And a Happy (and Healthy) New Year

Academia is certainly not a profession known for the healthy habits it induces. After all, academics spend a good portion of their time inside behind a desk. They spend long hours staring a computer screens, reading books and articles, grading essays, and attempting to decipher student writing. Meals are sometimes quickly procured and consumed in-between classes, office hours, grading, and research, meaning that the vending machine has probably served as the selection for fine dining on more than one occasion. All of this is topped off with countless student questions, department expectations, committee obligations, professional deadlines, and, oh yeah, personal lives.

However rewarding it may be, academia can also be a stressful, tiring, semi-depressing, and even isolating profession. Heck, when I was a TA, our offices didn’t even have windows. I would go HOURS without ever seeing natural light or catching a glimpse of what the weather conditions were like outside. I ate meals straight out of the vending machine more times than I would really like to admit, and I was a solid ball of stress, anxiety, and borderline depression for the vast majority of my time in the program. The most notable exercise  I got, except for the rare occasions that I ventured across campus to the faculty dining hall, was my countless trips between my office and the copier room down the hall. Now that I’m an adjunct instructor, I am slightly less overwhelmed and in an office with several windows for optimal weather viewing, but I still find myself constantly consumed with stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits.

I’ve decided that I’m going to try to NOT live this way next semester, especially since this next semester also marks the start of a new calendar year. I’m going to try to do small things to live a healthier and happier life within the unique constraints of the academic lifestyle. Whether you’re an academic or not, maybe there are some things that you might want to try too! Here’s my starting list of ideas and recommendations for tackling 2017:

  • Do some writing that isn’t for work. This could be fiction, poetry, stream-of-consciousness mental wanderings, journaling, diary-keeping, letters to loved ones…the list could go on and on. You can certainly write about work (by which I mean vent about work through writing), but this shouldn’t be writing for work. No assignments, no articles, no conference papers, no book proposals, nothing with a deadline and/or a professional purpose. This is writing for you and you alone. While I do all sorts of writing, one of my main things is that I consistently keep several journals at once…a teaching journal, a health/fitness journal, and a general life journal. Writing about these different areas helps me to reflect on them and gives me dedicated personal time to just think about and write for myself.
  • Make time for exercise. And by that I mean real exercise, not “I’ve walked to the copier and to the mailbox so many times today” exercise. Not only does exercise contribute to overall fitness and wellbeing, but experts often note how exercise can be a great stress reliever. The beauty about this is that, if you’re used to pretty much zero exercise, there’s no wrong way to start exercising. Experiment with different methods and styles to see what works the best for you. This is something I personally really need to work on; I’m going to try to get back into yoga because I love how yoga offers exercise and meditation all in one.
  • Strive for three healthy, balanced meals a day. Teaching 8 AM classes makes it difficult to wake up and get breakfast in before reporting to the classroom. Especially for adjunct instructors, teaching several classes across different campuses within a single day often means that lunch isn’t until late in the afternoon. Otherwise, “lunch” ends up being fast food hurriedly consumed in the car, or a “meal” slapped together out of vending machine food. Not only does this pattern have the potential to make for some hangry faculty, but not eating nutritious foods at regular intervals can lead to headaches, mental fogginess, hair and skin problems, and a weakened immune system. This is something else I really struggle with, so I definitely need to work on this in the coming year.    
  •  Join a writing group (or start one). Writing groups are nothing short of the best thing ever. I have been in graduate student and faculty writing groups and have found them to have countless benefits. Basically, a group of individuals gather together (usually at a coffee shop) for dedicated work time. At the start of the session, those present talk briefly about what they’re working on, and then a timer is set. While the timer is on, the members cannot get up from the table, talk to each other, get on Facebook, check their phones, grade papers, or do anything that isn’t directly writing related. When the timer goes off, then the members can discuss their progress, share bits of their writing with others, and ask questions. While they may not always be as regimented as what I’ve laid out here, writing groups are a great way to establish a sense of community among peers, give individuals dedicated work time, and make everyone accountable for getting something done. I honestly don’t think I would have done as well as I did in graduate school without writing group, and it has been a practice I have continued regularly as an adjunct.
  • Spend time with others who understand what you’re going through. Going along with the benefits of writing groups is spending time with your peers outside of your offices and department meetings. Your fellow academics are enduring the same things that you are. They, too, are negotiating busy schedules, conflicts between their personal and professional lives, teaching and grading woes, and the ever-present dread of deadlines. Basically, these guys and gals get you. So spend time with them. I use faculty writing group for this purpose, but I also try to stay in touch with members of my TA cohort. Even though several of my TA friends (including my boyfriend) are not currently in academic jobs, they’ve been there and done that. Establishing relationships with others in your department is an invaluable resource for advice, ideas, a shoulder to cry on, and a place to vent.   
  • Invest in an essential oil diffuser. One of my TA friends is a huge advocate for and user of essential oils. She has a small diffuser in her office and always has some sort of fantastic blend running if she’s in there. When I was still in the program, her office quickly became the popular spot to hang out because it always smelled so good, and we all just felt different breathing in that air. I became super interested in getting a diffuser for myself, and this Christmas I finally got one. While I haven’t purchased a full set of oils yet and am still perfecting blends of the oils I do have, there has been a noticeable difference in the way I feel when I’m diffusing oils. I highly recommend that every academic considers getting an essential oil diffuser, whether for work or for home.
  • Create the perfect playlist(s). Music can have a great influence on mood. Spend time perfecting a playlist for different situations. Find an upbeat, motivating mix to help push your workouts to the next level. Put together music for grading and writing. Create a refreshing, relaxing mix for when you are unwinding at home. Think of what music you might even bring into the classroom for writing days and workshops.
  • Reorganize/redecorate your personal spaces. Especially at mid-terms and finals, being in academia can make you feel like you’ve lost control at times. While you might have little to no influence over university regulations, department expectations, student learning outcomes, and grade submission dates, you do have control over your own personal spaces. Use stylish containers to reorganize your supplies, or invest in some new décor for your office walls. As a TA, I found that my office was a much more welcoming work space when I cleared former TAs’ stuff out of my bookshelves, bought cute storage for my office supplies, and hung up meaningful artwork on the walls. I even brought in Christmas lights at the holidays. This helped make my corner of a shared office feel more like mine and more like home, and not having this opportunity now is one of the things I dislike most about being an adjunct; I don’t have any personal space to make my own. If you have already personalized your office to the max or are not allowed to make these kinds of adjustments, then consider doing something at home. Move your furniture around, buy new bedding, paint a room…just make some kind of change to reinvigorate your living space and renew your sense of self.
  • Remember to let yourself break down once in a while. It is okay to cry. It is okay to have a complete meltdown. These are natural consequences of working in a stressful environment. The key is not to let these moments of overwhelming emotion take over your life. Allow yourself to break down once in a while, but, when the breakdown is over, let it just be over. Instead of helplessly thinking how you will never get everything done or will never be able to fix the problem you’re facing, take a deep breath and start thinking of an action plan. In my academic life, there have been plenty of meltdowns and freak-outs where I was convinced I would never make it all happen. But, spoiler alert, it always came together in the end. I always made it happen. Going forward, I want to try to remember this. No matter how lost and overwhelmed I feel, I need to take a moment to collect myself and then push on forward.

So there you have it. Some of these are things I already do that I would like to continue, some of these are things that I know I need to try to do more, and some are things that I’ve been neglecting completely up until this point. If I incorporate all of these things into my life, I am convinced that I can live a happier, healthier, and more productive life in 2017. Maybe a few of these ideas can help some of you in the new year as well!

Do you have any of your own ideas and suggestions for staying sane in academia in 2017?  Or just living a better life in general? If so, please feel free to share them in a comment!

All’s Well That Ends Well (or Something)

The end of the calendar year is officially upon us.

Of course, anytime that one year comes to an end and another one is set to begin, we as humans naturally resort to nostalgic reflection, introspection, and prediction. We think about what went wrong in the last twelve months, what went right, and what we can do to make the next year an even better one (or, at bare minimum, a slightly less disastrous one). Every new year is chance to start again.

So, how does 2016 rate?

I think most Americans (and people in plenty of other countries) can agree that 2016 has been far from the brightest star in our collective sky. With notable celebrity deaths, global travesties, and a shit-show of a presidential election, I wouldn’t be surprised to find many people breathing a quiet sigh of relief when the clock strikes midnight and 2o16 finally slips away for good.

Putting all that aside, though, 2016 hasn’t been a bad year for me personally. In fact, 2016 has been packed full of firsts and milestones, both good and less-than-good. In the past twelve months I:

  • saw my first published academic/scholarly article in print
  • started dating my coworker/classmate-turned-friend
  • got into my first car accident
  • bought a new-to-me car for the first time
  • turned 24
  • went to Seattle with two of my TA friends
  • presented at an academic conference in Seattle with those TA friends
  • presented at writing center conference
  • graduated with my M.A. in English with a concentration in writing
  • had an awesome Harry Potter themed graduation party
  • got hired as an online writing tutor
  • went on vacation with a boyfriend for the first time to a place I had never visited
  • did all kinds of boyfriend-related things for the first time
  • celebrated 6 months with that coworker/classmate-turned-friend-turned-boyfriend
  • witnessed more than one major parent-related health crisis (again)
  • got hired to continue teaching at my home institution and to teach at the local community college
  • taught a total of seven college composition courses
  • had a final-round interview for my dream job
  • celebrated the holidays with friends, family, and my boyfriend’s family

In total, 2016 has been nothing short of a hectic, stressful, rewarding, surprising year full of twists and turns. While not everything that occurred this year was ideal, I don’t really regret anything; good things always seem to come out of the negative ones. In a lot of ways, this year wasn’t so much about being perfect…it was about setting the stage for where I want to go and who I want to be. I’ve accomplished so much professionally since I graduated in May, and my love life is more fulfilling than it has ever been before. I have good friends, supportive family, and a job I love. I’m not quite where I want and need to be, but I’m definitely headed in the right direction. I’m on the cusp of something wonderful, and that’s what I think 2017 will bring.

So, friends, let’s say goodbye to 2016 and welcome the possibilities that 2017 holds. It’s going to be a great year.

 

Anxious Academics

I don’t really talk much about my anxiety. I don’t know why I don’t. I’m not exactly ashamed of it. I guess I just always feel like I would sound like I am looking for attention (which I’m definitely not) or exaggerating a nonexistent problem (which I’m pretty sure I’m not).

Some of my friends are less bashful than I am when it comes to talking about issues with anxiety. Among my peer group (broadly conceived), not having anxiety issues seems to be less common and more unusual than actually having them. Since a lot of my friends are around my same age with graduate degrees in English, this makes me question whether this simply generational, if this is a product of the high-pressure world of academia, or if English as a discipline simply happens to attract individuals with similar idiosyncrasies. Or, you know, a dangerous combination of all three.

When I think about stereotypical portrayals of English academics, a few things come to mind. The absent-minded professor that is so wrapped up in their own research that they forget things like scheduled office hours, committee meetings, and whether or not students turned in an assignment. The tenured faculty member that is still teaching off the same syllabus they first developed 30 years ago. The pretentious professor that looks down upon any student that can’t name 5 prominent literary theorists off the top of their head. In six academic years of taking courses and 2 and a half teaching them, I have definitely encountered professors that have fit into each of these categories.

So is that what I and others like me are becoming? A new option on the list of possible professor personality profiles? Anxious academics. Introverts forced to fake extroversion in order to make each class happen. Instructors that cry over their piles of textbooks and ungraded essays from a combination of stress and exhaustion. Fake-it-’til-you-make-it individuals that somewhat dread meeting a new group of students every term.

Anxious Academics. We’re a burgeoning demographic in English departments everywhere. New tenure-track professors and full-time lecturers might be them. Your TA is almost certainly one. The trick is getting us to come out of hiding.

Gilmore Gripes

After months of excitement and anticipation, the Gilmore Girls revival has come and gone, leaving thousands of women in various states of satisfaction, apathy, and disappointment in its wake. Most of the discussion I’ve witnessed, from friends and in more formal contexts, has focused on the those four infamous final words. And, so, that is what I would like to discuss here. Spoiler evaders beware…

In all total honesty, the final four words were not very surprising and thus rather underwhelming. For viewers that never saw that ending coming, I question where they’ve been in the weeks leading up to the revival and if they were even paying attention during the events preceding those final four words.

One of the promotional posters for the revival prominently featured an apple, a reoccurring trope from the original series that was always linked to pregnancy. Lots of fans had hypothesized that the final words would have something to do with Rory giving birth to a daughter and naming her Lorelai to continue the legacy. When the surrogate-talk came up at the beginning of the revival itself, there was too much of an emphasis on pregnancy and child-rearing for one of the Gilmore Girls not to end up pregnant by the end of Fall. With all of this already in mind, the real purpose behind Rory’s visit to Christopher was completely transparent to me: Rory was obviously pregnant.

So, the final four words were not surprising to me at all, and I really have no problem with the idea of Rory being pregnant at the end of the revival. What I DO have a problem with is the situation under which she became pregnant and the ways in which the revival completely destroyed the Rory we knew and loved from the original series.

When Rory slept with a married Dean, she was a young girl caught up in the idea of her first love trapped in an unhappy marriage. She was not totally without remorse and eventually realized that this wasn’t the way she should be acting, so she moved on. What we see instead in the revival is a colder version of Rory with no real qualms about sneaking around behind another woman’s back. Her unsatisfactory feelings regarding the affair center only around how the fiancé is interrupting her own time with Logan. On top of that, she cheats on her own boyfriend repeatedly with Logan, and even randomly sleeps with another dude in the process. Never does she seem to have any sort of guilt or remorse for any of this. In addition, all of this is added on top of a train wreck of a career path in which Rory continually views herself as too good for the opportunities that are given to her.

To those saying that the revival is a realistic portrayal of some 30-somethings nowadays, you’re right. It is totally feasible that a 32 year-old woman might have plateaued in her career and might be struggling to figure out the next phase of her life. It is totally feasible that a 32 year-old woman might have to move back home. It is totally feasible that a 32 year-old woman might unintentionally get pregnant out of wedlock. I understand all of this, and I appreciate the revival’s decision not to give Rory a perfect life as an adult. What is not feasible, though, is that sweet, smart Rory Gilmore became a conceited, selfish, home-wrecking adult that thinks she is entitled to anything and anyone she wants without any consideration of others.

Rory is not the protagonist of this story; she’s the villain. She’s out of touch with reality and acts without regard to the feelings of others. She knowingly ruins lives without a second thought, and she betrays herself through this behavior. For this reason, I cannot and will not ever be satisfied with the Gilmore Girls revival.

 

 

 

The Compositionist’s Song

Oh, sweet literature. The pride and joy of English majors everywhere.

My boyfriend studied literature in his Master’s program. In fact, most of my friends from my graduate cohort focused their studies in literature. My uncle, too, has a graduate degree with a concentration in literature. Out of a pack of literature scholars, I am the lonely compositionist.

I became an English major in undergrad simply because I loved reading and writing more than I loved anything else. While I certainly did love the reading I got to do in college, I found myself not enjoying the writing as much as I had hoped. I loved the writing I was producing in my creative writing courses, but I hated academic writing. I did not enjoy literary analysis papers at all, and, naively, that’s all I thought English majors could ever write. I thought that was the extent of research for English majors.

Everything changed, of course, when I entered graduate school.

As an M.A. student, I selected writing as my concentration. I was still operating under the impression that I was going to pursue an MFA and be a prolific fiction writer, and the writing concentration allowed more easily for a creative writing course than the literature and teaching tracks. But, since I was a teaching assistant, composition studies quickly became a large part of my coursework whether I wanted it to or not. Since we all had to teach composition, we were expected to know composition pedagogy and be familiar with significant research in the field.

These studies, paired with my experiences working in the campus writing center and my first ventures into planning my own second-year writing course, eventually made me start falling head-over-heels in love with composition. Being in my own classroom later on pushed me right over the edge into full-blown obsession. I couldn’t remember what life was like before composition, and I didn’t want to imagine a future career without it.

I love how composition studies is so heavily based in the real world. This is what our students, regardless of background, major, or career plans, are doing on a day-to-day basis. They are composing constantly, for school and otherwise…essays, research papers, lab reports, Facebook updates, group texts, tweets, blog posts…the types of writing our students are doing is practically limitless. Composition instructors are not just teaching students how to write a paper that will get them an A; we are teaching them how to be effective communicators and critical thinkers in our classes, in all of the students’ others courses, and in students’ professional lives beyond college. Campus writing centers further serve to help students become more independent thinkers, writers, and students, and don’t even get me started on how many other wonderful things writing centers do.

Will universities ever truly appreciate the work that composition instructors and writing centers do? Probably not. Will students ever truly appreciate it? Definitely not. But that’s okay. We as compositionists will continue to quietly serve our students and our universities anyway.

 

Dating App Denial

The other night, for some ungodly reason, I started thinking about dating apps.

I have to admit, I’ve never used a dating app before. After a few weird encounters with a couple of individuals I met through Plenty of Fish in college, I decided online dating just wasn’t for me. So, when Tinder hit the market and became the new face of dating among my peers, I promptly said no thanks.

One of my dear friends is single and always on the look-out for a relationship. He has pretty much every relevant dating app on his phone, and he checks them consistently. He has “talked to” many different individuals through these apps and met several of them face-to-face (probably even more times than I’m aware of). Some of these people seem perfectly nice, and, for the most part, they are. But, for some reason, his contact with these potential mates never seems to endure beyond a handful of dates. It either simply doesn’t work out, or, as he has found over and over again, a lot of these app users really aren’t looking for anything serious.

Having said that, I do find myself wondering if anyone has truly found love on Tinder. And I mean real, long-term love, not the kind of thing that sorta almost resembles love for a night or two. Are we, as a generation, trying to use dating apps to find something that simply cannot be found through the screens of our smartphones?

I keep thinking about my own relationship and its humble beginnings. We love and trust each other completely because we were good friends before we were in a romantic relationship, and we knew each other as coworkers and classmates before that. We were in each other’s lives for an entire year and a half before we ventured into a relationship.I have never felt this safe and comfortable with anyone in my entire life…but is that only because of how we met? Could I have found this same thing through a dating app? Or would I have been doomed to an endless series of mediocre dates?

Honestly, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I can only speak from my own experience and my observations of my friends’ love lives (or lack thereof). But I’m interested in knowing if this is possible. Where are those Tinder success stories at? I would love to hear some.

The Peer Review Problem

As a composition instructor, peer review is one of my favorite things. In fact, it might be my favorite thing about teaching composition. I love hearing students engage in dynamic conversations about writing. I love watching them realize that they do know how to recognize good writing and that each individual has a unique way of approaching the assignment. I love how peer review truly allows students to become active agents in their own learning.

Ironically,  I hated peer review as a student. I didn’t like the written feedback method, and reviewers never really said anything. So, in my first year as a college composition instructor,  I took it upon myself to experiment with different styles of peer review in an effort to find a method that students would benefit from and, maybe, actually enjoy.

Amazingly, I was successful in this endeavor. I found not one, but multiple, methods of peer review that my sophomore students liked better than the standard written response. As I would walk around the room, I would hear genuine and in-depth conversations about the papers, writing in general, and the students as writers. I continually received strong essays from students who took peer review seriously. It was fantastic.

Now that I’m in my second year of teaching entirely on my own, I have tried these same methods with my first year students at multiple institutions. With one group of students, peer review is going fantastically. In the other classes, though? Not so much. They try the methods, sure. They follow the directions, yes. But they’re breezing through the workshops as quickly as possible. For the most part, these students are not having the genuine conversations I am trying to encourage them to have.

It’s all so frustrating because I don’t think they understand how important this is and how beneficial it can be when given the proper amount of time and effort. I don’t think they care about helping their classmates become better writers. I don’t think some of them even care about becoming better writers themselves. But I will keep trying. I will keep experimenting with new styles and gaining student feedback. I will conquer the peer review problem.

Fellow composition instructors, do you have particular methods of peer review that you like to use? Leave them as a comment! I’d be happy to share any of my methods as well!

 

Under Pressure

Before my 8 A.M. class the other day, I ran into one of my friends from grad school out in the hallway. This friend is currently in her second (and final) year as a MA student and teaching assistant, and we were catching up about how classes were going when I asked her if she was still applying to PhD programs.

I knew her answer before she even said the words.

“No,” she said. “I think I’m just going to do what you did and work for a year.” 

Why was I not surprised by her answer? Because I had made the same decision myself, not just once, but now two years in a row.

Since our university only offers a terminal MA program, the pressure to apply to and be accepted into PhD programs is incredibly high. We get this pressure from our TA advisers, our professors, and our department chair. Alternative careers are pretty much only discussed at the grad students’ requests, and, while the faculty would never openly admit it, such alt-ac careers are somewhat looked down upon in the department.

Because of this emphasis on PhD program placement, professional development for MA students is highly prized in our department. We hear about the importance of attending and presenting at conferences over and over again, with CFPs being passed along to us all of the time. In every class, we are told how much having published writing matters and receive tips on how to revise class assignments for publication. We are encouraged to participate in workshops, join department committees, volunteer for campus events, and chair presentations for conferences on campus. All of this is, of course, on top of a full load of graduate courses. Oh, yeah, and we have two classes to teach.

As MA students and teaching assistants,  we are split into three different roles: that of student, that of teacher, and that of emerging scholar. We are supposed to be the best we can be in all three categories in order to better our chances of getting those coveted positions in doctoral programs. Beyond our coursework, class planning, and grading, we are so consumed with conferences and publications that GRE scores, writing samples, and personal statements fall to the wayside. We’re so busy trying to become the best candidates that we can be that we run out of the time and energy necessary to actually apply for these programs when application season rolls around. So, we put off applying, hoping to give our materials the time and attention they deserve the next time around.

And the cycle begins again.

 

 

 

Important Differences

We ran into his ex the other day. They hadn’t seen each other since their bad breakup, nearly two years ago, so I didn’t know what would happen. But, we simply kept walking, and neither of them acknowledged the other’s presence. It was awkward as hell, but definitely could’ve been a lot worse.

I knew him during the last few months of his relationship with her, and I had met her myself while they were still together. After they broke up, I spent several months as the designated friend for him to vent to. When we finally started dating, about a year after his previous relationship had ended, her influence on him and his views of dating became even more apparent.

When we first started dating, he said it would be at least 10 years before he considered marrying someone. He said that he didn’t want to make plans for future things we would do as a couple. He said that he wasn’t really into holding hands, unless it was some sort of special occasion. He would always profusely apologize when he wasn’t able to pay for dinner for us both, and he definitely seemed confused when I didn’t ask him to buy the anklet I picked out for myself on vacation.

In the mere nine months we’ve been dating, there’s been a big change in the list of things he swore he wouldn’t or couldn’t do. While he does still apologize for not being able to take me out on as many fancy dates as he would like, he knows that it doesn’t upset me, and he surprises me with dinners out and little thoughtful gifts from time to time. As for hand holding only on special occasions, such occasions for us can be as “special” as walking across a parking lot. He’s been talking about our first anniversary (which will be in January) since September, and we talk about trips we’d like to take together all of the time. We’re both in agreement that we should probably be together about 3 years before we even start discussing marriage, which has made him much comfortable talking about his someday wedding and future kids. More than once, he has even talked about marriage in terms of US getting married, before he catches himself.

So, what I’ve learned from this is that the best relationships are those in which you can be honest and open about what you do and don’t want, but in a way that is respectful of your partner’s dos and don’ts as well.  He willingly holds my hand in parking lots because I don’t tell him he has to. He openly talks about marriage because he knows I’m not going to push him into it before we’re both ready. I don’t demand those kinds of things from him, so he gives them to me willingly. And he actually enjoys it.

So, no, I’m not her, and I never will be. Our relationship is not their relationship, and that’s a good thing.

 

The Changing of the Leaves

Within the pages of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes, “life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” I firmly believe this to be true. At least for the last two falls in a row, I have encountered moments that have altered my life path to various degrees.

Around this time last year, I was attending a series of workshops to prepare for graduate school applications. At the time, I was still convinced that I was applying to MFA programs with an emphasis in fiction.  I wanted to be a prolific novel writer, and, if that failed, work in publishing as a back-up. I didn’t want to be a professor or do research; I just wanted to write. I came into those workshops with these firm convictions.

One of my professors had become a really important mentor to me my senior year of undergrad, and he was the one leading the workshops. After one of the first workshop meetings, he and I were hanging around and chatting. I can’t really remember how it occurred, but we somehow started talking about my newfound passion for writing centers. He recommended that I look at a couple of graduate programs with a specific focus in writing center studies…PhD programs in rhetoric and composition. He recommended that I apply to a couple of each type of program, and I told him I would consider it.

I went home that night and did some research on the programs he had mentioned. The programs and their classes sounded awesome! After I looked at those two programs, I googled some more in the area. Every single one sounded interesting and exciting. I was utterly convinced that he was right. I needed to apply to MFA programs in fiction AND a couple of PhD programs in rhet/comp.

The only problem was, when I started to write personal statements for these programs as required by the workshops, I found myself utterly consumed by the statements for the rhet/comp programs. The more I read about programs, looked at courses of study, and thought about the work I would do, the more PhD programs appealed to me. I found myself not struggling to fill the page like with my MFA personal statements; instead, the words and ideas were overflowing. I had many clear-cut reasons for pursuing a PhD in rhet/comp., while I was barely scraping by on genuine reasons why I wanted to get an MFA.

Of course, it wasn’t long after this that I completely surrendered myself to rhetoric and composition. I felt guilty about it, of course. Creative writing had always been my thing, and I felt like I was betraying myself by thinking otherwise. I wasn’t betraying myself though; I was meeting myself for the first time. I could think of plenty of questions I wanted to answer and problems I wanted to solve in the field. I could not only imagine doing research on these topics, but actually enjoying the research and writing about it. And I really, really liked the idea of teaching and studying composition and writing center stuff for the rest of my life. At that point, the transformation was complete.

Around this same time, Halloween brought changes to my personal life. If you happened to be one of the unlucky bastards that read all of the chapters in my “unconventional love story,” you will know that last Halloween marked a crucial point in my relationship with my current boyfriend. We had been coworkers and classmates during my first year of grad school. When he graduated in May, we stayed in contact and ended up becoming good friends over the summer. While family, friends, and strangers alike assumed we were going to start dating, he was adamant that we would not. However, on Halloween, he finally ended up making a move on me that shattered the illusion that we did not have feelings for each other. Even though we wouldn’t actively acknowledge those feelings again until Christmastime, that night was a definite game-changer.

Now, autumn is here again, and I find myself in a similar state of change and renewal.

After having a near panic attack a few days ago over the sudden realization of the time and money immediately required to take the GRE and apply to my full list of PhD programs, I had to think long and hard about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. After some brainstorming, number-crunching, soul-searching, and confiding in my mother, I finally came to a conclusion: kick ass on my application to the only PhD program on my list that doesn’t require the GRE and, assuming I don’t get in, work really, really hard on my materials over the next year. This allows me to save more money, study for and take the GRE over the summer when I have more time, and work on some additional publications in the meantime.

Immediately after making this decision, I felt a certain sense of peace wash over me. I’m going to have great materials for one program that is an excellent fit for me and my research. If I don’t get in, I’ll have another year to prepare my materials and make myself the best possible candidate I can be. It’ll be another year staying here with my family, my friends, and my boyfriend. It’ll be another year to grow up. I can’t lose either way.

So, autumn is and always will be my favorite time of the year, especially October.  I love the weather, the activities, the scents, the food, the clothes, all of it. But, perhaps what I love this most is how it always offers a chance to begin again. Like the changing leaves, in autumn we can detach ourselves from what isn’t working, showing off our brilliant colors as we open the way for something new to grow.