Writing left handed

Plan B

96 days ago I had meltdown. (I seem to have a lot of meltdowns these days so I feel the need to be specific.) I was sitting in a cabin in the Poconos with my boyfriend-at-the-time, and despite there being a fireplace, and wine, and snow (back when snow was still fun and not the pestilence of biblical proportions it has since become), I was freaking out.

Why? I was finishing up my PhD applications. And I was, at the suggestion of the powers-that-be, editing my personal statement to read, “I embrace the prospect of shifting my writing to more intensely focus on academic research.”

Only I didn’t embrace this prospect.

Not one bit.

Those weren’t even my words—in fact, just typing them made me feel dirty—but I in the end I decided they were a necessary evil.

Besides, I’d already spent so much time studying for the GREs, revising my personal statements, tweaking my CV, visiting campuses, contacting faculty, sitting in on classes, talking to current grad students (I even passed out while watching a film of Yanomami adolescents undergo a ritual piercing ceremony and tried, as usual, to blame it on PMS).

Plus, I had people writing my letters of recommendation, cheering me on, suggesting books to read, loaning books to read—I couldn’t not go through with it just because I suddenly realized that going back to school would require “shifting my writing to more intensely focus on academic research” and that I was utterly unprepared and unwilling to do this.

“It’s just a game,” I told myself.

So I gave it a shot, knowing I had to play the game in order to have even the slightest chance of winning the prize.

Well folks, I didn’t win. I got rejected, wait listed, and rejected.

(And no, before you ask, it’s the nowhere-near-the-top, no-chance-of-recovery, sort of wait listed.)

Rejection #1 didn’t faze me. I was dazzled by the school itself but the actual anthropology program was a bad fit.

Rejection #2 (the wait list) was neither terribly surprising, nor terribly disappointing. (Who wants to go to school in New Jersey anyway?)

Rejection #3, however, was long and drawn out and ended with me sobbing in the shower, as has become my new habit since January.

It wasn’t so much the thought of not returning to school that upset me, but rather the thought that someone—yet another someone—didn’t want me.

(Because break ups and PhD applications are totally the same thing… and because relationships and advanced degrees are the only valid units of measurement.)

I felt awful.

I felt the lowest I’ve felt since January.

And knowing I couldn’t rely on my ex-boyfriend to make me feel better made it even worse.
So I had myself a little cry, took my requisite five deep breaths and—for the sake of a dramatic flourish—sat down on the bathmat still dripping wet and wrapped in my towel in order SORT OUT MY LIFE.

Here is what I came up with:

  1. Studying for the GREs on a cruise ship with a highlighter in one hand and a glass of “lemonade” in the other is probably not the best way to boost one’s scores. Nor is refusing to get a tutor for the math section (or refusing your parents offer to help pay for said tutor) on ideological grounds.
  2. I don’t actually want to spend the next 6 or 7 or 8 years in school.
  3. Graduate school and buying a house don’t fit very well together. Ditto graduate school and directing a tap company; ditto graduate school and writing a novel; ditto graduate school and teaching on three different college campuses. (And not that I’m all hyped up to have kids right this minute but I know only a handful of PhDs who have children… there’s a reason for that.)
  4. I can still be a fabulous instructor without my PhD. As it is, last semester’s SUMMAs indicated that my students already think I take their education “way to seriously” and that asking them to read 75% of their assigned text book is “too much.” I have some really great moments in the classroom though, moments that make me realize that I am, actually, deserving of my new Senior Adjunct status. And if I change my mind on that in the future, I can always re-apply.
  5. For now, I will live (and will be able to live with myself) if I don’t end up adding “PhD” to my email signature. (“Dr. Richter” has always sounded a bit redundant in my opinion, and I decided long ago that I will be keeping my last name unless I happen to meet a man named Darcy—it which case the Dr. preface sounds even worse—so it’s really better off not having to deal with that hassle.)
  6. I will not live (and will not be able to live with myself) if I don’t end up adding “author” (or “best-selling author,” or “New York Times Best Selling author”) to my email signature.
  7. Seriously. I don’t really get jealous of other PhD candidates. I have three friends who are currently going to school for their PhDs and aside from them, I think most PhD candidate are a bit… hmmm… out of touch with reality, shall we say? I get a little bit jealous sometimes, when I hear how they’re living off of fellowships and have proper health insurance, or when I see pictures of them someplace fabulous with fabulous people but not murderously jealous. My murderously jealous tendencies are reserved for other writers.
  8. I have let basically all of my non-dance memberships lapse. I haven’t gone to a single non-dance or non-writers conference in the past two—maybe even three— years. I have a college library at my disposal and even though it’s not the greatest library in the world, I usually spend my time A) watching House of Cards or B) writing. Non-academic writing. I once read that we “manifest our truths” or something along those lines. Well, I go to dance conferences and I get scholarships to those. I go to writers conferences and I get scholarships to those too. Go figure.  (I also had a dream about Kevin Spacey a few nights ago. I think, however, that this is just because of my Netflix addiction, not because “sorting out my life” should entail getting with Frank Underwood.)

So no, I’m not going back to school. At least not right now. But I am okay with that. In fact, once the initial sting of “another” rejection wore off, I realized it wasn’t even a rejection really. It was just a road sign telling me to go another way.

(And, even though it terrifies me, I already know exactly what that way is.)

18 Responses to “Plan B”

  1. chauffeur

    I always say it will all work out. professionally, we have both taken a hit this winter, it is taking me a longer time to bounce back… you have already begun to bounce back. 10 years ago when you were choosing colleges… I said there is no wrong decision or wrong choice, you will get the most from and make the best of where ever you decide to go, and you certainly did. The same applies, what ever route you travel, you will assend, making the best of opportunities that arrive, getting the most of what is before you. You are and have always been an amazing young woman, the 3 universities that shall remain nameless missed that, and it is there loss. At this time, other, more challenging, perhaps more difficult, but likely more rewarding and interesting paths await you. “It will all work out”. and all I can say to those 3 universities… “that shit is wac”!

  2. Zak

    I never wanted a PhD, but I would like a few Masters degrees. Unfortunately, I was married, then divorced, and buried in a multitude of other things to distract me, and only got six of 10 required courses completed. I’ve recently thought about going back, organized what classes I need and looked for next available offerings, etc. So far, though, quality of life is better working on my house, playing with my dogs, and sleeping in on Saturdays.

    Also, not many successful writers, thinkers and doers come to mind that have PhDs, other than science candidates. So, you’re actually in better company now.

    • Kat Richter

      A house, a dog and sleeping in on Saturdays sounds pretty freaking fabulous right now! Honestly though, I always just kind of assumed you had a PhD or at least an MA or two, so if its any consolation you did give off a very smart-person vibe 🙂 I will say that I do know some awesome non-science PhDs (they are freaking ROCK STARS in my opinion, then again they are are also kind of in the sciences depending on which way you look at it…) but I’m just not sure I could join their ranks and still be good at all of the other things I want to be good at.

      • Zak

        Thanks for the compliment.

        Arguably anyone who is a PhD has applied some sort of rigorous framework in the study of their field, which then could arguably be said to be scientific.

        My dad always said, “play against yourself.” It’s taken me years to figure it out, and I’m still working on the application of said advice.

        • Kat Richter

          Hmmm… I’m running on about four hours of sleep right now but I’m going to re-think this (your dad’s advice) when I’m a bit more coherent and try to figure it out 🙂

  3. becky119

    Honestly, it seemed to me that getting a PhD was just another way to avoid doing what you really want to do. I know you want to be a writer, you know you want to be a writer, everyone else who follows your blog knows you want to be a writer.

    I recently met a writer (hopefully you read about the whole crazy ordeal on http://reverseorderofoperations.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/book-signings-more-interesting-than-they-sound-part-one/) and he gave me the same advice I’d been given many times before. The difference is, he was a stranger and he refused to listen to my excuses. And you know what? Being yelled at by the winner of the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty awards makes you sit down and actually write! I’m at 14K+ words and still going strong.

    And I’m pretty sure that you’ve been writing longer than I have (I’m pretty sure you’re like a year older, so it’s inevitable), so go write! The universe (and Becky) are telling you to!!!

    • Kat Richter

      Aww man Becky, why you gotta go all calling me out in public? 🙂 But yeah, you hit the nail right freaking smack dab in the middle of the head. Grad school would have given me 6, 7, 8 years of “Well, I be a writer if only it wasn’t for the fact that…” Congrats on reaching the 14K mark– that’s awesome! And I just took a look at your blog post– you freakin’ rock!

  4. landlord

    Fantastic post, and for the record, you were only applying for PAID PhD programs…which are ridiculously few in number in your field of study. (that’s just proud mama talkin’)

    That aside, I totally, completely and enthusiastically agree with the direction these “signs” are taking you. You would have had to give up so much to study something you really aren’t enamored with at this point in your life. Most of us learn best by actually “doing” and that is how you will build your skills as a professor, you are already doing that.

    When you actually sit and center yourself, and think about the variety of people, experiences and opportunities you are involved in, you will realize (and I think you did that by sitting on the floor in the bathroom) no PhD program could match the insight you will be/are gaining right now.

    Buy the house, get organized and WRITE! You know I can’t wait to be able to be really obnoxious: “You know my daughter, she just published a book…” 😉 We all want WRITER KAT BACK!!!!

  5. Jerseyite Lurker

    Rejections of every kind do sting, but you’ve got all the right ideas about what it all really means. A doctoral program would have become almost the only thing going on in your life for at least the next half decade, with much sacrifice to your dancing and your fiction and essay writing. What’s more, new PhD’s today, even with the most attractive credentials and cutting-edge dissertations, are moving hundreds of miles way from their ideal places to live if they want tenure-track jobs. You’ve always seemed more interested in being a multifaceted artist and free-form author rather than one of the cogs in the big wheel of the Ivory Towers. But, while this makes the choices easier by removing the dilemma, I know there’s a part of you that would have preferred to have the dilemma made available, so my sympathies for that. (And Chauffeur: Good luck with whatever kind of hit *you* took this winter.)

    • Kat Richter

      Thanks 🙂 I only applied to schools that would keep me in Philly or close by so I can’t imagine I’d have been too happy uprooting myself for a tenure-track position halfway across the country in a few years. And these days jobs in academia really aren’t all that much more secure than jobs in publishing, so it’s all good.

  6. Heather

    I love this. I’ve often thought about going back, and immersing myself in a completely unnecessary phD (totally not require to practice architecture) because I sort of loved the lifestyle. But like you I have other goals, which include: children, being published as a fiction writer, and pursuing my dream architectural projects. So, I don’t need a phD for that. Good luck with your future goals. I’m sure plan B will turn out far better than expected!

    • Kat Richter

      Good for you! And I’d forgotten how lovely it is to go through these sorts of things publicly– it’s so much nicer to go through difficult experiences with a whole crowd of people either going through the same sorts of things or offering their support. Best wishes with your writing as well!!

  7. Laurie

    That’s some serious wisdom! You always were a dancing philosopher! Nearly everything good that I have done in my life was something that I said no to first and tried to get out of doing (or avoid or postpone). All the good stuff is hard, and all of the turning points are scary. It’s is a very exciting time!

  8. shannonlynnbell

    I realize that this is kind of a dated entry and that my late-to-the-game commenting might seem creeper-like, but I just want to say that someone once told me that the more degrees/higher degrees you get, the lower your IQ becomes as a result of the over-specialization.

    It’s this loose, completely probably unscientifically-based logic that I used to convince myself not to go beyond my master’s either.

    (Course, now it’s been a year and you’ve maybe decided on a PhD program and this comment is even more off.)

    Anyway, cool blog! You’re funny and I like your writing. Cheers!

    • Kat Richter

      Haha! I’m not sure I agree with that 100% but I am often baffled by the lack of “common sense” amongst some academics (not all, mind you, but certainly those who embody the absent minded professor stereotype). And no worries on the late commenting– thanks for stopping by! I haven’t gone back to school so I remain with you in the mere Masters degree camp 🙂 What’s your degree in?

      • shannonlynnbell

        Ok, nice! My master’s in public policy, which is kind of a government-specific sort of degree so it’s kind of a shame I’ve moved to Canada now. AHH. Haha.

        I’m wondering what are the writing conferences you’re talking about getting scholarships to? That sounds too cool!


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