It has been a long while, WordPress.
Ominously, when last I was here, I had remarked that graduate school would, almost certainly, be taking up a large chunk of my free time.
Heavens, how right I was.
Well, one graduate degree later (Literature) and one more degree in the pipeline (Creative Writing), I have returned with some insights. Just a few, no need to oversell it. I may be in graduate school, but that doesn’t mean I’ve suddenly become any less of a goofball or any more of a proper academic.
On that note, I have some things to say about treating oneself intelligently amidst trials.
Dear, Graduate Students (particularly of the English/Liberal Arts persuasion),
It’s the 20th of December, and it’s raining. It doesn’t feel quite like Christmas yet. On my gaming desktop, I’ve got over ten different tabs open, not including my WordPress tabs. These tabs are about finding literary agents and journals for my written work. Meanwhile, I have a Nintendo Switch, bought on Black Friday (shockingly, they were still in stock), on my lap. I am playing Breath of the Wild, and I’m stuck on the first proper dungeon, because I have a tiny baby brain.
This is how I treat myself intelligently.
My creative writing program is extremely intensive. We are one of the most rigorous programs in the country, and the talent there is serious. So, then, why am I there?
I don’t ask myself that question because I doubt my writing ability. I know I can write. If modesty is a virtue, then false modesty is a sin. I wrote that line for one of my characters in a book I’m working on- too bad the man’s a religious fanatic, but I’ll take what I can get. No, what I’ve been thinking about, since the semester’s end, is how, after a day of teaching, or when preparing for a night of writing, I find myself gaming at desktop, or with my Switch, or losing myself in what, by academic standards, should be the domain of the everyday or mundane, not the world of a creative artist, especially one at such a rigorous institution.
In other words, I think I stand apart from most of my other peers in graduate school, because I am too much of a goofball. Many of my peers in my incoming class have gone on record saying that they feel blessed/lucky/thankful/honored to be in such a program. I won’t knock their sentiments at all. After all, I have wanted to be a creative writing professor for nearly ten years. So, since I was 15. And yet, as I’ve told a friend of mine, it’s hard to take everything so seriously when I’ve got carnival music playing in my head.
There is a drive to be published when in graduate school, of course. Last year, I got a paper of mine published, and I presented it at a literary conference, like a good grad student. And yet, even though I acknowledge the professional importance of such a work, and I was proud to present it, I found that it never compared to the simple act of writing by myself at night, or playing a video game on my own, or merrymaking with my friends- my friends whom, overwhelmingly, either did not go to college, or have no interest in English whatsoever.
In an academic culture that does not demand greatness, but expects it nonetheless, I, foolishly, committed myself to live monkishly for my entire first year of my Literature degree. I was to read, study, and write only. Because, I was blessed, honored, and lucky to be in such a program (even if I had actually wanted to get into Creative Writing, and not Literature, from the get-go).
And I was miserable. I was not treating myself intelligently. For all my cleverness and conceits, for all my education, I hadn’t the foresight to consider that, rather than bend myself to meet grad school, that I should bend grad school to fit me. Perhaps I didn’t think I had earned that right yet.
But, I had. I had because I was here for 23 years before I entered grad school. And it had no right to muscle into my life and redefine how I lived. So, I let myself by silly again- not that silliness is, necessarily, a panacea in and of itself, but it is a vital pillar of my being. It seems trite to say, but we do all have those central pillars that hold us up. I’m a goofball with a rampant imagination, boundless energy to work and improve, but I can only truly thrive with in the company of others. Like any professional, you have to know your toolbox before you can being working. Foolishly, I had forgotten how to take stock of mine.
The smog of professionalism (get published, attend extracurricular, network, find internships, write, research, network, network, network) that swirls around graduate school, briefly, had made me into a man I disliked being around. An intelligent person would say to stay away from a man like that, that his constant brooding and shallow self-worth isn’t worth it. And intelligent person, a clever, educated person, wouldn’t want to end up like a man like that.
So, don’t. Consider, perhaps, that you go into your program because of not just your professionalism and academic skill, but because you, as a person, are improving your program as an individual. You are not just the name on academic paper submission headers.
I told a collection of then-new graduate students, last year, that, if it helped to inflame them, they should consider graduate school an enemy, a monster to triumph over. You can always do more in graduate school. You can always do more, evermore, to prove just how smart you are, academically. And, it will always ask for more. But, you have been walking the Earth long before you entered your program. And you will be walking for much longer after.
Be intelligent, then. Make no compromises. Say to the trials of your new stage of life, “These are my pillars. You will not crack them.” This program of yours, of mine too, is just a rock, or a nail, or a patch of soft grass, on your life’s road. Don’t let one or two steps redefine how you walk.
Perhaps that sounds overly-dramatic. But, I’m a writer. I can do what I want. You may not be a writer, but you can do what you want, too. And that’s the whole point. Again, that may seem trite to state, but I had somehow forgotten it amidst it all. For all of my intelligence, I was dreadfully stupid.
Don’t be stupid, stupid. Be the you that you are, not the you that you want to be. Because, they will never meet halfway.
Breath of the Wild is calling back to me. It’s for the best that I return back to it. I’m not the kind of person to lose himself in navel-gazing reflection, however useful it may (or may not) be. Also, my Switch’s battery life is notoriously short. I should tend to it before it becomes lonely.
Perhaps I should tend to this internet garden of mine, too. It looks lonesome, out here.
Until next time~