's get a few things straight. Number 1: This is a choice, not a failure. The reason I decided not to apply was, in part, to preserve my freedom to choose. I didn't want to go on just because I was accepted somewhere, and I didn't want take a year off just because no one accepted me.

Number 2: This is neither a roadblock, a detour, nor a dead end. It is a part of the route. Without the pressing deadlines of course work, I will make time to visit schools, get in touch with relevant scholars (whose names I'm just starting to learn), and put together a killer writing sample and essays. I'll refresh my French and keep working on Latin, maybe even add Italian. If I need to, I'll re-take tests. I'll read more theory. I'll get familiar with more primary texts in my field. I might go to conferences or go to the Folger Library.

Number 3: I'm not just a scholar. I still want to dance, play sports, and get back into theater. I want to travel, take road trips, and do more creative writing. I'd like to tutor more and maybe get some teaching experience. These aren't just coping strategies: they're important pieces of who I am.

Number 4: I haven't just gone in a circle. I've improved immensely as a writer, a reader, and a researcher. My sense of my own scholarly identity has grown just as much. What is more, I successfully applied for, received, and completed a research grant; I attended two more grad conferences; and I will have written and defended a thesis. That's not nothing.

Number 5: Part of the anxiety I feel comes from believing I lack the perseverance to reach my goals if once I pause to consider. However, if I am honest, not just in the pessimistic sense, my track record shows I am capable of persistence. If this continues to be my goal, and I think it will, I will continue to work toward it.

Telling myself these things doesn't eradicate the fears completely, but it's helpful to rehash the things I don't always quite believe. Sometimes truth bears repeating.

Now in the meantime, self, you have a thesis to plan...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

The decision is in. I'm not applying to Ph.D. programs this fall; instead, I'm going to take a year off and apply next fall.


(More thoughts on this to follow after I finish paper/presentation for class tomorrow...)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Literary Language in Politics

So, (procrastinator alert!) according to Speech Wars, the word "literature" has been used 15 times in State of the Union addresses since 1790. (It only made it into inaugural addresses twice: Hoover, 1929, and Reagan, 1985.) Most of the references, oddly enough, are related to 1) the need to teach literature in military schools, in order to keep students on par with other educated individuals; and 2) the need to teach literature in schools on reservations.

The humor award goes to Grover Cleveland's 6th State of the Union in 1894, when he says in reference to abuses of the postal system, "Paper-covered literature, consisting mainly of trashy novels, to the extent of many thousands of tons is sent through the mails at 1 cent per pound, while the publishers of standard works are required to pay eight times that amount in sending their publications." Tsk, tsk. Precursors to Twilight, no doubt. He mentions it again in 1896.

Most serious goes to Calvin Coolidge, who, in 1925, cites the "appreciation of the arts of music and literature" is part of "attempting to strengthen the spiritual life of the Nation."

Finally, the most poetic award goes to Ronald Reagan in 1986, when he says, "The American Dream is a song of hope that rings through night winter air. Vivid, tender music that warms our hearts when the least among us aspire to the greatest things--to venture a daring enterprises; to unearth new beauty in music, literature, and art; to discover a new universe inside a tiny silicon chip or a single human cell."

Notably, Reagan is also the only president to use the word "poetry" in an inaugural address; the word has never been mentioned in a State of the Union address.

As for what it all means, that's a subject for another post entirely, and my procrastination limit has reached its daily maximum...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall is in the Air

Whether fall break means a week of sleeping until noon or one afternoon of not working and only writing two pages on an imminently due paper, it's that time of year for [graduate] students.

Fall break starts with a great word: fall. I tend to repeat myself to the point of excess when I start to talk about how much I love autumn, especially October, so bullet points are in order...

  • Leaves - so many colors! the shushing sound of scuffing your shoes through them! drifting lazily down into piles! floating along creeks!
  • Cool air - blue-tinted wood in the morning! seeing your breath in the air! wearing jeans and sweaters! sitting outside in the sun at noon!
  • Sky - clouds and contrast and blue and gold and breezes!
  • Food - pies and cranberry sauce and pumpkins and apple-picking season and pecans and walnuts and hot apple cider and mulled wine!

I could go on, but enough already.

In academia, it's also a time of decision making. What will my thesis be about? What courses will I take in the spring? Can I survive another semester working this many hours? Do I need to take a language course? Should I apply to PhD programs? Am I going to apply to jobs? What about AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, or Teach for America?

(and underneath it all, WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?)

And of course, all of this existential angst comes right in the middle of midterm papers and exams. Talk about a stacked deck.

But then fall break arrives. I stop. I take a walk outside. I bake something. I talk to friends. I read a book for fun. I stand in the sun with my eyes closed. And time slows down.

I know that Monday morning I'll be stressed to the max again, trying to make all of those grand decisions and parse out my time to that last nanosecond. I know that I have papers to write and presentations to prepare and hours to clock. But every now and then it helps to pause--breathe--and get a bit of perspective.

So thanks, fall break. You're an okay kind of holiday.

Monday, October 11, 2010

On Procrastination

This morning I came across a fascinating article about procrastination, something with which I think every graduate student is on first-name basis.

It's called Later: What We Can Learn from Procrastination, by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker, and as a four-page article, it's also a great procrastination tool.

Check it out!

My favorite line: "Victor Hugo would write naked and tell his valet to hide his clothes so that he’d be unable to go outside when he was supposed to be writing."

Oh Victor.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fighting Words

Along with Speech Wars, this new NPR project, Fighting Words, might have to become one of my new favorite procrastination tools.

According to the website, "NPR is following key politicians on Facebook, Twitter and their websites to see what terms are gaining or losing traction on the campaign trail."

Big ones this week? Jobs. "Over the past several weeks, "jobs" been mentioned about 1,500 times by those we're tracking. " Also popular in the last 7 days among...

Democrats: Afghanistan

Republicans: Obama

Candidates: change

Influencers: Pelosi

This is going to be fun!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I, the Optimist

There's something to be said for the intense optimism that follows sickness:

Why yes, I can read three books in a day and a half. It only takes me 4 minutes to read a page: (4 x 450 pages = 1800 minutes = 30 hours). That's 6 leftover hours!

Why no, computer, I'm not offended that you just ATE the thirty pages I spent an hour scanning. And then ate the 10 pages I spent another 20 minutes re-scanning.

You see, I can breathe through both my nostrils at the same time, and I can chuckle--without having a coughing fit--at the chipmunk frolicking outside my window and eating my basil plants. I can walk up the stairs twice in a row without breaking into a sweat, and I can taste the food I made for dinner.

So go ahead, technology. Plot your worst. Go ahead, workload, be your...normal self. I'm not afraid of you. I can do anything.




So maybe, in retrospect, I'm still a trifle feverish.

C'est la vie.