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:
- 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.
- I don’t actually want to spend the next 6 or 7 or 8 years in school.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)