Friday, October 14, 2011

My Year, Part 1: The Big Test

It's February. I am sitting at a computer desk between two male PhD students, a poet and a lit guy. The literature student is into anarchy and probably thinks the big shampoo corporations are evil. Both men emit an odor of clothes worn for three days, bodies unwashed in the same span, and stale cigarette smoke. The computer lab where we've assembled to take the five-hour first year PhD exam is muggy, and as I stare at my computer screen, arms cramped into uncomfortable acute angles because the chair isn't adjustable, I know that I will not pass this test. I am barely pregnant, or about to be, and I don't yet know what kind of year I'm about to face. I only know it hasn't started all that well. Ken and I have realized in a few short weeks that we'd rather commute to Stillwater than be stuck here (it's too late of course--we've sold our condo). The weather has been especially brutal, and I am not enjoying my teaching assistantship one bit. I've spent most of January and the first few weeks of February avoiding. Because that's what I do when I'm anxious. Anxious about grading my students' work. Anxious about this test. Anxious with indecision about school, career, life. Anxious. How many times has God brought Philippians 4:6 to my mind? How many times will I need to remember it this year? "Be anxious for nothing," as the NASB renders the verse, can be read in two opposite ways, and though I know it means not to be anxious about anything, I often become anxious "for nothing," for no good reason. 

In the weeks before this exam, I've spent about three days studying, if all the little snatches are added together. My peers have been fretting over this thing for months--memorizing poems, boning up on theory, but I am paralyzed by anxiety, and I procrastinate. I play word games on the computer, become fascinated by economics and Scientology ( provides hours of horrifying reading.) In short, I don't prepare, and I don't know why.

I end up finishing only two of the three questions in five hours. After a few weeks, I receive a letter in the mail informing me that my exam has been thrown out since I did not answer all three questions. Turns out, five other people are in the same boat. I find out later that there is a huge controversy. Several of my peers have written two superb (in their opinion) essays, and it is only necessary to pass two to be accepted into the program. The problem? None of our essays are even graded. The faculty has determined that there is some sort of conspiracy to only answer two questions, and they take the unprecedented step of having us all retake the exam.

When I get the letter, I have already decided not to teach in the fall. I am now several weeks pregnant, and my extremely emotional and exhausted self is behind in a class (Intro to Grad Studies) for the first time in my life. I will not catch up, and my teacher will not grant me an incomplete. Before the semester is complete I am sure that my graduate school career is over.


Miss Debbie said...

Hey Sweetie! Welcome back! I promise to be a faithful reader. Hope you will come see me! :-)

Emily said...

I'm not quite sure how to email you; I tried replying to your comment . . . no luck. Try clicking on my email from my Profile page.

Oh-my-word, yes, I remember you! In fact . . . well, you won't believe this . . . but while I was driving last week, I was thinking of that time I spent the night, and we played in the roots of the trees that the tornado had uplifted . . . it was like a magical fairyland, and I've had nothing to compare to it since.

I'm stunned by the name and content of your blog . . . one of my favorite movies. The Mister, my husband, agrees to watch it with me on a yearly basis. Everything you quote, we do too. So until I know how better to communicate with you . . . thank yours.

Graham said...

I have a blog now, Le-Le. Join me at Dan-na Bug-le (blogspot). Love you. Momma