A few weeks ago, I walked into the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences building (or CLAS, or now the Philip E. Austin Building) up on UConn, and handed in my last of two seminar papers I had due for the week. I then set up my final paper due dates with my students; they’ll be sending them to me by the end of the day. I slipped the paper, a 21 page meditation on child post-war Holocaust testimonies, into my teacher’s mailbox, and walked out the door. It took me all of fifteen minutes, twenty if you count the last-minute edits to my bibliography I did before printing it out. I got in my car and started crying.
It wasn’t that sort of crying you know is coming and you need to get somewhere private, quickly, so you can just blubber in secrecy. It was the unexpected, tears-ripped-from-their-ducts weeping. My body gave out. I drove home, still crying, and stared at Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t think. My mom asked me what I wanted for dinner and I just shook my head, mumbling “Too hard.”
I spent Christmas and New Year’s deliberately not looking at anything academic, even though I had an MA exam to study for. This was twofold – I wanted an actual vacation over the holidays and spend time with my loved ones, and a few days before Christmas I came down with a horrible chest cold that landed me in bed nearly all Boxing Day.
After the New Year I shut myself up in the library with friends also taking the big test. There was more than one occasion I found myself standing in the shower until it ran cold, sobbing hysterically, thinking I couldn’t give any more of my brain to this task. Part of that panic and tension kind of thrills me in a sick way;I had such a good time sitting in those little rooms, reading and analyzing poetry and theoretical essays with my friends, while simultaneously spilling our guts out to the soundtrack of Mumford & Sons. I am an insufferable geek. I know this.
January 18th rolled around, and I spent nearly the entire day in a computer classroom completing the MA comprehensive exam with my fellow graduate candidates. The exam itself is 6 hours but I got to my school at 8:30 and didn’t leave until 5. By the end, I was proofreading my responses to make sure I wasn’t just making up words. My brain felt like scrambled eggs.
I didn’t cry. I walked out of the examination room and fist pumped so hard I spilled coffee all over my shirt, and then went straight home and watched bad movies on Netflix instant while eating a giant bowl of polenta and veggies.
I started this journey not even sure if I would even get back into graduate school. I got rejected the first time out, which was absolutely the right decision for UConn to make. I wasn’t ready in any shape or form to be a graduate student. I hadn’t really started expressing myself in big, loud, capital letters, which in English graduate school is antithetical to the expectation. I wasn’t sure about my brain. I didn’t believe people when they said I was smart (You would not believe the vast amounts of things I am entirely NOT intelligent about. Like math. Or science. Or our legal system. To me, a tort is a dessert.). Zero self esteem about anything. New York had thrown me for a huge loop and I was not prepared for how it had damaged my confidence.
So when I got the rejection letter on the first go-round in March 2010 – my God, how things can change in even 3 years – I was devastated. It was the icing on the shit cake. I had failed in a lot of different things in the span of about 8 months – failed in NYC, failed health, failed relationship, fail fail FAILWHALE.
A few people in my life suggested that I ‘pull some strings’ to bribe my way into the program. That was never even remotely an option. I’ve had to question a lot of opportunities thrown my way – getting onto my middle school basketball team, getting into my competitive single-sex high school, getting into UConn, etc. – being a result of my last name. This was my brain, my life, my rules, my responsibility. No way would I be running to Daddy for this.
I’ve doubted a lot of things in my life – my body, my chances with boys, my ability to run a mile in elementary school Fitness Day without puking Push Pops all over the grass – but I will never doubt my integrity.
I formed a plan.
I asked the department of English if there was any way I could make up the credits they said I lacked. They turned me on to the idea of a year of ‘non-degree study’, in which I would take undergrad and graduate courses to accumulate the credits. In doing so I would also be able to attain credit matriculation-which is why now, I’m actually finishing a semester early from my fellow MA candidates who entered the program at the same time I officially did. I had already been working for an entire year longer.
So I threw myself headlong into it. I decided I would get all of the credits done in one academic year, meaning I would need to take two undergraduate and two graduate courses each semester. This was…not recommended by the people at UConn, to put it mildly. I think they were worried I’d kill myself with all the work. I ended up having a blast. I made a ton of friends in the graduate department so I knew I wouldn’t be lonely in the coming years if I got into the program, and I also tried to become friends with my professors so they’d recognize my name on the applications. I sat in a classroom on my first day, listening to my professor talk about children’s literature, and I realized – this is where I’m supposed to be. Everything that is happening in my life right now is for the express purposes of making me a stronger person. I truly do believe that everything, and I mean everything, happens for a specific reason.
I got accepted into the graduate program in March 2011, on my Dad’s birthday no less. I was standing in the kitchen after a trip to the gym and picked up my cell phone to check some emails before heading upstairs to shower. I saw the email subject line “Offer Letter”, and it took about ten seconds for me to figure out that it was from UConn, and it meant I had gotten the gig. When it clicked, I started screaming like I was being assaulted and danced around the room with my mom. I shook like a leaf for the entire day.
I entered the program in August of 2011 and after a few seminar sessions wherein I’d stare at the rest of my classmates and think “How the hell did I end up in this group of totally smart and awesome and amazing people, clearly they misread my name on the syllabus” I started to realize that maybe I belonged in this program. And then I started teaching. That is when everything truly came together. Despite being a shaky sweaty cartoon the first day I taught a class I realized that all of my training for stage and film work was really just preparing me to stand in front of a classroom and not die. It’s my home now, and where I truly feel like myself.
Which is why I applied – and got hired – to be an adjunct professor at UConn in the Freshman English department. I am teaching two sections of Writing For Children’s Literature, nearly three years after sitting in a classroom, nervous and lost, and realizing I was destined to teach that very subject.
Will I go on for my PhD? Probably. Not for a little while, though…I want to be out in the working world and put some time into teaching before going back for my doctorate.
It’s been the hardest journey of my entire life. Seriously…losing 70 pounds was a freaking cakewalk compared to this. I had severe mood swings – studying the Holocaust for the past four months turned me into a zombie – and drank too much coffee, and lost way too much sleep, and worried way too much about what everybody thought about me for the first couple of months. Then something shifted…and the person who entered this journey in August 2010 is not the same as the one writing this to you.
So many things happened in the past two and a half years. I became an aunt, for one. I fell in love, for another. I learned more about who I am and what I want. I learned how to take care of myself when life threatens to overwhelm. I learned how to speak my opinion decisively and respectfully. I learned to look at myself in a a critical eye and made major, major changes in all aspects of my life. I started living on my own. I learned to go for my dreams but to go for them smartly. I started working for a secure future but living for the present.
A life that was very, very small and scary and lonely has become very, very, very big, and open-ended, and full of possibilities.
It’s still a little scary, and sometimes I do get overwhelmed.
But I would rather be this version of me, a me that is entirely me and not a construct of other disparate personalities trying to ‘fit in’. Normal is overrated. And that’s what the last 3 years have taught me. To be myself, and to be convinced of my passions.
Everything has changed, and I cannot wait to see what else happens in this huge life.
A Terrible Beauty Is Born. – wb yeats
PS – I apologize for the lack of “Reel Fridays”. I think it might become a once-a-month thing, rather than ‘every single week’. I overestimated the time I’d have available to make those vids! But I’m going to publish a new post in here every week regardless of format.