Grad School, Tattoos, and Taping My Nipples

How’s that for a catchy title, huh? I don’t think it quite qualifies as clickbait, but what can I say, I still consider myself new to the game.

My first semester has finally finished, so my evenings are my own again, and I have the time to sit down and let my mind wander far enough away to write. I’ll tell you this – when they say that grad school takes up your entire life, they mean it. Admittedly, I overestimated my abilities and over-scheduled myself this semester, but I think even if I had taken a reasonable number of classes, I still would have spent all of my time doing school work.

She’s seeking it. She’s seeking it and all her thought is bent on it…sleep.

So I guess as a matter of course I should impart some wisdom of the things I learned my first semester. I’ll go for the itemized list for brevity’s sake.

  1. Go to class. This might seem like a stupid thing to say, but honestly, the time to stop skipping class because you want to sleep in is now. You’ve chosen the life of an academic, and you should act like it. You want your professors to know you, because they’re going to make or break you down the line. They don’t want to see someone who’s going to half-ass their PhD.
  2. Do the work. This goes with number 1. Again, you’ll make no friends trying to get by on minimal work. If you do the best you can and you end up with a D, that’s fine, because at least you put in the effort. If you don’t care what your graders are or professors think of you (have you been reading?) then at least do it for yourself. This is the field you’ve chosen to spend your life in. You should want to learn things. That’s why you’re here, right?
  3. Know how lucky you are. This can be your daily affirmation when you have to stay up until 4:00am writing a paper. No matter how hard it gets (and believe me, it gets hard), there are hundreds of people who didn’t make it to where you are, and hundreds more who graduated college with no future whatsoever, and they were just as smart as you. They’d be glad to be where you are, so don’t take your gift for granted (this goes double if you’re getting paid).
  4. Don’t burn yourself out (a.k.a. caffeine isn’t worth it). This is me giving you permission to go to sleep instead of finishing your homework. You’ve settled in for a long 4+ years, and if you squeeze out all of your energy now, you’ll be run dry by the time it comes for the final push. Not what you want. Know your limits, and don’t be afraid to slow down if you’re overreaching yourself. Otherwise you might work yourself sick and your professor won’t touch your homework assignment because you look like you’re carrying the plague.
  5. Ask for help. Like I said, things are going to get hard. Classes are hard, research is hard, hell, grocery shopping is hard. But no one is trying to make you fail (at least I hope not! If so, please see your schools guidelines on reporting that kind of abuse). Your professors push you hard because you’ve entered a hard field, and they assume that you are fully dedicated to your craft (as you should be). They do want you succeed, though. One of the first things you should do is find someone (professor, friend, healthcare professional) that you feel comfortable going to with major problems. By this I mean problems adjusting or keeping up with/ understanding the coursework. To a certain extent you are required to handle your own difficulties now, but if you truly feel as if you can’t handle something by yourself, have someone that you can go to for help.

There you go. I tried to keep it short, partly because grad school is an individual experience for everyone, partly because I like to think of this blog as my place separate from my work, even though I occasionally talk about it.

Onto more interesting topics, I recently got another tattoo. My first was the phrase Juncta Juvant on the inside of my wrist (my alma mater’s motto). This time I chose a phoenix feather on my ribs:


(EDIT: I’ve noticed that many people have been clicking on the picture of my tattoo (yes that’s something I can tell). I have also noticed that most of these people found my blog searching google for “phoenix tattoo” (yes, I can tell that too. Isn’t technology great?) For this, I have removed the image, to prevent stealing. If you want an in-depth explanation of why stealing someone else’s tattoo is wrong, please watch this video by Katrin Berndt. If you’re too lazy/impatient for that, know that attempting to steal/replicate someone else’s tattoo is nothing less than disgusting, especially if it was an emotional meaningful piece, or a custom design, of which this tattoo is both. I appreciate your interest in the ink, and I highly recommend my tattoo artist (her link is further down the page), but if you’re looking for an exact image to bring to another artist, I can tell you that is both unethical, and not likely to work out for you. Every tattoo artist has their own style, and so it would be hard to copy another artists work directly (even if they were willing to do so, which no self-respecting artist would). My best recommendation for you is to discuss what you want with your tattoo artist and let them make something that is completely you. If you want to know why that’s an important thing, please, keep reading. That is all :))

The picture is cropped for modesty’s sake, but the tattoo starts about an inch above the bottom of my “pecs” and extends down to about my belly button. The artist was Kelsey at Crayon’s Tattoo in Rochester, and I have to say, hands down this is the most beautiful tattoo I’ve ever seen or ever will see (not that I’m biased). Any future tattoos will be kept dainty and plain so that this this the centerpiece of art on my body.

I did something that some people might think is a little crazy with this – I gave Kelsey full artistic freedom. When I went to make an appointment, I asked for a phoenix feather done in watercolor style, and left the rest up to her. I read an article once by a tattoo artist that said what tattoo artists love most is to be given a chance to show their skills. I can’t fully explain why, but for this tattoo it was important for me to have the artist have a connection with my tattoo like that – to make something that wasn’t wholly me or her, but a mixture of the two. And as soon as I saw Kelsey’s portfolio, I knew she was the one who would do it.

Sitting for the ink took about 3 hours – 1 1/2 of which I spent crying. Part of it was because it hurt (My mother told me that labor pain is worse, but I’m not sure I believe her), but I think part of it was cathartic. If you remember my birthday post from last year, I said I wanted a phoenix tattoo for a line in one of my favorite books. And here’s a secret for all of you out there with virgin skin – your life after a tattoo is different that your life before. It changes you, even if it just means you change the clothes you wear to hide/show off your new skin. It’s appropriate, in a way, considering traditionally tattoos were used as a way to mark a change in someone’s life, or identify who they were or where they were from.

Sitting(laying, really) and crying (and sometimes swearing) for those three hours was a kind of metamorphosis, washing away years of hurt and pain and disappointment and failure. A phoenix is reborn ungracefully, out of ashes and smoke, and I like to think so was I.

Speaking of ungraceful, because my tattoo starts above where my bra lays, Kelsey suggested trying to lay off wearing one for a few days to prevent damage to the tattoo. Considering how sore the skin is, I had no problem following this advice. I went and bought a couple of cheap over-sized undershirts and I was one my way. However, because the office where I work for the summer is heavily air conditioned, I needed more coverage, so I broke out the scotch tape and made DIY pasties (tassels not included). Not only was it hilarious to look at, but if i moved in a certain way, the tape made a crinkling sound that made it seem like I had stuffed tissue paper down my shirt. You can go ahead and laugh – I know I did.

So you’ve now mostly been caught up on the goings-on of my life. I hope to take more time to give you poetry and science and plugs, because I have the time and I want to make use of that. I hope you’re enjoying the summer some place warm – it’s been below 60 F all week and I’m hating it!