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 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.