What I’ve learned in grad school

I have now spent just as much time in graduate school as I spent doing my undergraduate degree. Four years ago, I was wrapping up my last classes, writing my undergraduate honours thesis, and planning a summer Europe trip. I remember feeling so old. I was so young.

In many ways, when I look back on my undergrad, I learned so little. I stayed in my arts and science bubble so fervently, so optimistically, that I missed out on learning more about myself. More about how I can love (strongly, radically, wildly), how I can learn (through discomfort), and how I can take care of myself. I also missed out on learning about people who weren’t middle class. People who were struggling were so invisibilized in my intense liberal arts experience that when I struggled, I imagined myself to be noble and different. I also depended on my parents (well, my dad) for everything during my undergrad: tuition, rent, and transportation home. I felt entitled to that care, entitled to that money.

There was one point in my Master’s degree where my visa card was completely maxed out, my credit line was completely maxed out, and I had less than ten dollars in my bank account. I was working full time and writing a thesis. My mother paid my rent that month. I continue to have parents who can bail me out of financial blunders (or normal amounts of school-related cashlessness.) I never realized how lucky I was until that month. I remind you, and myself here, that there is a difference between being broke and being poor. When I was broke, I had my middle-class mother (and father) to bail me out. I have never been poor. (Not to mention the fact that I had a credit line and a visa card to begin with. These are often not available to the truly poor.)

Graduate school also taught me how important other kinds of support systems are. In my Master’s degree, I was in a department that didn’t understand the work I wanted to do, the work that I ended up doing. I was told that Mad Studies “didn’t exist”. I was told that there was no money for me to attend conferences. I was told over and over again that “race isn’t relevant”. Now, in my doctorate, I am doing work specifically in Mad Studies. I am given opportunities that I was previously told didn’t exist. I am treated as a colleague rather than a student. I have been receiving financial, emotional, professional, and educational support that I was told wasn’t supposed to exist in graduate school. Since undergrad, it had been drilled into me that I’m supposed to be doing it all myself. I realize that this is a lie: graduate students shouldn’t have to be doing it all themselves.

Finally, I have learned so much about mental distress. I have learned how close I can get to thinking about suicide without acting on it. I have learned how much love (and the support of a loving partner) can really change things. I have learned how long and how much trauma lingers in the body. I have learned how much another animal (a quiet fluff ball in the middle of the night) can help. I have learned, over and over again, how toxic it can be to strive for perfection.

I have a while yet to go before I wrap up my graduate school experience. In the meantime, I’m continuing to feel optimistic that there is so much more for me to learn.



There will be nights like this
I was never very good at promises
the windows are shaking from the wind
I tucked you into bed
I’m afraid sometimes (of the maybes)
haunted by the food I cannot digest
I kissed your naked arm
the dishes unwashed
have you ever been afraid of the dark?

I laugh hysterically uncontrollably unceasingly
the tears rolling down my reddened cheek
tomorrow this will be a dream
I’ll lose you, I think
left already, right?
I am afraid of the light.

I swallow it down with a glass of water
a cup of coffee still cold
I pour in a little milk and stir
there are no promises here
just maybe.

I remind you that you’re perfect I love you like the best run-on sentence the days bleed together and the only constant is your flesh and bones, real like the nightmares that wake me up at night.

almond milk flat white

I’m not very good at painting nails; too impatient to wait for the paint to dry; cracked polish on short uneven nails. I’m not very good at loving you; our arguments are dipped in wet concrete, slathered on the walls; my laughter hurts you sometimes, I know. I’m not very good at writing; spend too much time reading things I’ll never use; spend too much time thinking, overthinking things. I’m not very good at this whole thing; my dirty hair crumpled into messy buns; my ripped tights holding billowing thighs; my smile uneven.

Our fridge is full of leftovers I will later throw out; various layers of mould collecting in old tupperware containers; two pots holding food I don’t want to eat for lunch. My high heeled boots are uncomfortable; I need new shoe laces; I need more leg strength to hold myself up; I find myself teetering even on even ground. I have three unentitled blank documents opened on my computer; the blank pages reminding me that I have not thought yet about the emptiness of possibility.

The deepest conversation I have had this week is with a Starbuck employee who remembers my name; although she read it off my cup, I am impressed; she wishes me well as I exit, exist.

static panic

your body cannot put me to sleep
our limbs intertwined
my muffled tears
can’t wake you
shouldn’t wake you
but I hear the crooked laughter
there are shadows in the dark
I said wrong, can I right it?

It’s lonely here with multiple bodies
the quiet haunting
echoes of lovely affection
a bully who is not you
I am the rotten egg
the soiled sheets

you love me already
how am I to love myself?
I am the pained panic
my thoughts static
while the clock says half past two

no protection here

poetry became secondary
(the left glove
put on, but not nearly as important
as the right one)

he asked me a question with his eyes
told me
there is garlic in your hands
I don’t think
(but I do)

this is where the doing becomes
sifted through my hands
becomes empty salad bowls
your laughter in between
the floorboards of my heart

has the coffee gone cold?
automatic timer gone off?
sirens blazing through thin windows
cracked knuckles

the romance of untied shoes

borrowed closet space

somewhere in the closet
I have ripped jeans and a broken heart
hanging on a chair
(it’s a big closet, trust me)
all my shoes are lined up on the top shelf
asking me to dance

I haven’t stopped to think about my ticking toes
I have wasted my breath trying to kiss you
when all you wanted was a peck;

my nails are painted a deep red
pained though they are
I skinned my knees running after

lost and found

sometime in the last year
I found out that my tears could dry
lost in the woods, on the street, between sheets
emptied out my soul
on paper, on parchment, on canvas, on fabric
halfway across the province
laughter brings me back again

the bitterness of coffee on my lips
contrasted with the sweetness of chocolate
and the twitching that comes with
all this knowing

I never thought that I could feel this
all this alright
reality doesn’t hold me back anymore

[it all began
around the same time that “I” became “we”]