Archive for ‘grad school’

November 26, 2011

thanksgiving weekend 2011



  • Working 5 hours today, 4 hours tomorrow
  • Putting up a book display about American food culture
  • Reading The Changeover
  • Working on my time travel paper


  • Buy normal-eating food for the week. Preferably nothing carb/sugar/potato-based.
  • Read Twilight
  • Watch The Family Stone while putting up my silly blue Christmas tree
October 28, 2011

this week

This week…

1. I decided there was an extra day in between Wednesday and Thursday. On this mythical day, I would be able to finish reading The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl by Virginia Hamilton and then move quickly onto Robin McKinley’s Beauty in time for class on Thursday afternoon.


Let’s put it this way: that day did not occur.


2. I entered Week 8 of the Couch to 5K program… 28 minutes of straight running, no breaks.

I’ve been building up to these “long runs” now, I guess, since Week 5. 20 minutes, 22 minutes, 25 minutes…

but somehow, I haven’t yet increased my distance whatsoever.

I am learning to run farther and farther… while my body learns to run slower and slower.

(And the weather outside gets colder and colder. Gross.)


3. I ate very little other than rice+beans+cheese+salsa because I did a terrible job buying groceries and have lost all will to cook.

Good thing it’s delicious!


4. I forgot to wear deodorant on 3 out of 5 days.

Sorry, world.


5. My sister was not allowed to leave the¬† hospital yet ūüė¶


6. I still do not have a Halloween costume.


7. I am going to attend an author event this evening in Cambridge.

Chris Van Allsburg will be doing a little gig to promote the publication of this awesome new book, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick.

Van Allsburg published this bizarre picturebook – The Mysteries of Harris Burdick –¬† that basically had no linear storyline, a bunch of creepy black and white illustrations, and not much else. Completely baffling as far as picturebooks go. But now, a bunch of kidlit authors have assembled in The Chronicles of Harris Burdick to write short stories based on each spread.

And these are not just your average kidlit authors. We are talking:

  • Sherman Alexie
  • M.T. Anderson
  • Walter Dean Myers
  • Louis Sachar
  • Lemony Snicket
  • Gregory Maguire
  • Stephen King

One such author¬† will also be in attendance at tonight’s event: Lois Lowry.


May 11, 2011

it is over, it is over

I have a love thing and a hate thing with the 16 week schedule, this academic undercurrent that pulls me from month to month.

I’ve definitely had worse semesters, but their endings never felt this triumphant. I worked on my last paper until shortly after 3:30 on Monday, walked with my roommate to Starbucks for Frappuccino Happy Hour. From there, a small celebration for our comrades graduating with MAss and MFAs. Three glasses of champagne, then straight to the bar, a mess of us, delirious and drunk, squeezed into a hallway together and happy happy happy on a Monday night.

I had to work in the morning, but you’re only young and finishing a semester of school once, right?

Surely I felt this relaxed last December, last August, last May, but this feeling – relief, contentedness, respite – feels foreign. I probably use this particular metaphor too much but it feels like I’ve just crawled out of a cave. The sun is too bright, my bones a little achy, everything looks weird and I don’t know where to go next, what to do.

What DO I do when there is no school to do?

It’s been more than two years since I was 100% sure of myself,

since I started to leave one life and enter another.

This is only a temporary respite – a few weeks of work, then a trip home. A few weeks back to work some more, then add classes to the mix. Then it’s August, then it’s the fall.

I’m just now starting to feel like things will be okay. That my life will still be there, even when things get crazy, that I will still be there. That I can find a meaningful, enjoyable existence no matter what life throws at me.

Is there a stable me left behind this graduate student to fall back on?

I feel like there is, but I don’t know who she is yet, what she looks like.

And since the anxiety of moving/adjusting/constantly-going-going-going is starting to pass,

for the first time in over two years,

I am kind of excited to meet her.

August 2009 – April 2011

May 5, 2011

The Sweet Valley High Treatment

Research for my final paper for my Realistic Young Adult Fiction has led me to reading some books and articles about Sweet Valley High.

(Please do not ask me how this is relevant to my research. File this one under “Things Jessica Does When She Thinks She Is Getting Work Done But Really Is Not.”)

In an article for The Believer called, entertainingly enough, “The Training Bras of Literature,” Amy Benfer makes a number of smart comments about the stuff going on with Francine’s Pascal’s eternally Blonde, Long-legged, Perfect Size 6 (or 4, depending on your edition), Perennially-tanned, Aquamarine-eyed, Indentically-twinned¬† heroines. One smart comment calls attention to the increasingly inane and perpetually detailed character descriptions found throughout the series. Although Jessica and Elizabeth get the most royal treatment, Pascal makes sure that you, the reader, AT LEAST know the exact hair and eye color of every side character who the twins happen to encounter.

Benfer writes of the blond-sisters infinite descriptors:

“It goes without saying that it’s a catalog meant to cause immediate panic in anyone who does not fit the ideal. I distinctly remember running through a checklist of how closely I resembled the perfect teenage girl, based on the Wakefields. Blond? No. Five-six? No. Long legs? No. Long eyelashes? Fuck! No – not even that. The best I could come up with as a small, thin, pale, land-locked brunette was that my eyes were blue. (And large!)”

Oh, Mass Media, always trying to drag a girl down.

After reading stuff all morning about SVH, I’d already began to consider the “Popularity Envy” so rampant in young adult literature and comparing it to my own high school experience. I’ve always questioned the existence or significance of high school popularity – I knew which kids in my high school had money, had parties, had friends, but I never felt there was any kind of social hierarchy keeping me from speaking to them, and I never felt an acute need to infiltrate their cliques.

But then again, the more I read about Jessica and Elizabeth, the more I realized that I think they are different than me, and in the same ways that I thought the innocuous “popular” kids at my high school were different than me. I certainly wasn’t invited to any parties, I couldn’t afford all their fancy clothes and tanning beds and haircuts and makeup, and I didn’t have an “in” with any of the hotter male specimens in my age group (most of which have since gained 20-30 pounds… thank you, Facebook, for cheering me up!).

Basically, I would never be blond, tan, and squeezing into a size six would be possible but not practical enough for everyday practice.

I will never be hot enough/rich enough/blond enough to be in the elite.

Young Benfer found a temporary assuage to her wounded self-esteem, one which made me laugh out loud:

“I consoled myself by deciding that in the world of Sweet Valley High, I would be described as a petite, porcelain-skinned brunette with striking blue eyes. Maybe I’d be the literary editor of the school newspaper or something and hook up with a band member, like the lead singer of the Droids.”

Perhaps my subconscious is wrong – I’m not any less-stunning, less-deserving of any Wakefield Twins. It’s not possible that a high school could be populated entirely, 100% by super-model-esque teenagers; it was all about the perspective.

Maybe I just need Francine Pascal to write me.

Right now, I feel like I look like a beleaguered, unkempt graduate student who has bags under her eyes, a crick in her neck, and thinks that legging-jeans, flip-flops, and a man’s sweatshirt qualifies as an “outfit.”

But under the flattering California light of Pascal’s literary paintbrush, maybe I could be…

Surrounded by books and papers, Jessica peered out over her studious glasses and gave a tired smile to the student – a hunky sandy-haired, blue-eyed graduate student from a neighboring university – who approached the Reference Desk. She was long-legged, dressed casual-chic in a pair of tight jeans and a striped sweater, her long dark hair gathered in a sloppy bun. She looked back, a bit distraught to leave her research, but nevertheless guided the sandy-haired hunk to the proper call-number and taught him everything he needed to know about the Dewey Decimal system with obvious pleasure, happy to be of service.”


I need to get back to work.

May 4, 2011

in my absence

You guys, I have a paper due in less than a week and I am just a mess.

I am not Super Stressed, but I am sort-of-maybe-irritable, and I am definitely doing nutso things like hitting the Emergency Call button on the elevator instead of the 3rd floor button.

So I can’t put up a decent post right now.

Instead, I offer you my kitty.

Isn’t she cute?

But remember when she used to look like this?



April 20, 2011

final countdown

Four Classes

Two Mondays, two Tuesdays

One Project

Pick 4 to 5 young adult books and present them to the class as a booktalk. Make a snazzy flier to accompany. Must have a theme!

One Paper

Write 6-7 pages on any topic of young adult literature that interests you. Yowza.

Eight Books

Postcards from No Man’s Land by Aidan Chambers

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Looking for Alaska by John Green

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees

Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

Scrawl by Mark Schulman

Nineteen Days

until this semester is officially


April 14, 2011

we interrupt this regularly scheduled equilibrium

Life is best when it has a rhythm. It doesn’t have to be totally predictable, completely scheduled, planned to a tee… I just need there to be an ebb and flow. Underneath the every day happenings, there has to be something rolling forward, a subtle momentum, a slow beat.

After almost five semesters, I’m beginning to wonder if the song that is Graduate School involves a complete disruption of any kind of rhythmic peace every so often.

That I should probably stop getting so bent out of shape and just see it as part of the game.

I was there in May. I was there in November. And now, when I really should be gearing up for finals, I am back here for a third time.

This time it feels worse.

I don’t even want to get into specifics because they are too confusing for written words, and my possible choices only analyzed by painstakingly complicated schedules typed up in Excel.

The main players have returned:

A) A potentially lost source of income

B)  A potentially time-sucking but definitely fun and maybe career-valuable (and, of course, unpaid) internship

C) A few potentially pocketbook lining options

D) Two definitely time consuming and stressful summer courses

E) A financially insecure near-future

If A falls through for sure then I would have time to manage B and maybe C, but what if A comes back and I’m tied to B and C and can’t handle D? What if A falls through and I say no to C and then E screws me over for the foreseeable future?

It’s like someone’s asking me to create this delicately balance of Money, Career Preparation, Academics, and My Own Sanity,

but without any indication of what I can and cannot count on.

It  be easier if I could choose.

If I knew for sure that I wanted to be a rockstar, career-ladder-climbing, children’s lit glitterati Big City Girl, then the choice would be easy (B above all else).

If I wanted to pursue teaching/writing/scholaring/learning, I would make sure as hell I was well-rested and attentive enough for D, even if that meant financial sacrifice.

If I just wanted to breeze through the program, get a job wherever, but be solvent, as debt-free as possible, and ready for the next step, whatever it may be, then C would be the most prudent choice to focus on.


But every day I feel differently.

Every day, things shift under my skin.


My gut sounds like this:

“Be prepared for emergencies, for your next step, which doesn’t have anything to do with what career you choose, but with the cultivation of your personal life, your home life. Your schooling only serves your future earning ability, so treat it as such. A shiny career is not going to make you happy. A big city lifestyle is not going to make you happy. You don’t need to do everything to be happy. You don’t need to do everything to be successful.”

But I’ve often suspected my gut of underestimating my own abilities.

So now the problem isn’t crafting the right schedule or making the best budget or planning for every possible option, but questioning my internal compass and therefore every decision I ever make.

Maybe these intermittent moments of crises are not just part of the rhythm of grad school, but moments in which the internal conflicts I work REALLY HARD at avoiding and the crucial choices I fail to make in favor of doingeverything suddenly demand my attention.

These decisions get buried in the day-to-day busy-ness of being a working grad student; it’s easy to put off major life choices when you have somewhere to be, something to do, something to read, something to write….

and at the junctures, when it comes time to shed one semester and fit the next, I pay for my neglect. I have no idea which choice to make, I panic, I say “yes” to everything and sacrifice my time/health/sanity time after time because I just don’t want to think about it.

So here we are again.

It would be helpful if I wasn’t so happy.

(It’s easy to pretend that saying yes to something new will change your life when you are gloomy, but I’m not. I don’t want to break things. I am terrified of breaking things.)

It would be helpful if I would make these realizations with more than a day left

to decide where my future is heading.

March 28, 2011


The hardest part about being in my twenties is trying to figure out if I’m doing things right.

I mean, it’s pretty clear when I’m doing things wrong. Usually, failing-at-life is accompanied by some kind of daily dread, a feeling of imbalance, self-doubt, stress, and other objective measures of things-are-just-not-right.

See: last semester.

But it gets confusing when I start feeling good about myself only to realize I’m REALLY not paying attention to all the balls in the air.

Case in point:

This semester, I am doing a REALLY good job on…

  • Not being such a basket case.I am not-so-stressed out all the time, I seem to have enough hours in the day to do most of the things I want/need to do, I have time for relaxing and playing with friends, I am not crying a lot, et cetera. Mood, on most days, is high.
  • Academics. I have caught a Good Grade Wave this semester. Part of the time, I’m thinking,¬† “Damn, my professors are on crack this semester,” and part of the time I’m thinking, “Hey, Jessica, you are finally catching on here!”
  • Keeping the apartment from being completely filthy. My living quarters are still messy most days, but I don’t walk around feeling like a live in a hell-hole, so we’ll call it a win.
  • Keeping in touch with friends and family at home. Maybe because everyone just had babies, but I’m hearing from my friends with some regularity, which makes me happy. Maybe because my sister just got a job with a commute, but I talk to her a few times a week, and my mom.
  • Feeling on top of things at work. I’ve been at one job for almost 2 years now and the other for over 6 months. I feel comfortable and confident with my abilities and don’t ever dread showing up to make my 12/hour.

So I live most days feeling like a successful human being. I’m twenty-six now, isn’t it nice to feel so in control?

Until something happens – something small, something large – that reminds me that I’ve been too busy feeling great about myself to notice the balls that are dropping.

  • Fitness/Health. Remember that Holiday Weight? Still there. Remember that giant bag of barbecue chips you bought on Saturday? And the one you bought last Saturday? And all that cheese you keep throwing all over your eggs every morning? And running, whatever happened to that?
  • Money. Savings haven’t been great this year, we stopped putting extra $$ toward Lance’s loans for some reason, my personal spending coffers seem to always be running dry…. and don’t get me started on what happens next year with financial aid/potentially losing a job/living situation. I have a 300 dollar plane ticket on a credit card with no immediate 300 dollars to pay for it… that kind of thing keeps popping up.
  • Planning for the future. Speaking of which, what are we doing when, in a year, we are done in Boston? And do we have enough money to make whatever-it-is happen? And why haven’t I thought about that at all in the past six months?
  • Having some kind of meaningful chats with your boyfriend. Sure, we eat dinner together, but now that we aren’t Two People Trapped in a Tiny Apartment with nothing better to do than spill our guts, shouldn’t we be having some scheduled gut spilling? Or at least a date once in awhile?
  • Sleep. Remember when I used to go to bed by 10 and wake up refreshed without caffeine at 6?¬† Yeaaaah, about that….
  • Immune System. I think you’ve heard enough about that lately.

I know that it’s impossible to juggle everything all the time. Most of the time, it’s nearly impossible to do anything other than Finish My Schoolwork, Show up to my Places of Employment, and Not Kill Myself or Anyone Else. And I know that, in a way, focusing on my academics is also a way of focusing on future plans (I need a degree so I can get a job), which will help the financial situation (Job = money!), and planning for the future.

But it’s still shocking to feel so on top of the heap in some ways

and then, when I least expect it,

so buried.

March 17, 2011

i came, saw, etc.

My 18th Spring Break ended with a terrifying scramble to

A) recover from birthday shenanigans

B) write a paper on power and ideology and Speak and Ramona Quimby (don’t ask), present said paper, and discuss it during class as it related to two other books which I also had to read

C) write another paper on the teen room of the Brookline Public Library and whether or not I thought some teens that I saw at the Chestnut Hill Cheesecake Factory would want to inhabit said teen room (definitely don’t ask)

D) have a generally busy day yesterday, actually doing all that work at Job #1 that papers were distracting me from and that piled up after being away from the office for a week, going to Job #2, then driving across the state to attend Lance’s band concert

There was too much caffeine and too little sleep.

But I have come out the other side of the tunnel.

And there are a lot of good things waiting for me.

Like this book to read, Split by Swati Avasthi.

It’s one of those books-from-the-syllabus that doesn’t feel anything like a book-from-the-syllabus. I’ve been getting excited to have a seat on the bus so I can read a few pages before my stop. Well, getting more excited than usually. Getting a seat on the 39 at 8:30 a.m. is kind of like finding a five dollar bill on the street; even when you have to read Elsie Dinsmore once you sit down, you are still having a good day.

There’s also semi-good weather and earlier sunrises and less-tight schedules so maybe there can be running.

And we are getting dangerously close to flip-flops and skirts weather…..

Turquoise Havaianas? Please?

I have two full weeks with no homework assignments due. That, my friends, is as good as any Spring Break I’ve ever had. For two weeks, I just get to read books. And articles. TWO WEEKS!!

And in case the semester gets rough again (which is will, it will, it will), I bought something to look forward to once I make it out:

A ticket to Michigan to see this little one GRADUATE HIGH SCHOOL.


She is almost 18 and going to University of Michigan’s nursing school in the fall.

I am going to cry a lot.

But until then, no more tears, because the worst of the semester is, perhaps, over.

And it wasn’t really THAT bad.

March 8, 2011

pleasure reading

Grad school has been sucking away at my will to read.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. Actually, grad school makes me want to read 40 hours a week; there are SO MANY books that I haven’t read that I simply need to, and SO MANY books coming out, every day, to keep up with.

But reading the Books I Should Read and keeping up with the Books That Everyone Is Talking About on top of reading the Books On My G.D. Syllabus,

kind of sucks away my will to read the Books I Used to Live For.

New books by Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, M.T. Anderson, Maureen Johnson, Megan McCafferty, Sarah Dessen, David Levithan, E. Lockhart… used to get me to Walden Books on my way to work, used to get me going to the gym to read, used to get me excited with my little release date calendars…

now, I can’t seem to scrounge up the money or energy to get myself to place an Amazon order.

But a few weeks ago, I found myself at one of those Borders that is being closed… and everything was 20% off.

And even though I didn’t think I would read it, I picked up the last book in E. Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver series. I have the other three in hardback and wanted a complete set… even if the publishers had the audacity to CHANGE the cover-style on the last book. Jerks.

It sat on my desk, looking pretty for a few weeks, and then a grad school miracle happened:

I got a little ahead in my reading, and the other book I have to read was still waiting for me at some library.

I literally didn’t have any of the books I needed to read…. so I HAD to read something not on a syllabus.



Even though I am a failed children’s literature grad student who is seriously behind in her required reading, and hasn’t yet read Heidi or The Secret Garden or The Yearling or maybe not even Harriet the Spy

Even though I have dozens of Christmas and Birthday books lining my shelves, spines uncracked.

Even though I have sat through lectures maligning the literary attempts of the same authors I used to love so very much.

I still love this series.

I still love characters like Ruby Oliver.

I still love smart books about the intricacies of trying to relate to the opposite sex.

I still love writers like E. Lockhart.

I am super, super sad that this was the last book in the series.

And I’m glad I was able to pull my head out of my syllabus for a few days and remember this kind of pleasure.