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The End of the First Year

 

I finished my first year of graduate school in social work, but I still feel anxious, as if there’s some assignment I forgot to do. I did not get all A’s this year, for the first time in forever, and that’s been hard to accept. I did all of the assigned work, and more, but there was some essential disjunct between the work required of me and the way my mind works. I just felt at odds with it all year, but not in a self-righteous or confident way, more like, every once in a while they started speaking in a language I couldn’t understand, and I felt like a moron.

It’s not just a question of jargon, where, once I learned what they meant by certain words, I could catch up. It was something in the way they wanted me to think that just didn’t click for me, and I’m scared that this gulf will remain throughout the next two and a half years of school, and then out into the professional world, and I will never feel quite right in this profession.

I don’t know if the dogs noticed that I was in school this year, because most of the work was done online. They can’t tell the difference between schoolwork and the writing I actually want to do. Or if they can, they haven’t told me. The real difficulty, for them, will come in August when I start going to my internship two or three days a week, and I’m not home for their midday walk. Hopefully, Grandma will be home for lunch and they will not notice the difference, but naptime may be delayed and that will, of course, be horrifying.

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“Delayed?”

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“Seriously?”

Now that I’m free to return to my own writing for the summer, though, it feels like I’m jumping off a cliff. Fiction is unfamiliar terrain again, after being immersed in academic writing all year. I’ve heard people call it code switching, when you talk (or write) differently depending on your audience, but I don’t transition easily, and part of me is afraid that if I let myself fall back into fiction this summer, I’ll have to relearn a whole year’s worth of tropes when school starts again in August.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been collecting so many rejections for my writing over the past few years. The rejections, and the reality they laid bare, that my writing could not be relied on as my career, is what led me to social work school in the first place. But being in school feels like I’m validating those rejections, and saying that I never was that good to begin with. And I’m afraid that if I write something I’m proud of, I’ll want to send it out, to literary magazines and agents, and it will be the same horror all over again. I hate that the publishing industry has gotten me so defeated that I’m afraid to write any more novels. I’m angry that I can’t see a way forward, and to protect myself I seem to have shut myself down.

I’ve been working on blog posts, of course, and articles for my synagogue newsletter, which have given me an opportunity to practice my interviewing and research skills, and to get to know people better and offer something to my community. But I want to write novels. I want to be a writer, not a social worker, not a reporter, not a do-gooder. I want to tell MY stories. The gulf, between my social worker self and my writer self, is getting wider instead of smaller, and my resentment at becoming a social worker is growing.

I need to find a way to survive the process of becoming a social worker, because I really do want to help people; I want to hear their stories and find ways to relieve their anxiety and confusion, at least a little bit. I want being a social worker to develop into something (almost) as satisfying as being a dog mom. I mean, sure, I get annoyed when the girls wake me up early from a nap, or bark incessantly and refuse to tell me why, but mostly I feel shaped and calmed by taking care of them. It’s a set of rituals and a relationship that I rarely take for granted, and I rely on them heavily for my sense of self, and structure, and love.

 

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The oxytocin rush alone is staggering.

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

136 responses »

  1. Congrats on finishing your first year of graduate school! I’m sure your cute puppies are proud! 🙂

    Reply
  2. Graduate school is tough, congratulations! Please don’t let them change the way you think… Cricket and Butterfly already read your mind just fine.

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  3. You finally made it through the first year! Have ice cream and cake. Congratulations!

    Downside to being a writer, they’re always critics, ALWAYS. But, you’ll never know of you’re going to be a writer full time if you don’t get back out there and attempt to make that happen 🙂

    Reply
  4. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    I hate the feeling of having something not quite click! It will, though, so don’t despair. Stay calm and write on!

    Reply
  5. Keep going and don’t give up on your novel 🙂

    Reply
  6. I felt like an imposter the whole time I was teaching. I never did catch on to some of the thought patterns of some principals. Social Work is a demanding profession. Still, it will give you glimpses into things you might never write about otherwise. There is nothing wrong with your writing style or the things you say. Not one thing! You have not met the publisher who will appreciate you yet. That’s all. Take a break from studies and see if anything you thought about during the past year works itself into something you can enjoy writing. Realize that a rejection is just that person’s opinion. If you don’t have a Writers Market, get one and look at all the different publishers out there. You’re a writer. You just may have to have a day job for awhile. Don’t give up.

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  7. A lot of writers these days opt for self publishing. It could be a option.

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  8. You are not alone in your confusion or lack of satisfaction. I spend lots of time listening to my young adult kids and their friends and they are struggling with goals, plans, logic to earn a living or doing what they love and rarely eating. Ok that last one may be an exaggeration. Hang in there. I worked as a guidance counselor for years and once in it, the job was very fulfilling. I hope you can work this out and be happy.

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  9. You should be proud of yourself for having completed your first year, hooray for you! I know your mom and the girls, Cricket and Butterfly, are proud of you. 😀 I think you are an excellent writer!

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  10. Once these “educators” get you into their jargon, they start to control. If you feel that you’re being trapped into a particular point of view, maybe you are. With writing, you’re free as a bird. What am I saying, I’m in a cage.

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  11. I love the way you write, Rachel. Is social work the only thing you can do to help people? I think you are great with animals. What about getting people together with dogs…does that require a degree in social work? I can’t stand you being upset with yourself when, for me, the highlight of Saturday evening is seeing your posts in my Inbox.

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  12. Many people read blogs only for enjoyment but for help. I read this blog and thought how you are truly blessed. You have a way with your words that works into the emotions of a reader. With that divine talent, combine it with your social work. You may help someone relief there anxiety and confusion at least a little bit. Maybe write a parable or metaphor of a social issue. Who knows someone in need of help will read your blog. This is only food for thought. Maybe it is a way to combine both as a fiction writer and social worker. May god be with you.

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  13. I had a conversation around this the other day with someone who had studied law and he experienced the same thing. He could understand all the individual words and terms being used but when they were strung together it sounded like a totally different language. Sometimes it takes a while for it all to click in to place, but keep going, it will suddenly start to make sense. It took him over a year. I don’t think you lose one by gaining another – it is more like learning to be fluent in two languages. It is really hard work but worth. I am sure you will. All the best 🙂

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  14. This is what blogging is all about. Honest thoughts shared with other vulnerable humans…which is pretty much all of us. Keep at your writing. You are really good at it!

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  15. I’m not sure if you’re just burnt out from the semester – which is quite normal for graduate school – or if maybe you should rethink the whole social worker thing. You are so good with dogs! You should become a counselor to people who don’t understand their dogs! 🙂
    Keep writing – please – you are so good at it! Self publish if needed, but get that novel done and out there!

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  16. Congratulations on your first year.

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  17. By the way, I love the way you write. I have a graduate degree in English and Literature. I could teach if I were brave enough to do it. I am not. I “mastered” what I need to lnow and at my age, I feelike I need a PhD to validate that I know enough. I admire you so much for having rejection slips, because you try. I have written so manybthings but they remain on my computer, read only by me. Can I tell you how many Writer’s Digests I have purchased? How many plays I have written never to be performed? Enjoy the summer off, read, write and jump back in. I have a feeling great success will be yours.

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  18. Perhaps part of your feelings of miscommunication between what you believe is expected of you and what your instructors are asking for is due to the fact that everything is expressed online. It is often hard to put into written words, what is much clearer when expressed face to face. Do you find it as difficult in the classes you attend on campus?

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  19. Jennifer Barraclough

    I empathise with your situation. Acceptance by a traditional publisher is harder than ever and depends more on commercial factors – and on luck – than on the quality of your writing. Self-publishing is a respectable option nowadays and has many advantages. After all, only a few traditionally published authors make enough money from writing to give up the day job. Well I’m sure you know all this already. I hope your course goes better next year – and keep up your blog, I always enjoy reading it.

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  20. congratulations on such a worthy achievement!
    social workers had offices right next to mine
    during most of my public health career.
    i have the deepest respect for their
    commitment to helping others,
    as well as themselves 🙂

    Reply
  21. I empathize with you, Rachel. Granted, it is not easy to make a commercial success of writing, and it usually takes years of hard work and determination. No writer ever pleases every reader, and publishers can be exceedingly hard to impress. It isn’t difficult to self-publish an eBook, though, and I know of authors who are making a living by it. Having said that, it is not a reliable way to earn a living, unless one is established. Best wishes for whatever path you follow!

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  22. Super cute; and super great.

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  23. Congratulations on finishing that first year. It must have been gruelling.

    A friend works in a publishing house here in Australia. She says they are absolutely swamped with unsolicited manuscripts. Most are unread or the first chapter might get glanced at. It’s a tough industry and you shouldn’t be discouraged. The rejection slips may hurt, but they don’t mean you aren’t a good writer, because all of us here know that you are.

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  24. Congratulations on finishing your first year! I hope things gel for you. I hope it’s a good programme that can accommodate your gifts.

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  25. I hear you. Does your school offer a creative writing course? Perhaps you could sneak some credits in. I did that last semester (as I needed to) and loved it. I also had to academic writing. Perhaps, the graduate school is looking for you to put more of your creative self into your writing. I’ve found can get away with blending some of the two worlds, if I am careful. I’ve had others suggest it wasn’t right, but they were fellow students, and my instructors never once complained. In fact, one of them which required Literary Analysis invited me to graduate school in English-even after reading my second exam work, which wasn’t as strong as my first. And you’re still growing, I suspect most social workers don’t feel up to par then. Keep writing. Keep working at it. You’ll get there.

    Reply
  26. Another brilliant write-up, however my little piece of advice… If you don’t mind 😀 forget about the rejections- they are the past and shouldn’t haunt you… You want to be a writer, look ahead and just see yourself as being that writer. I want to be a runner, so I run 😀😀😀 Have a lovely Sunday and 🏃 with the girls 😀🐾

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  27. Thumbs up to you on so many different levels.

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  28. Wow. Is it really a year? Congratulations.
    I’ve always found your writing interesting, entertaining and informative (and not just because of Cricket and Butterfly). I see rejection letters a little differently perhaps, in that someone has actually taken the time to write one rather than just ignore you. Keep going! 🙂

    Reply
  29. Listen to your heart and find a place and vocation that is in alignment with your heart. I love reading your blog posts and I believe you are a very natural writer. Do what you enjoy and what you feel has meaning to you, the rest will follow.

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  30. Are you familiar with ‘A Room of Her Own’ Foundation, Rachel? I stumbled across their website; they give grants so women writers can live and write…and they have publication awards… It would be great if your writing were supported for a year!!!

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  31. Congratulations Rachel. You made it through the year. I think maybe some of the disconnect you feel is that in schools of social work as in medical schools there is an underlying agenda to get you to view the world in a certain way. Your instincts are telling you this. Things are changing these days so a social work degree can be a gateway to a private practice really helping people, not just a job with the county welfare office bullying the poor. As to your writing, as so many others here have said, you are a writer. The publishing industry is getting tighter and tighter, you should really think about the many alternatives opening up. Maybe you could share a teeny bit of your fiction with us here. I for one would love to see some of your work.

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    • There’s a lot of ideology in social work school, rather than practical advice on how to help people. I don’t understand the logic behind that, in social work school, or medical school, or MFA programs.

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      • Wish more organizations were about positive results than pushing ideology but it’s the human beings who people them who have to make the change. Sigh.

  32. Congratulations! You’ll be a great one, Rachel.

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  33. Enjoying your blogging immensely. Eagerly await more photos of your “girls.” Blessings on your social work endeavors also. Shalom.
    Jeanne

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  34. Congrats on finishing the first year! I’m sorry that it doesn’t feel as if it’s quite right, but the field of social work is very broad, and I bet you will find an area where you do feel the fit once you begin working. As for the writing, I feel your pain. But the sad fact is that the publishing world has changed for the worse, and it is very difficult to get books published these days. Difficult, but not impossible, and I honestly think if you keep trying long enough, and are willing to explore all kind of alternative routes, you will get published. You write very well!!!!

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  35. I published using the Amazon Kindle free publishing application. I’m not rolling in dough but I did accomplish the one goal I always had and that was to be published, in this case even if I did it for myself and not some publishing company. Explore your options and kick those bad renters out! You are good enough, there is a place/space for you to be who you are.

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  36. Congratulations on finishing your first year of grad School! That’s great and don’t give up your dream of being a writer. Keep at it. Very few writers are immediately published. It takes time and finding the right publisher.

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  37. Maybe read essays from one of your professional journals and blog about it/journal about it–to keep your hand in; split your day or split our week and dedicate that part of your day/week for only that type of writing. Perhaps? I trust you’ll work it out. Good luck and best wishes.

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  38. For what it’s worth, I think you write well :).

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  39. Best of luck to you! I don’t like to give people advice but rest assured I understand your dilemma from personal experience. You are a wonderful writer and I just love the way you interweave your dogs into your journeys.

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  40. Let Social Work be what you do. In your heart you are a writer. Use what you do to feed what you love.

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    • Exactly! Just think of William Carlos Williams (physician), Lewis Carroll (mathematician) and so many others. Social work is a noble calling. But remember that your professional life need not define you. While many try to place us in little boxes based on the source of our income (“my son the doctor” syndrome), you need not waste your time associating with those who have such small minds.

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  41. Yeah….congratulations on finishing your first year. Super achievement! Time to treat yourself I think 😉

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  42. My daughter had a similar problem. She decided, after much soul searching, to face the fact that she did not agree with the status quo of the teachings she was forced to endure, and gave them ‘what they wanted’, being ever mindful of her own persuasions. (A very conscious thought process.) Today she teaches, in her way, and enjoys what she does. Meant a few years feeling ‘out of sorts’, whilst studying; though, it all worked out in the end. Today she is changing many processes and policies and is becoming a rather respected voice for change.

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  43. Your post amused me, as I remember those same feelings when I started nursing in real life. I remember what one of my instructors told us during school… I am giving you a foundation, it is up to you to build upon it! You have to build the kind of social working you want to provide! It will be unique just as you are! As far as the fiction writing, you can do it!

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  44. I hope you find your way back to confident writing. I know how hard those rejections are, and how they add up. Just keep in mind that very few published writers can count on it as a career, so going to school and having a job doesn’t mean you’re giving up or that you won’t be a published writer. It can still happen!!

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  45. Perhaps the social work will give you a whole new set of stories to turn into novels. You are a great writer and I’m sure you will get your break soon, but it is always good to have a back up plan and something to fall back on to pay the bills.

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  46. I feel somewhat like that. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April and my life is directed by medical visits, Chemo and a host of annoying things that must be tend to. Hope you get settled and then resettled over the months.

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  47. Good for you, Rachel, actually I believe you can do both. Active social experience will only give a boost to your confidence and contribute to your imagination for fiction writing. It’s definitely the best way to expand your horizons and get some fresh ideas, the more people you meet, the better.
    Your writing is intelligent and engaging, and has a recognizable style, with just the right amount of wit and humor. But, I suspect Cricket & Butterfly are writing all their comments by themselves. 😉

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  48. School for anything just seems to be a foot in the door. The real learning comes on the job. You can write just fine. your blogs are always interesting. Just remember J.K. Rowling got lots of rejections. I bet they all felt like fools once Harry Potter got published.

    Reply

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