A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Little Bit of That Hope Rhetoric

Maybe I over-reacted a little. Yesterday I was preparing to eat flour and water pancakes for dinner once the Great Depression Part Two was upon us, but after a few frozen margaritas at my belated birthday/Pre-Depression party, I have been able to shut out the general state of anxiety that is gripping a good portion of the nation. Maybe I shouldn't watch so many political pundits on msnbc.com. Keeping up with the news is one thing, but swallowing the political drama wholesale is a step or two beyond staying informed.

One reason why I might have over-reacted (besides the simple fact that I can sometimes be fairly dramatic) is that there are a lot of things in my life that I feel unprepared to face, and they all seem to be coming up pretty quickly: My Ph.D. applications come due in December, too-quickly followed by my comprehensive exams to get my Masters degree, then my first contracted publication and first teaching job... and if I get in to the Ph.D. program that I am eyeing, I'm not convinced I will survive it. I was told that it will be nothing like the program where I'm currently working on my Masters degree; a graduate told me that at the school I aspire to attend next--they give you tough love. They kick your ass, so that you're prepared to face the next person who tries. Or something like that.

A lot different from where I am now--in my program, the department has a literary dessert contest every year, and I'm friends with several of my professors. Some of them have their students over for dinner, while others let you haunt their office and play with their action figures. I babysit for one couple in the department, and go out for lunch to talk about my thesis with my advisor. I felt at home as soon as I started going to school there. But now, I'm faced with a Ph.D. program that will be trial by fire--if I even get accepted into the program. So, I'm feeling a little less confident than usual. It's not hard to imagine failure on all sides, accept the worst-case scenarios, and plan for the next Great Depression.

Then I read something that gave me a little boost. (Those of you who are cynical about the Obama "rhetoric of hope" should just skip the rest of my entry.) Michelle Obama was talking about facing the intensity of her husband's presidential campaign, and she said, "When you're a person like me, who steps outside the normal boundaries of what their life is supposed to be like — say, going to Princeton — you're worried that maybe you're not prepared, because everybody has told you you probably won't be, and then you get there and you're like, I'm prepared... I think many of us are more prepared for certain situations than we imagine."

This is not Sarah Palin saying, "Yes, I'm ready to be president because I'm confident... I have that confidence." Confidence doesn't make you qualified for a job, just emotionally ready to face it. But Michelle Obama seems to know that--she was talking about readiness to face an emotionally intimidating and rigourous experience. That's what is really terrifying me, after all--the emotional drain. The academic challenges will take everything that I've got, and what little I've got left in my reserves--will it be enough? Will I be able to press through my work, even when my brain is already fried? Will I be able to find any sympathy from anyone in the new department to make me laugh when I feel like crying? Because graduate school makes me feel like crying, fairly often in fact.

My husband tells me he thinks I can survive a Ph.D. program, and I hope he's right. His opinion matters a lot to me, obviously. But somehow, Michelle Obama made me believe it, at least for the moment. And this sounds incredibly silly, but the next Great Depression doesn't seem so likely either, once I've had a few frozen margaritas and swallowed my own personal fears. Maybe I can even swallow my cynicism and believe that Congress will do something intelligent.

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