Tag Archives: college

If I Could Go Again…

I didn’t come to New York thinking I would write the next great manuscript.

That’s a lie, actually. I think I did come here with that in the background, whether or not I acknowledged the existence of the thought. I’ve been in a slump since I finished my thesis draft, which is a full length manuscript; if any of you are counting, that was over a year ago now. It’s a full length memoir, and it’s ready to do things that manuscripts do when they become real things. It even has real author blurbs and everything. But I’m not pushing for it. It’s sitting. I’m sitting. I’m dragging my feet on my edits. I’m not responding to emails. I’ll write about dogs, I tell myself. I’ll write about dogs and people will want to read it, and I’m with them every day, and I’m learning every day, and I SHOULD write about dogs. 

And the not uttered thought:

Damn it, but writing’s not fun anymore now that it’s work. 

I graduated a year ago last weekend. And it seems to me that my actual grad school got me nothing. I learned more before grad school. Yeah, I learned some stuff there. But I feel like I spent a lot of time teaching my peers too, like I came in to the program with the knowledge we were already getting. I’m not being conceited with that statement; I was simply taught very well by my undergrad professors. I left my graduate program with no real friends from the school, just a smattering of great acquaintances, due to a combination of things–lack of social ambition, lack of people skills, lack of…connectability? I made the wrong choice in program, and I know that now. I think I knew that when I got here, the first semester when I turned in a paper that accidentally went over people’s heads. I never fit in my program. I wasn’t driven to attend school functions, at least not until the very end when they suddenly wanted me to read, everywhere. I came early, but I came early to write, by myself usually. I left right after class. It was nothing like undergrad, and I was disappointed in myself, in the program, for what I could have had elsewhere. 

I may have left the program with nothing, with no writing community (anyone out there want to adopt me to theirs? No really. I’m serious–message me.), but I did leave with New York. I am a New Yorker.

New York? Well, that got me everything.

See, I’m a different person in New York. I’m not scared to be out in the world. I’m not nervous navigating the subway, going to new places, exploring, being out and about (within reason, of course.) I like experiencing new things (again, within reason). I get coffee with people sometimes; I go to movies; I go out to eat. I sit at home with my cat and read books and play video games (and write when I wanna), and I don’t feel ashamed about the alone time. I do things for me and I don’t apologize, not anymore. I claim my story and I own my work and there’s no more “sorry this is hard for you to hear/read (even though it happened to me and not to you and I deserve to write about it).”

I think the biggest difference between New Yorker me and Wisconsin me is confidence. Confidence in myself, in my thoughts, in my body. My best friend, E, came to visit recently, on break from her own graduate program in Texas. We went to a jazz show on her second to last night here (a bar atmosphere I actually enjoyed, mind you), and I was digging in my closet prior to the show as I tried to decide what to wear. In the very back, on the last hook, was a little black dress. I bought it in 2009, pre-pregnancy, and I wore it a few times back then. Always with a tank top underneath to cover my chest, because the neckline was super low and my ex decidedly did not approve. Post-pregnancy, I didn’t wear it again. It never fit, and it always felt weird with a tank top underneath anyway. But on a hunch, on jazz night, I pulled that dress out and slipped it on–no tank top. Not only did it fit, it looked good. It showed a LOT. But it looked good. I wore it out in public with only a mild amount of concern that I might have a Janet Jackson-esqe moment (I did not). I needed no one’s approval but my own, though I most definitely did tell people how excited I was to no longer carry baby weight around and to wear something I haven’t worn in eight years (screw you, Ex). 

E and I haven’t lived in the same vicinity for almost four years now, but it was like we had never been apart–it definitely helps that we FaceTime pretty much every Sunday. I think that I used to largely be a follower just because I didn’t know what else to be. I make no claims to NOT be a follower now, but what I noticed when E was here was that I followed a lot in searching for new experiences, for things I might not see or want to see because my own views and experiences limit me. I am the same while also being different. I am the same, but my motivations have turned. Like with the dress. I wore it not to cover myself up and not for anyone else, but to say I am comfortable with my body and it is mine. Fun times were had while E was here, (her words when I asked if I could mention her visit, but I agree!), and they reaffirmed my love for this city that I only had the courage to come to because of my grad school program. 

It’s time for that yearly question: if I could do it again, would I still do grad school? Honestly, for the writing and MFA aspect? No, absolutely not. I did not need it. I have a lot of debt because of it that I think is largely the reason I’ve been too scared to try and do my own thing; I owe money to the world and I doubt my ability to raise that on my own when I have no connections in the writing community that I didn’t have pre-grad school. My undergrad professors taught me so well; I was really spoiled by that education (and shame on Scott Walker for trying to destroy the institution), and I received guidance and education and connections there that helped me to publish so much more than I did in grad school. I was a writer before I was a grad student, and I did not need a masters degree to tell me that. I HATED grad school. But I love this damn city. And if I hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t be comfortable with myself. 

So again I ask, if I could do it again, would I still do grad school? Would I still get my MFA? Yes. Yes I would. My MFA got me New York, got me me. And maybe the key to writing again is accepting that my writing is different now, is being open to telling stories, all the stories, not just the major ones. 

“Why this story? Why this piece, when it is all the pieces, all the stories? Everything is important.”

I am different now. Confident. A dog walker, and trainer. An animal lover, and rescuer. Still a follower, but an open follower. A friend. More, someday. And maybe I don’t define myself as a writer, but she’s still there too. She’s just different–but different is fun too.

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“Me” vs. Me

Three weeks ago, I was given the assignment to write two essays by Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving rapidly approaches—what are we, two weeks out now?—and if you think I’ve written essays, or even started essays, I’m going to laugh in your face. No, really. Open the window. You’ll hear me.

I’ve been in a weird head space. Call it the blahs, call it writers block, call it massive life regret; call it what you will. But I’m not writing. Someone important to me told me I was throwing a tantrum, that I needed to get out and try to publish the way I did when I was in undergrad, the way I stopped doing when I hit grad school. Did my uber expensive masters degree break me of doing the thing I love?

I started evaluating how I got here, to this place, to this weird balance of writer and dog trainer and New Yorker. I opened up my undergrad paper files, to the very first paper I ever wrote. It was an introduction for an English Lit class. I didn’t know how to write papers back then, not really, but I definitely knew how to write about myself. I knew what I wanted then:

“In all honesty, what I want is to become a writer. I like words. I am one of the few who can use a semi-colon properly; I have been writing practically since I knew how to form words. I participate in NaNoWriMo every year, the exercise of writing a 50,000 plus word novel in 30 days, just for fun. the last three years that I’ve done this, I’ve done it while working a 50 hour work week. Between writing an average of 2700 words a day and carrying my regular work load, there wasn’t a lot of time left for sleeping! I am very particular about every word that comes out of me, whether it be an ordinary conversation paper or the next great novel. there’s a small part of me that is uncertain whether the words i write are any good. However, there is a larger part of me that is beginning to realize that I actually do have a talent for this.”

It’s ironic that now, what, six years later, I have less confidence in my work than I did before I embarked on this journey. I see my friends and acquaintances with equally expensive degrees not using them more than they are, and I find myself wondering once again what the damn point was. To be clear, because I don’t want to sound like I’m taking a giant piss on my life, I am very happy where I am. I have some great relationships here, with people and dogs. I have a job I adore. I just … don’t write things. I have a super expensive degree that I paid *insert unspecified ridiculously embarrassing amount of debt here* for and it feels silly. I didn’t even do NaNoWriMo this year, and when I realized that, I promised myself I’d write in my journal every day, at least for November. Then I promptly left my apartment for a week and forgot my journal on my headboard shelf. So much for that idea.

In my prior writer years, when I was really on the ball and doing the writerly things I was supposed to do, I used to hassle my friend N about not making time in her life to write. I’ve since apologized, at least five times. I haven’t submitted an essay for publication in at least a year. I haven’t made the required edits that will make my thesis a book. I reached this great point in my writing where I had learned how to really articulate myself and my story and do it well, and I just STOPPED.

Why.

I wonder if, perhaps, I am afraid of what it means to go further. If I have broken every barrier I was comfortable breaking (and some I wasn’t) and that now I can go no further because I can never associate my story with myself in a greater public sense, with the people who were in it. If, for, as much as I tote around that I can speak, I can do these things, I can be this person who these things happened to and be more than her at the same time, that I really can’t—because to be more here means to be more back there. No more pen name; no more bottom shelf paperback. No more cloak of invisibility.

No more “me.” Just … me.

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On Graduating College

Today I graduated from college.

I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet, this idea that the college door has closed. I didn’t cry as I drove away, and I completely thought I would. And now, when I look back and try to reflect upon the experience, I find that I can’t. I’m stuck, so pardon me if this takes a cheesy or melodramatic turn.

My first college experience was me auditioning to be a vocal major at UW-Whitewater. I was seventeen years old. I was accepted, which was exciting. But the problem was that I didn’t find out until it was too late; the acceptance package, with my housing and scholarship offers, was buried in a large pile of mail that I never received because I was away for the summer. The day I came back and got the letter was the day before everything was due. At that point, it seemed easier to just ignore it—neither accept nor decline—and just give up the college dream. So I did. I did what a lot of people do after high school graduation; I joined the workforce. In retail.

I worked retail management from 2002 to 2010 in a wide variety of jobs—Walmart, gas stations, pet stores. I bounced back and forth, never able to settle into any management position for more than a year or two. I just wasn’t happy. I was not meant for a career path that equaled continuous abuse. I talked frequently about going back to school, but I never did it. I even went to Gateway a few times to inquire about the process, but I never followed through. In 2008 or so, I actually filled out an application. I made an appointment to see someone in advising, but then I was called away to work. I was on a merchandising trip to Madison, in charge of a complete store renovation, when my phone rang. It was my then-husband:

“I think I’m going to quit my job,” he informed me.

“What?” I asked, dropping the pack of D batteries I had been hanging on a peg-hook. It was funny he would bring this up, because I had just mentioned to him the previous week that if I were to go back to school, I would need to scale back.

“You make enough money to support us, and I want to focus more on travelling with the band. Getting into music and such.”

“Oh, really?”

“Actually, I’ve sort of…”

“What?”

“I already quit.”

I decided then that I wouldn’t go back to school. Not then. It wasn’t the right time, but then, there might never be a right time. I returned home and I worked in retail for two more years. Until our son died. 

Losing my son made me question my entire life. The time we get on Earth is short, relatively speaking, but I don’t think I really understood that until I lost Carter. It occurred to me then that I really could die at any time. The time Carter got on this planet was close to nothing, but I had already had twenty-six years at that point. So as I spent early 2010 both dealing with his loss and watching my marriage explode (and then disintegrate) around me, I realized that there had to be something more. Rather than sit around and let my husband control me, I chose to go out and find that something. 

Find it, I did. 

When I was in grade school, I was the annoying girl that no one liked who got head lice and never got invited to anyone’s house. When I was in high school, I was the girl with the eating disorder who asked too many questions and didn’t have any friends. When I was in the church, I was fulfilling a specific set of expectations that weren’t my own. When I was married, I was fulfilling his wants and needs and putting him before myself. I was always less than everyone and everything else.

College taught me that these things were not okay. College taught me that I am not just one thing, but many. That I do not have to obligate myself to one specific person or thing, but whatever things I choose to. That I do not have to censor myself or act in a certain way or be confined to one mode of expression. College taught me that I can be anything I want to be. When I first came to Parkside, I was terrified of the university as a whole. I wanted no part of anything extra–I just wanted to go to my classes, do my work, and come home. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I’m not big on people. I’ve been hurt; I don’t trust people much anymore. I was very unconfident in the beginning of the semester, and I really didn’t believe I could do anything. In the back of my head, I entertained the possibility that I would fail at school. But, despite many events over the course of the past few years that could have led me astray, I didn’t fail. It was quite the opposite, truthfully. I’m leaving at the top of my class, a fiction editor for the campus literary magazine, a tutor, a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board, completer of research studies, and a general student extrordinaire. Best of all, I have friends. I have met both professors and students that I hope to remain friends with and stay in touch with for a long time to come.

For the first time, I believe I can honestly say that I am happy with who I am. One of my very first college essays, a reading response to “The Ones That Walked Away From Omelas,” states it well:

“I had to make my own happiness. I had to walk away from my friends, my things, my money, and my life as a whole. True happiness doesn’t come from the church. It doesn’t come from having a lot of things or a lot of money. True happiness, much like success, comes as however we personally define it. Right now, my happiness comes from being successful in school and in the work that I do. This will evolve. In five years, perhaps my happiness will come from being involved in a new romantic relationship. A few years down the road from that, maybe my happiness will come from having another opportunity to have children, and the opportunity to raise them up in the way that they should go.  I will achieve happiness, and I will go on from that to find yet another level of happiness. This is the definition of happiness. In essence, it is always changing. We will be happy for a while, but then we won’t be anymore. We will need more. When that happens, we will need to find a new way to be happy. I have learned that we can never put the responsibility for our happiness on other people. The responsibility for our happiness lies solely on our own shoulders, whether it is through our actions, our relationships, or our belongings. Am I happy now? I suppose I could say that I’m content. Am I getting closer to happiness? I think I am definitely beginning to find my way.”

While I am sad to leave Parkside, I am also excited for the new beginnings that this ending will bring me. If I am this strong a person coming out of undergrad, I can’t help but imagine the strength, the gifts, that grad school will bring me. College gave me the gift of me—and it’s a gift that will keep on giving, and a gift I will never, ever have to give back or apologize for. I am excited for the future, excited for what is coming, and excited for this life that is mine for the taking. I never would have found it had I not gone back to school. I never would have found myself.

I believe that my son is somewhere, watching me on this day. I believe that he is proud of me. Not because I graduated college. Because I did it while being me. So thank you, Parkside. Thank you all of my fabulous friends, my professors, my “people.” You are all amazing. 

Finally, finally, I am me.

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Reflections on Being a Teaching Assistant

I can’t remember exactly when I made the decision to become a teaching assistant—it just sort of happened. I don’t think there are many of them in undergrad. Or at least not many who ARE undergrads. I believe this makes me a unique breed. I appreciate every moment I have gotten to spend as a teaching assistant, because I have taken away more from the experience than I would have gotten from simply being told how to teach.

At the beginning of my second semester as a teaching assistant, I was grading reading quizzes on d2l when I noticed something funny. Two of the quizzes, one by a male student and one by a female student, were submitted at exactly the same times with near exactly the same answers. It was an obvious case of cheating. I looked over each question on both quizzes multiple times, and then zeroed out the quizzes entirely; I left feedback for both students in question explaining that they had received zeroes because their answers were the same; even though it was a take home, online exam, the students were still expected to complete it alone. The male student came to me within a day or so to inquire about the zero; he was upset with the grade and wanted to know why it was considered cheating. It occurred to me then that perhaps this was not a case of them working together, but more a case of one of them copying answers of the screen next to them in the computer lab. In the back of my mind, I assumed the male student was the one who had cheated. Unconsciously, I formed a slight prejudice of this student early in the semester.

As the semester went on, he proved me wrong; this student taught me that, for reasons I am uncertain of, I tend to have a bias against male students. The female student stopped showing up to class in the first month of the semester, and the male student, while he wasn’t producing the highest quality work, kept showing up. And best of all, he kept trying. He did every extra credit option that was available to him, and he stepped up his game on both exams and papers. I believe he will pass. This student changed the way that I will view students from here on out; because of him, I made more of an effort this semester to pull for male and female students alike. This situation is also the perfect example of how black and white my thinking is, from people to grades to life in general. To me, things have always been either one way or the other, with no middle ground. As I have grown in my teaching, from my first class to my last, this is just one of many lessons I have learned.

The first real class I ever taught, aside from church related things, was a beginning theater class for five to eight year olds. My aid for the class could probably testify to the fact that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I had observed the class under another teacher, so I had a basic idea regarding how things should go. But I had come in expecting a curriculum filled with the right answers and what to do and arrived to find nothing but a roster and a theme: Robin Hood for tiny humans. It was my first experience flying by the seat of my pants. I like to think it worked out well; I then taught for the company for the next three years. But that first class has always been my favorite. I felt like a teacher when I was in front of their semicircle, all of them sitting cross-legged and staring up at me, waiting for me to tell them what to do. However, I will never forget the moment when they walked onstage for the end of session performance and were able to say their lines and do the choreography without me. They were independently acting, wearing their construction paper Robin Hood hats (that kept falling off on the stage). Maybe they weren’t perfect, but they were pretty darn great. They displayed the things they learned in class, and I had had a part in that, however small. To me, that was what being a teacher was really about. Being a teaching assistant has given me so many new skills that I can deploy in a wide variety of classrooms. As a teaching assistant, I have received many opportunities to learn more about teaching and I how I will approach my eventual goal of teaching college composition. Between my two sections as a teaching assistant, I have helped write and grade exams, craft discussion questions for both verbal and journal discussions, attend student conferences, grade proposals and papers, and lead class discussion. My second semester, I also created a paper proposal assignment that I hope I can use in future classrooms at other institutions.

I was very into the idea of being a teaching assistant going in my first semester; my mistake, however, was that I thought it would be easy for me. I came into it with more than two years of teaching drama on my own, I thought it would be nothing to share a classroom, that I would be able to transfer all of the skills I had learned over and automatically be amazing. I was wrong. It was exceedingly difficult for me to have to watch someone that I greatly respected and wanted to learn as much as I could from, stand up in front of the classroom and be amazing—and to know that she would expect me to do the same. I didn’t know how to live up to that, and as a result, my first teaching day during my first semester was a disaster. I planned out an awesome activity that had a lot of potential, but a series of technological failures as class was starting left me feeling uncertain and flustered. The class didn’t respond to me the way I wanted; they had never been people who liked to talk, but it still threw me. I failed to properly tie my activity in to the day at hand, fallacies, because the students weren’t talking and I got nervous. I was not effective that day; I immediately turned to the professor to bail me out. I wanted to never come back after that day. I assumed at the time that the flop was because I hadn’t planned solidly enough. But now I think it’s because I wasn’t confident. The professor told me after class that I needed to “get back on the horse.” A teacher cannot teach without having confidence, or, at the very least, being able to act like they do. I didn’t that day—but I do now.

My second semester as a teaching assistant went a lot better in so many ways. I had many successful activities throughout the semester that I plan to save and reuse in my own classroom. The first was an activity on how to create a thesis statement. I had the students write their thesis on down on the essay we had read for class that day. While they were writing, I put six different thesis statements on the board that were incorrect. When they were done, I had them set the paper aside. We discussed what comprised a good thesis and what would make a weak thesis. When I thought that the class had a good grasp on good versus bad based upon the answers they were giving me, I moved to the next stage of the activity. I broke the class into six groups and assigned each group one of the bad thesis statement that I had written on the board. I asked them to discuss in their group what was wrong with the thesis statement and then rewrite it to be a stronger thesis. I circulated throughout the room during the activity, answering questions and helping the groups to stay on track. When all the groups were done, I had them read their original  assigned thesis, the issues they found with it, and their revised version out loud. My original intention when creating the activity was to then go back to their original thesis statements and have them discuss what made them either good or bad, and then correct them if need be, in their groups. However, there was not enough time left in class to fully complete the activity. We had just enough time for them to identify whether or not their thesis statement were acceptable before it was time for them to leave. I feel that the activity went well as a whole. One major flaw in it was that the sample thesis statements that I came up with confused the students slightly—they were issue based instead of reading response based. If I ever repeat this activity at this level, I will make sure that the two types of thesis statements—the examples I give and the ones the students create—agree. Had I had more time, I would have fully debriefed them regarding what they had learned and how they could re-approach their original thesis statements from the beginning of class. This step is a step of teaching that I have always had trouble with; in teaching drama, I refer to it in my head as reapplication. I did not account for the time I would spend differentiating between good and bad thesis statements, which left me without the required time at the end of class to complete the activity. This was another moment that taught me I need to remember that all students are different, and allow myself to adjust accordingly so that they still get the maximum amount of knowledge out of whatever I am teaching. 

I was able to apply this knowledge on several different days throughout the semester, but the smoothest teaching day I had was the day I taught profiles. I used profile day as a two-fold day. One, to teach the profile genre, and two, to help clarify what I was looking for with the proposal assignment I had created. I started the class by reintroducing the ideas of the rhetorical situation and how they would function within the proposal. I then broke the class into groups (after royally messing up the math and making them count twice), and had them break down the an essay in a backwards proposal fashion. By asking each group to find the thesis, sources (and their function), introduction importance, conclusion importance, intended audience, and rhetorical strategies, I was able to show them the elements of a paper proposal in a less confusing fashion than a mere bullet-point list by explaining how the information they gathered was exactly the brainstorm they would have done to form a paper proposal were they the ones creating the given essay. I feel like the students had a greater understanding of what I was looking for in the proposal. On my next go-round with this assignment, I would definitely place this activity on the same day as my proposal assignment day to give them a larger understanding from the get-go.

The second part of this day, I focused on profiles. First, I went over the things that are included in a biography. Then I transitioned to go over the basic elements of the profile and the different things it could be used to describe, explaining that the profile contains all of the elements of the biography and then some. This seemed to confuse them; they were quite stuck on the idea that biographies are boring. To counteract this, I gave each group a sample profile written by a student, and had them talk about what elements that profile contained and how those elements functioned within that profile. When we were done, with the little time we had left, we compared those elements to show that profiles can use different tools and still tell a story about their subject.

I think this activity went over very well. As a matter of fact, I think that I did quite well on this day. If I had to list the best thing, it would be that I actually got the students to talk, to each other and to me. I was also able to alter the lesson plan I had made on the fly, which is something I have always struggled with in the past. The strange thing is, I noticed that being willing to deviate from my “script,” so to speak, actually made me more comfortable and easy-going in front of the class than I have been on past teaching days. Being able to drift where they wanted to go while still staying in the general area I wanted to be in allowed me to get my point across strongly at the same time as allowing them to fully engage. I also really like using student profiles of all different sorts. Not only did this really drive home to them that there are many different ways to craft a profile, it also drove home the idea that they, too, could write a profile. I think they found the pieces I gave them easier to work with than pieces we’ve assigned in the past because they were written by students; this allowed them to connect to the pieces on a new level.

My biggest negative for the day was time management. I wish I would have had a little more time at the end of class to compare all of the different elements of the different profiles they picked. All in all though, I think that this was my best teaching day of the year. It was the closest I came to feeling as comfortable in the English classroom as I’ve felt in my drama classroom; it was also the first time where I was not thinking so much about what the professor was thinking about what I was doing as about whether the students were with me and understanding the material that I needed them to understand. I was confident in who I was in front of the classroom as well as what I was teaching, and I was not relying on someone else to give me that confidence. I produced it on my own.

I am different now than I was my first semester as a teaching assistant. Or, rather, I’ve been different this semester, and am therefore coming out of this with a different impression. I’m more confident. I’m better at planning out what I’m going to do, and I’m better at being flexible and adjusting on the fly, planning at the last minute. I’m a better teacher because of both of these things. The thing about teaching is that there really isn’t any one right way to do it. I know that now. All of my life, I’ve looked to others to tell me what to do and I live for the right answers. I need them. My teaching style has evolved into a mix of the people around me; I’m not the drama teacher on her first day anymore, and I’m not the teaching assistant who makes stupid mistakes. I’m the woman who watches, who absorbs, who learns and grows. I have watched my own professors, both those I’ve worked closely with and those I haven’t. I have read the comments they put on my papers, looked at their rubrics, and figured out how they grade. Through that, I have begun to figure out where I lie on the scale of teachers. My grading style is a mixture of many; I tend to be more tough than I need to be, but I am learning how to be less black and white. I am figuring out a line of balance wherein I can be available to my students but also have time for myself. I have decided that I will implement the flipped classroom, wherein the students will read the material before class and then come in and help steer the discussion. I have gotten to work with students and their writing on a daily basis through my various positions. Nothing is more rewarding for me that moment when a student gets the skill that I’m trying to teach and can do it by themselves. As much as I love being able to teach, I also love that moment when the student I am working with doesn’t need me anymore. That moments means I have been successful in the work I set out to do. I feel that the experiences I have had as a teaching assistant will make me a powerful asset to any institution because I already know both how to conduct myself in front of the classroom and how to communicate with students.

Had I gone into graduate school without this practical experience as a teaching assistant, I think there’s a good chance I would have failed; I was not confident enough before this. I was not ready to be a teacher, because I thought I still needed to be taught how to teach. I was wrong. How to teach can’t be taught—it just happens. It’s a skill that comes with confidence, with loving what you do and wanting to share what you know. This is the number one lesson that I learned from being a teaching assistant.

And I’m ready now.

 

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Little Fish, Big Pond

Today, I got an academic award. The keynote speaker said we should brag about it. Be confident in our accomplishments. It wasn’t anything major, just a small recognition for the fact that I am a student who apparently kicks ass. It’s funny, really, that as much of a magnet as I am for other peoples’ feedback, I truly hate being recognized. I didn’t know I would have to go up onstage. I didn’t know they would read a bio of my life. I didn’t know I would have to cross the stage, in heels, and shake hands with all the university big-wigs that I’ve already had dealings with on so many other levels. As I stood up there and listened to the speaker talk about me, I realized I couldn’t look out at the audience. Not because I was afraid of them. But because I didn’t want to meet any of their eyes. Because I knew that they were seeing me. Really seeing. My university is a tiny pond, and I’m a big fish here. If they see that, I will have to admit it. I’m not ready.

The lists of my accomplishments today was quite long: Dean’s Advisory board, magazine editor, teaching assistant, conference presenter, award winner, published writer, three year degree, strong GPA. Accepted to graduate school. More than one graduate school. Going to get my MFA in New York City. NEW. YORK. CITY. These are all facts—things I know, pieces of me. They can’t be argued. They just are. I hear these things, and I go “Wow. I did all that. I am doing that. This is me,” and I know that it’s true. I’m doing overly well academically. I even got my first paid writer’s contract this week. So why is this all so hard for me to hear?

Why don’t I know how to take a compliment? Why don’t I like to hear these things about myself? Easy. I’m afraid of the big pond.

When I first started college, it was the most terrifying thing I had ever done. So many people, so many things. I didn’t want to get involved, I didn’t want to make friends. I didn’t want to be there anymore than I had to be. But I started getting A’s, and people started taking notice. They were saying good things. For a lot of my life, I’ve heard the bad things. Or rather, I’ve been known for the bad things. The woman whose baby died, the woman whose husband was an asshat, the woman who was raped, the woman who is broken more often than she is whole. It’s easier for me to be her, because I know how to be her. I don’t know how to have good things, to have a life that’s good. To live.

The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.

What does it mean to be brave? The concept is becoming different for me now than it used to be. For a while there, brave was simply getting up in the morning. Then it became getting up and doing something with myself. Gradually, it morphed. Starting college. Keeping going. Holding on through all the stress. Again, getting up in the morning. Applying to graduate school. Making friends. Forming relationships. Selecting a graduate school. Pushing through when my brain is hard to live with. 

Now, bravery is moving. Picking up my entire life and shifting it to this new place, this place where I will be a big fish among even bigger fish. Where maybe, just maybe, I will actually be the tiny fish academically, and where I will definitely be the tiny fish socially. New York is huge, and I am so, so small. 

But am I? Or have I made myself that way?

You will note that, for the first time on this blog, I used the word rape paired with myself. Because yes, that’s a part of me. And in avoiding it, in not using the word, in running away when I hear it, I make myself small. I make myself not worth notice. I make what happened to me inconsequential by my silence when it’s anything but. It has impacted me every step of the way, in all of the decisions that I have had to make. By ignoring that, by pushing it to the background, by refusing to say the word, I tell myself that I am not worth the acknowledgement. I make myself a smaller fish, and I don’t want to be that way. Perhaps the solution is in admitting what happened to me so that I can turn it on its head. Conquer it.

I live a life of black and white. Good or bad. But perhaps I can be a fish who just swims with the other fish. One who doesn’t get eaten. One who is tough and strong and gets her things done. Maybe I can make my home in a new pond. I want to make a difference; I want people to read my work and feel something. I want to make it worth something, and I want to live up to the title of “shit disturber.” 

I can’t disturb things if I’m too afraid to get in the pond. Now…to find that bathing suit…

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Why I Can’t Go to Grad School (And Why I Will Anyway)

At this time last year, I wasn’t sure I would graduate.

I remember sitting with my laptop, trying to wrap up a difficult paper, and realizing that my brain was on shut down mode. There was a lot inside my head that kept from being who I wanted to be. I frequently hid in the third floor stacks at the library, in my special chair that overlooked all the things. I couldn’t walk down the hallway without headphones on because the world was too noisy. Too loud. There was a wall between me and the rest of the world, built brick by brick of the experiences in my life. The easiest way for me to communicate was the written word. So I said “to hell with this,” and decided to throw everything into grad school applications. Because it was easier. Because I could. Because it filled a hole.

I applied to eight different grad school programs. I didn’t think I would get in to any. So where I thought last year that I would be figuring out now what to do with the rest of my life, I am instead figuring out what I will do with the rest of my education. I didn’t realize this decision would be even more difficult. It’s funny, really, that I was so set on the idea that I wouldn’t get in that, while I was sad at my first rejections, I was solid in my backup plan. I didn’t plan to get in.

Not only did I get in. I got in to four. A plethora to choose from.

The choice is narrowed down to two now. 

*

I showed the cost breakdown I had worked out to D. She looked at it, and passed my phone back. “What is it that you like about these schools? Break it down.”

After thinking for a second, I answered, “Well, School A is new, and it’s high up on the rankings list. I already have relationships forming with people there. The program is more of a one on one or two as opposed to a mass advising thing.” I smiled at her. “And you know I like people.” I gestured between the two of us.

She nodded. “I noticed.”

“And the best part is the amount of connection available to the publishing world.” If I want to write eventually, I’ll be closer to knowing people, I thought. “It seems like they really set their students up.” 

“And School B? What is it about that one?” She knew I didn’t like it.

“It’s just…so…Okay. It’s really institutionally. Like, they really lack one on one advising, which I love. The program isn’t as set up in terms of the publishing world. It feels stiff.” And am I good enough to go there? Anywhere? Maybe that’s why it’s stiff. Maybe that’s why it feels like I don’t fit with them. Because I don’t belong there. The things I can’t say.

“Well, maybe it isn’t as connected. But it’s one of the top schools in the country. And you WILL write there. Have you talked to students there?”

“Yes,” I laughed, “you told me to.” I don’t know what to do.

“What’d they have to say?”

“Good things. They like the program, the courses. And they have their magazine, which is amazing.” And it’s all great but I’m freaking out nonetheless. What if I’m not good anywhere else? What if I’m only good here?

“What about what’s coming out of there, what the campus is producing?”

“I’m not sure how to ask about that,” I replied. “They seem like they like it though.” They are all pretty. They are all good. They could all be the right choice. But they could also be so, so wrong.

“What about the ones from School A?”

“I can talk to whoever I want at School A. They’ve really set me up in that way. I could tell you everything from what the courses are like to 

After a minute I added, “I really like the advisor at School A that I’ve been talking to. There’s already a relationship forming.” I’m afraid of being alone.

“I get that. I do. So I suppose it comes down to what you want to do when you graduate.”

“What do you mean?” Will I graduate?

“If you want to teach, go to School B. But if you want to be in publishing, go to School A.”

And if I fail at all these things, what will I do then? Out loud I said, “I’m just scared.”

“I’m just worried about this, about you, financially.”

Me too. But I was more afraid of everything I didn’t know than the obvious thing that I did.

*

Where will I live?

What if the classes are too hard?

What if my roommates are secret axe murderers?

What if I don’t have anything?

What if I have to sleep on the floor.

What if I can’t hack it?

What if I don’t know how to live on my own?

What if I fail?

What if I always belong to HIM?

*

There are a lot of reasons that I can’t go to grad school. I’m comfortable here. I own no furniture. For the first time in my life, I am actually fairly comfortable where I am. I have friends; I have people I can trust and talk to. I don’t want to leave that. Part of it too is that this really is a totally new start of my life. And I take that really seriously after all the life that’s happened to me. So to think that I might screw it up is very frightening to the point where I don’t want to decide at all.

But the truth of the matter, the real truth of it, is that I refuse to trust myself. I refuse to trust my gut, I refuse to trust what it is telling me. I refuse to just buck it up and make a decision. Do I continue, or do I turn back? Do I stay? Or do I go?

There are a lot of reasons why I can go to grad school, or rather, why I should. My GPA is excellent. I’m a good student. I write very well. I could actually make myself proud of me.

I need that new start.

The choice is narrowed down to two now. 

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The Right Answer (On Being a TA) — Rough Draft

One of my advisors once told me that she lives for the moment where her students no longer need her and can be independent. I love that moment. I wish it could occur every day; I also wish that I could not be sad when it doesn’t. I’ve heard that feeling, that sadness, does go away for some. But I don’t want it to, not really. When it does, I’ll know it’s time to stop teaching.

*

The first real class I ever taught, aside from church related things, was a beginning theater class for five to eight year olds. My aid for the class could probably testify to the fact that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I had observed the class under another teacher, so I had a basic idea regarding how things should go. But I had come in expecting a curriculum filled with the right answers and what to do and arrived to find nothing but a roster and a theme: Robin Hood for tiny humans. It was my first experience flying by the seat of my pants. I like to think it worked out well; I then taught for the company for the next three years. But that first class has always been my favorite. I felt like a teacher when I was in front of their semicircle, all of them sitting cross-legged and staring up at me, waiting for me to tell them what to do. However, I will never forget the moment when they walked onstage for the end of session performance and were able to say their lines and do the choreography without me. They were independently acting, wearing their construction paper Robin Hood hats (that kept falling off on the stage). Maybe they weren’t perfect, but they were pretty darn great. They displayed the things they learned in class, and I had had a part in that, however small. To me, that was what being a teacher was really about.

*

I can’t remember exactly when I made the decision to become a TA—it just sort of happened. I don’t think there are many of them in undergrad. Or at least not many who ARE undergrads. I believe this makes me a unique breed. 

I received an email from professor towards the middle of my second year of undergrad. She was looking for a dedicated student to work as a supplemental instructor. It wasn’t really teaching, per say. Supplemental instruction more revolves around reviewing material with the students and teaching them how to learn independently. But I still had a blast with it. It was a completely different feeling than being in front of the kids and teaching drama. I looked forward to doing it in future semesters. Then it came:

We don’t have enough Psych 101 instructors that want SI next semester, so we won’t be able to use you.

I was told that if I could find a professor willing to work with me, I could possibly do SI for that professor instead. So I put out a Facebook status and tagged every professor I was friends with. I got a bite:

I’m very interested. Let’s chat.

I was very interested in working with this professor, N, but it turned out her course didn’t have a high enough failure rate to require a supplemental instructor. It wasn’t in the budget. I still desperately wanted the opportunity to learn from her.

Behold. The idea to TA was born.

*

I often get asked what I do as a TA. It’s a lot; it’s too much to list. And my duties have evolved. I attend class, I talk. I grade, I lead. I comment, I assist. I get to draw on the board and occasionally play Vanna. It just seems to work.

Last semester, I went into the first day as a TA quite overwhelmed; I wasn’t sure how it would be to “share” a classroom, so to speak. I wasn’t sure where my place was, how I fit, what I was supposed to do. I didn’t know when to speak up, how to make things work as a person in front of the classroom but not in front of it at the same time. In a classroom of 18 year old and up people as opposed to tiny humans. 

I don’t think I spoke the first day. I possibly didn’t speak the second either. I panicked when I realized there were 28 students and I couldn’t remember their names. 28 seemed like so many more than 16, the largest size theater class I’d ever taught. And the first time I taught as a TA, I did a lot of things wrong. I had an activity planned that involved my laptop, but I had never used my laptop with the projector before. I didn’t realize everything would automatically show when I plugged it in; I failed to take into account the fact that I had student grades up on my screen, as well as failed to remember that my wallpaper was a picture of my dead son. When the class didn’t respond to me, I forgot that they weren’t really talkers to begin with and began to panic and rush through things. I expected N to bail me out rather than try to bail myself out; I immediately looked to her. And while she did save me, she at the same time made me keep going. When no one would really converse with me regarding the video clip I had shown, I started calling on random people. I didn’t give them enough time to think. I was scared to wait them out. And then I didn’t fully connect my segment to the main theme for the day—fallacies.

I cried driving away from campus that day, because I couldn’t focus on the good things that had happened—that the students liked the video clip, that they did eventually engage, that they gave me the correct answers. I could only focus on the fact that things didn’t go precisely the way I’d planned, and the fact that I would never be a teacher.

Even at the end of the semester, when I had a lot of TA wins under my belt, I thought back to that first day, that day I screwed up. But the focus started to change when I realized that rather than continually calling myself a failure, I wanted to be better. I wanted to grow.

I’m different now than I was that first semester. More confident. I’m better at planning out what I’m going to do, and I’m a better TA for it. I talk to the class, and they talk to me. This semester, I’ve even (somewhat) created my own assignment for the first time, a composition design proposal that I will assign in class this week. Things seem to be going better. I’m not sure if it’s that the class is more talkative and better as a whole, or that I’ve learned. 

I like to think I’ve learned.

*

I had a student once named A. A was very quite and shy. I had a hard time getting her to engage with the other kids. She didn’t want to sing solos or talk in front of people, but she loved me. Every week she would bring me a small gift, from a construction paper drawing of “her teacher” to a valentine, to a photo of her new puppy. It was wrong to have favorites, but she was definitely one of mine. Not because of the gifts, but because I understood her. I was shy too. 

“Do you ever get afraid in front of people?” she asked me one day after class.

“A,” I replied, “I think everybody does. It’s okay to be shy, but performing can be different. An escape from being scared. You can be whoever you want to be.”

“Okay,” she replied, and then skipped off to meet her older brother.

She disappeared from classes for a while after that session, but when she turned eight she auditioned for and was accepted to her first show. When she came onstage as one of the orphans in “Annie,” I cried. It was the moment I realized I was meant to be a teacher.

*

I have never been so grateful for the chance to work with someone as I am to work with N. Not because I work with her now so many days a week and get to do all the things. Not because of the load she carries and the way she’s taught me to balance, though her load is enormous. And not just because she’s awesome, though she definitely is. It’s because of the little things. The fact that she spends an hour on grading a paper other people might dismiss for being poor work, just so she can maybe help the student become just a tiny bit better. The fact that she spends her entire break preparing her classes and looking back on activities to enhance them and make them better each semester using suggestions from students. The fact that she opens her office and her email and her time to help her students and make them not just better students, but better people. She has done that for me, without a question. That N has taken the time to work with me has made me a better teacher as well as a better person. Not many people get this chance, but I did. And I’m doing well at it. I more than make it work. I’m becoming more confident. Growing. Learning.

During student conferences, which she let me sit on, I watched N handle an especially promising student who was not doing so well—a student that I might have written off were the decision left to me. Despite the problems this student has had, N was still willing to work with her. She was able to see past that and see the student underneath, and I could tell that she wanted to break through. I believe that she can, whether it be to that student or to a different one. Even when she doesn’t know the right answer, she figures it out.

I want to be that teacher someday.

*

The thing about teaching is that there really isn’t any one right way to do it. I know that now. All of my life, I’ve looked to others to tell me what to do and I live for the right answers. I need them. My teaching style has evolved into a mix of the people around me; I’m not the drama teacher on her first day anymore, and I’m not the TA who makes stupid mistakes. I’m the woman who watches, who absorbs, who learns and grows. I watch all of my professors and the way they handle their classrooms; I read the comments that they put on my papers and I look at their rubrics, and I figure out how they grade. Through that, I have begun to figure out where I lie. My grading style is between two professors, N and D. I’m less black and white than I used to be, but I still have a hard time calculating grades without actual numbers in front of me. I enjoy the way T makes herself available to help students in whatever way she can. I love the way they all flip the classroom, the way they make me think, and the way they have taught me to have my own ideas and stand on them. I have learned so much from all of my professors, about teaching and about simply being. And I am grateful for every last opportunity.

I started writing this thinking that my teaching was a little piece of all of them. But I’m beginning to realize that it’s a lot of me too. And that that’s the right answer.

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Chords

It was my grandma who wanted me to become a musician. I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t one. I have always loved to play, to sing. It’s just a form of being for me. I could never be a music major though; I lack that sort of dedication.

The first time I sat at an organ, I was seven years old. I’m not sure who was more apprehensive—me, or the eighty year old teacher that I had no clue how to talk to. I have absolutely no recollection of that first lesson beyond the memory that her house smelled like cats. My house also smelled like cats, so it really wasn’t that bad. I may not fully remember that first teacher, but I do remember what she taught me—chords. 

Chords are the fundamental basis for everything in music. Basic chords contain three or more notes that play together in harmony. Each letter of the musical alphabet from A to G has a wide variety of accompanying chords. Major to minor, sharp to flat, augmented to diminished, fifths, sevenths…the possibilities of chord creation are endless. Knowing the things from an early age not only gave me an ear for music and very good pitch, it allowed me to play basically any song with little effort. Knowing chords gave me a strong musical foundation that I have always been able to fall back on.

*

Before your class, I had never heard of CNF. I signed up for it because it was required for the major, and because it was writing, and because I didn’t know. I honestly didn’t know what the course was. And it scared me. A lot. You broke my box in so many ways, and you made me a completely different writer. I discovered that I could write that which I couldn’t talk about, and that I could be heard while not being heard. I’m not sure I would have gone to grad school before that class. Or even thought about it, really. Because who goes to grad school to be a writer? Writers. Was I a writer? Before? I’m not sure.

“I don’t want to go to grad school anymore.” I slid the book that we had just finished discussing back towards my backpack.

“Why not?” N frowned, closing her own copy of the book.

“Because I’m not sure I can afford it. Because I don’t know how to choose. Because I don’t know if what I want is what I’m supposed to want. What I want and what I should do are two totally different things.”

“Well, what do you want?” N asked.

“New York,” I replied, without hesitation.  “For reals.”

“What is it that you like about it?”

I thought about this for a moment. “I like that they talk to me.” When she looked at me strangely, I continued, “Well, what I mean is…they aren’t so institutionally. I know who my advisor is; I’ve talked to her. I’ve been able to connect with other students. They signed me up for their social network. I feel like they are very open and friendly. Like what I have here. And I know that I am totally that student who needs a rock…”

“Surprise,” she interrupted. “Because I didn’t know that.”

“Ha ha,” I answered dryly.

“I get it. We have a rapport.  You want that somewhere else.”

“Yeah. I guess. I wish I could know who all of my advisors were. I feel like that’s a thing for me. New York is giving that to me.”

“The thing is, you don’t always know that you’ll have a specific advisor. Sometimes there are program advisors, or general advisors. You may not have one specific person until you are picking who to work with on your thesis. And even then, you might not get who you want. It depends on how many other people request that person, how that person might work with you, et cetera.”

“Yeah,” I replied, ever so eloquently. I stared at the computer screen, at the website I had pulled up.

“You also need to consider where you’re coming out of, the type of writing that the area is producing, what’s coming out. What’s being published.”

“They sent me a list of all the things from last year. The publications.”

“From graduates?”

“Graduates and current students. And a few professors.”

She thought for a moment before saying, “You can’t do something you’ll regret. If you think this is it, then you go. But you can’t get this far and then just not go to grad school because you’re scared. You need to make your own choices.”

The greatest thing I learned from you is that I can write. There isn’t necessarily one formula, one right answer, one right way to do it. There’s a lot of different things, different ways, and writing can fill a space inside.

I don’t know how to do these things, to pick a grad school, to set out on my own, to be this person I have become apart from him. I want to quit. I make excuses. It’s too expensive. I have the cat. I won’t have anywhere to live. I don’t know how to do this.

I will fail.

“Should I continue on or turn back? I wonder, though I knew my answer. I could feel it lodged in my gut: of course I was continuing on. I’d worked too hard to get here to do otherwise.” 

I read the Cheryl Strayed quote again, and again. And then once more for good measure. Because N is right. It is me. I have worked too hard to give up and go nowhere. Just because I am scared. Just because I am a little lost.

Where I am now is my foundation, and I don’t know how to leave that.  I don’t know how to give it up.

I’m scared.

I’ve been hurt a lot, and I’ve wasted a LOT of my life. I’ve let time pass and leave me behind and I don’t want to let that happen anymore—I don’t want to spend more time doing things for other people, or doing things that I don’t LOVE. And I love this.

*

The hardest piano piece I remember learning to play when I was a kid was “Fur Elise.” I liked sitting down and just playing, and that wasn’t a piece I could simply sit down and play. I didn’t want to practice; I didn’t want to put in the work that would be required of me to accomplish the piece. I wanted to quit. There was an A minor seventh chord that I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to fail.

I had a strong foundation with chords. So I figured them out. And I can still play “Fur Elise” today. There was a large payoff for the work I put in. I can play many things that are harder than “Fur Elise,” and many things that are easier. Because I put the time in. Because I figured it out. Because that foundation didn’t need to be given up. It stayed with me; I built on it.

This too, I will figure out, I will build on. Because I have a strong foundation now, and because I am not willing to walk away.

I can still play that A minor seventh chord to this day.

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Elements

The periodic table is made up of singular elements. A lot of them. When those elements bond together, they become compound elements. Compound elements cannot exist without all of their pieces; water cannot exist without two oxygen and one hydrogen. On their own, hydrogen and oxygen molecules simply exist. But together, they are something every living creature needs for survival. 

English, and this convention, have been a bonding experience for me in that way. I’ve existed on my own for a long time.  But it’s simply been existing.  I always thought of myself as small, as knowing nothing.  I never gave myself credit for my ideas or thought they were worth anything. And now I am part of something greater, something that is bigger than I am. Something I was meant to be a part of all along. The small but mighty Parkside English program might be unknown, but it is amazing. My professors are awesome. I know literature, I know theory, I know how to have a brain and I know how to use it.  The greatest lesson I learned this week was that, because I know literature, I have a place in this world.  I may not know everything, but my college has given me all of the tools and the knowledge that I need to be successful. To go out. To bond.  

At this convention, I became water. 

Image

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Plan B (On Rejection)

The first A minus I ever got in an English class broke me.  I was in eighth grade.  I wrote a twenty-two page story called “Searching for Becca Fischer.”  My teacher faulted it for the little things; she thought that some of the characterizations went too quickly.  At the time, I cried.  I had spent a long time on that story.  I felt like I really knew who Becca was, like she was a part of me.  I still think about her sometimes; she was the first character of mine I really identified with.  So when I saw the A minus, my black and white brain interpreted it as a failure because I was so connected to the work.  I thought that, in rejecting Becca, my teacher was rejecting me.  I reread the story last night when I couldn’t sleep, and I realize now that my teacher was right.  The characterization is weak in places.  There’s a lot that I could do with the piece now that I’m a better writer.  But at the time, I was so connected to my work that all I saw was the failure that wasn’t even a failure at all.  It was an A minus.  A bloody A minus.  But it was a rejection all the same.

Fast forward fifteen years to court and my (now) ex’s stupid face.  After all the things we went through, the end was sudden.  Jarring.  It wasn’t the same sort of rejection, but it was a definite lack of acceptance.  Over the course of our marriage, he invalidated everything that I thought I was.  I tried to change for him, but I was never good enough.  I never made the cut in his eyes.  I could never be who he wanted me to be.  I had ten years of my life between high school and college that feel like a waste, like time that went by and has left me nothing but older.  

I got my first graduate school rejection yesterday, and it brought me right back to that day in my eighth grade classroom, right back to all the time spent in court.  I cried a little.  Ate froyo.  And then spent most of today being sad.  Because a large part of me feels like a failure.  I know that it’s only one rejection.  I know I still have seven schools out there, pondering my future for me.  But I’m still really bummed for a wide myriad of reasons.  One—it was a school I REALLY liked, and they didn’t like me back.  Two—it feels like my entire life is on hold because I can no longer plan for my future.  Three—it feels like I wasn’t good enough.  I talked to a professor today who pointed out to me (or maybe this came from my mouth) that the graduate school application process is really like a lottery.  A bunch of little balls get loaded into a bingo-like cage and some big-wig pulls them out and calls a number.  That number gets in.  The hundreds (thousands?) that don’t get drawn just stay in the little cage.  It paints a stark reality, this rejection letter I received.  A reality where my future is incredibly uncertain, a reality where I have worked my ass off but might still not get in anywhere, because my number might not be called.  I have done all of the right things, taken all the right courses, kept my grades up, become a TA, tutored, edited at the magazine…and I might not be right.  I might not fit.  That reality is very much in the forefront of my brain now, because I am accustomed to not getting what I want.  I have worked my ass off and it might all be for nothing.  There might not be an MFA in my future.  I might not be a writer.  That is so, so scary.

I think that, over the last year, I have put a good 99 percent of my eggs in the graduate school basket—and I’m scared now because I worry I put my hope into the wrong thing.  I had a gaping wound that I needed to fill and I filled it with this whole graduate school process.  What happens if that process doesn’t come to be?  Will I start to hemorrhage again?  Will I lose my place?  Did I fill myself with the wrong thing?  Is it possible I won’t be a writer?  I have carved an identity for myself within academia and this plan that I have made to go to graduate school.  I will have to reshape it if I don’t get in.  It seems like I am always reshaping.  I want to be the cause of that reshaping, just once.  I want to prove to myself that I can be successful without him.  In my head, I’ve made graduate school equivalent to success.  Now I’m worried I will be lost. 

I feel like I need to make plans, somehow.  But without knowing where I will be next year, that’s hard. So, I’ve come up with an awesomely outrageous Plan B.  (The first of many, probably, since I have time to ponder before more letters come, but a plan I really like.)  I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  Really, I won’t have anything to lose—it would be the perfect time to do it.  I don’t have kids or a family.  I don’t have any stuff.  I just have me.  And it would be nice to wander into the wilderness for that length of time and just…be.  I’ve read all of Cheryl Strayed’s books:  Torch, Wild, and Tiny, Beautiful Things.  Her writing is amazing.  Yup, she was pretty dumb to wander into a hike of that magnitude with little training.  Yup, she was very lucky to survive.  But she did.  And not ONLY did she survive, she wrote a book about it.  And that book is amazing.  That book is the story of a woman who figured out how to conquer her shit because she grappled with it and won.  She beat her shit.  I want to beat mine. 

I will start with the tattoo:  “How wild it was, to let it be.”   

How I finish will be up to the graduate school application lottery.

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