Sunday, November 21, 2010
Things are getting a little better here.
First, however, things got a lot worse: the library took all my books back under threat of making me pay for them/never giving me any more. Does anyone know how hard it is to do research when you're not connected to a university and you live in the middle of nowhere? Not a single book was actually from my local library, or local library's wider system. They were all ordered from different (mostly university) systems and painstakingly waited for over a period of weeks. Then the loan periods were very short-- some were three days. (Luckily Anna gave me her Caltech access, so I can use their library resources online.) Now they are all gone and I will probably not get them back before all of my writing needs to be done on the 12th, my first deadline.
I moped about this for a whole night and day because it seemed impossible to go on without them. The thing is, though, I am quite used to working under adverse circumstances, so I've pushed through and might just be able to do it without them if I can actually get working really really hard.
My life is all a confusion of Dracula and the immense varied mess of different ether theories: cultural, scientific, nineteenth century scientific, the sentimental nuts in the twentieth century, supernatural, materialistic, ancient etc. And oh my god, it is hard to keep track of all of them. At this point, I'm not sure how to focus my argument. My goal right now is to just keep writing, see what I come up with, and then edit out the less convincing bits.
The good thing is that I've stopped just taking notes and I've started writing. I'm not a big fan of the outline and most of my process takes place in drafting, so the mental block that was keeping me from writing was KILLING me. Let us hope it doesn't come back. I also hope that the result isn't complete bunk; it is sometimes hard to tell when you're trying to be original in English.
I still get a horrible sinking feeling whenever I think about the people who are supposed to be writing me letters of recommendation. Only one, the most senior, has responded since I sent my packet and then, a month later, the link to upload the letter to Interfolio. Would it kill them to send a line or two via email, telling me they're going to or not going to write the letter? It would be completely dastardly if they changed their minds and didn't tell me in time to make other plans.
If I ever become a professor, I promise not to cruelly toy with the hopes of young, aspiring academics. Really, professors, letting me know that you're backing out, if you are, is just common decency.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
I never imagined a life post-graduation—a big picture one, maybe, but not a day-to-day one. It wouldn’t have included the soul-crushing, sick anxiety that I felt over the thought that I didn’t have a high school degree, and then that I might not graduate from college. But I find myself, now, with a degree and applying that same kind of pressure that makes me uneasy at all times. I am through and through a person who looks forward to goals in an unhealthy way, but the older I get (and the more momentous the goals become), the less ease their accomplishment gives me. The new goals seem to be picked up too fast afterward and so it seems that I have no peace and that the goals themselves were less important than I thought they were—which makes the next one all the more difficult to do because it then also seems less important. I am just made to worry.
Saturday was my Subject GRE test in English; two hours, fifty minutes and 230 questions. I’d stayed over the night before in Morris because of a predicted snowstorm that would have made it difficult to get there by 8:30AM. It never snowed while I was there, which I ascertained hour after hour through the night from the window in my room because I couldn’t sleep. The beds didn’t have boxspring covers and the boxsprings had visible stains where the sheets and blanket were tucked into it; an obviously disquieting factor. The UMM has a little house across the street from campus for any visiting guests precisely because the motel I’ve described is the only decent place to stay in Morris. Unfortunately, UMM doesn’t give a fig about me and probably never will.
The test room was cold. UMM prides itself on being “green” (in case you didn’t notice that the artsy photo of a wind turbine is one of the only ones of the campus on its website) and turns down the heat on weekends. I was wearing layers, per ETS’s instructions, as were others, but we were all very chilled and the beds of my fingernails were purple by the time we were out. Around question 183 my hands were so cold that I felt loath to go on—previously my feverish intensity (at about 40 seconds per question) helped me, but I started to get sloppy as I got colder. There were many more grammar questions (sometimes on Middle English) than I expected. The whole business seemed very anticlimactic after my night-long vigil in the motel, agonizing about the test and who could have possibly made those nasty stains.
The snow (only the second of the season) didn’t seem as cheery as it should have when I was half-way home. It was wet snow, the kind that looks better glazing green leaves and grass in springtime. As it was, it brought out the deep corduroy tans of the grass and black boughs of the trees. It gathered in the furrows of the expansive black topped fields and stuck to the sides of houses. I wanted, very much, to enjoy the rest of the day by deliberately telling myself that I would do no work. But I just felt the essay and statement of purpose that I have yet to write in that indescribably horrible state of being that seems to grip the whole of my ribcage and bruise what is inside. And whenever I move, or feel or do, it hurts. Part of me thinks this is because I know that I can’t produce the sort of work that I have been promising myself and others, or that I might be able to but won’t, or that I might not be able to do anything at all. But I can’t imagine how terrible I would feel on Christmas knowing that I did all this work, spent all this money and let the deadlines pass by. Because I can’t rest until I’ve tried getting into a graduate program and I would have to do it all over again if I let it all slip past. I am setting myself up for what should be GREAT relief when all my applications are done, but I just hope it is.
On a related note, I was talking to my sister last night about books. I coordinate the Christmas presents every year (from my parents, and recommendations for other people) and books are my favorite to give. I have mixed feelings about Steph’s supposed love for books, and realize that I should be happy as imitation is the best form of flattery, but her insincerity about it irks me. She likes what she calls “classics”—but her definition of classics are my definition of classics, without discernment. She likes them because they give her an excuse to post a picture on her blog with a pretty copy of Voltaire and a piece of cake, saying that she has always wanted to read it, but doesn’t actually. She has no interest in discussing the books or looking deeper into their contexts, she just wants to say that she is reading/or has read “Crime and Punishment.”
This wouldn’t bother me that much, honestly, except that by doing so, she makes light of what I would make my career. Last night I said that I’d like to introduce her to some books of poetry, not in a condescending way, and she said, rather archly, that she knew poetry because she’d learned about it in High School and taken an English class in college. I took a year of chemistry, and courses in biology and geology in college, but I would never presume to “know” even a part of what she does in science. She doesn’t consider that English/reading/books are what I’ve worked at up to the same level of mastery that she has in biochemistry (as much as they can be compared) and I’ve actually included English in my passions outside of requirements. I just wanted to say: “My god Steph! You don’t recognize the name Edmund Spenser, and neither can you tell a Spenserian sonnet from a Shakespearean one! You don’t even know what meter is or that the critical theories inform the way you read exsist! You are much better at just living than I am so just allow me to have mastery over this little part of life by not pretending that I can’t tell you anything new because you’ve had one 1000-level class in English!”
But, of course, I didn’t say that because I am not such a pig in real life. Instead I’ve taken the much healthier path wherein my resentment about her flippancy stews and burns when I think about it.
And, truly, this isn’t entirely about my poor sister (who deserves more leniency) but is more about the fact that I’m doubting myself in very painful ways. I need a success badly. Tomorrow, I’ll try to establish a new schedule, now that the GRE nonsense is done, that will accommodate all this writing. Hopefully it will be easier now that it is my sole concern, but studying for the GRE tests was so mindless that writing something meaningful (earth-shattering is the ticket) will be all the more difficult.
I just feel cracked, worn, guilty, tired… must carry on, though, eh?