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
A couple of months ago, I stepped out of the country for the first time in over twenty years. My parents were planning a trip to Mexico and wanted me to come along. As great as it sounds to go out of the country, I mulled over this for a long time. It wasn’t the flying or awkwardness of visiting other people that bothered me- to be frank, I’ve grown so distant from my family and roots from years of studying and focusing on my career. I didn’t even know if I wanted to go. While studying was always a convenient way to describe this distance, it feels like it has always been there. Growing up, I never liked a lot of things my family liked. Music, certain foods, or even speaking Spanish- I spoke so little Spanish around others. Today, when I speak Spanish, it sounds like an alien taught himself Spanish, then taught me, and gave up halfway. When my mom asked me about the trip, she made me deal- if I get my passport, she’ll buy my ticket. (Who the hell is going to say no to that?) I got my passport, booked the tickets, and we were scheduled to go. It came at a really good time, too. I just finished sending out a stack of applications for doctoral programs. (read all about that here) Something about sending out those applications and putting my future in the hands of cloaked readers made stepping on a plane and heading to unfamiliar territory sound really enticing. It ended up being me and my mom, on our way to Mexico. We boarded, flew away, and I didn’t look back because I didn’t want to.
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…..
I am still elated about the news: I’m going to attend Ohio State University for my PhD!! This is really exciting news and I am still trying to process it all. While I was applying, I knew that while it was me writing my essays and sending my applications, it wasn’t a solo venture. It quite literally took a village. A lot of great people helped me get to this point and I wanted to write a post dedicated to them. Here are the people that helped me get here: Continue reading
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
I take the train to work just about every day. On my way to work, two songs come on from my music playlist periodically.
Song I: Almost Was Good Enough by
Magnolia Electric Co. (to listen, play link below)
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.
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.
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.