A Collection of Thoughts

Writing a Balancing Act

I’ve been bitten by the writing bug tonight—perhaps because I haven’t written in a while, perhaps because I’m reading so often now, or perhaps just because.

I’m now in week 6 of my graduate program in library and information science at UNC Chapel Hill, and it’s been a wild ride thus far. The first few weeks of my being here were characterized by severe anxiety and imposter syndrome, and more than anything, I wanted to go home to Fredericksburg. However, I took it one day (sometimes even one hour, one minute) at a time, and I’m feeling better about my program now. I’m still frustrated by aspects of it, and I absolutely still think that the larger system of graduate school is ultimately broken—but, I am feeling better.

The most difficult parts for me have been getting a good handle on what the workload is like and then figuring out how to balance that with the rest of my life—how could I possibly take breaks when I had SO much reading to do? It’s been a bit like drinking from a firehose, and I’ve had to adjust my normal tactics of working. I used to read books, articles, etc. the entire way through because I felt that if I didn’t, I would miss some crucial piece of information or argument. However, with a full graduate courseload and work, I don’t have the luxury of time on my side. I’m (slowly) learning how to speed-read and skim (I think of them as different things), and those “skills” have helped make my workload feel more manageable. I’ve also discovered that, even when I do feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading/work that I have to do, it’s often far more beneficial for me to take a break and step away from work for a little while. Sometimes that break means taking the entire evening off and having a glass of wine while watching a favorite TV show, and other times it means walking outside for a few minutes.

Much of my coursework this semester is theory-heavy and abstract, which has been its share of frustrating, especially for a hands-on field like archives. So, work at Duke is my respite, my saving grace. It is the one place where I feel like, without a shadow of a doubt, I know exactly what I am doing. I love what I am doing, and I love the people I work with. I recently crossed over the 1,000-record threshold for creating item-level metadata, which I celebrated with a few of my coworkers, and I can’t wait to celebrate future milestones with them. I’m incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to work at Duke and keep myself grounded as I work my way through graduate school.

The Mistaken Imposter

I moved to Carrboro, North Carolina, last weekend (August 3rd), and it was easily the most difficult move of my life. For the past 9—almost 10—years, I’d settled myself in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and built a life for myself there. Part of those 9 years was my 4-year undergraduate career, but I stayed in Fredericksburg afterwards, working at UMW (my alma mater) and various units at the Smithsonian in DC. I never, ever, imagined myself leaving Fredericksburg, let alone Virginia.

However, the time came for me to take a big step: my full-time job at UMW was ending, and I really needed an MLS degree to secure the kind of full-time, salaried, long-term career that I truly wanted. (I long to work in archives and special collections in a museum, archive, or other cultural heritage institution, and to do that, I need a graduate degree.) Deciding to leave Fredericksburg was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I spent many days this spring sobbing at the thought of leaving the immensely supportive personal and professional network I had built, and I couldn’t imagine moving to another state without my network of friends and family.

Despite everything holding me back, UNC’s MSLS program really spoke to me, so I took a leap of faith and committed. My UNC classes start in one week, and my internship in Duke University Libraries’ archives and special collections begins tomorrow. I’m immensely grateful for these new opportunities to grow and develop professionally, but as I alluded to earlier, it hasn’t been easy. I spent the first few days here harboring the horrific feeling that I’d made a terrible mistake—that I shouldn’t have come to North Carolina, I shouldn’t ever have left Fredericksburg (let alone Virginia), and I certainly shouldn’t have left UMW or my friends and family. I spent hours on the phone sobbing to my friends as I replayed these fears over and over again, but I found no relief. In addition to “normal” anxiety, I became crippled by my imposter syndrome/inferiority complex: How on earth did I get into this MSLS program? How was I going to succeed in graduate school after being out of a classroom for so long? How on earth was I qualified for my internship with Duke University Libraries? How long would I last at Duke and in my program before everyone realized that I didn’t truly belong?

As more days have passed by, my anxiety and utter paralysis have slowly begun to subside. I’ve eaten 3 square meals for two days in a row now (trust me, this is a huge feat). I begin my internship at Duke tomorrow, and I’m becoming excited about it again. (I was excited when I first applied for, interviewed for, and accepted the position, but since then my anxiety has convinced me that I am not qualified for it.) I’m looking forward to meeting with my supervisors and starting to work on the project, especially because I know diving in head-first will help assuage my fears and re-establish my confidence. And I’m hoping that this confidence will carry forward into my first week of classes at UNC (and continue on from there).

Despite being utterly terrified of where I am in life right now, I am also incredibly grateful that I’ve been able to make it through the past week and out to the other side. I’m slowly getting used to Carrboro/Chapel Hill and my new living situation. As I become more confident in my physical location, I find that my mental location is improving as well—and for that, I am truly proud of myself. I’m so proud that as I go into my first day at Duke tomorrow, I don’t truly believe I’m an imposter anymore. Yes, I still have doubts here and there, but I also know that I have a wealth of experience and gave a knock-out interview. I must belong somewhere, right? And it might as well be between my classes at UNC and my internship at Duke. Either way, I’m extraordinarily proud of myself for coming this far and for overcoming so many fears and mental paralyses.

The Next Big Adventure

About five years ago I wrote a post detailing why I wasn’t going to graduate school—now, as it turns out, I am going to graduate school. For a long time, I hadn’t been thrilled with the idea. Why would I go to school to learn something I already knew how to do and knew that I was capable of doing? Recently, however, I found myself at a career and life crossroads where suddenly, graduate school was an exciting and appealing option.

I spent my winter applying to graduate programs in library science that had specializations in archives, special collections, and digital libraries/curation. After working several different post-undergraduate jobs in archives and museum collections, I realized that, despite my extensive experience, I was still lacking education and experience in some fundamental areas. I was honest in my applications about the gaps in my knowledge and how I wanted the program(s) to round out my knowledge and experience, truly setting me on a solid career path.

After much deliberation between several excellent MLIS/MSLS programs, I decided to accept my offer of admission at UNC Chapel Hill. They are ranked #1 internationally for library and information science, #1 for digital librarianship, and #3 for archives and preservation, so I’m entering an amazing program that will prepare me beyond measure for my future career. In addition to having great academic strength, UNC SILS has wonderful connections with local, regional, and national library and information science employers, so I will have a wealth of opportunities during and after my graduate education, right at my fingertips. I’m already taking advantage of SILS’ wonderful connections and hope to begin working in a local or regional archive during my first year in the MSLS program.

While making such a big move—I’ve never lived outside of Virginia—is a bit daunting, I’m mostly feeling incredibly excited. For a very, very long time I was reluctant (begrudgingly so) and scared to pursure this path, but now I cannot wait for all of the amazing opportunties to which graduate school will open the doors: meeting new people, new professors, new archivists, new friends, new jobs, and new places. I’m ready to crack open the books (and my laptop) and become a student again—and honestly, it feels amazing.

Escapril: Catharsis

I swallow up the entire month—
the past five months,
back to the beginning of December,
when I thought you cared—
in one big gulp.

You burn down my throat and into my intestines,
upsetting the balance of everything,
and I chase you with sweet, bubbly innocence.

As time goes by, you wash down more easily,
until I arrive at now.

Once again, you are just water,
diluting the past five months
into something palatable—
something that ends up cleansing me
of the burning acid you once were.

Escapril: Femininity

At first thought, femininity sounds rather dainty. Something pink, with a light, floral perfume, and most likely wearing pearls. Perhaps it’s the light sounds of the lifting i’s and soft t that bring such a dainty image to my mind.

But I think again, and femininity sounds brutal. It’s being subjected to stereotypes, many so similar to the one above. It’s being rejected and belittled if you don’t fit in to a clean “feminine” stereotype. It’s being forced to conform to someone else’s ideas of who you should be, what you should do, what you should look like, and how you should act. It’s fearing going out late at night alone. It’s being subjected to a lesser place in society, receiving less pay and respect than a man would. Having less privilege, because we are female.

And I think again, and femininity sounds strong. It’s strength and perseverance. It’s being able to somehow keep living in a world that belittles and undervalues you and tries to tell you what to do. And nevertheless, you persist. It takes strength to shoulder all of these burdens and continue.

I think one last time, and femininity sounds undefined. It is unique, idiosyncratic. There’s no one definition or explanation that can possibly encompass femininity, because nothing like that could ever include every single individual female on this earth, her background, her life, her dreams, her experiences, or her essence.

Escapril: Focus on the Color

Buds and leaves, vibrant canopies
reaching for the sun and sky.
Grass is lush, suddenly an ocean
after being a barren waste for months.
New growth and old growth,
everything blossoming out of grayscale.
Hope, new beginnings,
as green returns for spring
and life is rich, in full color again.

So much color returns to the world when spring arrives, and I love it. It’s so rejuvenating to see oceans of rich, vibrant green again after cold months of muted grays. Even as colorful blossoms fall from trees, they’re replaced by beautiful green leaves. As much as it is rejuvenating, it’s also soothing to see life and nature return after my least favorite months are done. I myself blossom and grow each spring as I come out of my own winter hibernation.

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