Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The day I revived this blog, or why grad school is like a rigorous swimming race run by pirates.

Hello! I apologize for my long absence. At the beginning of the summer, I had this quaint notion that I would keep up this blog while writing my MRP (Major Research Project, required for the completion of my MA). I remember reading somewhere that it's good to just be writing, regardless of what it is--the more you write, the more you write! So I thought that keeping up this blog would inspire me to write my MRP. That, clearly, did not work out this time. I have faith in future me--I think she will eventually figure out this whole working from home/coffee shops and writing and revising endlessly without the brain exploding thing. I have faith in her. I really do. But current me struggled a bit.

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that grad school is a lovely little stepping stone between undergrad and the "real world." (Granted, these people aren't usually grad students.) They think that it's a place for the undecided, those who aren't ready to leave the "student life" (read: binge drinking and watching full seasons of Mad Men in one sitting), those who aren't ready to grow up and accept responsibility for themselves. Well, if those are your reasons for doing a master's degree, you will be thoroughly disappointed. Grad student is no entry-level position. It's sink or swim, baby. I've learned that it's not so hard to deviate from your rigorous swimming, to stop for a moment to tread water and look around only to end up drifting away...slowly at first, so you don't even really notice, but eventually you get lost in the abyss and no helping hands or ropes appear to pull you back on track.

There are support networks, of course there are. There are your fellow students and your supervisor and  other faculty members. And they tell you what you need to do. Hand in your proposals by this day, present your ideas to your peers this day, have a first draft done this day, try and schedule in some time to have between 1-5 mental breakdowns. And for someone who likes deadlines (I really like deadlines...), this seems great. Until you realize that apparently academics are all a bunch of bloody pirates and the "code" you thought you were following is really just a bunch of guidelines and no one is actually penalized for missing deadlines and so you start to just not follow them and no one cares and you start to drift farther and farther away from your goals...

But as much as I'm learning that grad school is not a nice, refreshing, relaxing, safe dip in the kiddie pool before diving into the deep end of "real life," but instead is some sort of rigorous swimming race run by pirates (I think this metaphor got away from me...)*, I'm also learning that I'm learning a lot from it. I finished my MRP, and it passed, but I didn't love the finished product, and that's okay. I did what I could in the time that I had, and I got some really great stuff out of it--stuff I want to come back to later, once I've taken a break from that particular piece of writing and gotten a bit of perspective. I tried to do too much at once and I couldn't see the forest for the trees. The kernels of really good stuff, like my exploration of the homosocial relationship between Nick Carter and Brian Littrell of the Backstreet Boys or my reading of the Backstreet Boys' "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" video alongside Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, got lost in my attempt to weed through way too much theory that I was unfamiliar with. But I really learned a lot from that experience, and I'm excited to continue to work with that material.

And now that I've started my final year of coursework (!!!), I'm really starting to see how much I've learned in the past year, and how much I've unlearned. Doing readings for my first week of classes was SO MUCH EASIER this year than it was last year. When I started reading the articles for my first term courses last year, I was completely and utterly overwhelmed. I grasped maybe half of the readings--and I only grasped them, I couldn't make any sort of complex argument about them. I didn't know how to respond except to say, "Yes, I understand this one," or, "No, I have no idea what the fuck is going on." And by no means am I an expert this year, but at least I feel competent. I don't feel so lost. And that's an absolutely wonderful feeling. I've also "unlearned" quite a bit too, and I think I'm still in the process of letting go of some things. I'm unlearning some of my perfectionism--ideas do not need to be fully formed and perfect before you speak up in class or you share your writing with others. In a lot of cases, it's almost better that these ideas aren't perfect, so we can have the opportunity to help each other out. But that's something that the pirate-run swimming race can ruin a bit. It's hard on us, so we're hard on each other. Someone once crushed our spirits, so it's our turn to crush someone else's. And complaining about the harshness of academic culture just invites criticisms about "my generation" and how we're too  "soft" and we've been "coddled" and told we can be whatever we want and are never criticized and were hugged too much as children or something. I'm sorry, but if you are of an older generation, it was YOU who coddled us and told us we could do anything and hugged us, so stop whining about how soft we are. And also, what is so terrible about being nice to one another and expecting kindness in return?!?! Seriously, I thought the idea was that I was supposed to be holding onto my youthful optimism as long as possible before becoming jaded and bitter. I'm only 23. Give me a break and let me be idealistic for a little while longer.

I've gone off on a tangent here. I think the moral of this story is: "Just keep swimming."

Kinda puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

* I tried Google imaging "pirate swimming race" to see if I could find a silly picture to include. The first three images were of women's butts. I don't understand.

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