Category Archives: Guest Posts

Guest post: “Sometimes You’re Santiago”

When I first read The Old Man and The Sea, I hated it. I truly hated it. I do not think it is fair to make junior high aged students read Ernest Hemingway. But even though I hated the book as a 7th grader, I constantly find myself coming back to that story over and over again in my head. And I think as I started graduate school I found myself relating more and more to the Old Man, Santiago.

I am sure you are wondering how a twenty-four-year-old Black woman can relate to a character written centuries ago by a white American man; however, have no fear I am going to explain.

It is only right that I use a classic novel to explain my struggles as a graduate student. I would even call it ironic because at the age of twenty-three I found out I have a reading impairment, along with two other learning disabilities.

In my first semester of graduate school I had hit a wall so to speak. It seemed like week after week I was unable to pass a quiz in class or even write a decent enough paper for my professors. I literally felt like Santiago who had not caught a fish for eighty-four days. Nothing seemed to be going right.

I knew that I had general anxiety disorder before I moved from Texas to Iowa City, Iowa; however, I really had not had too many anxiety attacks until I started graduate level classes. I even began to question who in the hell told me to sign up for this shit; however, I knew I had goals to reach so I pushed through.

And even with all of my personal perseverance—again much like Santiago—it really did not matter. It actually made me feel like I was not good enough to even be in this program. And to make it worse, I was the only black person in almost all of my classes, so I felt like they were just calling me the stupid black girl in their meetings. (I later found out that they weren’t calling me stupid, but they were saying that I was incapable of doing their work—that’s a story for another day).

I do not know if you have ever had that feeling of something being so close but yet being so far away at the same time. Like Santiago fighting with the fish to get it shore and with every mile he got closer but the struggle also got harder and harder. That is how I felt in every class and even after finding out there was a reason behind why I had been struggling so much, it still felt like I still had so much further to go.

How was a I supposed to process this information about these learning disabilities when I literally have a processing disorder? It honestly makes no sense and if you have the answers, please let me know. All I am trying to convey is that I really did not know what to do even though I was happy I received some answers.

But what does having a learning disability look like in graduate school? Will professors think I am making it up? Will they care? Will they work with me? How do I talk about it and not make it sound like an excuse? Obviously you can see that this new diagnosis caused quite a bit of anxiety in me—and I already had enough. The questions just kept coming of how and what I should do. I finally just had a complete breakdown; and to be quite honest it felt amazing to the tears to flow down my face because it was some sort of release.

Even after that release, I still did not have the answers; however, I knew that I could find them and that it may take some time.

Santiago was very prideful and that is why he did not give up with the fish and I can relate to that; however, I the fight he had with the fish just to bring it to shore left not just the fish but him as well, extremely mangled and broken. I knew that I did not want my graduate career to leave me like that. I did not want my pride to end up breaking me just to prove a point. And that is when I realized that I was going to have to reach out for help and that meant letting the university know about my diagnosis. If I did not tell them, I was going to fail out of school just to not disclose learning disabilities. Honestly, I do not want to pressure people reading this to disclose your personal business; however, people cannot help you if they do not know what is going on.

Learning this lesson was hard to learn. I am not a person who likes asking for help. It felt weird to make a conscious decision to be vulnerable when it came to my schooling. I can write a blog about my struggles with depression and anxiety but I liked people thinking I had school under control (because I had for so long).

I have written about my learning disabilities on my personal blog and I even allowed the university to use me for an awareness campaign and I even was interviewed for the school website. I realized that my pride was not going to not only hinder me from achieving greatness in my academics but it also was not going to stop me from being a voice for others.

I do not think that I will ever read Old Man and The Sea again, but I never knew a book that I read in 7th grade could later be used as an analogy for my life—I guess that is why it is called a classic. I guess the moral of my story is that the struggle has a purpose and that pride can really hold you back.

I hope that this story helps someone and if it doesn’t, it helped me to write about it once again.


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Joy Melody Woods, masters student at the University of Iowa studying sociology of education and sport. She is a native Texan and loves all things southern cooking. She is an advocate for mental health and learning disabilities. Her writing can be found on withoutaspace.com and her podcast Morning Joy.

morningjoypodcast@gmail.com

Twitter @smileitsjoy

Grad School – 1 Leah – 1 Part Two

First things first, sorry for the wait, life. LOL

But Happy New Year!!!

So the group project I wrote about last time, actually went much better than I expected. We came together to analyze how effectively the leadership of Chipotle handled the E.Coli Outbreak in 2015. Our professor enjoyed our analysis (no really, all positive feedback from the professor, lol) and gave us an “A”.
We were all pretty happy about the overall project, thanked each other for the hard work and went our separate ways. It’s pretty awesome how a people who have never met are able to collaborate (with the help of technology, of course) and pull together a research paper and a narrated presentation.

I finished the class with an overall “B” which is dope because it’s what I expected (know thyself, lol). So there, first semester of Grad School COMPLETE *insert fireworks*!!!! I made it! Thanks to the best support from my family and friends, and I mean the best support, one down 5 semesters to go!

Winter sessions start soon. This course is expected to be a bit more intense but I’m so ready. The classes I am taking are actually interesting because they are helping me determine steps needed to achieve the production company dreams.

Speaking of dreams, work is going well! I am currently planning my first baby at my job. It’s an inaugural Rentals Open House. Visitors will be able to sample catered specialties, chat with local vendors about future event plans, and visit studios onsite for gifts and décor for their event. Most of the planning is done, just cant wait to execute it. The open house will kick off the season this year and I am excited to launch this first time ever event!

Full Speed Ahead….
Second Semester starts soon….
Stay Tuned………..The Game Ain’t Over Yet.

Chaos Before This Black Girl Does Grad School

Often times I am asked why I’m applying to graduate school. That’s followed with questions about my area of study and, upon me explaining it, most ask why I’m choosing to study fine arts. And I appreciate the concern. Making money is a requirement in the game of life. However, there is a seemingly huge contrast between income and studying the arts, you know, music, film, and writing.

A lot of my family and friends ask me, “what do you plan to do with that?” and ‘that,’ being a Master’s of Fine Arts. If they catch me on a good day, when I’m not being stubbornly sarcastic, I tell them that I plan to write, with all of me.

Many people frown upon a fine arts degree as if it’s worthless or something to study just to pass the time. And that may be true for some, but I am an individual who is fully invested in my craft. We don’t ask the pre-law student or the student studying pharmaceuticals, “what do you plan to do with that?” And it should be no different with a student studying arts. Granted, the road may be a bit harder or longer to achieve my dream but I don’t belittle the steps in reaching it.

It’s been almost three years since I completed my undergraduate career and the thought of pursuing a degree again is daunting. So, a little encouragement from my loved ones wouldn’t hurt. The specific school I’m applying to wants a passing GRE test score, a statement of intent and a 30-page sample of my writing that will blow them away. I’ve had the honor of studying for a test that I probably won’t use again in my professional career or life, and writing a paper pleading with admissions to let me in. Sound familiar?

Yup, applying to grad school is just like applying to undergrad except you already have a degree and probably loads of experience in your specific field of study.

I juggle a fulltime job, two part time jobs, a social life, and family relationships with hours of studying, days of blogging consistently and desperately trying to get a freelance writing career afloat. But in the end, I know my choice will pay off.

Like many black women, I have lofty dreams of going back to school, getting a degree or two, making more money, etc. however many of us are intimidated by the application; not to mention the internal conflict of not being smart enough or not having enough time to follow through. This explains why many of us quite soon or never start at all. There’s a part in me that still wonders if I still got it. Its been a while since I had to research and write papers on a deadline so I’m wondering if I still got the juice! But before I can even begin classes though, I have to be accepted. The school I’m applying to is pretty prestigious, given the amount of application materials they require of me, so the acceptance or rejection thing is a big deal.

And to make things worst, I can’t find out if I got in until three months after I submit my application, like people, at least give me a little hope. I have to twiddle my thumbs from February until May. Honestly, in grad school I have to get over my fears: fear of not being enough or being too much. There are plenty more things to lend my emotions to and fear isn’t one of them.


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Shanisha is a passionate writer and soon-to-be grad student. She writes over at Honestly Me where she promotes transparency among women of color.