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.