Last evening I met with one of the professors on my orals committee, and after what I thought was a positive demonstration of my abilities (I was able to talk coherently about changes in women's history between 1750 and 1850, the differences in studying white women and black women, and the impact of Native American study on the paradigm of early American history, all with examples from books and clear themes and historiography), he expressed his concern that I'm not ready. He had heard I'm training for a marathon this weekend, and thought maybe that's too much to pull together at the same time. This really threw me, and I plunged into an evening of insecurity and lack of confidence, followed up with a phone call to my committee chair, who admitted to having received emails from the other two committee members expressing concern over my abilities.
Suddenly my mind goes back to Miss Biggs, my seventh grade algebra teacher, who told the whole class that I would never amount to much. Or there's Mr. Hill, my high school orchestra teacher, who pulled me out of my eleventh grade English class and told me that my going to yearbook camp for two days during our intensive rehearsals for a tour to New York and Europe would ruin our performance at Carnegie Hall and other places. Then there was my thesis committee at ASU--Drs. Valentine, Parker-Fuller, and Davis, who during my comps defense critically questioned my Mormon beliefs in light of my academic understanding. And we can't forget another--She Whose Name Must Not Be Mentioned--at NYU, who told me I didn't belong in graduate school, that I can't write and that I have no good ideas. Woah... that's a lot of stuff going on.
Back to the present. Last night my committee chair Paula quickly restored my confidence. She believes I am ready, that I am coherent and I know my material and my historiography. She listened to me talk through a few questions and remarked that my insight is sharp. She asked me what questions I would like her to ask me. She told me that as chair, she will take charge next week and start on a strong note and steer the way. And she made it clear that while there is definitely the risk that I may not perform satisfactorily, that we can regroup from there and make another plan. She wants me to succeed. She and all the countless other teachers and professors who have believed in me and have encouraged me and have seen my potential.
So it's time to rally the forces. I've made a plan:
- Study. Study like crazy. Esconce myself in my basement library. Finish reviewing my books, my textbook, and my articles.
- Take my flashcards with me wherever I go. Review them in the car, in line, as I'm walking across campus.
- Take next week off work. Make up the hours over the winter break.
- Remove distractions--no TV or surfing the Web. No emails or blogs.
- Meet with my professors. Ask them for practice questions, for advice, and for their confidence.
- Simulate the orals experience. Collect questions from people who've been there. Ask them to sit down with me and ask me questions and follow-up questions. (Thank you, Scott & Robin, for FHE last Monday. Can we do it again?!? Anyone else interested?!?)
- Utilize my plan: repeat the question, take a minute to think of a response, come up with a one-sentence response with three key ideas, and list some books with soundbites that illustrate each point.
- Go to bed early. We all know my abilities to think clearly and positively are directly impacted by the amount of sleep I've had. Get up early, when my mind is fresh, and study.
- Eat & drink. I tend to push those things aside in times of emergency.
- Fast on Sunday. My sweet mother said she'd join me.
- Pray for grace to fill up where I am lacking. Pray for the Holy Ghost to bring all things to my remembrance. Pray for faith and confidence.
- Priesthood blessing from my hometeacher.
- Positive thoughts. Grandad always told me to have a PMA--positive mental attitude. Mom used to tell me to pretend something to be true. I'm just going to have the belief that I CAN do this next week. If it doesn't work out, I'll regroup and replan. But until then I'm going to do it. Hip hip hooray.
- Call upon the spirits of orals past: I have a lot of people on the other side who will rally their forces, too. I'm pretty sure.
- Run my marathon on Saturday--think through my topics and themes, put the pedal to the metal and ride that finish line flourish all the way through next Friday. Study all the way down to Richmond and all the way back up.
- Find time for a temple trip. Maybe if I can find someone to go with me, I can even study in the car as we drive.
- But if not, I still believe in a God who loves me and who has all power... but who also has all wisdom and knows all things from the beginning.
Is there anything else? Can you think of anything I've missed? I know I'm not on death's door (although my nurse roommate said the two tiny dark spots on my thumb may be cancer); I don't have a dying baby, I'm not burned over 83% of my body, I'm not losing my job and my home, and I have all the love and respect and concern for dear friends who have been and are in those situations. But I am in my own tight spot and I ask you, dear friends, for your positive thoughts and prayers and lit candles and whatever it is that you do.