Week 15, or Project Finish Line

The end is near, and unlike in undergrad, the impending holiday does not signal a joyous respite from school, but instead almost a week that I get to spend buried under books in the hopes of finishing my term papers.

A few weeks ago, I said my goal was to start writing. Admittedly, I did do some writing. I think I have about 18ish pages total of the 60 minimum pages I need before the end of the semester, and truthfully, that isn’t terrible! It’s better than nothing.

Normally, I’d like to be further along than this but the first half of November has been enormously busy and somewhat of an emotional trainwreck for me. The first weekend, my cousin came to visit me; then, the election had me in a tailspin for at least four days; after that, I went to my alma mater for some well-timed art therapy and bonding with some friends; and when I got home, it turned out that my uncle (who lives in Key West) was in town visiting as well…and my dad’s dog (who we’ve had since I was 8) had passed away. Needless to say, it was a miracle that I pretty much all of my work done– but it was mostly good time management, as I’d been working ahead for almost two weeks, knowing that visits would chew up a great deal of my time.

So, this weekend was the first weekend in a while that I got to spend bumming around my apartment in my sweat pants, as I so dearly love to do.

But alas–I fell ill.

I really think the universe is against me sometimes.

When I haven’t been sleeping off whatever vile sickness that’s invaded my poor body, I’ve been writing term papers and reading for class. Compounded with the fact that I’ve eaten nothing but soup for the last four days, yes, this situation is as depressing as it sounds.

Nevertheless, I thought I’d spend a little time in this post discussing some of the tactics I’ve been using to get through these long papers , which is all a part of what I’ve been calling “Project Finish Line”:

  • Annotated bibliographies are your friends! Listen, the best thing that ever happened to me was my research seminar professor assigning an annotated bibliography a third of the way into the semester. At the time? Yes, it was frustrating. Yes, I was freaking out because I wasn’t sure about what I was writing about. But annotated bibliographies are honestly a perfect way to think through your argument, how you’re going to support it, and how you’ll organize the paper. If you put a lot of energy into doing a bomb bibliography, you’ll have everything you need to write your paper, then all you’ll have to do is write it.
  • Try to write a little every day, but also give in when the mood strikes. Fortunately, I just naturally write like this. I like to write a little something every day, mostly because I don’t want to have to write everything at the last minute, but when I’m feeling an idea, I immediately get to my word document and spin out the entire idea. I always like to start projects with outlines, but I’m not picky about writing from start to finish order. So, if I suddenly know what I’m going to write for 8 pages of section 3 of my paper, hold the phones– I’ll be gone for about 3 hours.
  • OUTLINE! Like annotated bibliographies, outlines are your friend. Use whatever type of outline that makes sense to you, but try to get your ideas down on paper, and organize them so you have an idea of where you are trying to go with this paper. I used to be the type to just sit down at a blank word document and go at it until I hit the word limit, but the fact is…it’s a little sloppy. And professors can almost always tell when you do that. Working on an annotated bibliography, then an outline which breaks down the sections, main ideas, and even possible page amounts that you will spend on each idea, will making going to your document so much easier.
  • EDIT! Truthfully, I’m still so horrible at this. I go through so many steps to refine my ideas before I even write them down that the suggestion of changing something I’ve written is annoying. Usually, my thought process is, “That was what I was trying to say! Otherwise I wouldn’t have written it like that!” First of all, that’s defensive. Second of all, thinking like that is going to impede you from getting better. Embrace rewrites. Embrace edits. Edits are not a suggestion that you suck at writing. Edits are what make you more articulate to a greater number of people. It’s great that you understood what you write, but will anyone else?
  • If your professors will read drafts, GET A DRAFT IN. Almost all of my professors are willing to read drafts, and as a first semester grad student, I’m planning to take advantage of that. Having my professors read drafts in advance will let me know what they’re looking for, while also giving me enough time to change some things to make it better, and potentially get a higher grade. Plus, they’ll know I’m taking this seriously.

So, at the end of the day, my popular culture and power paper is basically writing itself. I just sit down at any given moment and plod through that. When I get bursts of inspiration, I write my literary criticism style Interracialism paper (that’s been coming out in bursts of about 5 pages every time I sit down). And I’ve yet to start my Intro to American Studies paper, but that’s possibly because I’m still a little unsure of where I’m going with it. But that can of course be resolved by having a quick chat with my professor.

Which brings me to my last bit of advice: talk to your professors. Just do it.

With only a few weeks left in the semester (2, really, of classes and then a week for finals, a.k.a. speed writing/editing term papers), I can’t believe I’ve almost made it through my first semester. It seems like just yesterday, I was running around the basement of Swem trying to find the Omohundro Institute. If Project Finish Line is successful, I’ll have three good papers to show for a semester of hard work in just a few weeks.

Until next time,


Week 14, or A Little Quiet

I’ve been a little…quiet.

For those who know me (well, let’s say, have been around me), the silence can be misconstrued. Contrary to popular belief, I can shut up, I can sit down, and I can dial my energy down to ‘dim.’

Usually if I’m quiet, it probably means either 1. I don’t care/just existing, 2. I’m mad, or 3. I’m thinking and absorbing…and observing.

I’d say a good 70% of the time, it’s that third type of quiet and that’s where I’ve been existing the last few days.

You see, I’ve gotten curious to know what I can discover if I just…hush. Like, when I went to UVA this past weekend and I sat at a table next to these two boys discussing Trump Victorious. I pretended not to hear, and they only held their voices down for a moment, before they realized I wasn’t going to intervene, then they got louder.

I’ve been a little…quiet. And a little less present. And I’m just taking note of who has remarked on my absence and why…particularly, why. There’s good intentions, and then there’s good intentions that quickly veer into ‘let’s make her into our representative Black voice.’

I belong to no one but myself and God; so instead, I’ve just existed…quietly, and observed.

I’ve been present and yet invisible, with less commentary than usual, but with more vigilance at the same time.

So I’ve just been soaking in the stances, observing how the fear of uncertainty manifests itself. How quickly it turns to a dismissal of white people all together. I understand the position, but I’m not willing to let righteous anger drive me to say things I may not mean. Or let it drive me to say things I do.

I’ve just been a little…quiet. Haven’t even leaned on my usual support system. The unfortunate truth of the matter is, I’m learning, at the most inconvenient time, who I can rely on.

So I’ve been quiet and reconsidering.

I’m not willing to sound afraid, or anxious, or angry, so instead my body absorbs those feelings. I haven’t slept or eaten well in a while. My shoulders ache, my head throbs. While my mouth is shut, my body is screaming.

My nervous energy always turns itself into productivity. Pages write themselves. Pages are read. It’s almost like I had nothing to do with it at all.

Finding sanctuary among the people who speak my language, who turn rage into art and that ache in your chest into words, and the family who has always loved me calms my body. But even with them, I’m quiet. I’m thinking. I’m processing.

I’m listening.

I’ve found myself listening to the pulse of a country screaming because the wrong person has touched the right, raw, unhealed wound.

So, I’ve just been a little quiet.

And if you’ve heard America recently, you would be, too.

Week 13.5, or Soldiers Forged In Fire

The white cloaked figures stood a half dozen deep in front of the red brick church I was attempting to enter. One stepped forward and grabbed my wrist with a pinkish pale hand sprinkled with prickly blond hair. The hand jerked my arm and I gasped in shock and panic, but before I could blink, I was in front of Trump Tower. Screens surrounded me on the sides and tops of sky scrapers, and I watched with disbelief as the bodies of Black men hung by ropes, rotating ever so slightly, bodies alight with the flash of phone cameras as white Trump supporters celebrated the President Elect with human sacrifice. Just as someone approached the bodies with a Bic lighter pulled from a pocket filled with unmarked ballots, I decided to look down and noticed on my wrist a smudge of black that was not my skin. Seven numbers followed by the letter B were stamped across my wrist, the wrist I had once considered marking myself with the words of Audre Lorde, “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.”

I jerked awake and realized that I had dreamt this on the night before the election, the night before Decision 2016.

I was jumpy and nervous all day. I was registered to vote in my hometown, which despite the inconvenience of having to drive an hour to perform my civic duty, reassured me. My father, a big man who stood 6’3 and drove a Range Rover, would accompany me to the polls in the afternoon.

My entire family went together to the polls, which for us was housed in a Baptist Church which stood at the corner of one of the entrances to our neighborhood. It was manned by severe, but kind, old ladies who had likely spent their youth in churches just like that one fighting so that I might pass easily through, cast my vote, and leave unharmed.

In spite of that, I still shook as I waited to hand the pollster my identification, afraid that some unknown thing would swoop down and bar me from my right.

Pennsylvania began to turn red and my mind began to go blank.

I only spoke to one friend as the results began to come in. I sat in my parents’ living room with the news muted, my computer screen split as I typed out the beginnings of an essay– the other half displaying the election results which were refreshed every thirty seconds. Every now and then, I would pick up my phone, give my friend an update. She wouldn’t watch. She couldn’t watch. I couldn’t stop. She believed that denial would stop her chest from caving in; I believed that the truth would douse the pain in mine.

When Pennsylvania began to turn red, I shut down my laptop, put away my phone and went to bed.

At six AM, my father’s alarm went off. I was already awake, staring at my ceiling. I slid out of the bed and crept into my parents’ room, like I used as a child when I had been awoken by a bad dream. My father woke so quickly at the sound of my unusually small, broken voice, that I knew he had not been asleep.

“Daddy. Trump won.”

“I know.”

We talked all morning. My eyes were raw, my faith shaken, my humanity invalidated.

Yet,  at quarter to 8 found me in my car, dressed, my books packed, and my obliviously happy dog riding shot gun into the sunrise. Despite my initial decision to “Call in Black,” I found my spine to be made of steel, and my head unbowed. I would go and learn today, because my ancestors did not fight for me to hide.

I managed to uncover a truth in the restless hours since I dreamt of an America I didn’t know, since I have lived in an America I haven’t yet truly met. Like a person, you may live in a country and never truly know its heart, its inner most thoughts, and fears. You may walk its streets every day and turn your head at the atrocities. You may never truly know what a country is capable of.

But more importantly, I discovered something about me. Ever since I discovered Angela Davis as an 8 year old, I had always wondered what I would be capable of in the face of adversity, but those questions were hypothetical. This morning, I had to ask myself the same question I had often asked myself in the moments before sleep, “Who am I going to be?”

My parents instilled in me a belief that God would not hand me anything I could not handle. God would not create a circumstance that we could not overcome. Though I may not have asked to be a soldier, though I may not have wanted to be a soldier, God chose me. God chose us. God chose this generation. He chose those who walk this Earth today. He believes that this collection of people will find a way to come together and overcome. They will be soldiers of good will, courage and hope.

These circumstances will make Martins, Malcolms, Stokelys, Angelas, and Johns out of my generation.

We will be soldiers forged in fire.

I will be a soldier forged in fire.

My attempt at joining the Academy