2:07am- I’m staring at the ceiling. My eyes wander, trying to focus on something. My body wants to sleep, but my mind will not allow it to. It is plagued by one thought, like a virus, latching on to my every thought, slowly consuming me from within. I close my eyes, but this one thought demands that they stay open.
I’m not getting into any PhD programs this year.
This is the idea, planted in my brain, churning out every and all forms of doubt. Questions. Flashbacks. Hypotheticals. Any criticism ever pointed towards me. I want to shut it off. But I can’t. It’s not letting me. I think about all of the reasons why I would get accepted, then it turns into a list of all of my deficiencies. I have a really shoddy GPA, GRE scores are worse, I have no idea how I’m contributing to my area of interest, I can’t for the life of me see how my research is relevant to any of the programs I’m interested in. This may seem tedious, but unfortunately, this is what I have to think about. What exactly will I do when I’m there, and why am I applying there in the first place? If I can’t think of good answers for this, I have no business applying. Why do this? Even that question, I really hate asking, mutating my life’s goal into some business venture. To a degree, there’s a good justification for thinking like that: it’s mainly because schools don’t just accept you, but invest in you, and they want to make sure they’ll see good on their return. But this….this is where my life has led up to. Now, I’m staring at the gatekeepers, and they aren’t impressed.
I’ve studied all of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and can read them fluently . I can quote Robert Herrick and Andrew Marvell. I have a working template for my Statement of Purpose. I also know what the word enjambment means.
I think…that means…I can take a break.
Courtney Barnett @ Sonic Boom Records. Saw this show while studying in UW- so good!
I still haven’t figured out the whole PhD application process yet, but the best advice I can give is that whatever you need to do to stay level, keep doing that. It’s a strenuous process- we all need to continue doing whatever it is to keep us healthy, sane, and grounded. Some people go to the gym, watch movies, cook, or go to the beach. Me, personally- I go to concerts 🙂 I love watching live music. The shows are great, the vibe is encouraging, and whether I’m with a group, a friend, or even by myself, it always does a great job centering me.
Hi readers! Sorry this post took a while to finish- I’m currently teaching a summer class while planning for next semester, including proportioning time to work on PhD applications, which includes time to write, study, and do campus research. I would love to talk about which campuses I’m researching and what strategies I’m picking up, but the biggest reason why that is not my most pertinent concern is because I currently work as an adjunct professor, which means planning out my semester is not something I can do with leisure. This planning requires a ton of scrutiny, making sure I can afford the time to study and prep, and the costs since applications are not cheap living on an adjunct’s salary. It’s a job that is difficult to do without questioning whether you are in the right field or not.
I’m currently studying for the GRE Subject Test in Literature. This will be the second time I take it. For those who don’t know, it’s an exam that tests your knowledge on the literary canon, including Greek mythology and the King James Bible. To put it mildly, I wish I didn’t have to. I won’t even mention my scores on here- they’re abysmal.
One of my Norton books
Unless the programs I wish to apply to change their rules tomorrow, I have to take this. It’s a brutal exam, but when you begin the process of applying for PhD programs, you automatically accept completing every prerequisite and requirement, whether it is reaching out to old mentors for letters of rec, or taking an exam so antiquated and ineffective at testing aptitude, that more and more schools across the country are abandoning it. I’m staring at my books, looking at my reading lists, trying to not already feel defeated.
I would turn my life into a work of art, sacrificing myself to such exquisite paradoxes that every breath I took would teach me how to savor my own doom…I would do nothing to thwart the inevitable, but neither would I rush to meet it. If life could continue for the time being as it always had, so much the better. I would be patient, I would hold fast. It was simply that I knew what was in store for me, and whether it happened to tomorrow, it would nevertheless happen. -from Paul Auster’s Moon Palace
Paul Austers Moon Palace, with cover art by Grez, acclaimed New York tattoo artist
A few weeks ago, I was housesitting for a friend of mine. This was in the midst of trying to get a lot of work done, including working on application essays, studying for the GRE’s, sending out abstracts for academic conferences, and even setting up this blog. I didn’t think this would be a problem since I’ve always worked better in solitude. (or, that’s what I told myself) After settling in, I stumbled across a local bookstore and looked for something new to read. I saw a copy of Paul Auster’s Moon Palace. I’ve always been a fan of his, and have been meaning to pick up more of his work. My favorite part was that it was a special cover- its art design looked like Sailor Jerry-style tattoos. It spoke to me. I started reading it, and almost instantly, I was the character- lost, but not accidentally, searching for meaning in a fragmented reality, looking up at stars, wondering which one I’ll land on. I was Marco Stanley Fogg, traveling the American landscape and trying to make sense of it at the same time.
I’m sitting at a Starbucks, typing this post, with my GRE books in front of me. I don’t want to open them, nor do I wish to continue studying them. But that is what is needed for me to continue this process. As I mention in the “About” page, I applied to PhD programs last year and did not get accepted . Not a single one. It was a real blow because I thought I really had a chance. Getting these rejections is a really strange experience- you know what you need to do, but you can’t help asking if you should trying again. It’s a feeling somewhere in the middle of a reflex and grief. It’s so hard to envision applying without those letters coming back to me. What’s left are now these exams, serving as gatekeepers. It’s not the exams that are hard- it’s what they represent. An insurmountable goal, waiting to watch you try, and taking glee when you fail. Like Sisyphus, I decided to push the boulder, but I wasn’t strong enough this time. The boulder officially rolled back to the ground, and I have to ask myself if it’s worth pushing it back up.