I feel like I’m literally blowing dust and cobwebs off of this blog, as I haven’t posted in ages. My most recent post was in 2019, but I haven’t blogged regularly since 2018, but probably really since we moved to Denver in 2016.
But I’m back with a new reason for writing: I’m going to culinary school! If you happen to have been around for the first iteration of this blog, you might not be too surprised– some of the most popular posts used to be my weekly CSA boxes and what I’d do with all the produce inside them. I love food. I love to read about food, watch shows about food, plan trips around food, and make food. And now I get to spend the next 15 months getting really serious about food and cooking.
But before we start on that new path, I want to explain a little bit how I got here.
I graduated college in 2007 with a shiny BA in English and Political Science. I wasn’t immediately sure if I wanted to go on to grad school in English literature to pursue becoming a literature professor, or if I wanted to follow my poli-sci heart to law school. What *was* certain was I’d be following new husband Jon to Charleston, SC for his pediatrics residency. I got a job as an administrative assistant in a real estate firm. Yeah– I got my first post-college job IN REAL ESTATE. IN 2007. Remember what happened to the real estate market in 2008?
I found myself laid off in fall of 2008. Unemployed, I dedicated myself to volunteering for the Obama campaign, and by the time he was inaugurated, I was working as an administrative assistant in the Studio Art Department at the College of Charleston. I watched the inauguration with a crowd in Marion Square. The biggest perk of the college job was, I got to take one free class per semester. I immediately started taking classes in the English department master’s program. Stuff like “Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement” and “18th Century Women Writers.” I loved it. Reading tons of books, writing papers, talking about books, going to an 18th Century Studies conference (nerd alert!) were all extremely my jam.
And when our 3 years in Charleston were up and Jon matched for a Pediatric Emergency Medicine fellowship in Little Rock, I knew I wanted to go to grad school for English and pursue becoming a professor one day. And for the next two years, I went to the University of Central Arkansas and made all A’s and won writing awards and generally thought I was well on my way.
In my second year of the program, I got pregnant. And then that pregnancy turned out to be a twin pregnancy. And then that twin pregnancy turned out to be a very complicated twin pregnancy. I popped a Zofran and went off to school every day of the fall semester, my belly growing slowly to a point where I had to sit sideways in the desks in order to fit. I wisely took the spring semester off, knowing my babies would be born somewhere in March, most likely, and that bed rest was a strong possibility.
Because you can go read the whole story if you want to, I’m going to make a long story short and say I had a very traumatic post-childbirth near-death experience that involved my heart “catastrophically” failing due to a previously undiagnosed heart defect. And one of my babies is disabled and was also having a major neurosurgery and recovery in a hospital a mile away from the one where I was with the other twin.
And then I TRIED TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL THAT FALL.
Bless my heart, guys. I had a new chronic health issue, a major case of PTSD (though I didn’t know it at the time), AND NEWBORN TWINS, one of whom has a disability. And still I took my 5 month olds to daycare and tried to finish my degree. I finished all my coursework with straight A’s that fall, and kept the babies in daycare so I could study for my master’s comprehensive exam that spring. In my program, the comps had basically two sections, essays and “ID questions.” I knew I could rock the essays, but I was particularly nervous about the ID section, because I’ve never had a great memory for things like the dates things were written. It was basically going to be a trivia free-for-all based on a list of literally hundreds of great works of English literature. Example: they list a character’s name or a quotation and you have to identify the work, author, when it was written, and say something else you know about that work.
When I went to pick up my scores a few weeks later, I had, as expected, aced the essays. I can connect works to movements, compare and contrast them with other works, close-read, make thoughtful analysis, talk about meaning and symbolism, and make connections to other disciplines like psychology, religion, history and economics, no problem. But I failed the IDs. The kind of stuff anyone could Google.
I felt defeated, but told myself I was under a lot of pressure and just needed to study more and try again. I studied and studied and studied, and then I retook the ID portion of the test. I remember putting on a nice outfit to go pick up my scores for my second attempt. I remember sitting on the floor of a hallway, crying, when I found out I failed again.
That’s when a professor in another department found me, asked me what was wrong, and after a sob story about my failure, said to me, “But you can’t fail! You’re wearing argyle!”
Except I did. And at the time, I was so used to basing my self-worth on my academic performance that I was convinced that this was shameful. That I was A Failure. I could have petitioned and begged for a third chance at the ID part of the exam, but I was so ashamed and convinced that it was all my fault, and I had so little support in the department, that I decided not to bother.
It took me almost the entire intervening decade to realize that while yes, I did fail that part of the comps exam, I was also failed by that English Department. I was obviously a student in the midst of a family crisis– trying to parent twins, while married to someone in an academic medical fellowship (read, working like a dog), while learning to care for my disabled child, while learning to live with a disability myself, while dealing with untreated anxiety and PTSD. I even later realized that both PTSD and the specific medications I take for my heart defect can cause short-term memory issues, like, say, making a former quiz bowl team captain struggle to pass what is essentially a trivia exam. LITERALLY anyone should have suggested that perhaps I needed a leave of absence, and some help. I wish so hard that I had had any inkling back then that it was not actually all my fault, and that I wasn’t “a failure.”
Wanna know something ironic? The program doesn’t even have the ID section on the exam anymore. They removed it because it was “unfair” and, I suspect, because being able to regurgitate googleable facts isn’t actually nearly as important as the kind of knowledge measured by the essay questions.
So, I didn’t finish grad school, and I felt like a shameful failure. And I threw myself into being a stay-at-home parent to my girls. And now they’re about to be 10.
In that intervening decade, we’ve moved to Denver and put down some roots. Jon got his “dream job.” I finally got diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety disorder and PTSD and started getting treatment. The girls grew, and we did too. I no longer look at myself as a grad school failure, but a person who was failed by grad school during a very vulnerable time in my life. I wish I could go give that girl crying in the hallway a hug and let her know that she’s gonna be ok.
So here I am, a decade later. I recently mended a hole in that argyle cashmere and it occurred to me that I’ve done a lot of mending of myself in the last 10 years. I know myself a lot better and like myself a lot more than I did a decade ago. I don’t need good grades, or fancy degrees, or an impressive job to make me feel worthy. And it’s from this place of self-knowledge and worthiness that I’m ready to go back to school. This time for an associate’s degree, not a master’s. I’M GONNA BE A CHEF, Y’ALL. Follow along, will ya?
2 Replies to “you can’t fail wearing argyle”
I’m so sorry to know that your masters experience was this disappointing.
I left my PhD proposal (approval) meeting crying because the external members of my committee refused to approval the proposal that I’d been working on (with each committee member individually) after they declared philosophical opposition to 1) the research methodology I had proposed, 2) my using a pre-existing data source, and 3) the actual format and chapters/content required in my dissertation. Eventually I made sufficient changes to appease all members, and I did successfully complete my PhD. I still feel the feelings of betrayal and disappointment and worthlessness.
I wish I could hug you on that day in the hallway and today!
I look forward to hearing about your awesome new adventures. 💜💜💜
I will! It was such a pleasure to read this long text. I feel you and understand. I live in Lithuania, also have a child with the same disability, had to change my career because of it and all these feelings are so familiar for me… I support you and glad you are starting your new adventure!
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