Having a pity party

Hi everyone,

More from the box in the bedroom. In the fall of 1959 I began my graduate work in biology at Emory University in Atlanta. The plan was for Sandy to remain at Drury to finish her undergraduate degree before joining me. Our sole income was my $3000 fellowship. After tuition, books, and a rented room for me there was little left. Sandy lived at home in Springfield with her parents. I had our car with me.

It didn’t take long to learn that the professors in the biology building expected a lot. I was at first intimidated, lonely, and at all times exhausted. I remember once when I drove to my rented room after pulling an all-nighter in my lab and falling across the bed for a few hours of rest. I asked my landlady’s young son to wake me. When I returned to the lab, the first person I saw asked if I realized that I had a shirt on over a shirt. Turned out I also had on two pairs of pants. In my fog I’d gotten dressed when I was already dressed.

Here’s part of a “poor me” letter to Sandy we found in our bedroom treasure box on Sunday. “I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much this week. I stuck to my new rule of going to bed by one o’clock or so and therefore feel a little bit more rested. There just isn’t enough time in the day or the week to do a fraction of the things I’m supposed to be doing. I will sit down to try to find another Protozoan to draw and without realizing it another three or four hours will speed by and maybe I have that drawing, maybe not. Tomorrow I MUST get something done about that parasitology project, check out a few books on mitosis, check out a book for a paper due this Friday, and do some reading on Protozoology.

“Sometime I must do a lot of reading in cytology. I have really neglected that lately. It seems like I go in spurts; for a few days I work hard on one course and ignore the others. These professors seem to take some sort of fiendish pleasure in giving you more. At first all I did was worry twenty-four hours a day. Now I have to fight hard to keep from just not caring. This is, of course, worse than worrying because you can’t ever expect to do anything well with that sort of attitude.”

Oh poor baby! Do I sound like a 22-year-old facing the expectations of higher education for the first time? The world must be full of similar letters. I’m embarrassed, now, at how I carried on to my wife, who was pregnant at the time but I didn’t know about that yet. When I finally got my degree from Emory, I was presented with something called the Sigma Xi award for most outstanding research at the master’s level, but I still remember my introductory months there like an initiation.

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10 comments on “Having a pity party

  1. Sounds like my undergraduate days at Smith. The first two years I was a high C, low B student. Nothing I did seemed good enough, fast enough. I had few friends. NO boyfriends. Thought about changing schools. Waaaaaa! Pity party indeed.

    Instead I changed me, my attitude, re-found the old Jane who loved to study, learn, work, sing, dance. Took up fencing, made a bit of money singing with a Trinity guitar player, made Deans List, wrote the lyrics to the class musical, got poetry into the Grecourt Review, senior year won both the journalism prize and all the poetry prizes (though I did share one of them with a much better poet!) I just needed to kick myself in the rear.

    Jane

    • And a new and improved Jane was born. There comes that time when young people sink or learn to swim. You started swimming and never looked back!

      • At 18 I probably was one of the smartest person I knew, of course excluding age 13 when no doubt I knew everything, but I digress or regress, not as smart now at pushing 70 as I was. The years between 18 and 25 the maturity and everything your parents passed on to you finally kicks in, so see we always were smart just didn’t quite have the formula to execute correctly.

  2. While I can certainly empathize with you about the overwhelming workload, I have to admit that I would have LOVED all that microbiology study…I considered going into that field (briefly) before I graduated high school. But we’re all glad the kidlit world ended up being so agreeable to you!

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