As the oldest, in a very large family, my siblings and I were always vying for our own special place in the world. There were four of us; four drastically opposite individuals. Like many families, before and around us, our vast differences both made us unique and quite the handful for our parents. Lucky for us, our adorable mother maneuvered this with her own narrating.
I should note that I consider myself a creative individual, but not like my mother who’s creativity is so immense-I would do almost anything for an ounce of it. The most wonderful memories from my childhood were the instances our mother would pull the four of us together and present us with her creations in the form fairy tales.
The main characters for these: the four of us- naturally. And our names: Princess Jordan, Prince Jonathan, Princess Jennah, and Princess Julianna (Julie). Yes, the four of us have names that all begin with the letter “J,” AND middle names that begin with “C.” My cute little family
Similar to our contrasting personalities, the princesses and prince each had one special gift. Princess Jennah was the most beautiful in all the land. Prince Jonathan, as the only boy, was the bravest and strongest. My baby sister, Princess Julie, was the most athletic all around. For any of you that know the four of us, you’re aware of how accurate these depictions are. Jennah is incredibly beautiful, and that is a fact-even if I am biased. My brother is super strong and as kind-hearted as my mother portrayed him in those childhood accounts. And finally, Julie is naturally talented at every sport she attempts. Slightly ironic if you know her oldest sister- I’m the clumsiest person I’ve ever met. As for me, what was my gift?
I was the smart one—labeled at even a young age, but I was. I was a fast learner and a quick reader. I was witty and once I reached school age, I soared. You see, I figured out at an early age not only what I enjoyed, but what I was good at- English. A lot of that more than likely stemmed from my mother who relished in English, herself. So much in fact that she created these fairy tales to entertain her children each night; and when my thirst for reading surfaced my mother and I had a bond the others couldn’t touch. I loved that.
I still remember being young enough that my mother still bathed me, and sitting in a soapy bathtub she would instruct me to read the back of shampoo bottles; ingredients, too--not an easy feat even after twenty-three years of life.
So I’ve coasted through school without studying. High school was nothing, and undergrad the same; grad school just seemed like the next step in line for a nerdy English undergrad. I heard from my classmates who weren’t opting to continue towards the MA that grad school was “different,” a “totally different playing field,” it’s “so much more difficult than undergrad”…yeah, yeah I hear you.
I applied, registered, and started my pursuit of one M.A. in English. Grad School- you don’t scare me. And two of my three classes are just as simple as undergrad. I go through the motions of reading the material, coming to class, commenting here and there, participating in class discussion, taking the notes, writing the papers last minute. So far so good
But every Monday night, I hit a brick wall.
Meet my mortal enemy: Literary Theory
This is by far the most challenging, time consuming, difficult class I’ve ever taken. The sheer amount of time it takes to read and understand these post-structuralism French literary critics is mind-blowing, and who am I kidding? I don’t have that kind of time. It has literally come down to reading this material for class- or sleeping. Let’s just say these black circles under my eyes- not attractive.
But it’s more than that- I am genuinely lost. When I read this material I have to break it up into twenty pages each night, solely because it takes me about two hours to read those twenty pages to understand. I’m posted up in front of my lap top, dictionary in my lap, and forcing myself to read-then type summaries of almost every paragraph, just for comprehension. It is so bad that I’m actually finding myself, in Starbucks, screaming at my copy of Revolution in Poetic Language:
“Kristeva, what the hell are you talking about?”
I truly wake up each Monday morning in panic mode. I’m sitting at work re-reading my notes, re-reading sections of the material; and the rest of the week I’m resting in dread for Monday night’s class. In my head I’m running through the motions of how to make more time to read this stuff, and when I get to class- for those three painful hours, I don’t so much as utter a single word. I sit back in my seat and erratically jot down the words of my classmates, who-by the way-couldn’t be as lost as I find myself.
First paper due, and after hours and hours of reading and re-reading I wrote the thing. I’m thinking hey, writing—my bread and butter in school. Did I mention that in this class our entire grade comes from our writing? Our final paper an impressive 60% of the grade. Maybe I’ll be ok after all.
First paper returned, 87 B, my first
Ok so now I sound like a drama queen, or a little Princess (Mom’s fault), but I was utterly inconsolable… so much in fact that I wrote my teacher an e-mail….at 4 in the morning
He responded quickly, by 8 am the man had already sent me a rather lengthy e-mail. As it happens, I wasn’t the only concerned classmate. He assured me that this was my first paper, I had room for improvement, oh and that “an A in undergrad is a B in graduate school.”
Then for the love of God, what does a girl have to do to get an A around here?
Tell that to Dr. West who thinks my writing is ideal at the graduate level, said so on my last paper. Take that.
But none of that matters. In fact, what does matter is that I spend hours and hours reading this material prying for some burst of familiarity or some breakthrough that never comes; and it is the most frustrating, agonizing, terrifying and humbling experience of my life.
I was having this conversation with my roommate, Jared, last night. His response “oh, so you are human.” Smartass, but bear with me- my entire life I’ve been the kid who never studied. I didn’t need to. My identity, tracing all the way back to my childhood, has been based on how well I do in school. I’m well-read, I have an excellent memory, and I have a passion for this field I’ve chosen- and suddenly none of that matters. I’ve never had to work so hard inside the four walls of a classroom. I’ve never felt so utterly perplexed. I feel almost as if I’m regressing to childhood, yet my classmates are still my current age and older. Have I spread myself too thin? Or maybe, as it happens, I’m not as scholarly minded as I once thought.
However, I never start something without finishing it. I see everything all the way through. If I say I’m going to do something- I’ll do it, period. Someone once told me that a “Jack of all trades, is a master of nothing,” and while I both love and believe this notion-I’m going to dismantle it.
I’ll make it out of Literary Theory, most likely with a B, but I’ll survive it. I won’t have a life, and I’ll be a horrible friend/girlfriend/roommate/daughter/sister for the next little bit, but there is no other option. A Master of Arts in English is something I’ve set out to obtain, and I will. Then my writing, it is something that is so important to me-something that I love. Every day I learn something new about it, I love that. I’m a sponge right now, and these days are tough but one day it will all pay off, I have to believe that.
It is an unexplainably, remarkable moment when you find out you still have the ability to surprise yourself. I never thought I could write a 30 page paper in undergrad, but I did it. Sometimes in life you just have to stop worrying about things like what you’re missing out on, or how difficult something is, and just tackle one thing at a time. To whoever said “life is short,” …I’m with ya.