Once again, it is January, a favorite month of mine (second only to October, which, let’s be honest, with Halloween, pumpkin lattes, caramel apples, and fall boots and scarves going for it, could never be bested). Even so, I am finding myself more expectant for the year ahead than usual.
I’ve always loved the freshness and whiteboard vacuity of the year’s first few weeks, particularly after the seemingly endless weeks of merrymaking between Thanksgiving and my January birthday. While it’s bittersweet to perceive the darkening neighborhood and the now rather austere rooms of my house sans Christmas decorations, I’m always eager to review my aspirations for the year and start filling in the dates on the blank pages of my new planner.
Last January was welcomed with piles of mostly New Projects on the floor of my home office. The Graduate Record Examination study guides, flash cards, and practice exams; how-to manuals on establishing a freelance writing career; grammar and curriculum materials for a writing class I proposed to create; maps of Europe and travel books on England, Germany, and Russia; Mount Whitney climbing guides; and my crate of marked-up manuscript pages and notes for my developing novel—the lone lingering project—all looked up at me with expectation and hope. I felt dizzy and sank to the carpet amid the heaps. I hadn’t a clue how or where to start. I had been so focused on finishing in-progress endeavors in the previous years, I had forgotten how to begin anything discrete, regardless of its magnetism.
But by March I had figured it out. To be frank, I had always known the right path but had allowed the naysaying voices in my head to temporarily dampen my dream for What Comes Next. I consulted my calendar, created an action plan and all the lists that accompany it, and set out to apply to Claremont Graduate University’s Ph.D. in English program.
It was a daunting effort. Applying to any doctoral program takes months, especially if a recent standardized admissions exam score is required. From April to December, I studied for the GRE, wrote and presented papers, solicited academic letters of recommendation, ordered various university transcripts, and visited the Claremont campus. I even attended a class, which made me ache for acceptance even more. And finally, on December 20, I received a letter that began with the most breathtaking three-word phrase in the English language: We are pleased. Needless to say, my January calendar is distinctively brimming this year, as I will be commencing my Ph.D. studies in British and American Literature at CGU on the seventeenth.
I still have the Chapman University English department’s marketing flyer from 2008 tacked to my bulletin board above my writing desk. “Write your own success story,” it urged. That had done it for me nearly a decade ago, and it still encourages me to this day. I enrolled at Chapman that fall and proceeded to write my own narrative, both literally with Time of Death and metaphorically with an ongoing academic journey I could then only imagine and with which I, too, am so unbelievably pleased.