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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 10.5, or the Mental Health Project

In the spirit of being honest, I won’t lie about my lapse in blogging over the last two weeks. My mental health took a very serious turn for the worse and I ended up having to go stay with my parents for a week until I got stable again.

Despite having missed an entire week of school and work, I’m surprisingly not stressed out by it. What I am stressed about is my mother also falling (physically) ill right as I was scheduled to go come back to Williamsburg. She went to the hospital yesterday for a ruptured appendix and so naturally I drove right back to Suffolk and parked my butt on the futon in her room.

For the last maybe three weeks, my life has been an undeniable mess.

And for some reason, that’s also why I’m not stressed about school.

Somewhere in between the tears and panic attacks, the stomach aches and urgent care visits, the doctors appointments and naps, I realized that I only have one body and I only get one life. Fact of the matter is, my body and my mind do not require school. They do, however, require attention and care. I realized that I can do literally nothing else if my body is not properly fed and watered and if my mind and my emotions have been neglected. I have to cater to myself first. I have to check in with myself, make sure I’m okay. I need to rest when I’m tired. I need to honor my feelings when I’m down. I have every right to ask for what I need to feel nourished spiritually and emotionally so that I can function.

Somehow, I let myself believe that the only way to operate was on productivity/excellence lever 12/10. That same perfectionism that is so motivating is also what pushed me all the way down.

have to do better.

There is no way I can accomplish any of the things I want to do if I don’t learn to take care of myself, or how to say no something, or how to stop giving every little thing 3,000 %.

I take everything seriously. I work meticulously, my hobby is my strictly regimented blog, and I’m even very serious about all of my friendships. I take care to treat them all carefully and work on them where needed, because I think relationships deserve that kind of attention.

But I’m also serious because I truly believe in being an excellent Black scholar. As a Black professor, I will come into contact with students at a critical age– right when they are beginning to truly be able to think critically for themselves, develop their own opinions and ideas, and learn to move intelligently through the world. I want to be like the professors I had– I want to sharpen their minds, encourage and invest in their unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and show them the power of a well educated young Black person. I want them to be able to think. In order to invest in our youth, I have to invest in myself so that I can be there to teach them.

But I have got to invest in me.

So after I finally pulled myself together and woke up from a long sleep Tuesday morning, I went to work.

I started a bullet journal that I’m going to use to track my self-care. I’m doing everything from keeping appointments in it, tracking my food, my moods, my medication, my sleep, my attempts at meditation and mindfulness, and even my prayers.

I deserve to have 30 minutes a day where I self reflect. I deserve to have an outlet for my creativity. I deserve to spend time on myself.

It’s been keeping me surprisingly honest. Monitoring my physical well being helps me see if those things are effecting my mood. My gratitude log, mood log and prayer pages help me notice my thoughts and feelings, but then leave them on the page. I’ve noticed that as soon as I write down a worry or a feeling, my mood mellows out and I can continue with my day. Best of all, it’s an excuse to treat myself with new stationary and pens. Spending time on my page layouts bring me joy and get a thrill from sharing my creations with others. I even decided to start a “creative” instagram where I’ll post pictures of my bullet journal layouts and various other artistic/creative endeavors. (click here to check it out)

Even though it’s been rough, there is always a bright side, two of my own rays of sunshine have included:

  1. Seeing my suggestion for a comic to share with novice graphic novel readers used in a Buzzfeed article! (see #6 on this list; click here to check it out!)
  2. Being recognized by an all-female secret society here at the College for my work with the Lemon Project. (This is particularly fantastic because the Lemon Project is not even my job but I have spent a lot of time and effort on my personal, small contributions.) It’s good to know that Ari and have clearly touched someone/somebod(ies) and I am grateful to be a responsible for positively impacting this college. I am particularly grateful for someone taking the time out to say thank you. You have no idea how much such a small gesture, and some kind words can mean.

Hopefully next week I’ll be back to some regularly scheduled Black Girl Does Grad School posts. Being ill and dealing with illness has prevented me from writing what I can only imagine would have been spectacular blog posts about the art exhibit I curated, my last African-American texts class in which I connected Stokely Carmichael to comics and Eldridge Cleaver to J. Cole, and my meeting with renowned American Studies scholar, George Lipsitz, who encouraged me in my scholarship, art and activism.

Not to worry, though, maybe I will tell those stories. After all, they are certainly worth telling.

Week 5, or The Busiest Bee

I have been getting increasingly bad about updating this blog.

I’m sad about it because I was really looking forward to reading back through every week of my entire first year in grad school at the end of the semester. I could review my successes, my struggles; assess my game plans and strategize for the next year.

But things have been rough recently. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been feeling out of whack, which truthfully, is not entirely due to burn out, but also due to some mental health issues I’ve been battling recently. The resulting panic from this discovery led to me cutting off my relaxed hair, and embracing my very short, entirely natural new ‘do. (If you’re interested in reading further about my cut, I wrote about it over at Literally, Darling.) My parents hate it but I’m almost 23 years old, and there’s really no reason to lose any sleep over my parents not liking my new haircut.

Despite all that craziness, I’ve finally managed to get my feet back under my in my New Woman course. I stopped thinking about my weekly precis as busy work, but instead using it as an opportunity to articulate some comments I have about the Tuesday readings (which I miss because I’m taking African-American Texts, which meets at the same time.) Thinking about it this was has helped alleviate the stress significantly, but as one door closes another opens…

I’m also coming up on deadlines for an annotated bibliography for that class. As you might remember from my posts last semester, I am a huge fan of annotated bibliographies and have a great deal of respect for professors who are kind enough to assign them. They’re your best friend in grad school. The fact is, annotated bibliographies ensure your stress levels are set to moderate instead of severe during finals because you’ve already done all the heavy lifting of research and pulling together an outline months in advance. All you have to do then is write.

Unfortunately, annotated bibliographies are still a ton of work. You have to do the research at some point, and apparently that point is now. Granted, I will be so happy all my research will be done when I’m struggling to write in April, but I’m mildly freaking out right now, mostly because I also have to figure out how to write a conference paper…

Also, at some point last semester, I might have written about my Black Panther paper getting accepted to the Southeastern American Studies Association Conference. I’ll be presenting on a panel with a few other people and I was so excited about it when it was theoretical. Now, I’m nervous about presenting my, possibly very shitty, little comic paper in front of serious scholars with Ph.D.s, one of whom will most definitely be one of my favorite African-American studies professors from UVA. She’s been such an advocate for me since I got into grad school. She’s suggested books for me for this paper. She’s talked me up and also been super supportive of me throughout this journey, just in general. I really don’t want to get up on stage an embarrass myself in front of her.

Add these worries to my usual pressing homework deadlines, Omohundro stress, the art exhibit I’ve been planning with Ari, trying to keep a steady flow of articles to Literally, Darling, and my parents, who have been more present than usual over the last few weeks, I’ve basically been a puddle of anxiety. Which, let’s be honest, is not that unusual for me.

Still, things haven’t been all bad. My friends haven’t let me hole up in my apartment behind stacks of books. They’ve rallied around me and supported me, from visits from my high school best friend to late evening phone calls, from being my personal hair guru to being my coffeeshop partner. They’ve made me get outside and get moving, playing frisbee with neighbors; they’ve gotten me early birthday presents; and they’ve even taken me out for a morning adventure to see “I Am Not Your Negro” in Richmond.  (Side note to review the film: I really enjoyed it. It was informative but it wasn’t necessarily new information. Artistically it wasn’t stunning or particularly moving and the most innovative part was looking at these stories from a new perspective.)

And I some things to look forward to. Mindfulness Training has been really useful for me. It’s my pause during my hectic week and the strategies we learn help me navigate the waves of uncertainty during the week. Not to mention, my birthday is coming up next Monday. It’s the first year that I can remember that I haven’t actively counted down to my birthday, but I’m still fairly excited. I don’t have any special plans but maybe something will pop up during the week. One of my friends also has a birthday this week, so maybe a joint gathering will be in the works.

I won’t say I promise to go back to writing every week because I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep, but I will do my best to keep setting aside a little time for myself every day, and hopefully, blogging will continue to be one of the things I like to do for myself.