I made this pact with myself that I wasn’t going to write about NBC’s Hannibal. Not in an academic way, at least. For all of its gore, its elegant violence that can make cruelty taste like art, I didn’t want to engage with it on a critical level because I love it too damn much.
- How to spell “Apocalypse.”
- What it’s like to go to your student’s funeral.
- How to drink bourbon straight.
- That I’m really good at writing porn.
- That cats can get asthma.
- What it’s like to get a tattoo. Or two.
- That I’m a kick-ass teacher of literature.
- That writing at its best is always a collaboration.
- That Twitter is my lifeblood.
- That academia may not be for me.
It’s ok to be unhappy in grad school.
It’s ok not to do all the reading.
It’s ok to look outside of your department/coursework/colleagues for validation, inspiration, and a sense of self-worth.
It’s ok to be bored by your coursework.
It’s ok not to like the students you’re teaching.
It’s ok to hate the textbook/curriculum/assignments that you’re required to use in your classroom.
It’s ok to feel threatened by your colleagues.
It’s ok not to like people in your cohort.
It’s ok to question why you ever thought a PhD was a good idea.
It’s ok not to like your professors/your committee/your dissertation chair.
It’s ok not to turn every seminar paper into an article for publication.
It’s ok to be rejected by that journal/conference/research group.
It’s ok to resent the long hours and the crap offices and the terrible money.
It’s ok to be unhappy in grad school. Don’t beat yourself up about feeling like shit. Embrace it. Admit it. Talk about it with somebody you trust: a colleague or a counselor or your best friend back in Poughkeepsie.
Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Turn around, face it, and punch that fucker in the nose. Take pleasure where you find it, when you can, and acknowledge the unhappy when it creeps back in.
The more light you shine on it, the more mirrors you force the unhappy to face, the harder it’ll be for it to sneak up and shiv you in the middle of a seminar, or in your advisor’s office, or over your keyboard when you’re trying to get shit done.
It’s ok to be unhappy in grad school. Just don’t do it alone.
The other day, a colleague lauded me over coffee.
(I know; stop the presses, right?)
She pointed to my apparent state of Zen as a grad student; in contrast, it seems, to some our peers. To my general lack of concern over the minutia of coursework, of Being a PhD student, of publication and conferences and such.
(But you, dear reader, know better. I just let my anxiety make its home here, on this blog, and keep my wailing in public to a minimum.)
My colleague’s words, they were a nice way of saying: You seem like you don’t give a shit. About stuff that’s unimportant, anyway.
But this got me thinking, as flattery will no doubt do.
I haven’t taken my comprehensive exams yet, much less passed them. I spend most days convinced I’m an idiot set loose by the pen.
Still. Maybe, my ego hinted, I have something constructive to impart.
So: three pieces of advice, for what they’re worth, on how to not live on Pepto and bourbon in graduate school. Most nights. During the coursework bits, at least.
Ok, strike that.
Three pieces of advice on how to enjoy grad school for your damn self. Because otherwise, why are you here?
My grad program wants to know: what are my goals for the coming year?
Damn straight. But I’ve gotta do a few other things first.
- Pass my comprehensive exams: 2 questions, 30 pages, 72 hours, coming up in early September. Hooah!
- Drink less. Curse in class more. Especially when we’re talking about mpreg.
- Write for an hour a day. Be it a fic or an academic essay, spend 60 minutes a day writing for myself.
- Try try try to stop comparing my writing to other people’s. It’s not the most awesome way to determine my work’s relative quality, though it’s awful tempting. How can something that brings me so much joy also be such a source of anxiety? Haven’t figured that out quite yet.
- Get an academic article published in a scholarly journal. Accept that I probably won’t get a job based on kudos I receive on Archive of Our Own.
- Keep polishing my theoretical lens, one that combines fan studies, rhetoric, and (*sob*) performance studies.
- Take pleasure in my goddamn research without drowning in it, that self-centered joy.
- Spend as much time with people as I do with my laptop. Preferably with people I dig.
- Stop being a dick. Or at least: moderate my dickishness so as to avoid alienating everyone that I like in my life. Get less good at pushing people away.
- Give a presentation at a proper Rhetoric conference. Or, as my dissertation director put it, figure out how to sell myself/position myself/other oblique reference to prostitution in my chosen field. Because the whole job thing’s coming up faster than I can believe.
- Collaborate with a colleague on a fic or a more “academic” piece, because it’s so damn much fun.
- Remember that just because I can say something in a public, online space doesn’t mean that I have to. Or even that I should. Because some people don’t like being characters in my electronic life.
- Be nice to myself every once and a while.
In my field, we spend a lot of time arguing over our own utility.
My field, we call ourselves by a lot of names: writing studies, rhetoric, composition studies, technical communication, etc.
The grad program I’m in straddles a few of these denotations and calls itself: “Rhetoric and Writing.”
Yeah. See what they did there?
For me, rhetoric is the study of what people do with language, with words, whether in speech or writing. If words are the weapon, rhetoric’s the study of how we wield it. As such, a rhetorical examination can include an analysis of performance (how we say it), of the construction (how we put it together), and/or of the effects of those choices (what does the text do for/to/with its readers?).
My program, then, takes a very particular spin on these question through its focus on “rhetoric and society”; that is, many of the faculty are interested in what rhetoric can and does do outside of the university. In the real world, as it were.
So there’s this big fanwanky battle in rhetoric and composition over how, when, and even if we as academics should intercede in societal problems, be it at the community, state, or national level.
We talk A LOT about this. And damn if we’re not good at it, the talking. Continue reading “We Sing the Songs of the Blah Blah Blah”
I am caught up this week in the final, insistant rush that the end of each semester brings, each with its own particular kind of hysteria. This term, the due dates for my final projects are nicely spread out, which is allowing me [in theory] to give myself over to each of them in turn. It’s kind of nice, actually.
Though as Friday’s deadline–the first of two–begins to loom, I’m trying to shake free of the niceness and push myself more aggressively into the Cult of Done, so I can move quickly to the next project, which is due next Wednesday.
And then, of course, my students’ work lies in wait at the end of the tunnel, waiting for assessments that are due next Friday.
So another week or so of this, of this semester, of this first year of a PhD program. And then summer vacation!
But until then, I think I’ll stick to more immediate terms: today, tomorrow, and the next. Otherwise? Things might be looking real ugly-like.