Category Archives: Finals

The Aftermath and Other Victories

The semester did not end the way I was expecting.

I ended up having to just… stop. Abruptly. My mental health took a dip in the last weeks of the semester to the point where I was reading pages and retaining nothing, like holding water in cupped hands. I was so fatigued that getting out of bed felt like a battle and sitting through an entire three hour seminar seemed impossible. But I kept pushing and pushing and pushing until I ended up fainting in the library, then spending the rest of the day in the urgent care.

That evening as I sat sipping Gatorade and watching Runaways with my friend in my apartment living room, I knew that something had to give. So, I took stock. At that point, I had already turned in two papers and only had project left– albeit with extensive suggestions for edits. Even though I had until the end of the week to finish it, I just turned it in with maybe half of the edits done, with an explanation to my professor that my health simply took a turn and if I pushed myself anymore, I was likely going to make myself quite sick.

So, I stopped.

Thus far, I have spent most of the break trying to relax and not doing it successfully. Between trying to convince my anxiety to give me a break since the semester is over and spending part of the holidays in the hospital behind my grandmother who came down with the flu, I have yet to feel fully relaxed. Plus, now the worry is my grades (only one is in: an A in Reflections of the African Diaspora.)

In spite of my never ceasing worries and generally rough year (I had to take a brief medical pause from school and my mother was hospitalized for nearly two weeks, plus I had to spend most of the summer writing my Master’s thesis), on this the last day of the year, I did want to spend a little time reflecting on the amazing things that did happen this year:

  1. I presented my original research paper at my first academic conference (Southern American Studies Association Conference) in March.
  2. I became a HASTAC scholar. (Class of 2017-2019!)
  3. I wrote and successfully defended my Master’s thesis!
  4. I curated a small art exhibit at the Lemon Project Symposium in March.
  5. I helped Ari with her Branch Out Trip last January for the Lemon Project. (I get to teach my own this in less than two weeks!)
  6. I successfully finished an entire year of apprenticing at Omohundro.
  7. I attended the Slavery conference at UVA and live tweeted the entire thing.
  8. I attended the Race, Memory and Digital Humanities conference at William and Mary, and my review of the event has been circulating all over the internet ever since.
  9. I’ve been growing Black Girl Does Grad School quite successfully all year.

Plus I did a few personal, life altering things as well:

  1. I did the big chop: I cut off all the relaxed hair until there was nothing left but my natural kinks and curls.
  2. I got new wrist tattoos. They read: I am deliberate and afraid of nothing. When I was a fourth year at UVA, I was recognized by a secret society and the honorees all had personalized quotes atop our letters. Mine was this quote and I never quite got over the fact that this was how someone else in this world viewed me. I wanted to see myself the same way, so I got tattoos to remind myself that I am deliberate and afraid of nothing. 
  3. I found out some new things about my mental health and have been fighting valiantly ever since.
  4. I started to keep a bullet journal.

I’m grateful for the success that I did have and, admittedly, for the failures as well. It’s the only stepping stones to something much greater. I believe that.

In the spirit of attempting to rest my soul, I’m going to step away from Black Girl Does Grad School for a few weeks. I’m going to be back and ready to work in January though. In the meantime, I think you can look forward to a few guest posts. But for now, thank you, dear reader, for coming with me this far. I hope you’ll travel a little further down this road with me.

 

Week 13, or Finals (Prep) Season

Normally during breaks, I write reflection pieces for BGDGS. This time around, I essentially worked straight through Thanksgiving Break, and while that’s not the healthiest thing I’ve ever done, it did give me some time to reflect on how I prep for final projects and seminar papers.

STEP ONE: Work up some ideas

My first step involves a lot of brain dumping. During November classes, I spend a lot of time turning ideas over in my head, trying to catch on to the ends of ideas brought up in class that peak my interest. As the semester progresses, you can find me jotting ideas for papers down in the margins of my journals or on post it notes.

STEP TWO: Follow an idea down the rabbit hole.

After I’ve collected enough of these half thoughts, I choose the idea that has the most substance to it. This process generally is dictated by how many questions I can ask related to the topic. Once a topic is selected, I do bigger brain dumps.

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Mind map and outline
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Up close mind map
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Outline

Above, you can see examples of two of my brain dumps. In the left most picture, the pink paper on top is a mind map– something I honestly haven’t done since I was in middle school but considering I’m working on a Scalar project for my Media class instead of a linear paper, I decided I needed to work through my ideas in a more associative way. The paper on the right in that picture is a traditional outline for my Reflections of the African Diaspora class. Linear papers get linear planning.

 

Then, you can see a closer view of my mind map and finally on the bottom all I’ve done is consolidate my ideas into a outline, broken into workable chunks.

STEP THREE: Secure, Read, and Annotate Some Books

My heavily annotated World of Wakanda Volume 1

 

Now is also about the time when I start gathering books for my final projects. I spend a lot of time in the Library database, requesting ILLs, pulling books from the library and my own personal stock of monographs and comics. Once the haul is over, I grab a pile of sticky notes, highlighters and pencils, and go to town with annotating those bad boys.

I typically color code everything– in my World of Wakanda volume, green indicates spatial references, orange identity formation, and blue technology. In books that will be used for more than one paper, I assign each class a color.

 

 

 

 

STEP FOUR: Start writing!

A blank scalar page

This blank Scalar page is about as far as I’ve gotten on actually writing anything. I have a blank word document for my Reflections paper, and just a few meager ideas for my Feminism essay. But fortunately, this is a light semester in terms of finals. Both my Reflections and Feminism papers are 15 pages, and my Scalar project should be about 2,500 words, which is about 10-12 pages. Compared to my first semester when I was writing between 60-70 pages total, this is going to be so manageable.

The Scalar project is just going to take time. I need to work on it a little every day to get used to working in the form so I’m not panicking and trying to do everything at last minute. My current plan is to write out all of my sections in a document first, then copy and paste the sections into Scalar, then work from there. I also want to try annotating videos and images in the site itself, so that’s going to take time as well. I’m going to work hard on this one because my friend and I are considering submitting these to a comics conference happening in August, if all goes well.

STEP 5: Think ahead!

As I’ve gotten further along in grad school, I’ve learned to think of final papers, not really as final papers, but as drafts, as playgrounds for ideas you can come back to, expand on, or turn into something different, like a conference paper or a dissertation chapter. Thinking about papers as intellectual exercises rather than scary, huge monstrosities helps take the edge off of finals season and puts you back in control.

I don’t have much written yet, but I do have a lot of prep work done. The more prep you do, the easier finals season becomes. Hopefully next time, I’ll have more to reflect on, but in the meantime, good luck to everyone out there who, like me, is struggling through Finals Season.

Happy Writing!

Week 17.5, or the Aftermath

It’s been quiet today. I lounged around my apartment, reading comics, catching up with TV shows and friends, making art and banana bread, high on the absence of immediate responsibility. My last grade of the semester came in last night before I went to sleep and it seemed impossible that I had ended what proved to be a tragic semester on such a high note.

My major texts in African-American life professor sent back my final paper/project (I was to write a transcription of a conversation between W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Patrick Moynihan, Gunnar Myrdal and E. Franklin Frazier, which I promptly turned into play, with stage directions and all) with the following comments:


I will admit, I cried. Not hard or for very long, but I was moved for so many reasons. For once, I got the opportunity to let my work be as limitless as I am. Despite being in grad school, on track for a PhD, I still struggle to reign in my ideas and stuff them in a paper. Someone recognized my knee-jerk impulse to wonder what Booker T. Washington would have thought of hip-hop as insightful and my desire to turn everything into a story virtuous. I felt validated in my knowledge. For once, I eagerly anticipated getting my work back, knowing I’d knocked the assignment out of the park, because I was operating within my wheelhouse, rather than anxiously awaiting results, knowing I’d get pages of what I’d done wrong, what I could’ve done more of or what I could have added. 

It’s sort of the point of academia, really– you could’ve always done something better and someone is always going to point it out. At some point, you simply have to say, this is the best I can do with the time and resources I was given. You have to cut it off.

So when I received my first grade back (which was not at all disappointing considering I’d only been able to go to one class a week all semester, had to rewrite my entire prospectus with an entirely different bibliography and rewrite my paper to include about three more books), I gave in. I made myself be satisfied with my grade. The fact was, given my mental health issues, my medical leave from school, and my mother’s hospitalization and resulting struggles, it was remarkable that I even came back to school. It was extraordinary that I not only went to class but actively participated, and even did my readings. (I was reading painfully slowly and was almost always catching up, but I finished it all, nevertheless.) It was beyond reason that I managed to even finish a final paper, but even rewrite, expand my argument and source base within a few weeks, considering I was still sleeping too much and spending every free evening I had in Suffolk. I did the absolute best that I could have done with that paper. I worked damn hard on it. And it may not have been perfect, but I worked as hard as I could to turn into something good, that I liked. What I wrote would’ve been good anyway, but it was amazing to me, given what it had taken to write it.

It was proof to me that grades don’t reflect struggle. They don’t reflect life. No one’s going to know what I had to go through to get that A-, nobody but me. I prayed more than I wrote during my finals weeks. I cried more than I care to admit. I was so determined to finish because I had made it that far, that I just prayed to make it. I prayed for no success other than surviving, and yet I get to sit here and write about what it had taken to get my A-, and about how my A performance in another class was validating and a testament.

I don’t normally like to put my grades “out there.” When I was in the ninth grade, my best friend took my test and told the class I’d gotten a 98 on it, so naturally I threw a book at his head. Hard. Thankfully, he ducked. But for some reason I want to put my 3.9 on a certificate, frame it, and hang it above my bed. My earlier blogposts from the beginning of the semester somehow seemed to foreshadow the downward spiral that my spring was going to take. I missed that first step in January, and never recovered. But in spite of the fact that I kept missing steps, and was hurtling downward, I never stopped moved. Moving forward is still forward motion, even if you’re falling. So I stumbled through the semester, just praying to keep moving forward– to not stop, because if I stopped I didn’t know if I’d be able to move again. I constantly tripped over myself, tumbled and rolled, and yet I still managed to win. 

Now, let me be crystal– I was lucky. I recognize that the “normal” course of action would have been for me to withdraw from the semester. There was simply too much to be getting on with in my life and in my family’s life this semester. There is nothing healthy about the fact that during two nearly fatal circumstances in which my mother and I were physically and mentally drowning, I put my papers on the life raft instead of trying to save her or myself.

Nevertheless, I won’t deny that I have been tremendously blessed to have gotten the results that I received. In fact, I have literally running around scream-singing “Somebody say BLESSED! (Blessed!)” since the first grade came in. Amid the insanity, I also found out that I will be serving as the Lemon Project graduate assistant next year, a post that I am truly excited to occupy. Grateful though I am for the skill set I have acquired as a Omohundro apprentice, I have never been more glad to have a job that doesn’t require me to sit in a basement 10 hours a week, staring at a computer screen, only to interact with a human to see if there are leftover snacks in the break room.

Just as my performance on my Af-Am texts paper proved, I thrive in environments when I’m given intellectual freedom, a sense of creative liberation and respected as an academic. I prosper when I can break down high brow ideas into digestible meaning.  I create. I orchestrate. I lead. I negotiate. I am so much more than a researcher. My intellect is not limited to papers and often is more readily visible when I’m given such outlets as Lemon or a script to really spread my wings. When I let my ideas spread over acres, the result is a diverse, expansive and prosperous garden. 

Fortunately though, there are still several months between now and when I take up my mantle, and more fortunately still, there is plenty to do until then. I might’ve mentioned, I have a job as a course instructor for the cross cultural program with Keio University for two weeks in August, which will be a 24/7 on call sort of gig. Until then, I’ll work part time at Michaels craft store and write/edit my Masters thesis. I’m extremely interested in doing an editing internship with the peer review blog Black Perspectives, but I’m still trying to decide what is reasonable, what is too much, and figuring out if I am going to have the time to take care of myself the way I need to and do all of the things I want to do. The truth is that even though I know I can do it, I need to be more attentive to whether I should do things based on me and what I need as a person.

Even without Black Perspectives, my summer will still be extremely fulfilling and busy. I even have a writing schedule worked up (per request of the Dean) to keep me honest.


Either way, I’m celebrating the monumental success of having survived a hellish semester with much sleeping, lots of food and many comics. Given that I’ve got so much coming down the pipe, I might update the blog more than I thought I would, providing some “intermission” entertainment, giving updates on my thesis progress  and so on. 

So to those who have struggled with me from the beginning, thank you. Just knowing that every now and then somebody reads this, helps me feel a little less alone in this great big lonely world we call Academia. 

And to those of you just joining me, the good new is there’s still plenty of adventure left.