How to Succeed at Comps Without Really Trying, Week 10

I thought I might give some (practical?) advice to anyone who may ever find his or herself going through comps. Or staring at a landslide of books that it will take a summer worth the reading to move.

  • If you have multiple lists/topics: rotate your reading. If you read one list all at once, it will be dusty in your brain by the time you write your papers.
  • Although you may be told otherwise, your lists are not set in stone. If you find a source that will help you but isn’t on your list, read it. Quote it. You write your lists before you do your reading, so you’ll discover things along the way. Wonderful things.
  • Give into the nap. You’ll be more productive on the other side.
  • Nothing derails reading like a hangover.
  • Don’t mark in library books (even with pencil, it will take forever to erase everything). Instead, go nuts with sticky notes, preferably slender ones.
  • Once you find a kind of sticky note you like, buy the store out. Seriously.
  • Play music.
  • Understand that your papers won’t be made up of three or four heavily quoted sources, you can pick from every source you’ve read (over 100). So only mark the most important passages in each book, or you’ll have an overwhelming number of quotes by the end.
  • Understand that you may not know what your exact questions will be, but you can guess. Use this reasoning to limit the number of quotes you collect.
  • Understand that your papers may require different support than you anticipated. So mark every good quote regardless of how many you end up with.
  • Not every source you put on your list will be golden. If it isn’t going to help you write your paper (or at least expand your knowledge of your topic) put it down.
  • Find a daily reading rhythm. Set up hours, complete with breaks. Lots of breaks.
  • Find a weekly reading rhythm.
  • Adjust your reading schedule as you progress. Your stamina and abilities will change.
  • Don’t feel guilty if you can’t hold a strict reading schedule. Instead, view yourself as being immersed in your reading. Read every free minute you have. So you’re still being productive, but have a more flexible schedule.
  • Read outside.
  • Your brain will get exhausted. You will not be as mentally quick or nimble as you usually are. This means your abilities to socialize might take a hit.
  • Because you’ll be mentally exhausted, for the love of god, don’t try to date (if you do, let me know how it goes).
  • Always carry two books with you at all times. You never know when you’ll get stuck somewhere. And you never know when you’ll finish the first.
  • Pace your reading so you don’t burn out.
  • Push yourself hard enough that you don’t panic.
  • Exhaustion is ok.
  • Some of your peers will have read more than you. Be at peace with this.
  • Accept that the way you read will change. Drastically.
  • Kiss close reading goodbye.
  • Aim to read your shortest texts first. You’ll move at a faster clip (increasing your confidence) and by the time you reach the longer texts, you’ll have acquired the ninja-like reading skills required to handle them quickly.
  • It’s ok to have days where you don’t read as much as others.
  • Don’t neglect your body.
  • Realize that you’re going to be sitting on your butt for longer stretches of time that you probably ever have before. This means you’ll be burning fewer calories. Adjust your diet.
  • Identify the things that are vital to your life. Do those things.
  • Use panic to perform superhuman feats.
  • Respond to your reading by writing.
  • Learn to say no. Your friends and family might see your days as seemingly empty. They’ll invite you to things because they like you. Again, learn to say no.
  • Realize that you might not be able to read everything on your lists. This is ok. Read enough to write your papers, then finish the rest later.
  • You’ll never have another period of time to read like you do during comps. Take advantage of it.
  • Remember that you only have to do this once.
  • Your classmates are going through the same thing, use them as support.
  • Some classmates will disappear. People deal with stress in different ways. Let them disappear. They’ll come back. I promise.
  • If you are the one that disappears. Don’t panic. You’ll come back. I promise.

How to Succeed at Comps Without Really Trying, Week 5

I love naps.

Seriously. They feel good.

Sometimes I get so excited that I’m about to take a nap that I’m unable to fall asleep.


I’ve always joked about how reading is the closest thing you can do to sleeping without actually doing it. Except, this is no longer a joke. It’s true, and it’s a damned hazard.

I’ll start reading on my big brown LoveSac, then, after a few hours (or minutes depending on how well I slept the night before) I’ll start to notice myself dozing. I shrug it off. Sit a little straighter, but as soon as my eyes close for that extended blink, I know it’s only a matter of time before I reread the same page for half an hour, my eyes spinning their metaphorical tires in proverbial mud.

The progression goes like this. Sitting. Slouching. Laying. Asleep.

I’ve tried battling it. I don’t drink caffeine, so I figure, I’ll have a lil’ black tea and then have a sustained reading speed close to that of the Flash. But all this does is delay the nap for about 30 minutes. (I even researched how to prepare tea to make sure I wasn’t f’n something basic up, like you could somehow make caffeinated tea without releasing the caffeine. I studied charts on water temperature and steeping time. Turns out it gets quite technical).

I’ve gone for runs. Which wake you up. Right until you sit back down.

I’ve tried reading in public (which only equals public naps).

The nap always wins.

Then the cat outside starts howling, and I wake frothing.

Let me speak plainly. I hate this cat.

I hate this cat with a religious like insensitivity. I hate this cat as much as I hated the guy who, a few apartments ago, moved in below me and snored so loud that I had to 1) shift my sleeping habits so that any naps I took were at night and 2) move my bed into the kitchen.

This cat’s noises are so ass-clenchingly horrendous that they single handedly disprove the existence of God. I can’t even find a recording of a cat making noises that come anywhere close to this. I repeat, I can’t find anything this horrible sounding on the internet. The internet. Which contains this article which says that scientists have identified the 5 worst sounds. I’d take any of these over the genocidal warbling of whatever is slothing around my neighbors yard.

Because of the thick foliage, in the neighbors yard I haven’t been able to see this cat, which makes me think I’m not dealing with a cat at all. It could be some sort of grub demon spawn, sent straight from hell, and sent with no other purpose but to rattle my sanity every 35 minutes, which, I guess, would prove the existence of God.

How to Succeed at Comps Without Really Trying, Week 2

One week into comps and I’ve given up on pants. Apparently, if I’m going to hack my way through this jungle of words, I’m going to do it in basketball shorts. I don’t see any reason to wear anything else. I can do all my required activities in them: read, sleep, run. My reading schedule by and large keeps me clear of any social event that might require something with a belt. So far I’ve managed to put a shirt on each day, but this practice may to go by the wayside.

Classes, finals, my papers, my students papers all seem like they are part of another world, a world in which I had things to do other than stay awake and flip pages. Because of this, I feel my social skills atrophying at an alarming rate. I’m a social person. I often joke that a person’s abilities to write are closely tied to their ability to bullshit. I love to shoot the shit, sling lies, crack wise, make dubious statements just to see if I can make ‘em stand up in an argument. But all this reading numbs my brain so that I have the wit and social grace of a dying slug.

For instance, my sister had a birthday bbq a few days ago. I like her friends, mostly in the medical field or businessmen and women, but I don’t especially know them. These are, by definition, the people which you are required to bullshit. But that evening my conversations were all a distorted version of this one:

Sister’s Blond Friend: How are you?

Me: Good. You?

SBF: Good. What have you been doing?

Me: Comps.

SBF: (stares blankly.)

Me: Reading my ass off.

SBF: (searches over my shoulder.)

Me: Read some Blake Butler today. It was awesome.

SBF: (finishes drink) I need a refill.

The little, day-to-day things that fill our lives (getting a flat, staying at work late, finding $20 bucks in a shoe, seeing an ex at a restaurant, wandering into the wonder that is the outdoors) are the very bits of ammo that we fire off when making small talk while sucking beer at a barbecue. The exquisite bullshitters are the ones who are able to spin these pieces of info in an interesting/amusing/charming/flirtatious/unexpected way. So unless I’m talking with someone about the intricacies of Elisabeth Sheffield’s Gone (fantastic), I’m shit out of luck. And considering the reading habits of the public at large, I’m not hopeful that this situation will present itself anytime soon (unless I’m talking to my classmates, but considering they’re in the same mental state I’m in, the conversation isn’t going to be grand anyway).

Thus, I’ve developed two strategies to compensate with my lack of everyday actions:

Strategy 1: Really make the few things I’ve been doing besides reading seem epic in scope. Everyone’s been getting an earful of my grocery shopping excursions (the sale price of peanut butter, the old lady who parked her cart so I couldn’t get at the taco seasoning, the length of the checkout line) and ultimate frisbee experiences (I have discovered in myself the ability to give complete play-by-plays of entire games).

Strategy 2: Flat out make things up (Climbed Mount Elbert today, yeah, it was pretty bad ass).

If I get really desperate to keep a conversation from trickling into silence I’ll resort to peppering my companion with questions. I don’t mean polite, soft-pitch questions, but aggressive, in your face, Barbara-Walters-fuck-yeah kind of questions (What’d you do last night? Where’d you go? Was it a date? What was his name? He has slicked-back hair doesn’t he? Did you guys practice making babies? At your place?  His place?  The car? What’s he drive? Was it good? Hypothetically, was it good? You going to have his babies? Are you guys a thing? Why not? Who said his mother mattered anyway? How would you like it if she disappeared? What do you mean you need another drink? Is that a lie?).

Thankfully most people really like to talk about themselves.