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. Continue reading
I GOT IN!!!!! I am writing this post after receiving my letter of admission, meeting the faculty and campus, and attending the Open House for incoming Grad Students in the Fall. Ladies and Gentleman….
I will be attending Ohio State University in the Fall as a PhD Candidate.
I cannot begin to express how all of this feels. A goal I have worked for ten years in the making is now coming into fruition. Every doubt that ever crept into my thoughts, every day that I told myself it was futile , every voice that told me to stick to what comes easy to me- all of these naysay moments have now been silenced. About five years ago, while I was working on my undergraduate degree, I was working at a local bar, and someone vomited near the back entrance. It took about half an hour to clean up. That night, on the way home, I asked myself, Is this career path worth it?
Yes, young Rolando Rubalcava- I can definitively say that it is.
Last weekend, I met the OSU English Department faculty and a few other incoming graduate students. (I guess they’re part of my cohort?) They were so supportive, and made the experience really special. My Department Chair and Graduate Advisor were very affable people, making me feel acclimated. It was a flurry of new experiences, and I took it all in, every moment, every face, every gesture that made me feel welcomed. I’m constantly asking myself if this is actually happening. A part of me genuinely doesn’t believe this is happening. During one of the days of the Open House, snow began to fall- I reached out my hand and real snow fell on my palm. It landed in my hand, melted, passing its coldness unto me, and for the first time, I felt snow fall on my skin. Yes- this is happening.
In a few weeks, I will select the courses I will take and make the move. I guess that means I have to find a place to live. Wait- do I move all of my things? What about my job? Will I just quit and that be that? How will I get around? Where do my buy my groceries? Will I be ready to live in Columbus, Ohio by the time I move? Do I keep this blog going? I guess what I’m asking is…..
Hello readers! I’m writing this micro-post at about Midnight on a Monday in December. Santa Ana winds are stampeding through my neighborhood, and the cold snap of December is kicking in. I’m currently at a bar, finishing up my first drink, in the thick application submission. I submitted my first application this morning, wondering all day if there was anything I missed. I ask myself, Is this one going to be it? I don’t have an answer. My intuition sees it as misplaced will. It’s done, and there’s no going back. I also took the GRE exam today. Once the gatekeeper of my fate, I now see it for what it is- a formality. It’s just one part of this process, and whether I’m good at it or not, I have to do it. I did my best, and I owe this exam nothing. What matters is that it’s not deterring me from applying. Not again. Now, we wait.
I spent the last few weeks working on my application essays. How do you fit your entire academic history in two pages? This has always eluded me, until this year, when I decided to do what I’m good at- pouring my heart into every word, down to the last character. I printed it out it out, and it felt like it weighed ten thousand pounds. Like a marble statue, I have most of it done- now, I’m working on those last final detailed touches that will make it perfect.
The majority of my applications will be submitted in the next two weeks. This means I will do nothing but work on making them as immaculate as possible. A part of me already sees me celebrating. Another part of me wants to crawl into a hole, hoping to escape the outcome. Doubt lingers, bleeding through the words of support from loved ones. I want to do well, but at this point, it’s no longer up to me. I’m eating, sleeping, and dreaming application season, putting my future in the hands of graduate departments.
I’m in a Lyft, on my way home, and the song playing has a chorus that most appropriately speaks to the next couple of weeks:
I can not give you everything, you know I wish I could
I’m so high at the moment
I’m so caught up in this
Yeah, we’re just young, dumb and broke
But we still got love to give
While we’re young dumb
Young, young dumb and broke
Young, young dumb and broke
This is me….on my way home…..flying back from Chicago.
Over the last three days, I attended the Discover UChicago program, meeting with faculty, advisors, and heads of the department in my field of academic interest. This is a program dedicated to giving underrepresented groups a chance to visit UChicago (one of my top picks) and meet the faculty and department of my my scholarly interests. As I sit in this plane, 30,000 feet in the air, I think about everything I learned, what we talked about, helpful feedback about applying to PhD programs, my research, and my position as a scholar. I’m completely vulnerable, taking the GRE soon, juggling these tasks while working as an Adjunct Instructor, as if the forces of nature are conspiring against me pursuing this. Only now, I’m armed with intellectual armory, filled with knowledge and skills this program helped hone. The people of UChicago were beautiful, giving me insight and feedback, including how to focus on my progress and research, while de-stigmatizing what PhD life is like. At one point in my preparation for applying, I felt intellectually useless, completely unqualified for the goals I have set for myself; now, on this plane, I feel like the goals I have set for myself, years in the making, are finally within reach. I want to hug my mentors, thanking them for getting me here, and I want to jump up and down, in this aluminum vestibule, never having a chance to feel this before. This trip finally made me feel something new.
I just made myself a Gin and tonic, thanks to The Carry-on Cocktail kit. (click here for more info) I’m not drinking this as a congratulatory toast to myself, but as a final request before heading home. My work is far from over- I have the GRE exam, drafting my essays, and preparing for the worst, in the next few weeks as I work on my applications. Yet, I also have the energy to work in me- the kind that can power a city. I want to write, to do good, to move the stars and the planets that create shifts and waves in our temporal existence. I now feel like I’m in a position to do so.
I’m on my way home, 968 miles to go. But this is not a homecoming- this is my commencement. I’m going to write, and I have the tools to do this well. I’m in a vehicle that will get me there, finally feeling like good things are ahead.
His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgettin’
What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out
He’s chokin’, how, everybody’s jokin’ now
The clocks run out, times up, over, blaow!
-from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”
This excerpt is potentially the best representation of what it’s like when presenting your research at an academic conference. For grad students, scholars, and other professionals at varying levels, conferences are the best (or worst) places to go and discuss your research emphasis and getting feedback from like minded people in your field. Earlier this month, I attended the Graphic Medicine Conference, taking place at the Seattle Public Library, (for more info, click here) the same city where I completed a brief internship a few years ago. It was both a homecoming and a discovery as I continue to pursue my research interests.
That is what I want to do. I want to write the words that will guide the waters away from fear, towards goodwill, hope, and what’s right.
That was the final thought I had in my last blog post while sitting on a park bench. Today, I’m sitting at a desk, grading stacks of essays. At that time, I was teaching a composition class during the winter quarter (sometime during the months of January and February). Teaching this class….was brutal. Three-hour class sessions, meeting
four days a week. Every evening consisted of me and a small mountain of work. Technically, I’m writing, and, technically, this is the job I’ve always wanted, teaching students about writing and exposing them to great authors. Yet, it doesn’t take much to remind me that this is a job, which means you wake up, go to work, go home once you’re done, then do it all over again the next day. I don’t know if Faulkner or Melville ever found themselves in this position. What I do know is that one thing we three have in common is that we knew we had opinions and wanted to write about them. (well, they did- I just write in a silly blog) Near the end of that semester, I heard about Paul Auster, one of my favorite authors (as mentioned in one of my first blog posts) doing a public speaking event in San Francisco. On the train ride home, carrying another pile of essays to grade, I thought, You know….maybe this is just what I need. Maybe letting my thoughts ruminate away from all of this for a bit can help me put this semester into perspective, putting away this existential dread. Shortly after, I bought a plane ticket, an AirBnB (my last AirBnB, if I may be glib for a second), and took off. Once I was on the plane, I thought to myself, Teaching this course made me really value time and learning how to pack as much in a day as possible. This is a post on my three days in San Francisco.
I’m sitting on a park bench after a jog. It’s cold, the air is misty, and January still feels new. This has been my jogging route for years. It grounds me. When I jog, I only hear my feet pounding on concrete and the gasps of my breath. I reach a small park, making sure I stop to rest and catch my breath. Next to the play area and soccer field, there’s a small bench where I like to sit. On cold mornings, I can see the steam rise from my skin. Here, I get to sit there and think, endorphins and dopamine rushing through my brain, sweating, steam rising. These are the thoughts in my head:
(Song playing in my head while I jog: Some Time Alone, Alone by Melody’s Echo Chamber; click below to listen)
we resigned the light to someone/And handed to the righteous/We will walk into the right motion/Some time alone, alone to wonder/Change your mind and talk/Waiting around/
While everyone else is moving on and on, and talk Continue reading
fuck…shit…grr!!…gddmn….ugh!!….I swear to…..goddamn!!!! The hell is wrong with this stupid….ughhh!!!…………………….okay…I’m done.
I’m in a sad room with pale cubicles and fluorescent lights sucking the color out of the room, about to complete the GRE General exam.
You have the choice to accept or decline your scores. If you click “accept”, they will stay in your exam history and will be visible to the schools you wish to send them to. If you decline, they will be deleted, unable to be recovered.
(defeated sigh) Sure
I see my score.
I grab the computer monitor and rip it out of the desk, pulling and ripping out its power cords and cables. I yell all of my frustrations, letting out the loudest Fuck You my lungs can let out. That is what plays out in my head. I get up and quietly leave the room. There are other people in this room, also taking exams, and I don’t wish to disturb them.
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.
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.
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.
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.