I’ve been trying to write this blog post for about four months now. Unsuccessfully, I might add. Most of the writing has been in my head. I really struggle with writing. So much so that it has often made me question whether I’ve chosen the right career path for myself (I’m doing a Ph.D. in English Literature and writing is pretty much all that I’m supposed to do). Just to be clear: I don’t dislike writing; in fact, I really, really want to write. Often, it feels like I’m bursting with thoughts and feelings and zings and zongs and pings which course through my brain and I just have to, absolutely have to, get them down, make them real, make them concrete but then…woops, out this feeling goes. Mainly because writing scares me. Making things concrete, putting my thoughts out into the world scares me. Because once I put those thoughts out there, I will have to invite people’s scrutiny in; I will have to deal with their thoughts, their judgements, their feelings on my work. And what if they think what I’ve been thinking all this time: who gave me the right to write? What makes me think that these thoughts are worth releasing into the wide world out there?
A few months ago, I read an essay by Gloria Anzaldùa, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers,” in which she writes: “Who gave us permission to perform the act of writing? Why does writing seem so unnatural for me? I’ll do anything to postpone it–empty the trash, answer the telephone. The voice recurs in me: Who am I, a poor Chicanita from the sticks, to think I could write?” On reading these words, my brain experienced all the zings and zongs I spoke about earlier; it felt as if Anzaldùa was a best friend who was finally confessing that long-kept secret which I had been too embarrassed to admit out loud. It was re-assuring; I felt held by her words; I wasn’t alone. Now, you might be wondering what all of this ranting and raving has to do with Praxis. Quite a bit, actually. You see, if it wasn’t for the Praxis Fellowship, I would never have had the guts to write something like this and post it publicly for everyone to see. Not only that, this happens to be the first piece of writing I’m putting “out there” since I started grad school (if you’re thinking that my pendulum might have swung a little bit too far to the other extreme, you wouldn’t be alone; but I think I’m going to continue rolling with this). This fellowship has given me a community of people who have made me feel supported, encouraged, and seen in a manner remarkably similar to the way Gloria Anzaldùa’s writing makes me feel. Let me explain what I mean.
Grad school can be isolating, hyper-competitive, relentless; the cult of individual genius is everywhere. All of this, combined with routinely pedaled, rote measures of achievement and success, had begun to make me increasingly cynical and wary. Enter: the Praxis Fellowship. As a part of the fellowship, we are learning how to code—-Python, CSS, all the good stuff—-and it’s incredibly fascinating and cool. For someone who spends most of her time dealing in vague abstractions and suppositions, writing code that can convert any word into pig latin—-even though it took me three hours to do it—-felt like the best, most tangible feeling of success in the world. Much more important than learning how to code, however, is the fact that this fellowship has given me the space to fail—-and to not be alone while doing it. Instead, I get to do it in the company of other brilliant Ph.D. students who are enjoying this process of failing and trying again and again just as much as I am; we are able to both laugh at our confusions and celebrate our successes; work together to help each other or just commiserate and complain when we don’t have the answers. What I think we’re actually learning through this entire process is how to re-program academia and experience a different version of it—-a kinder, braver, more generous version.
And so, here I am doing what scares me the most: writing, that too for the “out there.” And I only have the friends I’ve made through this fellowship to thank for being able to do this. If I absolutely hate this post five minutes after I’m done posting it, I guess I could just as easily blame them too. All this is to say—-Brandon, Cherrie, Jacqui, Jennifer, Jeremy, Joseph, Susan, Shane, and the entire Scholars’ Lab team: I’m so grateful for all of you. Thank you for the zings, zongs, and pings I always experience in your company.