Wednesday, January 22, 2014

of scholastic pursuits.

so as you might know, i'm working towards a master's degree in english literature. can i tell you a little bit about my journey?

i applied to the program as a secret, keeping it a secret until the day we found out i was accepted. that's just the way i wanted it to be. even after i was accepted to the program, my thoughts were still very much like, "is this what i should do? can we afford it? is this what i want to do with my life?" i really, really wanted to start the program but i was kind of letting little things like, i don't know, money & my doubts get in the way. & ben was just so supportive. incredibly supportive. i'm kind of tearing up just thinking about it. 

he reassured, he comforted, he motivational-talked. i love that he completely was behind this dream of mine, one hundred percent. he's known since early on in our relationship, really before we were even dating, how much i love what i study in school & how important education is to me - so important, in fact, that i was willing to go as far along in school as it took until i had gotten to a place where i felt like i could move on to the next project, or have kids, or whatever, without constantly wondering "what if?" because the last thing i want is to feel like i missed an opportunity somewhere along the way. if that makes sense. it's not everyone's timeline, or "path" in life, or whatever you want to call it, & i'm trying to be really careful with how i word everything, but i felt strongly that i wanted it to be mine.

some of my doubts were assuaged quickly: we didn't have to take out any student loans, my classes have been exclusively in the evening so i'm still able to work during the day, etc. other fears have been painfully magnified: i feel like i belong in the program the entire semester, allllll the way up until finals. it never fails; it's this way every semester. i love class discussion & i really enjoy almost book i'm assigned to read. but when it's time to write that large final paper, no matter the class, i'm suddenly like "crap. why did i think i could do this again?!?" in researching for these papers, i read these articles that are meticulously crafted, brilliantly written, detailed, engaging, informative, & i think, "this is how i want to write!" & then i turn to that blank word document & my brain & typing hands turn to goo. every semester! i feel like the papers i ultimately churn out are in no way as well-written or fully stocked with brilliant ideas as the papers i read as i'm researching. 

but can i tell you about this last semester? i was writing this paper about communication in jane austen's sense & sensibility which, if you've read that book, you'll know there are as many complicated methods of communication between the characters as there are long-A names of any character in any one of the lord of the rings books (speaking of long-A names, i ultimately titled my austen paper "'her mind could not be controlled': patterns of language, thought, & metalinguistics in sense & sensibility" in case you're curious, which you're probably not :). anyway, it was this hugely daunting thing, i spent many, many nights up until well after 3 am writing it (while that benny, the precious (yes, that IS a lotr reference) was out of town) & finally turned it in. & then there was the waiting all christmas break not ONLY to see how my professor, the austen scholar extraordinaire, would accept my meager & poopy offerings & tiddlings on anything remotely austen related, but also because my program is that incredibly stressful type where you have basically NO assignments or grades all semester & everything, your entire grade, rests on that final paper. it's basically like getting one swing up at bat. just one!

anyway, here's a bit of what i heard back from my austen professor (a more welcome email than this one i received from another professor, yikes): 

"dear shayla, this is a truly excellent term paper and a wonderful end to our class! you have tackled very successfully a large and difficult subject and . . . developed a complex argument about how language, silence, and subjectivity work in sense and sensibility . . . the critical reading and argument here are stellar." he gave me an A in the class!

the other thing i wanted to share was about my comprehensive exam. so every MA english student has to take this big exam & pass it before they graduate. i knew i wanted to take it this last semester & was waiting all semester long for my school to tell us the date of the test. finally, right in the midst of finals week & five days before i was flying out to london, they emailed everyone to let us know the test would be in two days. i practically had to break legs to make it work with my work schedule & i felt really bad about the incredibly late notice, i didn't have time to study (i still would have had one more opportunity to take the test so i told myself i'd take it & if i didn't pass, at least i would know how to prepare to take it again) so no studying happened for this three-hour test, at ALL, & i just zoomed on in to take it, throwing caution & several thousands of dollars in tuition money to the wind. well, i received an email from the department secretary saying i passed the test "with distinction." later that day, i received another email, this one from my department chair, who is the one who actually reads & grades the comp tests. i read, 

"dear shayla, i hope this note finds you well. you know you passed your test with distinction. i just wanted to add that i really enjoyed reading your answers."

so i guess what i'm trying to say is, school for me mostly feels like a Sisyphean slog that severely challenges what little confidence i have to begin with in my ability as a critical thinker, writer, & reader of literature. i desperately want to be good at this stuff, but i rarely, if ever, feel like i am. but sometimes - sometimes - i have these faint glimmers of hope, which do a bit to somewhat reassure me that pursuing a degree in a subject i love, that taking the time to pursue just a little bit more education before we ultimately take a plunge into the kiddie pool or other things, is the right thing to do.

i really don't want any of this to come off as self-congratulatory or braggy, so i'll end with these things: yesterday i ate way too much nutella, straight out of the jar, & it's not the first time i've done it. we're trying to do this no-sugar thing & started on the first day of the new year & so far i have successfully eaten no sugar three - yes, only THREE - days out of almost 25. i don't really dust the house, ever. i love the show fashion police on e! & i'm all dressed to go exercise at the columbia gym right now, but it's snowing out & i really don't want to go. the end. :)

{& in case you're wondering, my coat is from zara, sweater h&m [men's section!], denim shirt is thrifted, jeans are madewell, shoes are bcbgeneration!}


  1. Shayla, my beautiful, brilliant, and beloved daughter-in-law (but you can just erase that "in-law" as far as I'm concerned!), I just want you to know that I am so proud of you for your courage and hard work and for staring down your demons of self-doubt (something I was not able to do, thus no graduate degree on my resume...). Benjamin found himself a gem when he found you (which, I will remind everyone, I played a part in :)). You go, girl!!

  2. You are awesome and you have great hair! Go you!

  3. This is why we are friends - you are awesome and down to earth. Not only have we had book clubs to discuss Toni Morrison, but we have also had book clubs to discuss our fascination with polygamy. Which...we need to pick another secret book club topic. XOXOXO

  4. Shayla, what an accomplishment! You should be truly proud. Sounds like a really interesting paper, and fantastic work on the exam, as well. I get terrible writer's block, too; I think impostor syndrome is fairly common among English grad students. I'm so pleased that overall your experience in grad school has been a good one. Congratulations!

  5. I love this post! You're doing such an amazing job and you are such an example to me! I love that you're following your dreams. I want to read your S&S pape! Also didn't realize matthew = edward ferrars !!!

  6. Just had to chime in with everyone else--thanks for sharing the behind-the-scenes stories of your graduate school experience. It's nice to know that someone who's beautiful AND funny AND smart AND fashionable AND a fabulous blogger feels the same things that I feel :). Someday I will tell you the sad but true story of how I had way too much confidence going into graduate school and got humbled a bit. All in all, I'd say your position is the best one to be in--nervous but then totally blowing it out of the water :).

  7. What a great entry! I'm happy to find someone as obsessed with school as I am. I appreciate your vulnerability and openness here. And you are awesome. I'd love to read your Sense & Sensibility paper. Are you interested in being published? Congratulations! You deserve all your success!



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