So I wrote this blog post several weeks ago, and I for some reason never posted it, so I’m gonna post it now, but I’m going to add a short preface explaining where I am now. I also added some comments to clarify developments since this was written during my first wave of visits to Yale and Stanford (3/5 – 3/10) and my trip to Berkeley (3/17-3/20).
3/31 – I’m in Pittsburgh, presenting a chapter of my thesis which is just about finished. I have a bit of work to do, and my conclusion to finish, but my thesis is essentially all but done. I have also committed to going to Yale University, after about a month of fretting and second-guessing and listening to people tell me what to do and give me copious amounts of unsolicited advice. Of course, it didn’t help that like, two days after I committed to Yale and declined my offers elsewhere that Stanford sent me a big fat fellowship offer, but I’ve stayed steadfast, realizing that even with that fellowship in addition to my abnormally large stipend at Stanford, the price of living in Palo Alto is so high that I’d likely not have much money left at the end of the day, fellowship or not.
I am ready to be done with the semester. I’m so close, but I still have a huge mountain (Honors exams, lol) to get over before I’m clear. Then, I have a week of downtime before I start taking this Latin class at Yale.
I am sooooo tired, but excited. I want to sleep for a month straight and wake up and it’s Senior Week, a full day after my Honors exam. I wish I could just go on autopilot for the next few weeks, but I need to be present, need to attend this stupid swimming class in order to pass and graduate, need to finalize my summer plans, need to find an apartment, need to….
Anyways, here’s the now anachronistic and probably confusing blogpost that I wrote and just got around to published. I haven’t even changed much, because I know it was super-angsty, and I didn’t want to adulterate any of that raw emotion, since this blog is essentially the only space I give myself to really be emotional.
3/10 – I have been very blessed this application season! Considering I went into this process with so much uncertainty and confusion, and even self-doubt, I have been overwhelmed by the support and approbation I have received from some of the country’s/world’s finest research institutions. I am writing this from a bench in the English department at Stanford University (I have not yet been admitted, but I have been getting good signs throughout this interview weekend and think that I have a shot). [3/31: I did get in.] I’ve carved some time to reflect on and process this tumultuous week of my life, but I am far from done. I have a visit at the University of California Berkeley next week, followed almost immediately by a visit at the University of Pennsylvania. [3/31: While I really enjoyed Berkeley because it’s just a great environment and lovely town, I realized when I was there, in the Cali sunlight, overlooking the gorgeous bay, that I wanted to go to Yale. I was so steadfast and fine with my decision that I canceled my trip to Penn. Plus I really needed money and my Penn visit would have cut into my work-shift.]
I began to realize last week that this entire process has been incredibly exhausting. Despite getting such good news, I find that I am no longer able to process this information. It’s genuinely weird to be in this position, considering that many of the people on theGradCafé with whom I have fretted for the past two months haven’t gotten in anywhere, and I not only have options, but am being actively pursued by certain institutions. Yet still, I feel a certain numbness. When I got into Yale three weeks ago, it felt like a dream. I was almost certain it wasn’t real, and I had to have several people read the email to tell me it wasn’t a forgery. (I was also drunk when I got the email because it was PubNite). That night, I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid I would wake up and the email wouldn’t be there, and that no one would have any recollection of the events of the night before. I was afraid that it was too good to be true, but it was not. That day, I talked to the Director of Graduate Studies and was reaffirmed in that reality of my admission to the oldest and finest department of comparative literature in the United States.
The days that followed my admission were marked by a complete disappearance of my work ethic. I stopped researching for my French thesis and haven’t yet picked up my momentum. [3/31: I wrote one tawdry paragraph during my time at Berkeley, and had to ask for an extension because a section of my capstone was due today and I couldn’t just send in a paragraph. Lol @ my life.] There are so many things to think about, and I’m thinking about the school I’m in now less and less. Luckily, my comparative literature thesis is nearly done. I just need to sit down for one afternoon and write my conclusion and finish writing the third chapter. [3/31: Still haven’t done this.] But I won’t be able to do that within the next week, since I’ll be traveling again. And still, I have Honors examinations to study for and take, but I’m just so checked out.
I am so tired. Not jet lagged tired from traveling so much, across time zones, across continents, but I’m tired of thinking. It’s been so exhausting to constantly think “Is this the right place? Does this school have the resources I need?” I have been groomed to apply to grad school, but now that the process is over, I’m not sure how to choose a grad school. Every program seems to come with its pros and cons (obviously) but these details are so fine that it’s hard to say “Yale would be a better fit than Penn” outside of my own vision of myself and where I should be, an assemblage which is nevertheless marked by misguided notions of what it means to be a Yale or Penn or UNC student. I don’t like the idea of teaching right off the bat (starting the second year), because I’m not sure I’ll be proficient enough to have students relying on me at that point. I’m still nervous about my French skills, and will also be learning a brand new language, be it German or Portuguese or something completely different. The next few years will be very busy, and I am apprehensive about making a decision now.
I have met some nice people this week. Many of the Yale admits were successfully wooed by the school and will probably attend. [3/31: Turns out this isn’t true.] I was quite flattered too, but perhaps I was star-struck by Yale’s prestige and not necessarily its program. For one, I am not sure my French skills will be up-to-par by going to Yale, and while I can and plan on spending time abroad, either during the summers, or for an entire semester, I am concerned the program will not prepare me to teach French language courses. On the other hand, Stanford’s emphasis on language training may pigeonhole me into being an instructor of French language courses, and my interests are mainly in French-language (really comparative Francophone and Anglophone) literatures. You may be asking “So what’s wrong with Yale?” Comparative literature as a discipline is still in the process of establishing itself. It is interdisciplinary, and draws from national language departments in order to establish its own transcultural and transnational methodology. This is what attracted me to it. Nevertheless, my advisers at Swarthmore were wary and at times openly against the idea of a CompLit PhD, mostly because they were afraid that it would be difficult for me to get a job. There are virtually 0 posts in comparative literature, so I will likely be teaching in an English or French program. To increase my dismal hirability, I would like to hone my skills so that I can teach French language courses in the case that there are no available posts teaching literature. This, however, is not my intention (or else I’d be in a French program) and even if I don’t ever end up in a comparative literature department, my research will be markedly comparative throughout my career.
The other day, as I was walking home from a party my friends had thrown, I unloaded on my friend about the background noise of stress which has been playing at a barely audible level in my mind. I was, before that brief, brisk walk, unaware of the source of this tension inside of me, and, inebriated, I found the clarity – or brusqueness – of mind to listen to the notes locked away in that pink noise. I realized that my issues with my acceptances stem from an inherent intellectual distrust of all forms of social capital, insofar that I see capitalist structures as inherently hierarchical and therefore antithetical to equity and equality. Stanford, Yale, Princeton and Cal are all prestigious institutions, and the degree to which prestige influences both student life and the perception of students and alumni is difficult to quantify, but nevertheless ever-present. None of the schools I applied to are without prestige to some degree, but looking at things like prestige and renown as binary (“you have it” or “you don’t”) isn’t helpful, for most would accept the statement that Princeton is more prestigious than Cornell, and that Cornell is more prestigious than Georgetown. Nevertheless, the rhetoric which produces notions of prestige nevertheless lends itself to ungracious notions of supremacy and elitism to which I am already privy. I find I actively have to cut myself down to size in order to curb the runaway train of my ego, and going to a school like Yale, and basking instead of outright rejecting its prestige, would make this reining-in process more difficult.
The issue with this intellectual issue is the ideological reality which undercuts it. I like to think I don’t believe that arbitrary notions of prestige have any effect on the quality of education I’d glean from X or Y institution, and to a certain degree I believe this to be a sound way of looking at academia while scapegoating the ever-present tendency to slip into elitism. My Swarthmore degree and someone’s degree from Kansas State are not comparable, for there are too many factors which go into the making of a student or graduate or doctoral candidate outside of things like class size and undergraduate thesis page count. To what degree can we even judge the worthiness of writing itself, outside of purely aesthetic or methodological means? “This blog post is better than the others because it is better written,” but how one determines what is better is subjective and therefore subject to discussion and further inquiry. While I try to believe this as a personal worldview, the process of restructuring one’s ideology is very difficult, for ideologies are our vantages to the world, the systems of thought and collective memory which concretize and give meaning to lived experience. I came to Swarthmore because it was the most prestigious school I got into, and believed that that prestige would translate well into the next career path. Now that I’m here, I find that I don’t have a lot of faith in the prestige of my education, for I have felt both inadequate and “too proficient” in the company of my peers from other institutions. Nevertheless, there is a difference between Marxist thought and Marxist praxis. I can espouse the virtues of a class methodology for approaching cultural systems and the like, but what does it mean that I am using my platform as a Yale or Penn or Berkeley graduate to do so? Is that not in some way hypocritical? I can preach about how these institutions have inflated significance, but at the same time, I find that I am drawn to the most inflated of these institutions in order to get myself through that intellectual threshold so I can decry the flawed way that we approach these schools and the ideas they represent. It’s as if I am trying to go to Yale or Penn in order to gain the necessary clout to say that schools like Yale and Penn are not better than other schools, and while I may believe this intellectually, I am not sure if I feel this to be true.
Still, I need to get through this semester, and all of this is a huge distraction. I was supposed to work on my French capstone this afternoon, but got sidetracked by sending emails and scheduling appointments with professors during my next set of college visits that I lost track of time. Once again, I am back at this central issue in my life: “How can I be present and occupy the now?” I find that I get so lost in counterfactual, hypothetical futures that I forget that my body and my mind exist only in the present. New developments happen and I get so excited about the possible future that I lose track of affairs currently unfolding. I have a lot of work to do, but I don’t have much energy or willpower to do it. I’m going to force myself to work on my French thesis on the plane so I can catch up to my peers and have something to hand in by Friday, although I’m not so sure I’ll be very productive. [3/31: I actually did work on my thesis on the plane back from Stanford! I wrote four pages.] Why work on my thesis when I can get nervous about my summer plans or look at housing or prepare an imaginary budget?
It is a bizarre position to be in when someone you don’t even know congratulates you on getting into a really good school, and you say conciliatory things and find in your half-speech that this stranger is far more excited about your news than you are. And it’s not because I don’t want to go to that school, but because the process of figuring out where to go has made the happiness and pride of getting in somewhere (great) somewhat undistinguished. I can’t wait until I don’t have to think about this stuff anymore, and I am secure in my choice, with no regrets. I only have a few more apps to hear back (Ford and Fulbright), [3/31: Didn’t get Ford, but I’m not surprised, and another future blAcademic did, so it’s all good] and once these theses are handed in, I’ll only have my Honors examinations to do, and then I can relax for what four days are left of the semester.