when the talkative become speechless: a.k.a words are important and we should learn to use them more

For as long as I can remember, I talked. Words would fall from my mouth like mahjong tiles clanging against the old wooden coffee table at my 奶奶 and 爺爺’s house after my brother and I fashioned them into tall towers—we didn’t actually know how to play mahjong the right way.

I don’t know what my first word was.

Probably “meat”, which is highly ironic considering my fifth year of pescatarianism.

I just remember yapping for hours on end, telling stories, asking questions, making up games. My mom and 婆婆 would tell me not to talk so much during dinner because the food would get cold. Of course, I never listened. There was just too much to express before bedtime, and my brother was always a keen listener.

Maybe that’s why we got on so well.

As I grew up, I quickly learned that my voice had meaning, power. Being outspoken meant being listened to. It made me feel valuable. I’m lucky in that there had never been a time in my life where I felt like I couldn’t use my voice or like the thoughts I formed into coherent sentences didn’t matter.

Then,

I moved across the country. I left behind my family of keen listeners. I traded my words for safety, as if the silence could protect me from feeling so alone.

I have never felt as voiceless or as powerless as I have while in my first year of my Ph.D. program. I went from being a person who chats non-stop, who always has an opinion, who knows what she believes and ardently expresses those beliefs, to being silent and doubtful. I felt like a stranger in my own head. Every time I wanted to say something in class or in a conversation with peers, I stopped myself. I thought about what others would think of me.

I’ll be honest. I don’t think my voicelessness was initially conscious. At first, I thought being quiet and observant would be helpful to understand my new surroundings. But, over time, I felt there was an aura of overall unwelcomeness that I couldn’t put into words, much less give a response to. Silence seemed easier than questioning. And then, the silence became so loud to me, that I just resigned to giving up. Participating in class felt more scary than folks assuming I was unprepared or unintelligent.

Being a “minority” in a doctoral program is hard. It fucking sucks. It feels like nothing you do will mean anything, and if it does, people will assume you got to where you are because you’re filling a quota. It seems easier to keep your cards hidden.

I didn’t realize how much I missed talking until I lived in New York for the first half of the summer and visited home in California for the last. The feeling that Genie has when being released from his lamp–that’s what it felt like. I could breathe and speak words into existence, and I just felt so goddamn free, it was overwhelming. I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else, or think twice about what implications my words would have on how seriously I was taken as a graduate student. I didn’t have to whisper, “I’m good enough” to myself at night or think it constantly in my head during the day.

When I got back to Pennsylvania, I was beside myself. I thought about how it felt to be voiceless just several short months prior, and I couldn’t handle it. I called my mother crying and in a panic. I told her I couldn’t do it anymore. I said that no one here understands, that the feeling of being alone is so consuming, that I missed home and having people speak to me and me speak to them. I believed it before, but even more so now, that human beings need communication, to be understood and validated.

I do have the most wonderful of parents. They encourage me and tell me it’s okay, and they say the words I need to hear in the very few moments I have none. They told me that it’s okay to come home, that they wouldn’t be disappointed in me.

But, this is a new year. I’m telling myself that the only person I need to impress is me (cue the indie coming-of-age film soundtrack). I’m starting fresh and trying to relearn my way back to the girl who stacked up mahjong tiles, who made up stories, who happily told her kindergarten teacher that her favorite place to go in the world was Macy’s with her mom. I have a lot to say, and maybe this year, I’ll finally feel comfortable/confident/capable enough to speak.

 

 

The One Where Christina Gushes Her Feelings.

I’m going to graduate school!

A lot of my friends already know this, but I felt like I should share the news again.

Look.

It’s been three years since I knew I wanted this for myself, but I kept pushing it off because I felt I just wasn’t ready.  So, this is a big, big, huge deal for me.

The grad application process (and my many, many subsequent rejections) has been a unique experience–one that has been financially costly, emotionally debilitating, and strangely humbling.  I spent many nights writing, editing, and re-editing (did I mention editing?) my personal statements, talking to faculty and graduate students at different programs, and doing a lot of research on schools.  It got to the point where I was getting pretty unrealistically attached to particular programs.  My overactive imagination had me thinking of how amazing it would be go to a certain school, meet new friends and have cool & intellectual conversations.  And so, when I was getting rejection after rejection, it was tough.  Like, questioning my entire life trajectory, sort of tough.

But, surprisingly (at least to me), I’ve made it through and am ready (hopefully) to make some sort of mark on the world around me & impact at least a little part of it for the better.  I’m tremendously excited about the research that faculty in the department are doing, and it’s really nice to know that I’ll get to be a part of it, while also doing my own research and producing knowledge–not just consuming knowledge like I consume Taco Bell in my bed at night.

Okay.  So, now that I covered me being excited and whatnot, here’s where the gushing and mushy stuff starts.  You’ve been warned.

I know how lucky I am.  I recognize how serendipitous it all is.  And I don’t take it for granted.  Whenever something sort of big in my life happens, I try to reflect, be thankful, and extend my gratitude for my loved ones to an e-abyss of sorts (aka my blog).  It’s the closest thing I have to prayer.

I am so unbelievably grateful for the people and the places that have made me the person I am today.  I couldn’t have found my place and come to love myself the way I do if it weren’t for the friends, mentors, and family I have that keep me grounded.  That sense of love for myself and my community is what gave me the courage to pursue Sociology to study activism and social movements in the U.S…especially during a time when public education is under attack and there’s actually no job security in studying what I want to study since the tr*** administration doesn’t seem particularly fond of academic disciplines that question systems of capitalism and white supremacy, but that’s a different blog post for a different time.

ANYWHO, although I am incredibly nervous and almost overwhelmingly daunted by moving across the country, leaving my home, and starting a Ph.D. program, I am super happy…like ALL CAPS LOCKS TO EMULATE MY SCREAMING INSIDES happy.  And the people in my life have motivated me, given me confidence, and encouraged me to believe in myself.

If I listed out every person who gave me hope and believed in me even when I questioned a lot of my skills & aspirations, this post would go on for days.  Even me realizing that as I’m typing makes me want to smash my keyboard in delight.  From my parents who dealt with me flip-flap-flopping through different dream careers (fashion designer, stylist, business owner, literallyanythingexceptapharmacist) and still supported me when I got straight up D’s and F’s because they “knew I was smarter than that”, to my roommates who became my closest friends, I’ve been given a lot of wonderful people in my life.  Knowing that makes it so much harder for me to leave.  But, I’m certain I’ll move on to the next chapter with them in mind, motivating me to be just as kind and loving to others as they have all been to me.

Aside from actual people, I’m also exceedingly thankful to the place I have called home since my momma and poppa made me.

California, you have been so good to me.  You’ve taught me how to straddle waves, how to climb proverbial and literal mountains, how to fall, how to close my eyes without closing myself off.  You gave my grandparents refuge, let them dream, gave them hope, cradled their family in your valleys.  I don’t know what my life would be or what their life would be if we called anywhere else our home.  I don’t dwell on it much, but when I do, I know it would be different.  You gave me a safe place to grow, not without struggle, but your stretch of land saved me.  I will always know you as “home”, even if miles separate us.

Even though I’m leaving, I’m happily confident (or confidently happy?) to know that the friendships I’ve cultivated over years are strong enough to overcome geographic distance and that the love I have for my community, my friends, and my family knows no bounds.  I might be hundreds of miles away, but I know I’ll still get a call from my mom telling me to keep warm and be careful of snow.  I know I can count on my best friends to send me memes on Instagram to keep me in the pop culture loop.  And while I don’t think it would be feasible (or healthy), I know I could get plenty of people to Fed-Ex me some boba and Chinese food if I needed.  That kind of support is what I’ll miss and what I’ll be searching for wherever life takes me.

So thank you to whomever is out there, whether it’s a deity or the universe or something else entirely, I am so grateful.  I hope I can retain this feeling of gratitude when I’m stressed out beyond belief in approximately 5 months.

And the gushing is done.

xoxo,
Christina