Posts tagged “graduate school

It Happened in Paris

Posted on September 13, 2013

The universe works in mysterious ways.

This story begins four years ago in a Parisian playground. My daughter was riding a weathered merry-go-round, and as I sat there watching her happy little freckled face, I quietly worried that maybe I wasn’t really good enough to make it as a writer. The market was just plain hard and I had begun to consider other things I could do.

I decided to go to graduate school and last fall I got my M.A. in Modern European History. During this period of much reading and footnoting, I rebuilt my self-confidence as I delved into the colorful life story of a nineteenth-century Parisian man. My goal was to take the work I had done in class and in dusty archives and turn it into a book.

This spring, I spent eight weeks working with the editor Jill Rothenberg on a proposal for this book that has consumed my brain for the past four years. I originally thought that this should be straight history/biography, but Jill encouraged me to infuse it with a little bit of memoir, because my journey toward this subject was obviously very personal and life-altering. I hemmed and hawed about this until I thought back to my thesis defense, which began with my advisor asking me to explain to my committee why I became interested in this subject. Jill said, “If you tell us why you fell in love with this person, we’ll fall in love with him too.”

Point made.

So I wrote a brand-spanking new first chapter, and when I was done it made me believe in myself and this book just a little bit more. It also made me grateful to have people in my life — like Jill and the aforementioned advisor — who can point me in the right direction.

I spent the summer revising my book proposal and quietly hoping that it would be good enough to attract an agent’s interest. When I was done revising and felt good about the work I had done, I went to Mignon Faget and bought myself a silver wishbone pendant.

And then I made a wish.

Late Monday night, I sent a query letter to a well-regarded agent and figured that would be the end of it. First thing Tuesday morning, this agent sent me an email asking for my proposal. Midday Wednesday she emailed again, saying she wanted to talk to me about representing me. After I peeled myself off the ceiling, after I scoured the house looking for the film crew from “Candid Camera,” after I realized that this was no joke, I realized that everything that has happened since I sat watching my daughter ride that merry-go-round in Paris four years ago was meant to be.

I am grateful for every last bit of it. And now I am going to do every single solitary thing my agent asks me to do, so I can make this dream of becoming a published author a reality. I hope you’ll join me on this journey. It has been a wonderful ride so far!


A Wrinkle in Time

Posted on June 2, 2012

I had coffee with my academic advisor yesterday. He told me I looked composed and (believe it or not) relaxed. He also told me this post was “weird” because no one was trying to “get” me, or drag me back for a PhD against my will. I told him it was an ill-conceived joke, just me making fun of my inability to read anything off-topic. And then I told him that I surprised myself when I rewrote the bio for this web site. In an effort to keep myself honest, focused and real in my writing pursuits, I discovered that nothing looks the same, or feels the same, at least bio-wise. He said I needed more time. I told him I don’t wait well.

By the time we had finished our wide-ranging conversation, three hours had elapsed.

And three days after I went through the exercise of “rebranding” myself (or so to speak), I still haven’t posted my effort here. What gives?


A few weeks ago, I finished reading A Wrinkle in Time with my daughter. I didn’t really understand Wrinkle when I read it as a child and certainly wouldn’t have recommended it to any of my friends because fantasy was so not my cup of tea. As an adult, I found myself on the verge of

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The Sweet Life

Posted on May 30, 2012

Two weeks removed from graduate school, it is clear to me how they lure you back for things like PhDs. I’ve grumbled in prior posts like this one about all the things I hope to read once I can make my own reading choices. But the thing is: I’m still mostly reading about France, even though various social media connections equipped me with a lengthy list of books to try once I emerged from my tricolor hangover.

There are worse problems to have. After all, I really do like France, perhaps even more than before. So right now, I think I’ll start using this oft-neglected space to talk about some of the books I’m reading, my limitless Francophilia and whatever else seems to make sense.

Here goes nothing.


The first book I read after successfully defending my master’s thesis was David Lebovitz‘s The Sweet Life in Paris. Lebovitz, a cookbook author and former pastry chef at the famed restaurant Chez Panisse, moved to Paris after his partner’s death. Sweet Life is, in part, his memoir of starting over, but also a hilariously funny account of life the City of Light. Whether he’s grappling with French painters, dressing up to take out the trash or mastering the Gallic art of cutting in line, Lebovitz shows readers that his days don’t begin with a croissant and a copy of Le Monde and don’t end in a heated discussion about Sartre in the Latin Quarter. If anything, Lebovitz finds that life in Paris involves illogical rules, apathetic shopkeepers, unfathomable rudeness and maddening bureaucracy at almost every turn. His anecdote about returning a cell phone charger to Darty, the French equivalent of Best Buy, is one of the best in the book (in part because I experienced something similar in quite possibly the same exact store this past January). And, his various observations about strikes, waiting in line, opening bank accounts and getting help from the locals are laugh out loud funny, in large part because they are not at all mean-spirited. Lebovitz loves and accepts his adopted city, warts and all, and manages to see it through rose-colored glasses:

If you’ve ever walked through Paris at night, you can’t help noticing that its beauty is magnified in the darkness; lights glow softly everywhere and frame the centuries-old buildings and monuments in spectacular ways. I remember that evening breathing in the damp air rising off the Seine, watching the Bateaux Parisiens gliding on the river, loaded with awestruck tourists, and illuminating the monuments in their wake, their dramatic light hitting a building for just a few moments before moving on to the next.

My one incredibly small (teensy, almost invisible, and totally nerdy) quibble with this book is

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Posted on May 8, 2012

Sometime during my first year of graduate school, I sat up late one night wondering whether I had it in me to cross the finish line. I was tired. I was uncertain. I missed my usual level of contact with family and friends. I dreaded another week of 1,000+ pages of reading. I could not bear the thought of another paper that analyzed a book’s argument. I questioned why the hell I ever left Atlanta, moved to Louisiana and did this to myself and family too.

All of this over a dead Frenchman, but we’ll get to him at another time…

Across town, one of my classmates was suffering a similar bout of existential blues. That night, we exchanged inspirational You Tube videos featuring a battery of knockout punches, rah-rah speeches and the like, anything to spur each other on and remind each other that we could do it. One of the videos I sent him was the 1938 match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. War Admiral was a Triple Crown winner and the odds-on favorite to win. Seabiscuit was a plucky little pony from the West Coast, a horse whose never-say-die style inspired Americans during the Great Depression.

Here’s that race:

There have been times when I’ve wanted to quit, drop out, say “enough is enough,” but I’ve kept going. I had faith that down the stretch I could make it across the finish line if I just kept digging. Some people have stuck by me throughout this process and cheered me on when I’ve fallen behind. For that I am grateful. Others have proven themselves to be less understanding. And you know what? That’s okay too. The finish line is so close I can taste it and as hard as this race has been, I can be proud of what I’ve accomplished so far and excited about what lies ahead.

I still have a final and a thesis defense before me, but I’ll take everything one length at a time.

In the meantime, I’ll be inspired by I’ll Have Another, a pony with Seabiscuit’s heart (and Left Coast successes), who took speedy Bodemeister by surprise this past weekend at the Kentucky Derby:


Posted on April 15, 2012


Once upon a time, a friend of mine made a small fortune off selling Titanic-related shirts that said something like “It sank. Get Over It.” As evidenced by recent news coverage, television retrospectives and James Cameron’s re-release of “Titanic” in 3D, few people have gotten over the fact that the Titanic sank 100 years ago today. It’s a story that involves mind-boggling sums of money and human interest and tragedy (and so many other little kaleidoscopic shards). If you can disassociate the tale from the maddening Celine Dion tune that will be forever linked with it (and good luck with that, by the way), it is likely that you will find at least one of the many threads in this story fascinating.

When I began graduate school two years ago, I had a first semester project that involved reading at least two British newspapers from a specific month and year and crafting a story from the reports and ads that I saw. My assignment was April 1912. It did not take long for me to see the goldmine that resided in that particular month and year.

Per my paper, the story begins like this:

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C.S. Lewis

Posted on April 10, 2012

I’ve written here about that mythical day when I will be able to read things I want to read again without having to deconstruct any constructs or argue about any arguments. That mythical day is so close I can taste it and when it arrives it will be, let’s just say, a cause for celebration.

I took a grad school break today to read brainpickings, which is one of the few blogs I read. Today there is an interesting piece about C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Children, a book full of his correspondence with the many kids who wrote him. Lewis’ letters are full of advice that is just as useful to adults (and hags like me who are more than ready to go back to the business of being human again) as it is to the little folks who read his Chronicles of Narnia.

In a 1949 letter, Lewis writes to a little girl named Sarah, explaining that “there are only three kinds of things anyone need ever do:

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The Heffalump in the Room

Posted on November 4, 2011


When A.A. Milne first wrote about heffalumps —  which are elephants in little kid speak — they existed as a figment of Winnie-the-Pooh’s imagination. All the same, Pooh was determined to capture these pachyderms that stomped through his dreams. In the end, Pooh snagged himself and his nervous little buddy Piglet in a trap that he set to catch one of these critters.

I bring up heffalumps because some friends and former colleagues have told me I really should write about what it’s like to be an older person in graduate school. That is the heffalump in the room, so to speak. Honestly, I haven’t done it, because I could not see why anyone would find my impressions of graduate school interesting or the slightest bit entertaining. A lot of times it’s neither of those things. Footnotes? Please. Historiography? Please. Sitting still for three or more hours straight? Please. I also haven’t done it because I felt like my first year of graduate school mainly consisted of battling Heffalumps, Wizzles and Woozles — imaginary monsters that trapped me in my own net.

Now that I know those monsters aren’t there, I laugh a lot more.

I’ve also thought of the people who told me to write about graduate school. Many of them are my age and have wondered whether they could go back and do this to themselves as they juggle a career and kids and whatever else. They’ve wondered whether the time and the toil are worth it.

I’d say yes and no. I’d say yes because the experience has knocked some cobwebs out of my brain and helped me refine my so-called critical thinking skills. I’ll  never read a book the same way again, because I’ve spent the past year looking at arguments and finding out what’s wrong with them. These skills are useful for a reporter, writer, or really anyone from any walk of life. So that’s good.

Still, a lot of times I ask myself why I did this. A lot of times I count the days until I can go back and do what I love — write full-time for a living. I miss reading well-written books. I don’t know what that’s like anymore.

I miss a lot of things but I know I’m going to come out of this grateful and good. Because I’m determined.

And I’ve had a lot of great people in my corner who have been pulling for me.

I’m a very lucky lady.

In the meantime…

Maybe I’ll start telling Student Union cashiers that I actually DO get the employee discount. Or maybe I’ll stop telling professors that no I’m not teaching the next class, I’m learning in it.

“Hell yes, I’m teaching this class,” I’ll say. “Who wouldn’t want to learn about ‘Duran Duran: A Soundtrack of 20th Century Decadence’?”

But I’ll refrain from beating the next 18-year-old with my walker when he asks “Excuse me, ma’am, can you tell me where Lockett Hall is?”


There’s a certain fun in pointing to a vague “over there” and just letting them meander through a sea of pajama-clad, hormonally-deranged humanity. I guess we come back to school to wade through that sea so we can emerge on the other side, waterlogged but stronger in who we are.

Farm to Table

Posted on October 28, 2011

There is farm to table.

And then there is farm to a table at which I was not seated.

I say that in jest, of course. I am always happy to write for Palm Beach Illustrated when they’ll have me, especially because they gave me one of my first big breaks as a freelance writer. Besides, the article below was a nice, light detour from my graduate studies.

The assignment: Write about a July 4th party in the ultra-chic Hamptons for November publication without actually attending the to-do. This feat is not unlike writing about a 19th century architect I’ve never met (my thesis topic), all the while explaining the social, political, economic and cultural factors that I didn’t experience, but which contributed to the man’s rise.

It can be done. Fortunately for me, jewelry designer Michelle Farmer hosted the party and graciously consented to pre- and post-party interviews. Farmer not only answered my nit-picky questions in detail, but forwarded me pictures and menus, responded to my neurotic follow-up emails and put me in touch with additional people (among them, God-like party planner Jeff Fowler) who could talk about how wonderful the evening was.

I don’t know if my words do the night justice, but the pictures seem to indicate that it was a dreamy affair.

See for yourself here: Gaga_Evening

The Pachyderm Problem

Posted on May 4, 2010

The trouble with having my advisor read my blog is that he now sees fit to keep me honest.

To wit: In a recent post, I wrote “the education of young Paige begins.”

That, of course, prompted him to pick up the phone and remind me that I was not at all young.

Fair enough.

I will edit myself.

The education of this creaky old broad begins…

Happy now?


When I’m between stories or waiting for interviews or simply stumped, I like to take on foolhardy creative projects. Last week, while I was shopping for my daughter’s fifth birthday party, I thought “Wouldn’t it be a great idea to knit little baby toys for pregnant friends x, y and z?”

I thought it would be a stunning idea. Just brilliant.

Except the thing is, I’m the poster child for I can knit a scarf because it is flat and requires little thought. My mother thinks some of my scarves turn out pretty, or even stylish.

But she is my mother, so what do you expect her to say? That she doesn’t want my scarves anywhere near her precious neck?


Scarves are one thing and a perfect project for someone like me who is challenged in the needle arts. Knitting an actual animal shape that will be sewn and stuffed and detailed with embroidery and felt ears? Hm…I might have bitten off more than I can chew.

I bought this book called “Knitted Toys” and the patterns in it seemed pretty straightforward while I was browsing through it in the bookstore. So I blithely flipped to one page, decided “Okay, I will knit little elephants,” and went to the local yarn store to procure all the goods I’d need to do the deed.

I got home, I knitted a front leg. And then I knitted a back leg and connected it to the front. Then I knitted a trunk. Ha ha! I was on a roll. Then I connected the trunk to the rest of the body. Then I looked at the directions and couldn’t figure out why I was 35 rows into this beast and seven stitches short. I went back to the knitting store and asked them what the heck.

They told me I didn’t know how to count (which was probably a polite way of telling me I didn’t know how to knit, either). They also told me I needed to unravel my pachyderm and start over.

So I did.

And here’s where I am right now…elephant

Hopefully I will not have a tarantula when I’m done.