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.

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.

 

My attempt at joining the Academy