Monday, October 02, 2006

More observations about graduate school

The second installment in my observations of being a student.

I’m now a full five weeks into this graduate program. The first week or so I felt like I wasn’t fully a member of this elite club. I was waiting for people to find out that I really didn’t belong. That my admission was contingent and not fully on par with the others. It was anxiety provoking and I finally, consciously abandoned it because it wasn’t serving me nor was it serving what I want to be doing in the program. I decided that regardless of how I got in, the program was about what I did with it, how I made it my own. It was a relief to land in that place. That is what I’m doing now - owning it. Making it mine.

The next step of the process was in realizing how all of the old scripts about competition and desire to be the best surfaced immediately for me. I know both intellectually and viscerally that that isn’t what life is about. In fact, I have the appropriate analysis of power and authority that leads me to reject that. I understand that all people have different strengths and weaknesses; different perspectives and different gifts. I want to be in an education system that recognizes that and embraces it. I want to live in a world where there isn’t competition designed to generate more power over people but that shares power and knowledge among people to build a better, more compassionate analysis and understanding of how we live in the world. I believe that. Still, I get into the classroom and I want to be the star. I want to be the A student. I want to be the smartest one in the world. It isn’t flattering to me. I want to undo it, and I think that perhaps by acknowledging it I can work to let it go.

Finally, I’ve been observing in graduate school and in my life as a poet in general, that a central part of being successful as a poet, as an academic, as an intellectual, is the ability to get energy and enforcement from one's self in the intellectual projects on which one is working. No one cares about your intellectual projects as much as you. No one will wake you up each morning to write the poem that you must write for the day. Only you. I think having the capacity for self-discipline and the ability to generate one’s own energy and excitement is critical to being successful in doing this work. It comes sometimes from external sources - good advisors, extraordinary colleagues, for some popular attention - but ultimately it is individual work, done alone for the joy of inquiry and discovery alone. It is that capacity that I must cultivate and to which I must attend over these years and this lifetime.

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