Some Things I learned in Graduate School, or How to Feel Better about the Last 7 Years

I learned that you don’t know what you don’t know.
I learned that prepositions are hard to translate.
I learned that I would fail many times, many times.
I learned that I was getting old(er).
I learned that the professor who had declined to write me a letter of recommendation to graduate school because he didn’t think it was a good idea, was proud of me regardless.
I learned that you have to be an entrepreneur, that if you don’t see in front of you the thing you want to do, then you have to create it, make it, fake it. This is hard for humanities people to understand because its reeks of business school, but what else are you going to do when there are 40% less jobs being offered than 5 years ago? It is to do what you want to do, what you must do, because you have to.
I learned that I had friends who had had nervous breakdowns, friends who got cancer, friends who died, who got divorced, who got married and had kids—not necessarily in that order.
I learned that I could not go more than two weeks without playing soccer.
I learned that even though I had fallen in love, I didn’t have to settle for creamy peanut butter.
I learned that there is a lot that I don’t know. I may have learned that grad school is much more likely to reveal what you don’t know than to allow you to know more things. I may have also learned that empathy is a utopia and that we can never really know what other people feel, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.
I learned that queer theory is not as sexy as people think it is.
I learned that I could be a morning person.
I learned that you have to have a support group of friends, family and colleagues, some of whom you ask to read your writing, to talk to you about your work, and to ruthlessly critique you, some of whom you drink and dance with, some of whom you talk about trashy TV shows with.
I learned that gossip is essential to graduate school.
I learned that writing a dissertation chapter could take a year or it could take a week. The latter is inadvisable.
I learned that everything we do is personal because we invest so much time and we struggle so mightily to come up with new ideas, to show people that we can think for ourselves. So when people say that rejection is not personal, they are lying.
I learned that you have to spend more time in the library than you think.
I learned that a PhD is the most expensive luxury item most of us will ever buy.
I learned that I have to learn to listen better, and that I’m not there yet.
I learned that I could be a cat person.
I learned the meaning of many words that, if used in real life, make you seem like a complete asshole.
I learned that no matter what my professor’s opinion was, I should do what I wanted and justify it later.
I learned that there is nothing about graduate school that you have to accept at face value.
I learned that you have to pay attention to what you feel and that you shouldn’t lie to yourself because there is too much time to think in graduate school.
I learned that writing a dissertation changes who you are; it forces you to change who you are, and you may lose yourself and become different to many people, to people you care about, you may sacrifice friendships for your dissertation, you will certainly have to confront many of your fears and many of your worst qualities before you finish. It is not a pretty process, and once you are done, you have to pick up the pieces and figure out who you are going to be.
I learned that there are many, many people who are awful human beings, and it is not my job to change them.
I learned that there is no accounting for taste, and that Susan Sontag and Oscar Wilde would not have been friends, or maybe they would have.
I learned that we can go days without seeing the sun, but that is also inadvisable.
I learned not everyone is like me.
I learned that there are people who think that the humanities have no role in modern society, but I don’t care about those people.
I learned that linguists are people too.
I learned how to sell myself, to make elevator pitches and to memorize different versions of the same answers, to become a product in the academic marketplace, and then, I realized that sometimes getting a job is just pure luck.
I learned that my undergraduate students had no idea what it meant to be in graduate school, and they had no idea who I was, what I was trying to do, and many of them didn’t really care, though some of them did, and it’s a shame it happens because we’re not all that different.
I learned that I have to read better. That was what a very important person said to me once, that our job as scholars was to read better.
I learned to disagree with that. The most important thing we can do as scholars is to feel better, to help our bodies sense better, to teach our souls and our histories to sing better, to let our tongues speak better and our hearts love better, to let ourselves be loved better, to cry better and to sit alone and still better, to daydream better, to scribble poems better, to obsess and to succeed better, to feel better; to feel better.

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