It has never occurred to me to be pretentious. It’s really hard to be pretentious when you went to high school in a cornfield and your parents are from rural Virginia. From time to time, I might be proud of myself for my accomplishments, but for every moment of security, I have nine of self-doubt: 1. Do I belong here? 2. Is my work valid? 3. Can I even write? 4. Will I pass Comps? 5. Will I finish my dissertation? 6. Will I get a job? 7. Will I get tenure? 8. Will I be respected or will I always have to fight for it? 9. I’m the first in my family to chase a PhD– will I be able to make them proud?
Pretention is the language of the Academy that I don’t speak. It’s the language of privilege and prestige that I didn’t come to by birth, but by trial and error until I stumbled into UVA, where I honed my ability to talk the talk. I’m learning to make my written words follow suit.
This year, for some reason, I am more aware of my awkward positioning. I am more aware that I don’t speak like everyone else, that I stumble over words, use very simple language and say “like” more times in one sentence than I care to admit. My mind doesn’t accept theory as readable and even after sitting with it I still don’t always understand. I am not a native of this world, and I am so much more aware of it now.
Even if I could force myself to learn the talk, walk the walk and dance when my strings are pulled, I do not want to. My grandmother, once upon a time, asked when I was going to publish a book so she could read it. My aunt asked why I hadn’t gotten her a copy of one of the Quarterly issues I had worked on. I didn’t have the heart to admit that my first book probably wouldn’t be one my grandma could read and enjoy nor that no one in my family would want to read the Quarterly: they would only look at my name in the front cover. This has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence. I come from a line of intelligent and industrious people. It comes down to way in which I am expected to write. This isn’t to say that I can’t write in the language of the Academy, but I regret that the only language it recognizes is that of Pretention.
It makes me feel shut out, but I will not let it make me feel invalid.
With my Masters complete and my defense only a few days away, I’m starting to feel the thrill of being a full PhD student and the pressure to decide what type of scholar I am going to be– how I will market myself. All I know is that I’m going to be no kind of scholar if I keep spending this much time comparing myself to others and thinking about obstacles I dont need to worry about yet. I honestly should do my best to stop stressing about this because hypertension definitely runs in my family.
At the same time, the idea behind this blog was to keep it real, about grad school, about writing, about being a Black woman in this space…and it would be foolish to gloss it over because it’s uncomfortable. Growth is uncomfortable– yet we need to grow. This growth is its own thing… a subject for another week, I suppose. 😊