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everything you need to know about qualifying exams…

…is not going to be in this post. Because really, the quals experience is hard to explain or talk about. It’s a kind of surreal experience because it’s loaded with contradictions. Quals are horrible and wonderful, terrifying and encouraging. They are an inescapably huge milestone on the PhD road map, so there’s no way they’re not scary, but each day I walked out of the exam room feeling better about my research and myself as a scholar than I did when I walked in. Which, oddly, didn’t make it any easier to go home and prepare for the next day’s exams, or to face the drive back to school the next morning. The anticipation is nerve-wracking, but in a bizarre way, the actual hours spent taking the exams are the least stressful hours of the week because there is no time to think about anything. No time to worry, no time to do anything that distracts you in any way from the task before you. You have to be a strange, quick-thinking, essay-writing machine. And I was. I mean, there are plenty of things I can pick apart about the essays I wrote, things I would have done differently with just a few more minutes. Or so I fondly imagine. But I was a little amazed at the way I seemed to be able to do things I wouldn’t have said I could do, like write 16 pages in three hours. Twice. Fifty-something total pages in 12 hours of exams. Yeeowch.

It all seems a little incomprehensible, the fact that I did it, the fact that so many months of preparation could culminate in something that seemed to be over so fast. Not that I wanted it to be longer. You see? This is why I said I couldn’t say anything intelligible about the exams. They don’t boil down neatly into categories, they just are. And now they are over, which is very nice.

So now what? Well, I got the official email confirming that I passed the written exams earlier this week (yes, HURRAH!! is in order). Now I’m in limbo, between the written exams and the oral exam–at which I can expect to be asked about everything I wrote as well as anything else that crosses the examiners’ minds. In the meantime, I’m trying very hard to remember what regular everyday life is like. Which maybe sounds strange, but let me tell you about the last eight months. I did every possible thing I could think of to be productive. I read, of course. I also listened to many, many audiobooks. I even used my need to study as an excuse to shop bought a special pouch with a wrist strap from the super-adorable Gussy (people, true love at first sight, for real) so I could listen to audiobooks not just in the car, but at all times — while grocery shopping, while cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry, while blow-drying my hair and brushing my teeth. Seriously. If I couldn’t do it with a book in my hand or headphones in my ears, it probably didn’t get done. And it wasn’t just listening, it was listening and thinking at a frantic pace: what does this text mean? How does it relate to the other texts I’ve read? To the other texts in this time period? How can I build an original essay around it? For eight months I practiced this kind of insane level of productivity, so I mean it when I say I’m readjusting to the facts of everyday life. I’ve really forgotten how to only brush my teeth.

Besides re-teaching myself human being skills, I’ve been sleeping a lot. I’m still exhausted almost all the time, but I think I’m recovering slowly. And my brain is sort of done with thinking right now. In fact, I think I’d describe the current condition of my brain as anti-thinking. I have a nearly insatiable curiosity about what’s on television. I may or may not have watched two entire seasons of Bones in the last two weeks. And I think about sports all the time. If you’ve been around any length of time, you know I’ve always been a sports fan, but this is a whole new level for me. The last few months haven’t exactly been conducive to lots of sports-watching (and I have to say, bad things happened to my teams! In the last eight months both the Ducks and the Angels have failed to qualify for the playoffs, and USC had an offseason that can only be described as traumatic. It’s clearly dangerous for all involved when I am distracted from what’s really important). But I got my sports eyeballs back just in time, because we are only 17 hours from my favorite time of the whole year–college football season!!!!!!!!! (I know you can’t see me, but I actually just rubbed my hands together and did a happy dance.) I don’t even care (much very much so much that I can’t still be excited) that USC can’t go to a bowl game this year. The nice thing about college football is that having a chip on your shoulder is one of the most important keys to enjoying the season. College football fans thrive on their teams being misunderstood and having something to prove to a doubting world. Enter Lane Kiffin (still: ugh), NCAA sanctions, team defections, et voila. (Team, you have something to prove. *Ahem.*)

Kiffin, you’re on a short leash. You don’t want to see my really serious face.

And what else have I been doing with my time, besides watching a perhaps unhealthy amount of television? Laughing. Relaxing. Making new bloggy friends. Catching up on the hundreds of items in my reader. Dipping my toes in the Pacific. Getting reacquainted with the summer sky. Taking advantage of the fact that in California, the sun is never out of season.
Most definitely not reading.