Archive for the ‘Grad School’ Category

My boyfriend shared this lovely article in his Google Reader the other day.  “Avoid the Grade School Trap,” shouts its headline, and it goes on to explain that many people respond to a recession by returning to school rather than taking a job they feel is “beneath them.”  This is a horrible idea, warns our author (who is basically paraphrasing this argument).

I suppose I’m in a different boat since I got my grad school out of the way before the economy decided to tank.  I’ll say, though, that I would be having a lot easier time in grad school right now than I am having paying off my loans.  At least while you’re still in school, your loans are on hold, and you can skip merrily along from fellowship to fellowship and odd job to odd job, happy to have your nose in a book instead of in your pocketbook, scrounging for that extra dollar you’re sure must be there.  (Where is that extra dollar?)

I’m also in a different boat because most people going back to grad school have some sort of career goal in mind that the schooling is meant to equip them for, with the hope that, eventually, higher salaries will justify those loans.  My grad school experiment was a lot more self-absorbed.  Everyone wants to be a writer, but  I was one of the few who thought it’d be a good idea to spend tens of thousands of dollars pursuing that dream. (And I chose the even more  bizarre route of not once submitting anything for publication, to my father’s constant dismay.  Sure, I might have a certificate authenticating me as a fiction-writing MASTER, but I have a hunch that The New Yorker might not agree.)

Every day I check my bank account and my credit card bill.  I make monthly projections of how much I should be able to save.  I beg for babysitting jobs, and as of this week, I tutor four nights a week for a 5th grader who dreads my arrival and spends our sessions expressing his desire for me to leave.   (All kids hate homework, right?)

It’s not so bad.  I’m lucky because I love saving money, and I love coming up with new ways to do so.  I’ve cut my current credit card bill almost in half by being vigilant and super-aware of how much I’m spending relative to how much I’m earning.  I don’t like saying no to all those Anthropologie dresses I could otherwise easily convince myself are necessary additions to my closet, but it’s also kind of thrilling, even addictive, to be so in control of what I spend.

And today is payday, which is my favorite day of the fortnight, as well as my bank account’s, because it gets so much action.


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I am getting far enough along in my apartment-settling process that I might be willing to post a few pictures soon. In the past two days, I’ve made huge progress in the living room. Last night I moved the bookshelves (which I acquired in my last apartment from the people moving out) that were flanking the TV to the adjoining wall. They now flank the window, but I might surrender one to Chris, who has been talking about getting another bookshelf since I met him. I think sometimes symmetry can be overrated. Also, and this is pretty amazing, I seem not to have enough stuff to fill my shelves.

Or my drawers. I finally have enough drawers! Chris has suggested perhaps I need to get another dresser to house all of the drawers I’m not using.

Tonight I organized my NYU papers. I need to buy new file folders and then file them away until I decide I’m ready to revise (I thought today, I’m getting close!). And Chris was a real trouper and helped me move a table. He was exhausted, but I asked nicely, and technically it was his idea that I get a table in the first place. It makes a big difference in the living room, since there was just too much empty wall space before. And this table is smallish, but it expands to twice its size. You know what that means. Dinner parties!

This weekend, I finish putting everything away, and then I begin to decorate. Oh, and I watch the Game.

I’m talking about the Puppy Bowl, of course. Piper the Parrot’s singing the national anthem this year!

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As probably everyone who reads this blog knows, it has been a longtime dream of mine to adopt one or more of my children. Several months ago, I began to follow a few (OK, more than a few) adoption blogs (they’re everywhere!), and I’ve learned a lot about both the pre- and post-adoption processes.

One of the blogs I read is about a family whose adopted daughter, Abby, is going through an incredibly difficult round of chemotherapy. As I’ve read about her over the months and followed her journey, I’ve come to know Abby to be a remarkable child. As many stories that her parents write of her illness, and as many pictures that they post of her with her pain and exhaustion written all over her face, there are just as many stories of her amazing ability to also find happiness during this unbelievable struggle, to play and snuggle and be loving, and there are just as many pictures of her smiling and dressing up like a princess and looking just like any other 4-year-old.

But Abby’s having such a rough time. I worked with cancer and transplant patients during my fellowship at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital last year, and as impressed as I was by their strength, I think the most surprising thing for me was how easily I could forget that they were sick. Yes, I had to wash my hands and use Purell before entering their rooms, and sometimes I had to wear gloves, a mask and a gown. Some of the children had lost their hair, most of them were hooked up to various tubes, and nurses and doctors visited them throughout the day. But in spite of all that, they were kids like any other kids! They’d learned how to read their own vitals, and they were adept at maneuvering around and among the tubes coming out of their arms and tummies, and they wrote poems about the constant barrage of needles and how cold the hospital floors were and how they were scared that they’d never go home again. But they also liked to color and watch “Hannah Montana” and play with stuffed animals, and they wrote poems about cute boys they liked at school and how annoying their little sisters were and how much they loved Christmas.

If you pray, please pray for sweet Abby. She is in and out of the hospital. She’s throwing up 20 times a day, and yesterday she threw up blood. Her head hurts all the time. As far as I understand it, she’s got a long way to go, but this is also the most difficult stage of the chemo, and if she can make it through this, well, I think she’ll have shown us that she can make it through anything.

Also, Abby’s brother Landis is obsessed with Spiderman in the most adorable way. After you pray for Abby, you should check out his Spidey poses. As for me, I don’t pray, really, but I do my best to imagine her getting better.

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Second semester of my senior year of college, I did an independent study with two other students and Professor Pritchard. We asked him to define the class for us–esentially, to teach us whatever he most wanted to teach us. We read Roth, Mailer, Bellow and John Updike’s Rabbit series. For class, we sat in his office and chatted about books and other things. I remember reading three of the Rabbit books over a period of 24 hours. I’m not sure I broke even to eat; I certainly didn’t sleep.

Here’s Pritchard talking about Updike with Sue Miller (whom Pritchard had brought to Amherst that same semester to teach a fiction-writing class, which I also took). Perhaps you’ll get a taste for why I insisted on taking as many classes with this man as possible.

Side note: My father studied with Pritchard when he was at Amherst, back when Amherst made all of its students take an English class. Flash forward 30 years to my time there, and Amherst didn’t demand I take any class I didn’t want to take. I can’t say for sure, but I think I chose to take close to 20 classes in the English department, out of 34 total. My only regret is that I didn’t take more.

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This kicks the inaugural poem’s ass (as did Rev. Lowry’s variation on it):

I must say, I did not love Elizabeth Alexander’s poem. I wasn’t going to blog about it, because even though I taught poetry-writing at NYU, I really don’t know much about it, and I don’t even like to read a lot of contemporary poetry. But I’ve been bolstered by reading a host of not-so-doting reviews of the poem and the performance, so I’ll say a bit of my piece.

This poem seemed so subdued for the occasion–and what an occasion!–and the way Alexander read it was so stilted and uninspired. Why was she so monotone? Why did she jerk through it so awkwardly? It turns out that, aside, for some reason, from the first few stanzas, the poem’s lines break at logical spots. Why did she break them so awkwardly when she read them?

In my first class with him, William H. Pritchard spent a couple of class periods teaching us how to read a poem, making us go around the room line by line until we got every line break, every comma, every transition right. There’s a difference, he’d say, in the length of a pause between lines not separated by punctuation, lines separated by a comma and lines separated with a period. A comma within a line gets a shorter pause than one at the end of a line, which gets a shorter pause than a comma at the end of a stanza.

He wasn’t against pauses. He just wouldn’t have inserted them into a non-punctuated phrase contained all within the same line. He would have said that if the poet had wanted you to pause there, she would have told you so with a line break or punctuation (and her choice of which would have told you what kind of a pause to make).

“A woman. and her son. wait. for. the bus.” Why? It sounds like “See. Spot. run.”

I did like this line: “the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.” The poem’s language, for the most part, doesn’t interest me, but I like that line. I like the line about the teacher saying “Take out your pencils. Begin.” I liked the way she read that line, too.

The problem, perhaps, is that an Event Poem such as this one is focused so much on a message. How can it encapsulate what this day and this man mean? I don’t usually like poetry (or fiction, for that matter) that is built primarily around conveying a message. I like metaphor and all of that, I like complexity of meaning, but I don’t like a poem that tries first and foremost to say something. I prefer it to be concerned, instead, with saying whatever it happens to say in an interesting way. It’s all about the words and how they’re put together and how the poem is telling you to read them. But this is a commissioned poem meant to commemorate a hugely important day, so maybe the assignment, and the weight of it, are to blame here. I’ll have to check out Alexander’s other work.

That said, I didn’t find the poem’s message particularly powerful, either, except in spurts here and there, and that only upon rereading it myself without all those awkward starts and stops.

I do like that the only presidents who’d had a poet read at their inaugurations before this were Kennedy and Clinton. That is good company, I’d say.

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