Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Grad School Blues

When I made the (rather last-minute) decision in the spring of my junior year of college to apply for an MA in English at the same college I attended for my BA, it felt right. I was excited to get to prove (to myself? to my well-loved professors?) that I wasn't just like every other English major, that this was my thing, my calling in life -- to stay in college forever and keep analyzing literature and writing papers. This was what I was meant to do. No, I wasn't going to be a teacher, like everyone assumed when I said I was an English major; I was meant for bigger things than just that. I was getting my MA, maybe even my PhD, eventually, and I would be a professor. I would go on to be one of the people I spent my college career admiring.

Well, not exactly. Now that I'm actually in grad school I realize how wrong I was about so much. (First and foremost, the idea that teaching was somehow a "smaller" or "lesser" objective for me than being a professor. My mom's a teacher, I come from an extended family of teachers, and I would never presume to be better than a job like that. But for some reason, I had the idea that it wasn't for me. Maybe now it is. Who knows?)

Mostly I was wrong about myself. And that's a really hard thing to try and reconcile -- the student I thought I was with the student I actually am. I was really good at what I was doing in undergrad, but I just feel unfulfilled in grad school. Maybe it's because I'm at a strange in-between, since I'm completing my MA at the same school I attended for undergrad. I'm not doing anything new, but the classes are so different. I'm not meeting any new people, but so many of my old friends have graduated and moved away.

I'm also in a strange place because it's just an MA program, not a PhD or anything. Sometimes it feels like I'm stuck between wanting to go for my PhD, wanting to be surrounded by people who live and breathe literature, and then feeling like an infant student next to fully employed teachers who are getting their MA to enhance the careers they already have. I don't even know what kind of career I want, let alone what's available to me as an option. I feel constantly torn between not feeling good enough and taking myself too seriously. Where's the balance?

Working a GA position also leaves me feeling like there's no time for fun, like I'm spending all my time doing homework, when I know that's not true, because I'm usually so stressed or depressed that I'm lying in bed binge-watching Brooklyn 99 and getting behind on my work, which makes me more stressed.

Luckily we're about 22 days away from winter break, so I know I'll get through these last few stressful weeks of the semester and have nearly a month off to recharge. But I can't help feeling like my insecurities about job hunting led me to pursue a degree I don't really want or need. My program is so short (I'll be done in May) that I know I need to just stick it out, but I've definitely thought about quitting multiple times this year, feeling like grad school just isn't for me.

Monday, January 11, 2016

52 Art Challenge 2016

I've successfully completed a second round of my 52 Art Challenge! I know it's only Monday, but I wanted to get an early start on completing some art because I know my schedule is going to get really crazy soon. For the second week of 2016, I decided to try something I'd never done before - watercolor painting!

I've probably painted with Crayola watercolors before as a child, but I had never tried freehand styles until today. I've been meaning to try watercolors for a while and I was thrilled with how fun they were! Obviously I can use a lot of practice before my pictures start looking decent, but I was overall impressed with how I fared today. (My favorite picture is the one above, the title of my favorite Radiohead song).

A quote from the song "Midnight Radio" from the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Even though I mostly jumped in blind on this project, I eventually ended up on these pages and found their instructions to be super helpful as a beginner! Although I'm sure a good technique takes loads of practice to master, I think there's a lot of freedom in watercolor painting that you can't enjoy in other mediums. Of course, I'm a complete novice, so what do I know? Regardless, painting today was really relaxing, and I can see myself absolutely covering the walls of my dorm with my favorite song lyrics and literary quotes.

Are you a fan of watercolor painting? What sort of techniques do you use?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

New Year's Resolutions: Spare Change

Today I was browsing some post-New Year's Eve articles online when I came across WhoWhatWear's great article responding to New Year's resolutions. Their "5 Great Alternatives" to New Year's resolutions are all worth reading over and even doing, but what really caught my attention was number 5: "Highlight the things you do well - not what you need to change."

The concept is so simple, but it really took me by surprise to read these words.  Our consumerist culture so persistently pushes improvement on us to persuade us to buy more: Buy this face cream because you need to look younger, buy this protein supplement because you need to lose weight, buy this gadget because you need to be faster/smarter/more up-to-date than all your friends. There's a reason gym membership spikes so highly in January - we're all convinced we need to lose weight and be different, better versions of ourselves.

But have we ever considered we might be okay the way we are? Face it - we made it through 2015 into a new year. Whatever we did previously carried us through twelve months of challenges; isn't that something to celebrate? Instead of ticking off all the countless traits I'd like to change about myself, here are a few traits I'm not going to change and instead will try and view as positive assets:

1. My appreciation for makeup

When I started getting into makeup vloggers on YouTube, I began reflecting my own use of cosmetics. Was I doing it to hide behind a mask? Did it make me superficial if I wore red lipstick to class? There's so much discourse surrounding beauty in general; if you wear too much makeup, you're shallow, but if you don't wear any, you don't take care of yourself. Girls who don't wear any makeup can be mocked, but at the same time, they can be put on a pedestal above girls who waste time on such frivolities as eyelash curlers and lip liner. 

Basically, women can't win (what else is new?) and I decided this year, I'm not going to alter my makeup routine to fit anyone else's idea of myself. Wearing lipstick doesn't make me any less dedicated to my schoolwork, and skipping eyeliner for a day doesn't make me any less beautiful. There are more important things to worry about than who is judging me based on the amount of paint I have on my face. 

2. What my body is capable of

Yes, I'm guilty of scrutinizing my body in the mirror, especially after a season of Christmas cookies and party foods. But I started going to the gym seriously this month, and even though I haven't worked out steadily this past semester, I'm easily able to complete three miles on the elliptical (and more, when I want). Instead of complaining about the pounds I know I could afford to lose, I'm going to be proud of the way my body carries me to all my activities and how far I know it will take me in 2016.

3. My downtime 

I'm the master of not making plans in order to spend time reading, watching movies, or just generally vegging out on the weekends and over breaks. Usually, I feel guilty when I say no to hanging out with big groups of people or doing fun activities, but at twenty-one years old, I have to be honest about who I am. I like my downtime! I really, really love spending time alone doing things that make me happy and comfort me. I don't need to be racing from event to event - I do that enough during the school year. Instead of feeling like I constantly need to keep up with the Joneses, I'm going to appreciate the time I get to myself and my onesie, because as I enter the second semester of my junior year and my first capstone class, I know moments to myself are going to be few and far between.

What are your non-resolutions for this year? What are you going to learn to appreciate instead of trying to change? 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

52 Art Challenge 2016

I'm definitely right-sided when it comes to brain functioning: I'm into dance, music, poetry, theatre, art, and all things creative. I've tried just about every artistic hobby one can pursue, but I always seem to be a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none sort of girl.

That's why this year, I've committed myself to what I'm calling the 52 Art Challenge! My idea is not unique and I'm sure there are myriad other bloggers who are doing similar (or even more daunting 365) challenges and projects. The main idea is that for 2016, I'm going to complete one artistic project every week so that by the end of the year, I will have completed 52 works of art!

It's so easy to get wrapped up in schoolwork and other obligations and entirely forget about the things that make you smile when you're stressed. Hopefully, my 52 art challenge will allow me to practice a few skills and gain some peace whenever things get too hectic in the upcoming year. My first piece of art that I've completed is a galaxy-themed canvas painting with a modified Harry Potter quote (one spoken by the ineffable Ginny Weasley):

While I still need some work in regards to lettering when I paint, I'm really thrilled with the way the background came out! I was terrible at painting when I first started crafting last spring, so I've already come a long way. Hopefully over the course of 2016 I can improve my lettering skills, because I love hanging canvases with quotes around my room.

I'm working on another Kate Spade-inspired piece of wall art at the moment, but I think for next week's art project I'll try something musical. What's your favorite art medium? Do you have any resolutions or goals that will take you all year to pursue? If so, best of luck!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

New Year's 2016

Last year Catherine, one of my best friends from my hometown, threw a glamorous New Year's Eve party complete with a photo corner, a formal dress code, and lots of glitter. This year, her New Year's Eve bash was a little more low-key and less formal, but that didn't stop me from picking out a sequined LBD and going all out for the occasion.
My beautiful best friend, Tara, being photogenic as usual 
 My red eyes are severe in these photos due to my iPhone's flash

 A candid picture of me singing "shut up and dance with me!"

 My favorite picture of the night :)
And a close second favorite with a lovely human being 
Our party's stunning host, Catherine!

My friends and I were discussing this night how to some people, New Year's Eve is just another day, but to us, it's a vital rite of passage each year. We feel it's absolutely essential to recognize and celebrate a holiday that gives cause to reflect on a beautiful past year and hope for an even grander one to come. It's the perfect holiday for retrospective, sentimental people like myself. Every December 31st, I feel like I'm holding a year-long, world-wide collective breath that I can finally release at midnight, throwing up all my fears, regrets, anticipations, and faith with confetti. Plus, it's never wrong to give yourself a reason to dress up.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Now Playing: Slow it Down

I'm a true music fan, endlessly searching for new artists on Spotify and constantly returning to old favorites. For me, music is the best way of calming down and reminding myself to breathe, so a lot of my favorite music includes slow, contemplative tunes with beautiful lyrics and soft melodies.

Here's a playlist with a title appropriately inspired by one of the songs I've included, Slow it Down. When you need to calm down, take a nap, or simply breathe, turn to this playlist for a selection of these simple, soothing songs.

The following playlist can be found here on Spotify. Happy listening!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Deep, Introspective Breath: Meditation for Beginners

After finishing the second week of my junior year of college, I feel myself needing to take a deep, slow breath and collect myself. Finding a balance between spending time with my friends, attending all events for my sorority, and completing all my homework has been more of a challenge than I predicted for the year. Classes are harder and there are more and more opportunities for social situations, making it really hard to keep things in perspective and remind myself that I am, first and foremost, at college for an education.

Basically, I'm stressed, questioning my commitment to my major, worrying about what I'm going to do after college...

photo source
Enter my new best friend: meditation. I've meditated before, in high school gym classes and a spirituality course I took last semester. But never have I actually gotten around to just meditating, just for myself, just because I needed to recenter my being. This is the first year I've been truly mindful of my mental and spiritual health, taking the time to heal myself through meditation.

Let me tell you, it feels great.

It helps that one of my best friends and housemates, Jules, is taking a class on the mind-body connection this year and has to meditate for homework, so I've been joining her for that. But more and more often I've been taking time to find some self-guided meditations on YouTube and just be mindful of my being for a few minutes.

It's helpful to have a starting point if you're meditating for the first time, so here are some tips that I've found helpful (thanks, Jules!) as I begin my meditation journey.

1. Turn the lights low - maybe light a candle or set the lamps in your room to a low level. No one can be relaxed under the harsh glare of fluorescent lightbulbs.

2. Get comfortable - sit on a yoga mat, folded towel, or blanket, if you'd like. Cross your legs pretzel-style, or put the bottoms of your feet together in butterfly pose. Let your hands cup or lace naturally; they'll usually settle in your lap or rest lightly on your feet.

3. Find a great guided meditation, if you're uncertain of exactly where to begin. These two videos are fantastic, especially as a beginner.

4. Focus on your breathing! It's so important. Mindfulness begins with you acknowledging the power of your breath, the way it fills your lungs and travels throughout your body. Don't worry about blocking out stressful thoughts; just start by thinking about how you breathe.

And that's all there is to it!