Week 15, or The End of the Road

If you aren’t singing “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men at the top of your lungs, you should be, because I am. 

Although, full disclosure, that song is actually about a painful breakup in which one party is extremely hurt by the split. Content wise, it doesn’t actually apply to my situation because I couldn’t be more excited about being done with course work for the year. 

I battled through my last week of classes while nursing a head cold/sinus infection, but in the end, I dragged myself through to Thursday. I sat through all my classes and was properly engaged; then, at Omohundro, I handed back my OI library card and made five trips from the basement to the main floor of the library to tote back the year’s worth of books I’d checked out to check facts. Even though my arms were burning by trip number from the weight of some of those monstrosities, the feeling of complete and utter shack-less freedom I felt as I shoved the books across the circulation counter was entirely worth the pain.

 As I left my last class on Thursday afternoon, I was filled with pride and a smug sense of satisfaction. I’d had a semester for the books. I started out off kilter because of an entire class being cancelled on me, a sinus infection, and the confusion surrounding Donald Trump’s implausible inauguration. A few weeks later, I got a life-changing mental health diagnosis. Just when things were starting to feel within control again, I spiraled downward, suddenly and dramatically, until the only solution was for me to take a medical pause for a week from school. Just as I was coming back, my mom got sick— the kind of sick that lands you in the hospital for a week and some change and that keeps you more or less bed ridden for several weeks following.

I’m writing this the day after spending another few days in my hometown with my parents to help make mom a little food and to be a second nurse, despite also being physically ill again myself, to give you context. That’s more than enough to cause someone to withdraw from the semester or at least be drowning in work by the end. I’ve not only managed to make it through, I’m coming in with enough of a headstart to take a little break before diving in to my final papers. 

Friday was a self-declared “self-care” day; I took myself out for coffee before going to get braids, then my parents and I went to go see Fate of the Furious. I ended the day by making everyone baked salmon, rice and broccoli before finally crashing from exhaustion. The next day, I made my way back to the Burg and continued my well needed decompression weekend. I started watching “Dear White People” in between my normal feel-good “Gilmore Girls” binge. I took well needed naps. I’m starting to feel better than I had all semester. 

That said, today, I’m getting ready to get back in the saddle. At least for a little while. I have 10 pages of a 15-20 page paper written already and two other 15 pagers to go, with a full week before I have any deadlines at all. I can work at a somewhat less harried pace over the next few weeks as I try to get my work together. And this evening, I’m having a little pow wow with my New Woman seminar as we workshop the first drafts of each other’s papers. I’ve yet to even look at anyone’s papers (fortunately there are only 2 papers) so I’ll be doing that this morning/afternoon. Then tomorrow, it’ll be back to writing, at least for another week. But if there’s anything I can do, it’s writing. I’ll be okay. I’ll be fine.

I’m still not entirely sure what the status of this blog will be going into the summer. It will most definitely be going out of commission for a few weeks while I make it pretty, but then…? I’m not sure. I guess I was so busy trying to make it through the year I didn’t think about long term. But, even so, there’s always more years to document, which means, at the very least, I’ll see you in the fall.

Week 14, or Finals (!!!) and Summer Plans

It’s Sunday before the last week in the semester.

I have 4 days left in the spring semester, 4 days left in my first year of graduate school, 4 days standing between me and a glorious, glorious summer.

I have two days of classes left: one Major Texts in African-American Life Since Reconstruction class in which I get to present on Ta-Nehisi Coates (very excited about that); one New Woman and Modern Feminism class left (have to finish reading Song of the Lark for that one); and two more sessions of Harlem in Vogue. I have 10 hours of work spread across 3 days left to finish checking quotes on a book chapter and editing a 30+ article. I can absolutely do it.

After I summon the energy to power through these last four days, I can get myself through to the end of finals. The truth is, it’s a lot easier to write when you’re not also in classes and you don’t have to finish reading so as to contribute in class. I’m planning to sleep for a couple days after classes end, then start writing.

I’m surprisingly calm heading into the foray this time around. It’s likely because I know that I’ve already done my first round of finals. I beat them, even though I didn’t know quite what I was facing. I did surprisingly well for my first go around. This round is easier than the first. None of my papers are research heavy and one of them is an extremely creative enterprise that I’m looking forward to working on:

  • I’m doing a close reading of the mulatto character Sappho in Contending Forces as indicative and an indictment of the “New Negro Woman” in the late 19th century for my New Woman and Modern Feminism class. (That paper needs to be 15-20 pages.)
  • I’m working on the graphic novel Incognegro  and the Harlem Renaissance classic The Conjure Man Dies for my Harlem class. (Always got to make it about comics if I can.) I don’t have a clear question yet, but I’ll work on it this week. (also 15-20 pages)
  • And finally, my African-American Texts professor has given us the task of writing a dialogue between W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Gunnar Myrdal, Patrick Moynihan and E. Franklin Frazier as if they were in a room together in 2017, knew everything we as students and professors knew and more, on any topic we want. (15 pages maximum.)

It was so refreshing to see that, like me, Professor Ely believes in alternative scholarship and setting us an exercise that is truly beneficial. It is quite the intellectual exercise to try and imagine a dialogue between these men, given that to have such a conversation, you need to have a firm concept of each of their stances on any given issue. This requires you to have read carefully during the semester, to have thought critically and gives you the license to dress it up creatively if the mood strikes, so to speak.

These papers over all are so much more fun to write than those I did last semester. I’m excited about my work and there’s nothing I’m dreading writing. Even though it doesn’t seem like much of a difference, writing 45 pages total looks a lot less daunting than wading through 60.

If I get through my paper for my Harlem class the way I want, I think it’ll be a good second essay for my Masters portfolio, in conjunction with my Black Panther essay. The portfolio will show how I can read comics in a literary fashion but put it in a historical context (Black Panther) and how I can put comics in conversation with other, similar literary works (Incognegro and The Conjure Man Dies.)

So there’s nothing left now but to do it.

The Monday after classes end, I’m going to spend some time with one of my cohort mates and we’re going to plan our writing schedule for finals. Then over the next two weeks, we’re going to get together to write, just so we don’t isolate ourselves and end up drowning in a flood of our desperate tears.

Sometime during the panicked writing, I’m hoping to work up a summer writing schedule to plan my edits and revisions to the essays I want to use as the basis for my Masters essays. I also want to figure out if there’s anything I can use in the National Archives and if so, I need to find out a way to make a trip up there. The earlier the better, as it leaves me more time during the summer to wade through material and write. (Stay tuned during the summer, as I’ll surely be writing about Baby’s First Archive Trip.)

It definitely seems like it’s time to be celebrating. Celebrating the conclusion of my first year, the conclusion of my Masters classes, of a semester well done. And yet it’s not quite time. I’m still looking forward.

The end of the spring semester, isn’t like the end of the fall semester. At the end of the fall, your brain just shuts off for a month, trying not to think about what’s to come in January. In the spring, you’re forced to think ahead. Now is when I fill out forms for assistantships for next year (Good-bye Omohundro, hello…Lemon Project? Stay tuned to find out.) think about the best ways to not waste an entire summer.

Instead of one month of rest, I have to fill 4 months this summer with academic activity of some kind.

As of right now, my plans include being a Classroom Instructor for the Keio Cross-Cultural Program from August 3-August 18th and between now and then, holding down a little part-time job at Michaels, my favorite craft store. The jobs not meant to pay rent by any means, but it gets me out of the house a few times a week, gives me a welcome break from staring at my laptop and writing, and funds my art addiction. I can honestly think of no better place to work, with the obvious exception of Barnes and Noble. (I am most definitely not qualified to do anything but work at a book store, a craft store, or a coffee shop, i.e. the only things I like and am good at outside of being smart– generally speaking.) I think the jury’s still out on whether or not I’m actually allowed to have this part time job at Michaels, but granted that I’ve petitioned to have it on the basis of I need it to help keep me happy, mentally/emotionally healthy and safe this summer, I have a pretty good feeling about my summer plans.

I’m planning to write at least one more time this semester, just to wrap up. But in case any of you are avid followers and look forward to my weekly updates, be aware that summer updates will be few and far between, and will most definitely come in between updating the site itself. (It is horrifically ugly and I HAVE to change it as soon as I get the time.)

To any other Black girls out there doing grad school, just be encouraged and stay blessed: God knows you’ve made it this far and that in itself, is quite the accomplishment.


Week 13, or Friendship, Futures and Finish Lines

My friend and I often have conversations like this. She’s a 1L at UVa and I’m finishing my first year in a MA/PhD program at William and Mary. We’re both extremely strong willed Black women who were up against the (sometimes/occasional/often/always) hostile atmosphere of our respective PWIs. And, against all odds, we find ourselves staring the end of the semester in the face– a sign that, in spite of everything, we have done the unthinkable: we have prospered. 

Let’s be real: our year long fight has not been easy. For each victory, we congratulated each other. They were often incredible triumps: small publications, meeting the former Attorney General of the United States, getting impressive summer jobs, winning leadership roles in organizations, presenting papers at conferences, organizing art exhibits, having the courage to write the truth of the Black experience as a 1L at a PWI…the list goes on. But for every high point, man were there lows. I definitely called her more than once last semester complaining about the hostile atmosphere of my environment; I got several earfuls about the periodic idiocy happening in her Con Law class; and almost all of our conversations have started like this…

Her: How have you been?

Me: Drowning in work. Trying to stay afloat. You?


I honestly don’t know if I would’ve made it as far as I had if I didn’t have a close personal Black female friend to regularly commiserate with– someone who was going through a similar ordeal, working against a comparable learning curve and who could match my sordid tales of microaggressions with depressing ones of her own.

As nice as that rapport is, this is also the friend who I can send bulletjournaling buzzfeed articles to at 7 AM; the friend who sends me instagram screenshots; and who understands that sometimes I just have to buy an obscene amount of art supplies and I, of course, never judge her for her mug habit. 

I think our friendship is so important because it’s proof that Black female relationships do not have to be competitive. I honestly usually want to smack people who tell me Black female friendships are trouble and that successful Black women are competitive, because it implies, that for some reason, Black female friendships are flawed– that the women who make them up are flawed. 

If we are, it’s for normal human reasons. Our friendship isn’t perfect, but the few pitfalls have nothing to do with us being jealous, hostile, competitive Black women. Our Black womanhood does not make our friendship flawed.

Our friendship reminds me that nobody but another Black woman is going to understand the facade of perfection and “together-ness” I enact on daily basis, who is going to understand the depth of my struggles, and with whom I would feel comfortable sharing those issues.

It’s because of this that I try my best to be there for the Black women that come to rely on me, especially those who are coming after me. It’s the desire to be there for a young Black girl in the same way Black women have come through for me that forced me out of my comfy bed on Friday and found me at a meeting in which my Black female undergraduate friend tried to organize a Black run literary publication, even though she is a graduating senior and has literally two weeks left to care.

She is a Black woman I admire. She does things not for accolades, but because she sees a societal need— and as there is often no one else in site– does her best to be the change she wants to see. 

I’m so happy I went, not only because I want to help the students get this started if I can, but because I could tell it meant something to her that I came to support her. By showing my face, I became another life line for many of the other Black undergraduate girls, one they may not ever use, but one, nonetheless. One is more than none. That’s truly all I can do. I can be present where I am, be more help than was available before. 

Plus, I love a good opportunity to hear what’s important to the undergraduates. Getting a pulse of their lifeblood helps me see where I can help. Just by going, I was able to talk with a young Black female student, just starting to think about her place as a Black student at a PWI; I was able to support a friend; and though I couldn’t do anything immediately, I became an active listener to someone who was been working through a crisis concerning LGBTQ+ students and Greek life here. I had such deep admiration for this student who was braver than I could ever be– choosing to run headfirst into a hostile environment, knowing they may not be able to change it, but they could make a start.

These students give me hope. They give me a purpose. They help me think, not in terms of survival, but betterment and empowerment. It’s not all about finish lines, but rather check points in a marathon. 

As I face the next two weeks, I’m trying to adjust my mentality.

I’m trying not to see April 30th as a finish line, but a check point. I got through another leg, and then I’ll rest. But the race isn’t over. I’ll rest; then I’ll have to find the strength to run some more.