When Life Doesn’t Give You Lemons

February 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

The rejection letters from PhD programs have started rolling in. So far 2/3 non-Ivy League schools have turned me down and it’s only February. Guess I thought I would have more time to fantasize about the life I’m clearly not going to have. If the non-Ivies won’t take me, there’s not a chance in hell that I’m getting into one of the Ivies. I just can’t believe I didn’t get into Boston. I wrote good applications for all the programs, but I really thought I would get into Boston. They even have special scholarships for students who study American art, so I wrongly thought I was just the student they were looking for (because I study American art as my main academic focus). 

I’ve been planning for a PhD since I was 17 years old. I wanted to work in a museum, I wanted to curate. I needed a PhD to do that. When the doors all slammed in my face in 2010 I pulled myself together, built up my resume, got a Master’s degree, and landed a job at a museum before I applied again to PhD programs. But the doors keep on slamming, don’t they? So what do I do? I feel like I’ve been pretty tough so far. I’ve been flexible. I’ve made new plans when old plans fell apart or when I tore them apart. I’ve tried to stay motivated, but fuck…

I’m exhausted. I’ve been going full speed for too many years. I’ve been working myself ragged. I’ve been taking on way too much at one time. And for what? For nothing. For another round of rejection letters two years later. 

I know I should stop complaining. People have their plans fall through all the time. Spouses split up, children die, people get cancer or have terrible accidents that leave them paralyzed. People buck up and find something else to do. They let go of those plans. So why is that so hard for me to do? So what if I worked my ass off, wasted years of my life, made so many sacrifices, and all for nothing? Other people have it worse. Other people have had it worse and came out just fine. I’ll have to learn to let this go. 

So where do I go from here. 

I’ve been applying to jobs, fellowships, etc. as Plan B in case I got shut down again in the PhD department. I haven’t heard back from anywhere, but I’m trying not to get too discouraged. There’s still time. I could always consider law school or going back to art school. With an MFA I could teach or be an artist-in-residence at a museum (we have one at the BMA). There are alternatives, but nothing has yet caught my interest like being a curator. 

I’ve got some money invested in stocks, a kind of trickle down from my grandfather to my dad to me. My dad transferred the investment to me I think for graduation, though now I can’t remember. He intended it as a downpayment on a house, I think, or some other large life purchase. 

I’ve thought a lot about that money. It’s a trip to Europe, or a long vacation at the beach. It’s enough to relocate to another state, where I could start over, be someone else for a while. Find something else to shoot for, some other goal to pursue. But what do I love more than art? Nothing. I don’t think I would find any old job to be satisfying, no matter how much it paid. I want to feel like what I do has meaning, to me as well as to the world around me, even if it’s on a smaller scale than a world-wide impact. 

I feel like I should stay in Birmingham for longer than a year, for my family’s sake. My girls are getting old, and I’m worried every time we move, it gets harder for them to adjust. My parents and grandparents are getting older. They love having me around, though most of the time I don’t know why since I’m so negative and always absorbed in my own bullshit, my own life, my own disappointments. It’s been so good seeing my parents as often as I get to now that I’m home. I could do another year here, I think. Maybe once I’m out of school I’ll have more time for them, more time to make weekly plans with them instead of haphazardly trying to schedule things with them last minute. Maybe once I’m out of school I’ll have a job that will pay enough for me to finally be financially independent again, for me to be able to buy them dinner instead of them always buying me dinner [and giving me their leftovers because they know how rarely I can afford to go grocery shopping]. I miss my life in DC sometimes, if only for the financial independence and stability I enjoyed. I had plenty of money when I was working full time on salary. I was packing away money in my savings each month, rent was easy to pay, we got to go out to eat a lot without having to do math in our heads, and my credit card never had more than $100 on it. I miss that. I hate all the worry I have about money on top of all the other worries I have. 

My dog is dying, my cat is currently at the vet, I get sick every few weeks and the doctors don’t know why, my apartment is tiny and filthy, my bank account is empty, my credit card bills are way too high, my medical bills keep piling up, I’m behind in school, I have to learn to read German in less than a month, my part-time job is ending in May, and I keep getting rejection letters from PhD programs so I have no plan for my short-term or long-term future. 

But I’m smart, I’m capable, I’m resourceful, I’m a hard worker, and I will survive. I have people that love me and I know what makes life worth living. And that’s something. That’s something. 


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