I can’t believe I’ve waited 8 months to type this.
I have a Master’s degree in English Literature.
And I passed my qualifying exams.
And while I’m standing here writing “me, me, me,” what I really mean is: thank you, you, you.
To all who have been a part of my life for the past 8 months: English may be my specialty, but right now words cannot express how absolutely indebted I am to each and every one of you for your support, your encouragement, and your faith in me through this incredibly intense time. Up until 3 minutes before the start of my exam, I was still receiving your amazing, inspiring messages of cheer and kick-butt-attitude, and they carried me through those quals like the eagles flew Gandalf. Well, perhaps not quite so gracefully–but then again, who can compare to Gandalf? If he had a PhD, it would be in Awesome, and I’m not sure I’m there just yet, even if I’m definitely somewhere further along than I was two days ago.
I even copied all of your messages onto a little Inspiration Page so I could carry your thoughts around with me on Friday:
Quick note: If my thoughts feel a bit heavy-handed for a while, it’s because a) I was writing at 4 AM and b) writing is my catharsis–I promise it’ll have an positive ending!
As I mentioned before, I’ve waited nearly 8 months for the moment when I would be able to look back safely from the other side of quals and type my thoughts, my feelings, my story. Relief, wild celebration, euphoria seeping in at every pore–I was expecting all of these things, and I will be completely honest with you. All I want to do at this moment is lie down in my jammies, put on “Everything is Awesome”, and stare at the ceiling so long that dust accumulates in a little mound on the very tip of my nose.
Don’t get me wrong–everything is pretty much awesome from this side of the exam. It feels like forever since I have woken up to a bright, sunny morning and thought–well, just thought! Some days during my study regimen, I would go hours without so much as glancing up at the outside world. And it’s definitely been a long time since I watched a movie without the suffocating Guilt of A Thousand Scholars squashing the breath out of me. On Friday night, my friends and I celebrated by watching The Lego Movie and grabbing a V-day dinner at the food court which was awesome but probably about as much as my steamrolled psyche and body could handle. By 10 PM I bailed on after-dinner festivities and ice cream, stumbled into my apartment, and then did the very last thing I would ever, ever have expected myself to do:
I threw myself onto my bed and started crying.
I have been warned by many older graduate students in the past that tears and anticlimax are pretty standard following what is considered the most grueling exam of any PhD hopeful’s lifetime. Until that moment, though,when I closed the door behind me and found myself alone for the first time since I had finished, I didn’t know how exhausted I was–that I have been and am–after so much celebrating and extroverting.
Imagine struggling your way through an ocean of over 100 literary texts in about the same amount of time it takes for a woman to gestate, and then suddenly, just like that–someone sits you down and tells you you’re done. It’s like the concept of a birthday: the world tells you that you are older, but you don’t feel any more twenty-four than you felt yesterday. In fact, you probably won’t begin to really feel 24 until somebody comes by and wants to tell you you’re 25. Even now, writing this entry 48 hours later, I certainly don’t feel done. My appetite is still swinging, my sleep is still way off, I’m still (erk) working really hard, and I still want to crawl into my hidey hole. All the things I had accomplished, all the criticism I had slaved over and all of the readings I had turned into the nexus of my life, all of the interpretations I hadn’t had time in a scant 2 hours to demonstrate I had acquired: the doneness of it all felt surreal And then, in the quiet of my apartment, which I felt like I was seeing–really seeing–for the first time since I had moved in, the doubts and replays began creeping in.
As with any comprehensive exam, there were undoubtedly high and low points. On the one hand, it confirmed for me that my weakest areas were in the overall contextualization of my historical lists, which have never come naturally for me. I will be completely honest: even after spending a grueling 12 or 14 hours a day poring over these books and my notes, I’m not sure if any amount of studying could have cultivated my thinking in a way that rigorously engages scholarly discussion in the way that our profession expects. As someone who came in with a minimalist training (not only was I in love with children’s literature, a markedly non-canonical field–I also had no conception until very recently what academia as a path even entailed), I have always felt (or, at least, feel that I feel) much more out of place here than many of my peers do. This isn’t an excuse. It’s simply something that I wanted to do because I loved the challenge and wanted the chance to prove to myself that I could do it. I love to create, to teach, and to share. These are my passions, and being told that I needed to seriously consider where I saw myself headed in the profession really brought my meandering, I’ll-deal-with-it-when-I-get-there mentality to a screeching halt. Already wearied by a Herculean effort of endurance and sheer willpower, I suddenly couldn’t see where the past 8 months had brought me.
I made myself stop, think, and write. Normally, I am not huge on ‘sharing feelz’ with even my closest friends and family, but there’s something incredibly refreshing about writing this and sharing it with a group of readers who have always known me as something much more than ‘just a researcher.’ On the other hand, I received affirmation of my knowledge on the field with which I am passionately in love and would happily devote my life to expanding: children’s literature. I had done fairly well on that portion of the exam and never once felt at a loss to talk about my ideas–how could I, when I loved every single text? I was assured that all of my reading and work had shone through, because I was able to recall specific moments and details to expand my ideas. And I also left the room without a doubt that every one of my professors believed in, and fully supported, what has been my biggest redemption and passion in my graduate school career so far: teaching. You have shown today that you can be–and having seen you in the classroom, we know you ARE–an amazing teacher. Truly. Amazing.
I said I’d like to end on a positive note. And here it comes…
If this exam has taught me two things–and believe me, it has taught me MANY things–they are these:
1. It is ultimately up to me to decide what I want to do. I am responsible to nobody but myself for my passions and my dreams in life. I hope you and I return to this thought in a day, a month, a year, a decade, to think about how we have made the most of every day, without the fear that we have been ‘shuffled into it’ by somebody else’s wants for you. You only live once, and it is not worth sacrificing that for a fleeting expectation, no matter how pressing that expectation may feel in the moment.
2. Family, friends, and everyone in between–cherish them. The toughest times bring the dearest supporters, companions, and–most of all–loved ones that we need to thank, most of all during the difficult periods in our lives, but also each and every day. I may be dead beat, but things will recover…and thankfully, I have friends & family to help me through that! My post-exam calendar is most definitely full
So! If this turned out to be a much more reflective post than I had ever imagined it could be 8 months ago–apologies! You have no idea (or perhaps you do?) how amazing it felt just being able to type that out (writing really is a balm for the soul) and to know that I am already my own harshest critic, one who has the unconditional support of so many inspiring friends, family, and readers who keep my gas tank full. And in spite of all I have said here, with all of your amazing love, I am so utterly, completely, and bewilderingly grateful to be done. Finally, done.
So THANK YOU! As a token of my appreciation, I shared these beautiful bite-sized babies with a friend while I was still in the thick of exam studying. I also planned on drawing out this long, mouthwatering description of these Cookie Butter Pancakes that have probably left you cursing at your screen and the pixels that refuse to materialize into actual, fluffy hot hotcakes on your desk at this very moment. Well, I won’t, because if you would just stand up and head to your stove right this minute, you can have your (hot)cake and your cookie butter and eat them and share it with a loved one: so thank you, with my favorite fluffy, cinnamony-packed pancake recipe in the whole world.
Now, on that happy note I promised, I’m off at 4 AM (yikes!) to finish writing up my list of 100 Things I Will Do Now That I’ve Earned My Master’s Degree High on the priority list is hosting a Disney movie marathon night, visiting Ghirardelli Square, and eating chocolate-dipped waffle cones with a double scoop of ice cream from the Main Street ice cream parlor at Disneyland. Any suggestions?
For now, over and out <3
Cookie Butter Pancakes
Recipe slightly adapted from Table for Two (guest post at Rachel Cooks)
Get them while they’re hot! Simple to whip up and a delight to serve, these incredibly fluffy and cinnamon-packed pancake bites are the perfect way for you to remind somebody dear to you that you love them. They are infused with a remarkable cookie butter flavor that goes perfect with homemade jam, fresh fruit, syrup, or even more melted cookie butter on top!
- 1/4 cup cookie butter
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
- 3/4 cup milk (I used vanilla soy milk; you may substitute 2% or other dairy milk)
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- In a large bowl, mix together cookie butter, egg, sugar, and melted butter.
- Add milk and whisk in until combined.
- Add dry ingredients and gently mix in until just incorporated.
- Place a saucepan over medium heat. Pour a small amount of oil or melted butter to coat the bottom of the pan.
- Using a tablespoon or other spoon, pour small dollops of batter onto the hot saucepan. Cook them on one side until bubbles begin to appear in the batter; this indicates that they are ready to be flipped. Continue cooking pancakes on other side until golden brown, about an additional 45-60 seconds. (Note: you may also make regular-sized 8-inch pancakes, but note that your cooking time will be longer for larger pancakes.)
- Serve pancake bites with fresh fruit, melted cookie butter, or syrup.