Tag Archives: Graduate School

Intermission ft. “How to Ignore Bad Advice”

Greetings!

It’s been a while since I’ve written an update, because to be honest I’m doing the boring part now: writing.

After I visited the archive at the end of June, I spent a few weeks just sifting through the issues, reading and taking notes. It took a lot longer than I imagined– what I thought would be a solid two days of work turned into a week and a half of sifting, even when I was spending a few hours a day taking notes on issues. In my defense, the Fourth of July holiday popped up in the midst of all that, so I took necessary breaks to enjoy hot dog.

Finally, once I’d sifted as long as I could, I told myself it was time to just do it. The best advice I’d ever received and the best advice I’d ever given in grad school is to just start writing. You can only plan so much– at some point, you need to put the outline down, put down the notes, stop making excuses. The longer you put off beginning to write, waiting for the perfect set of sources, or reading one more book, the more frazzled you’re going to be. Just write. Work with what you have– you can always go back and add things later. Don’t expect the first go to be perfect– it won’t be. You’ll have to edit. Even if you write what you think is the world’s best essay, I guarantee, your advisor will still send you back three pages of edits to make.

It makes me feel better to know that even the authors published books and articles probably had pages and pages of suggested edits for their pieces, even after they were published. But at some point, just like forcing yourself to write, you’re going to have to force yourself to stop.

For me, and for a lot of people, getting the tap to turn on is the hard part. So to alleviate that, I just make myself write a little bit every day, even if it’s just a summary of a book I want to use, or a page of good notes on the issue that I want to work on– I just write so I have material to work with.

Then finally, one morning, I woke up at like 6 AM and my tap was on and all the ideas were flowing.

I wrote all morning and, at noon, collapsed gratefully on my bed.

Ever since, my Black Panther essay has been shooting out of me in bursts of about 2 or 3 single spaced pages at a time. I’m so grateful for this because I was getting worried about that piece: to this day, it’s the best idea I’ve come up with so I’ve been writing it and rewriting it for almost an entire year now. I turn my ideas over in seminar papers, blog posts, conference papers, and now, I’m attempting to consolidate everything I’ve been thinking about into a paper that, ideally, won’t be longer than 40 pages.

I’m currently up to 19/20 single spaced pages, but that includes a bibliography and images, and I haven’t even written two entire sections.

I’m going to have to edit the crap out of this essay.

With this amount of work and pressure on on my shoulders, I definitely need support and I’ll take it where I can get it but it’s also worth being able to identify good advice and throw out the bad.

GOOD ADVICE:

  • Visit an archive
  • Make sure you are well prepared for your visit
  • Write a little every day (or most days) so that it won’t get down to the last week and you’re writing in a unintelligible frenzy
  • Take breaks
  • Stay organized

GOOD SUPPORT:

  • Offer to go write with your friend
  • Commiserate during difficult moments and celebrate breakthroughs
  • Cheer them on! Positive vibes are always appreciated

BAD ADVICE:

(To be fair, everyone has different versions of what constitutes bad advice, but these are the worst comments you could offer in an attempt at helping, for me)

  • You’re going to need to cut X amount of material
  • Prepare for your thesis to not work the way you want it to
  • Expect the process to take exceptionally longer than you anticipate
  • Expect your advisor to be difficult

The thing about offering advice to people who are working on long written projects is that good advice is useful across the board, but bad advice tends to be based solely on negative experiences that one’s had while embarking on their own adventure. While it may not be entirely bad advice, it’s a little like telling someone that they should expect traffic in certain places on I95 when the other person is driving on 288– you can get to about the same place, but you’ll be using entirely different routes to get there, thus ensuring different problems.

It’s also not helpful to compare your journey to anyone else’s. For one thing, academia is based on a celebration of uniqueness– the idea is every project is unique. So, technically, there shouldn’t be an exact precedent for your situation. You can sort of gauge a possible path and set of likely occurrences, but ultimately, your project is one of a kind. You likely didn’t use the same type of sources as the next person, or you used a different type of method, or wrote in a different style. All of these things are factors that will contribute to a potentially extraordinarily different experience in working on your project.

So for the time being, I’m trying not to concentrate on how much I’m going to have to cut, but rather on just getting all of my ideas out onto the page. I’m not going to worry about my advisor because it’s my goal to do as much work as I can on my own before I have to get my advisor involved. I’m not going to worry about the length, but about making sure that I’m saying everything that I need to say.

There are so many potential problems I could focus on while I’m working on one of the most important projects of my young life– but instead I’m going to remember that this is a chance for me to say something really special, and that no one is going to be able to say it the way that I can.

It’ll work itself out.

I’m going to think positively about it.

I’ve gone through too much to let someone else’s experiences dictate how I think about and approach a problem.

I have enough negativity of my own– I’m not letting anyone else’s in.

 

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 6, or Harlem Blues

I’ve woken up essentially every day this week, praying that the bad mood has passed. The current soundtrack to my life would probably be some weary blues music. I find that deeply disturbing primarily because I’m (almost) 23 and life shouldn’t be that hard yet.

I’m trying to force myself to have positive thoughts, in spite of my car dying and still having to write a conference paper for Saturday. (!!!) Even though I’m not the most productive I’ve ever been, I’m focusing a little more energy on taking care of myself. I’m making time for pleasure reading (which sounds impossible considering the amount of academic reading I have to do each week), I’m meditating a little more, trying different teas and taking myself out to coffee shops I like. I spend more money than I’d like to admit on specialty coffee drinks, but it makes me happy. I recently discovered an Alice In Wonderland-esque cafe near the College, Culture Cafe. It serves some of the best lattes I’ve ever had in mismatched ceramic mugs and there’s plenty to look at while I sip: old, first edition, leather bound volumes with yellowing pages line the book shelves which cover the walls from floor to ceiling in the upstairs work area; paint spattered tarps double as curtains; a chandelier of mismatched Edison bulbs hangs just above my favorite spot, an old paisley couch with a coffeetable in need of a new paint job before it. I’m pretty sure the inside of my mind looks something like this cafe.

While I was there, waiting the arrival of a friend, my mind wandered, as it had done so many times this semester, to the authors of the Harlem Renaissance. The more I learned about them, the more they came alive, filling my mind as so many of my novel characters do. I wondered what they talked about over coffee, and what the rapport was between all of them. Reading David Levering Lewis’s When Harlem Was In Vogue makes me laugh at the way he describes the boys of the moment and I’m enthralled by the drama of it all. I texted my friend saying I would love to write an HBO series called Harlem which would follow all of these interconnected lives. 

Every time I’m introduced to a new character, I usually equate them to an artist I already know. I could barely contain myself when I realized Jean Toomer sounded a lot like my friend, Ed: brilliant to the point of genius with words but scatterbrained and so ill-focused he produced only one work. Whenever my professor narrates Jean Toomer’s life, I can’t help but imagine Ed, long and lanky, floating from project to project, attracted to whatever piqued his interest. I see my friend Araba in my mind’s eye when we speak of Zora– hard, unyielding, talented, with a tongue and mind that’s sharp as a whip. Then, of course, Langston Hughes always reminds me of Micah, the modest documentor of the harshest of Black realities. Her work is so sonic, infused with hip-hop, only a step away from Hughes’ jazz flavored everything.

Sometimes I wonder who I’m like of the group. I relate to both Countee Cullen and Jessie Fawcett, Countee for his love of the classic but mixed with Black flair that he admits he knows less of than he does French, Jessie for her valiant artistic effort but true talent as the teacher, the editor, the stage manager of the Renaissance. Then, sometimes, every now and then,  I come back to Nella Larsen, the mixed raced, foreigner to America in every way. A Danish mother and a West Indian father gave birth to an American Black Nella who didn’t fit, couldn’t fit by the American standard. Europe didn’t have her answer, Black America didn’t have her answer, and the homelessness haunts everything she writes. What I admire most about Nella, though, is the almost feline sharpness with which she writes. Her style is so distinct that I’d be hard pressed to pick up a piece of her work and not know its hers. She’s attentive to fashion and textiles and colors that correspond to moods, which shift almost from page to page. There’s this lack of self-restraint that I love about her novels, the unapologetically sensual female leads that run her stories.

There’s a detail that really makes me hesitate and linger over Nella: after her husband divorces her, she disappears from the Harlem scene for ten years with barely a trace. 

Things are not always what they seem…the leading message of both Nella’s work and her life, something that deeply resonates with me at the core of my being.

I like Sunday morning Harlem musings. The more I read about Black art and Black artists in the 20th century, the more I realize that’s where I want to reside when I teach. I love my comics, I love my literature, and this is just an extension–or a specialization, depending on how you think about it. I’m discovering my time periods and my contexts. No matter how much I love Ida B. Wells, she just doesn’t capture my entire imagination like the artists do. When I’m thinking of late 19th and early 20th century, my mind immediately goes to a paper. My interest in Ida B. Wells quickly turned into a paper topic: the self-representations of Ida B. Wells as a New Woman, in light of Booker T. Washington’s uplift and respectability politics. But when I’m thinking of Harlem, my mind spins with art projects. How would I do a web series version of my Harlem HBO series? Could I do a graphic biography of Nella Larsen’s life? How can I paint this? How can I imagine this? How can I create work that adequately places itself in conversation with the intellectual discourse of the time? In a lot of ways, it seems a shame to write an academic paper on the Harlem Renaissance, when I know these artists would have been more receptive to my art. They would have been curious to see how their discourse would have shaped my thought.

Making art is not the absence of critical thought. It is the most critical expression of thought that we have.

It’s why I’ll gladly keep my Sunday morning Harlem musings, with a cup of tea in one hand and a paintbrush in the other.