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Confessions of a
Professional Student...

Surviving grad school with one's sanity relatively intact

Copyright 1996 by Lynna Landstreet. This column originally appeared in Xtra magazine. Published by Pink Triangle Press, 491 Church Street, 2nd Floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4Y 2C6.

There are many ways of marking the passing of years. For some people, the most visible sign is the official New Year in January. For others, it's birthdays, when the passing of time in one's own life is what's felt most strongly. For pagans, it's usually Samhain, the Celtic new year. But for me, that "new year's" feeling tends to kick in most strongly at the beginning of the school year.

Seriously. Even when I wasn't a student. For the five years between finishing my long, drawn-out Fine Arts degree -- I put off the horrific prospect of graduation and a real job for as long as humanly possible -- and slinking back to school for a Master's in environmental studies, every September I would gaze longingly at the back-to-school specials in the store windows, reminisce about my student days, and obsessively brood on the fact that I hated my job and my life appeared to be going nowhere (this is probably not related to the fact that I spent most of that time working at Xtra, but one never knows...).

So I suppose the grad school thing was really quite inevitable, when you think about it. An addiction can only be held off for so long. Of course, I had to pick what is to the best of my knowledge the world's longest Master's program, at three years. And while I do miss certain things about the non-academic life -- namely, free time and a disposable income -- as I get ready to go back for my second year, I find myself, for a change, feeling good about the coming of September, and preparing to make some new (school) year's resolutions:

First and foremost: I will, no matter how much time I may end up spending in the hallowed halls of academia, not turn into the kind of grad student that I (and most other people) hate. That is to say, I will under no circumstances start using words like "discourse" and "problematize" as part of my daily conversation. "Deconstruct" is right out, too.

Second, and almost as important: I will, no matter how many courses I am taking, attempt to have something resembling a life. I will from time to time leave the house to go places other than school and work, assuming I can remember where any of them are.

Third, on a somewhat related topic: I will do my utmost to persuade the members of the Queer Grad Students Caucus at York (yes, there really is one) to rediscover that arcane pastime commonly known as "fun." Said fun shall not include words like "discourse" and "problematize," no matter what the context. And anyone caught deconstructing anything, no matter how discreetly, will be gagged (which could be fun in itself...).

Fourth: I will attempt to get laid on more than just an annual basis. This may or may not overlap with the objectives outlined in the preceding paragraph..

Fifth: Until such time as I do have a disposable income again, which at the rate I tend to pursue these things probably won't be until I'm 40, I will try to find as many innovative ways of preparing instant macaroni and cheese as humanly possible. That President's Choice green salsa works wonders, but it's getting kind of tired... .

Sixth: The Master's program in Environmental Studies at York is a very large one. Just speaking statistically, there have to be more queers in it than the three (including me) that I know of. I will find them, somehow. Even if I can't drag them out to a Queer Grad Students meeting, the blackmail possibilities alone ought to keep me in green salsa for the remainder of the year. Of course, in this day and age most students are hardly likely to be worrying about being discovered to be queer. But in the case of dykes at least, it seems to be considered a big disgrace in certain quarters to be majoring in anything other than women's studies. ("You're doing your thesis about what? Pine trees??!! Listen, don't you realize...") There's got to be potential there...

Seventh: I will try to read at least a few books which are not even remotely school-related. Of course, this can be dangerous around end-of-term. Not just because of time conflicts, but because the disorientation caused by sleep deprivation and caffeine overload can lead to major confusion. Imagine: you're trying to write a paper on forestry practices in Sweden. You reach for that report you wanted to quote on the damaging effects of herbicide application and find yourself instead typing in a passage from Daughters of Darkness. Almost as bad as picking up the herbicide report when you were hoping for a nice lesbian vampire story for bedtime reading...

Anyway, that should be enough resolutions to keep me (almost) sane for another year. Now back to the books...


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