winter blues

It’s taken me eight semesters of college for me to realize that I don’t like the spring semester. My emotions are all over the place because of my seasonal affective disorder, and I have a hard time being focused. I described to my friend today that fall semester is usually imbued with this excitement, and charged by the prospect of new beginnings. New friends, new classes, new experiences, new adventures. Yet, the spring is more or less biding time – waiting things out until the weather gets warmer, or until I have concrete summer plans. I am less inclined to make new friends, and feel almost ambivalent about maintaining the relationships I’ve built. I have these light therapy lamps (they’re not; they’re LED lamps which I was told “are just like light therapy”), and I sit under them often, but it doesn’t help much.

Time for some updates.

I have not been writing as much I had hoped. Lol, New Year’s Resolutions. I wish I could tap into that fount of creative energy from junior fall, when I first started this blog, and posted something every other week. It’s not necessarily because I have a lot going on right now. This semester, as I said, has been a little odd emotionally, but it is what it is. Right now, I’m fine, which is why I am writing to you all, and not to myself, as I had done last week. The manuscript project(s) I’ve been working on have been put to the side, although I do occasionally glance over it/them when I have the time. I have been rereading old work in between studying and writing my thesis, which is productive, and my ability to read without trying to change everything has gotten much better. Nevertheless, I feel creatively stifled right now, and I’m not sure why. I have all these cool ideas for blog posts, like this one I’ve been mulling around for a year now on race as a visual culture, or other posts which would be a little less monumental like a piece about Marxism / Marxist cultural studies, a piece about cultural ideology, and more posts about doing research & being a student, but I haven’t sat down and said “Let’s write this thing.” Hopefully in the coming weeks, when I am not so busy working on my thesis, I’ll be able to focus more on this, but that’s what I was hoping for for this semester, since I was done with grad school apps. Hm, I’m sure the spark will come back.

I have applied to grad school, and I have been admitted! When the first acceptance came (University of California Irvine) I was elated to know that I wasn’t just a terrible applicant, and that someone, somewhere wanted to work with me. I’m not sure why, but the discipline of comparative literature is very Eurocentric, as I’ve already said elsewhere, and that makes me nervous, since my research is markedly Afrocentric. Irvine’s PhD in comparative literature is by far the most “subversive” insofar that it focuses on postcolonial thought, and therefore is more involved in the methodologies which are directly applicable to the Africana experience in the 20th century (my primary specialization). So that was nice. Irvine has been very generous with me, and I appreciate it, but things are still uncertain. I have also been admitted to University of California at Berkeley and have gotten positive signs from Stanford, too, but I am still unsure. I have many other schools to hear back from, although I know now that I won’t be going to the University of Chicago or Harvard. Second time being rejected from both schools, and the second time around I was relatively un-phased. I will be visiting Stanford in two weeks, and Berkeley in three weeks, and am debating if I want to go back to California to visit Irvine in April. I’ll have to see what other schools say in the meantime.

I still don’t know what I’m doing this summer. If I can help it, I hope that I can spend my time doing research for my creative work. For one, I’ve had the idea of a manuscript (still juggling around forms at the moment) about an alternate history of slavery in 20th century Confederate America, most likely during the 1930s. The concept would require a bit of research, since it would be a drama about agricultural and industrial slaves, and require a body of knowledge to which I haven’t had access during my studies at Swarthmore. If I had access to a good working space and a library, I feel like I could work quite productively on this project, considering I have already drafted the characters and their personalities already.

Therapy is a wonderful thing. It’s so nice to have someone who you can talk to and engage with in a way which is both divorced from the interpersonal commitments and agreements which are made but rarely discussed between friends yet still invested in your development and wellbeing in the ways that perhaps only friends can be. It’s weird. My experience with my therapist have been for the most part positive, and I recommend to everyone who has issues dealing with their emotions or managing their lifestyles to seek out professional help. After having talked to Stacy about my life and my way of dealing with things, I have come to the realization that 1) I am too focused on resolutions to my issues and therefore don’t give myself the time to just be emotional about something 2) I am far too self-sacrificing with how I feel and am more willing to blame myself for an injustice against me than to blame the other person for their actions. In doing so, I put myself in situations where I am always at fault, and do not give myself a space or a time to be upset with others, or with myself. It’s convoluted and strange, but I have been coming to terms with this over the semester and I feel like it speaks volumes to a long history of emotional un-wellness in my life. On top of everything, I am a shy person. I don’t like being around people, and I have been trying to convince myself that I am not shy for years. I like being around close friends, and having strong bonds with those people, but I also tend to make friends with people who are outgoing, even if they are introverted, and therefore tend to be in spaces surrounded by people, even if it’s not what I want. To remedy this (on the rare occasions it happens) I’ll try to be charming, or get tipsy, or do both, and most of the time this works. With more therapy, maybe I’ll develop better, more remedial tactics.

As of now, I have only heard back (positive feedback) from California schools. While Cali is great, I’ve only been there once, and that was ten years ago. The idea of living there scares me because it will be an entirely new environment, and I don’t know many people there. I don’t have family there, and I feel like I will be lonely. At the same time, I am building bonds now that might be severed by that distance, although I do believe that, in the Internet age, distance is becoming less and less significant to human affection and friendship. Nonetheless, not everyone feels this way, and I am unsure of how things will play out. I am unfairly weighting the prospect of going to East Coast schools over amazing programs at Berkeley or Irvine, too, which I don’t think is wise, but I can’t help it. I am getting my head around the idea of going to Stanford, which doesn’t make sense because I haven’t been formally admitted, although they’re flying me out there, and said I have made the short list and it also seems like no one else on theGradCafé, a forum I use primarily to meet other anxious people waiting to hear back, has been offered this opportunity. At the same time, I don’t know my funding package from Berkeley, and haven’t been given an official letter of acceptance, and am wondering if Judith Butler, the Director of Graduate Studies at Berkeley – yes, that Judith Butler (!) – emailed me by accident. So many doubts right now, and the rejections from UChicago and Harvard, while warranted because my research would have likely floundered in those departments, has made me feel a little anxious about Yale and Princeton and Penn, from whom I am also waiting for a response. Also, I have my Fulbright application which is still in Canada, and these Quebecois schools have been playing GAMES with me, so all of that is up in the air, too. And don’t even get me started on my Ford Foundation application….

Another source of trepidation in this process is this elitist strain in my mind which I have been trying to excise for years. It started when I was in high school, and was hyper self-conscious and began channeling all of my personal energy into crafting this illusion of myself as “the brilliant black guy.” Everyone around me helped to stroke this burgeoning ego of mine, which was really a façade because I hated my body and thought I was unattractive. Yet, from this crafted image grew a genuine self which viewed everyone else with a sense of contempt and condescension. I would weigh people’s school choices in comparison to mine and often used my prospects as a weapon against people who felt the need to threaten my intelligence or suitability. Yet, when I got to Swarthmore, that sort of melted away, because I had achieved what I wanted: I had gotten out of my small town where I felt my “incredible intellect” was being stifled and I had reached an intellectual promised-land of colleagues of my same intellectual stature and philosophical hunger. My elitism, instead of solidifying, began to melt as I started to realize 1) I’m classist as fuck and that needs to go 2) that my friends, who I also condescended and supported me nonetheless, although I was a pigheaded asshole, were just as intelligent as me, perhaps not in regards to “how can I pick apart this text?” or “how can I hold a conversation about postmodern thought?,” but more like “how do I have healthy friendships?” or “how do I maintain my workload and keep my sanity?,” questions which speak to a form of intelligence to which I had no prior access 3) that the very notion of being intelligent is not binary, but a spectrum, and that one’s intelligence does not equate to one’s worth, or, in regard to my pisspoor love-life, one’s desirability 4) that it’s just not that deep. I still feel that elitism in me, although I have worked perilously to get it out of my system, and it is surging once again as I weigh my options for my future career. There are hundreds of comparative literature programs, and while I could have applied to programs which would have been a better fit, I instead chose to apply to programs I viewed as “prestigious enough” to launch me into overwrought yet underdeveloped fantasies of my adult self. I feel as if I am looking forward to the possibility of being a Princeton student or a Penn student, and not necessarily studying at Penn or Princeton, and that bothers me, especially considering how oddly reticent I am about some of the schools which would suit my research perfectly, yet do not have the same amount of clout. And instead of seeing this perspective and being a voice of reason, my professors for the most part of stroked that elitism in a way which is deeply off-putting. They want me to conduct revolutionary research, sure, but they want me to do it at the most well-known, clout-brandishing school possible. It makes me nervous for my future, because I realize that the radicals of today are the conservatives of tomorrow, and I don’t want to be the professor who tells his student to not go to Hampton for graduate school because it doesn’t sound “prestigious enough.” It’s all very messed up, and me going to Swarthmore, whose name is among those at the top of almost every list of Top American Colleges and Universities, does not help.

I need to begin thinking about what it means to be a graduate student now that I know it is no longer hypothetical. Like, I’m in this thing. I could very well be going to set up shop at Berkeley in three months if I really wanted to just not be in Jersey at all this summer (and I don’t want to be in Jersey at all this summer). Still, I don’t know what being a graduate student will be like. Is it much different? I imagine it’s not, but I am honestly not sure. All of my professors have said “It’s the worst time of your life,” which isn’t very positive, but also I’ve found college to be really hard and not very fun, so maybe it’ll be better? I’m not sure if I’ll look back at undergrad with the same amount of fondness as others, considering my anxiety disorder blossomed so radiantly right in the middle of my freshman year and stayed in bloom all four years. How nice. J

As I said, I am bidding my time this semester, waiting for things to change, for spring to come back, for the flowers to come out, for the air to get warm again. I’m looking forward to wearing shorts and being carefree, and Worthstock and Senior Week. Hell, I’m even looking forward to finish my thesis and taking my Honors examinations. I just want things to move a little quicker, and to be resolute in my plans.

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