A few things I learned last semester

1. I defer agency in my writing. I hide good ideas behind weak assertions and passive voice. I knew there was something wrong with my writing, but I couldn’t diagnose it until one of my professors told me and showed me where I was deferring. And suddenly, all of my writing woes came into focus. I could find and fix the problems, which is something I’ve struggled with since I’ve been here at BC. It was really an important breakthrough, and I gained back a lot of the confidence I lost in the previous two semesters.

2. On a related note, I have finally come to terms with the fact that I am not qualified to evaluate my own writing. Some of you might remember a fair bit of drama surrounding a paper that I believed to be the worst paper I had ever written. Now, in my defense, girls are entitled to be a bit of a drama queen every now and then, right? And really, of all the Facebook and blog drama you may wade through on any given day, drama over a presumed, acceptable grade on a paper has got to be at least a nice break and at best kind of amusing. Am I right? I know I’m right. Also, it was healthy for me to go through the process of accepting the grade I thought I earned (even though it turned out to be unnecessary). Moving on. Suffice it to say, I made a much higher grade on that paper than I expected, with lots of positive feedback. And I felt two things immediately and simultaneously when I saw the grade: delight (obviously) and sheepish embarrassment. Oh, Shanna. Shanna, Shanna, Shanna. All of that anxiety and DRAMA. And it was public this time [that’s right—I said this time]. So I resolved then and there never to make assumptions about grades or the quality of my work again.

3. Okay, working on PhD applications is hard. Not so much the fill-in-the-blank part, which is tedious beyond belief, but the written documents are just the worst form of torture. Seriously. I feel like I should be protected by hazing laws. Or the Geneva Convention. I have rights! Also, 98% of all schools (I just made that statistic up) have the most inconvenient deadlines imaginable. Also, asking for letters of recommendation stressed my inner shy kid nearly to the point of panic attacks. And researching and deciding which schools to apply to is pretty much like trying to read tarot cards. This semester I studied for and took BOTH the general GRE and the Subject in English GRE—hopefully for the last time ever. I wrote approximately seven million drafts of a personal statement. I waded through three days on one revision project for my writing sample before I realized it wasn’t the best thing for me to use. And then I jumped into my second writing sample. But I made my deadlines.

4. And on top of all that, I researched and wrote four papers, conferenced individually with my 15 students 8 times during the semester, stayed [mostly] caught up on my grading, read about 500 pages each week, did four in-class presentations, built and taught a new syllabus, met with my teaching mentor group every other week, ate reasonably healthy food, took regular showers, walked my dog, showed up on time, went to church, enjoyed visits from my parents in October and my brother in November, spent time with friends, and slept an average of 7 or 7 1/2 hours a night [which isn’t much for this 9-hours-preferred kind of girl].

I learned from all of this that I can do more than I think I can. Rigid self-discipline is hard, but totally worth it. Paper planners that allow you to write and then ruthlessly scratch out items from your to-do list can help preserve sanity. It doesn’t take as much time as it seems to keep the dish-washing chores maintained, but it takes more time than it should to clean up when all available counter space is covered in dirty dishes. Planning to have one night a week [Wednesday was my night] to be completely self-indulgent [by which I mean eat pizza and watch episodes of Chuck on DVD] is a sanity saver. Leaning on friends and comiserating with friends in the same situation make it a little better.

5. I can read contemporary grown-up fiction and like it. It’s just been a really long time since I’ve read novels written in the last 20 years not aimed at children. And, typically, the young adult stuff I read is fantasy or sci-fi. But I took a contemporary Irish fiction class and read a whole bunch of novels written since 1990, all completely devoid of magic, imagined tech, mythical creatures/deities, and futuristic settings. I didn’t like them all, which is to be expected. But I really liked some of them (found a few new favorites), and more importantly, I enjoyed the reading. So I guess this means I might just break out of my genre-box for future pleasure reading.

6. I love BC, I love my professors, I love Boston, and I like my whole house. I’ve really enjoyed my time up here. I’ve learned and grown and stretched, and I’m a better, stronger, more compassionate person now. It’s been a great adventure. And if I stay here for my PhD, I’ll be pleased as punch. But, in an unsurprising turn of events, Texas keeps tugging at the corners of my heart. I miss flat lands and starry skies, horse hugs and baby birthdays, family, friends, warmth, Tex-Mex, beef barbecue, and all of the other little things that make Texas My Favorite Place. People have asked me if I think I’ll stay up here in, and my answer is unreservedly “no.” Not forever. Because for me, Texas is home in a way that doesn’t change. My sense of self was formed in the West Texas dust. I was made there, and maybe I was even made for there. Or it was made for me. Anyway, I’ve come to understand that I can—and hope I always will be—glad to be wherever I am. But I don’t think any other place will ever have the same kind of gravity that Texas has for me.


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