Spring Break Catch-up and Program Update

Generational Synthetic by Beach Fossils
(click play to listen- no quarters required)

Today is Tuesday, March 12th, the Tuesday of Spring Break at OSU, and I’m doing the thing that I enjoy the most: writing. It’s strange to start a blog post dedicated to what life is like in a PhD program about how much I love writing when that’s all I do- I write papers, I read books for research for future papers, I’m always thinking about the next writing project, and it’s almost impossible to read a book, and not think to myself, “I can write about this”. It’s important for me, to write, in this silly blog, because I love it. I’m trying to dive into writing like a young aspiring poet attending his first open-mic night. I’m sharing this rather intimate insight because, well……..I’m really damn busy. This is partially why I haven’t written a new blog post in so long. I have several drafts that were supposed to turn into really nice stories and observations about PhD life, but they’ve all been brushed aside.  But I don’t wish to speak ill of my program- that’s not what this blog post is about. Rather, I was hoping to share a bit about how my program is going. And it’s definitely going.

Since my last post, I talked about acclimating to Ohio State University, my program in the English department, and meeting new people. All of that is going great. I did really well in my classes in the first semester, I met some really great people, people who I would love to see in my circles as my career here progresses, and I’m starting to like living in Columbus, Ohio. (snow and single-digit weather, however, takes a lot of getting used to.  I’m currently looking for a way to protect my eyelids) My favorite part from all of this has been, by far, feeling like my intellectual curiosity is in an environment that speaks to my desire to learn. I’m always learning something that I’ve never been exposed to, and as I do, a part in my brain lights up, as if dormant for centuries, feeling revived and ready to engage with the outside world. My favorite class so far has been my Medical Humanities class from last Fall. It’s a really interesting intersection of so many things- narratology, disability and health studies, studying texts with all kinds of formats and structures, and its inherent interdisciplinary approach, borrowing from studies like medicine and sociology. I read some really great writers, also, like Damon Tweedy, Atul Gawande and Rita Charon, and read stories about real people, like Sara Monopoli, a story about a medical tragedy, told beautifully through the perspective from the doctor who treated her. I also took a Modernism class. (the class I was late to on my first day– ugh) A lot of the authors and texts assigned were books I’ve already read, like As I Lay Dying (Faulkner), To the Lighthouse (Woolf), and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Joyce). What made this experience so significant was discussing them in a class with people’s whose perspectives I’ve never shared. We read critical essays that opened up their meaning and ideas. (did anyone else know Darl from As I Lay Dying was a veteran? I totally missed that the first time I read it) Also, I had an amazing Thanksgiving break; I was hoping to write a blog post about it because it was so significant, but, if I can sum it up in a prepositional phrase, I had a really great time, with some really great people. All of these moments help ground and affirm the move from sunny California to snowy Ohio. I’m here to learn, and I love my time here.

I’m currently reading a book for my narrative medicine class, and came across a quote that really encapsulates what it is to be an English major.

I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick skulls, into communion. A word meant something only between people, and life’s meaning, its virtue, had something to do with the depth of the relationships we form. It was the relational aspect of humans-i.e., “human relationality”-that undergirded meaning. -from Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air 

I love the work I get to do here. Some days, though, it’s quite a bit of work. Sometimes, too much. Last semester, all I had to do was focus on my four classes- read the work, keep an eye on upcoming assignments, and plan ahead before Finals came around. This semester, I have way more responsibilities to think about, including more assignments, conferences, teaching in the Fall, finding a new place to live (don’t even get me started), all while thinking about the future (it’s almost impossible to go on Facebook and not come across an article about the shambles of the academic job market). Every time I have a discussion with someone about these concerns, I feel like I’m one slip away from falling into a spiral of doubt, not knowing which way is up, or if or when there will be some ledge I can grab on to to stop falling. And I’d love to stop and think about and plan the future, but I’m so busy, I don’t even have time to think. Every time I’m an inch away from losing it, the lyrics to the song Generational Synthetic by Beach Fossils pop into my head.

Hustle in the five old years
Do you love and do you feel
All your working inspiration
Systematic exploration
Words so great, words so real
Words so desperate and concealed
All your words are so poetic
Generational synthetic

Being in this program feels like a paradox sometimes, where I find comfort in the work I do, only to be swallowed up by the workload I gave to myself. How can doing the thing I love bring so much stress? My friends do a great job making me feel better, friends here and from back home, but this semester, I’ve been terrible at making time for them. If the thing I love is becoming something I don’t and the friends I count on are behind glass windows I built to continue my work marathon, how will I get through this?

All my friends are far away
Leaves my head in disarray
I can help but to forget
What is now and what is next
Trade a fortune for a soul
What we wanted all along
All your words are so magnetic
Generation apathetic

I stop, breathe, try to get the world to stop spinning so fast, and really ask myself: why am I here? Why put myself through such work? I put the books down for a second, take a walk, and the answer comes back to me: I’m here to do work. To do good work. My passion is writing. Here, I get to think critically about what my writing is doing, and what it looks like. I want to raise the consciousness of others about the things I care about. Everyday, those interests shift, but it’s fine, because that’s what I’m here to figure out. It’s okay if I don’t know what next year looks like because I’m putting all of myself into the work in front of me. My first year is coming a close, and in that time, I’ve been exposed to so much. I have more years here to finish, and it’s okay if this year ends with me having more questions than answers. I’m putting my efforts into the work I’m doing now, and I really enjoy it.

There are two projects I’m currently working on that I’m really excited about. One is a research paper on a narrative/bio-ethics approach to Tennyson’s In Memoriam, a poem written in the late 19th Cen. about grief and loss. Thanks to my work in Medical Humanities, I get to write about a classic text with a fresh new concept. I’m still new to the whole Medical Humanities thing (some days, I can barely describe what that means), but this is slowly becoming an opportunity of putting my skills as a scholar and someone who loves explicating poetry to practice. Another project is a reworking of an old paper I wrote years ago during my MA program. This was a project I put a lot of effort in when I wrote it, but looking at it now, I can definitely see how my vocabulary has developed. It’s a paper on Chris Ware’s Building Stories, a multi-textual graphic novel that is making readers conscious of their own reading expectations. With this, I get to dive into the question of where meaning comes from for readers. It’s a tall order, but challenges that take me to places where I’ve never been is when I strive. It’s what I’m good at. 

I’m writing this blog post while at the Thompson Library. Here, I study for long stretches of time by myself, where it’s just me, my books, a Coke, and a lo-fi station on YouTube. On days I don’t have class, I spend up to twelve hours straight studying. Most people see me reading, drawing their own conclusions about what can drive someone to read for so long. This post is about what they don’t see- a guy pursuing his dreams, putting in the hours to see it happen. I wish I can give a definitive answer to where this program will take me once I’m done. Today, I’m only thinking about the work in front of me. And that’s okay. It’s good work. And I’m in a good place.

And I will do it on my own again
And I will say what I will

Me, working, in a good place

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