Lena Corazon

Flights of Fancy

Category: Life Lessons

Is There Life Beyond Grad School?

The answer to that question is, of course, yes. But as someone who’s spent the last eleven years of her life in non-compulsory higher education, I’m not exactly sure what that life is going to look like.

I’ve got a few ideas. Guilt-free Netflix binge sessions after work! Reading novels, writing novels, hanging out with friends, napping, shopping, singing, adventuring… ALL THE THINGS, only without the dread of a humongous dissertation hanging over my head.

But beyond the fun stuff, beyond the fact that my evenings and weekends will finally be my own, and that I’ll no longer have to do this crazy juggling act between a fairly intense 9-to-5 and an equally intense behemoth, is the very scary, very real thought of having to decide What To Do With My Life.

This used to be very simple. I made the decision to go to graduate school because I wanted to be a professor. I wanted to be like my favorite mentors in college, who were so fired up and passionate about their work that they gave me purpose. They taught me to think critically, and they gave me tools to make the world a better place.

And so I signed up for a PhD program, partly because of them and partly because I’ve fancied the sound of “Dr. Corazon” since I was about 10. And I’ve worked hard, and ticked most of the boxes off of my Academic Pre-Career to-do list: TAships, check. Yearly conference presentations, check. Academic article published, check. And even though I haven’t had the chance to teach as instructor-on-record yet, my advisors assure me that I would be a viable candidate for a tenure-track position on the strength of my research and teaching assistantships.

But.

I… don’t really know if that’s what I want to do anymore.

There’s so much bound up in that decision, of course. There’s the fact that the number of tenure-track positions are swiftly shrinking, with universities depending more and more on part-time adjunct labor–something I’m not willing to put up with. And then there’s the fact that teaching is intense, and depending on the courseload, leads to a lot of burnout, and work on the weekends, and on and on.

And, of course, there’s the fact that I’ve somehow fallen into grant-writing and resource development… and I kinda like it. The pay is decent, with a lot of room for growth, and it feels good to write things that are going to help people, proposals that will have an immediate impact and pay off in multiple ways.

On the flipside, academia–research in particular–is thrilling. And as much as I hate the process of writing this dissertation, I am so passionate about my topic. Historical studies of Catholic nuns in San Francisco might not seem super interesting to everyone, but I’m in love with it, and I feel like it’s, in many ways, really important, both in terms of illuminating forgotten history and in making connections with current events. There’s so much that I haven’t done with it, and so much that I want to do (my advisor is already listing potential journal articles and book proposals)… what I’ve done so far is just the tip of the iceberg.

Blah.

So I’m in the middle of a gray zone, like I took the wrong fork in the road but have been so busy staring at the map that I’m just now seeing this strange, new place, filled with flora and fauna that I never anticipated, pitfalls that I can’t predict, but a savage beauty that comes from being a place that is new and uncharted.

This level of possibility makes my palms sweaty with fear and excitement and anticipation of new adventures. Because it can lead to so many things. Take, for example, the chance to unify my fiction writing and professional worlds. Three years ago, I took a pseudonym, more than a little terrified at the thought of my creative hobbies being “discovered” by hiring committees and somehow branding me as unprofessional and unscholarly. Having this separate space has been a joy in so many ways, but there are days when I feel like I’ve muzzled myself, like dividing myself up has resulted in an inability to express all the things that I’m passionate about and love.

I don’t know where the next few years where lead. There are so many stories I want to share, so many darn things I want to accomplish, and my roadmap… well, it’s a little nonexistent at this point. But I have that stirring feeling that I’m poised to make all my dreams come true, if I can only let go of the fear, embrace the unknown, and accept uncertainty. Easier said than done for a plotting, planning, detail-oriented stickler for rules, but crazier things have happened, right?

Beauty of a Woman Blogfest: The Power of Natural

boaw-2013Last year, the fabulous August McLaughlin organized the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest, inspired by Sam Levinson’s poem of the same name. As Levinson writes,

The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.

BOAW 2012 was an outpouring of love unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Each story celebrated beauty in all forms, from funny and light-hearted to dark and thought-provoking.

Judging from the entries that I’ve had the chance to read, BOAW 2013 is shaping up to be even better. Participants and commenters will be entered into a contest to win an Amazon Kindle Fire (or a gift card for the equivalent price), so be sure to visit as many as you can starting Friday, February 22nd.

-oOo-

I have spent a lifetime taming myself into conformity, striving for perfection.

As I write these words, I know I am not alone. Women have been poking and prodding, shaving and waxing and grooming for ages. Throw in capitalism, consumerism, and advertising, and we are faced with a vast juggernaut that tells us that beauty is external. It comes out of a tube, or from a surgeon’s skill with a knife. It can — and should! — be purchased.

And so here we are, tethered to cosmetic bags and beauty tools, to makeovers and plastic surgery and countless other means of “enhancing” our looks, all in the name of attaining the unattainable. After all, standards of beauty are ephemeral. They shift like the desert sands, and we chase after it, pretzeling ourselves into endless contortions along the way.

What do we lose in this quest for perfection? And what happens when we discard “natural” for predefined notions of beauty? These are a couple of questions that prompted me to give up the one beauty tool I thought I’d wield forever: the flat iron.

sc0005dc7dI started out life as a curly-haired girl, but those curls were wide and shiny and perfect. They behaved, coiled just right at the ends of my hair. Eventually they fell out and I was left with hair that was thick and straight, so long I could sit on it. My mom used to call it my “crowning glory,” and I believed her. In my childhood daydreams my hair transformed me into a raven-haired Rapunzel, or Princess Jasmine, made me the sort of girl worthy of marrying a prince.

Then sixth grade rolled around, and my hair transformed into a coarse, frizzy, crinkling mess. I had no idea what to do with it, so I just kept brushing it out, which made it even bigger. I might not have cared so much if it wasn’t for my classmates. To them, my hair was a source of endless entertainment. When teachers weren’t looking, they sat behind me and tossed balled up bits of paper, staples, and the occasional pen into it, just for shits and giggles. The on-going joke was that everything stuck to my frizzy mane, turning me into a human felt board.

I never told on them, and I think I even laughed along after a while. After all, it was easier than crying. But it left me hating my hair even more, cursing what had happened to it and wishing for the old days when it was still pretty. When I discovered that there was a way to rid myself of those hated curls, I took it and I didn’t look back.

flatiron

Photo Source: Dee West

I remember my first flat iron well. It was by Hot Tools, the cheap kind–black plastic with bronze plates, nothing fancy. Mastering the proper technique took me a few weeks, but once I got the hang of it, it was straightforward. Simple. So darn easy to iron out my hair, to transform the bird’s nest on my head into some semblance of order.

That flat-iron became a third appendage. I thought of it as a life-saver, but in reality, it ruled my life. I got up an extra hour early each day, and refused to step foot outside the house unless I thought I looked completely perfect. So what if my hair turned brittle? If I had to avoid all forms of water? Who cared about the split ends, or the breakage, or the occasional burns? My hair was straight. It was flat. It was manageable. The discomfort was a small price to pay.

And on it went for ten years. I invested in fancier flat irons, the ones with “ionic technology” that could be cranked up to 400 degrees and beyond. All the while, taming my hair into submission started to take a toll on my psyche. Flattening my curls began to feel like destruction, destruction of who I was and where I came from. It was partly because I started to think of my hair as part of my heritage–something I inherited from my mother’s family, a remnant of my blackness. And it was partly because I wondered exactly why I was so afraid of showing my true self.

It was October of last year when I decided to try going natural. It was scary at first–walking around with big curly hair means that I stand out from a crowd. My hair doesn’t behave. It’s barely manageable. It’s a little crazy, but the strange thing is that I’ve started to like it. Maybe that says something about who I am inside–a soul that is a bit chaotic, and a lot wild.

wild

And, really, who wants to be manageable? Well-ordered? Well-behaved? When we iron over who we are, destroy our natural selves in favor of conforming with the beauty standards of the moment, we de ourselves a disservice. As Clarissa Pinkola-Estes writes in WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES,

To take much pleasure in a world filled with many kinds of beauty is a joy in life to which all women are entitled. To support only one kind of beauty is to be somehow unobservant of nature. There cannot be only one kind of songbird, only one kind of pine tree, only one kind of wolf. There cannot be one kind of baby, one kind of man, or one kind of woman. There cannot be one kind of breast, one kind of waist, one kind of skin.

There is power in claiming what is natural in each and every one of us, in rejecting the one-size-fits-all notion of beauty. We can release our need to be completely perfect. Better yet, we can give way to the wild within.

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Hard Truths for the New Year

It’s been pretty quiet over here at Flights of Fancy over the last few months, and for good reason. For me, 2012 was a blur of deadlines and responsibilities, punctuated by my Big Move over the summer from Santa Barbara to San Francisco, and the transition to living with my parents once again.

I finished my MA thesis and earned my long-awaited degree at the beginning of March, switched dissertation topics at the end of May and hustled like crazy to write all the papers necessary to advance to doctoral candidacy by mid-September, packed up all my worldly possessions and moved at the beginning of July, and spent the last three months of the year collecting data for my dissertation.

Oh, and I won CampNaNo back in August and NaNoWriMo in November, started working on my physical health, somehow squeezed in time to have a semblance of a social life, and rediscovered my love for writing poetry.

It’s not a bad list of accomplishments, to be honest, even if the day job did take precedence over my blogging life, and even if I still haven’t gotten around to finishing any of my WIPs. But as I look at this list, I know that the successes I made in 2012 were weighed down by the horrible encroaching monster of negativity that has been slowly taking over my life.

Tangling With the Doubt Monster
(Or, How I Am My Own Worst Enemy)

I am, as most of you are probably aware, a perfectionist. I’m a Type-A personality, and I’ve been speeding along the racetrack for academic success for as long as I can remember. My life has been one long series of coursework and papers and extracurricular activities and, these days, research and teaching. And I love this. I am good at it. But I’d be a helluva lot better at it if my head wasn’t filled with all sorts of crazy bullshit that tells me that I am an utter failure.

I used to laugh my little Doubt Monster off. Y’know, because feeling like a failure in the midst of a life filled with success and a lot of blessings seems absolutely ridiculous. But if I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit that I spent most of 2012 (and 2011, and 2010…) trapped in a horrible paralyzing world of grey, where fear and anxiety leeched away the excitement I should feel for life, leaving me with a mess of despair and a tangle of emotions.

But it is a new year, and I have decided that I’m through with living this way. I could accomplish so much more, and be so much happier, if I kicked my Doubt Monster to the curb and ditched all the crazy that has taken hold of my life.

With that in mind, I leave you with my intentions for 2013, summed up in poetic form. Here’s to a safe, healthy, and wonderfully creative new year for us all!

“Poem for a New Year”

2012 has been a painful lesson
that the way I live–
all smiles on the outside
shattered and broken on the inside–
cannot be allowed to continue.

This last year taught me
that I can’t keep living in the grey world
of can’t–
too stupid
too slow
too trite
too cliche
too untalented–
where I self-mutilitate
not with razor blade and substances
but with words weighed down with negativity
words that pollute and poison
till everything that lives in my soul is mutated, ugly–
foul-looking with missing eyes and extra limbs
savage mockeries of all that was once beautiful and clean and real.

In my brief moments of sanity
where perfectionism and the hideous monster of not-good-enough are silenced
I know my worth,
see the shadow of the woman I know I could become
if I stopped the cray,
banished the negative,
trashed my doubts,
and stepped into the light.

I want a soul free from toxic waste
returned to its former glory
all shiny and sparkly and spangled with glitter
riotous with color, suffused with the glow of a million gems–
a soul that can breathe, one that can create,
one filled with all the glorious dreams I’ve allowed
to fall by the wayside.

And so 2013 is my time
a chance to seize back my life
return to a place where prayer and creation are
second-nature
where my wings have strength to soar off on new adventures
and my fingers are able to seize hold of new opportunities.

I rejoice in this new beginning
revel in the promise of days to come.
“Strength, courage, and wisdom” is my mantra;
transformation is my goal.

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