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In graduate school, a female classmate told me I read like a girl. We were at a house party. Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel Prep had recently been released in paperback, and I mentioned that I’d read it over the summer and enjoyed it. “Really?” my classmate said. Her face began at surprise and then traveled toward disapproval. “I don’t know any other men who liked that book.”

Or maybe I was only imagining disapproval. She was one of those people who likes to amuse themselves at parties by playing armchair psychologist. On another night, drinking canned beer in someone’s patchy backyard, she referred to me as “one of our program’s alpha males,” a claim so absurd I did an actual spit take. A couple of months later, at a post-workshop dinner, apropos of seemingly nothing, she turned to me and said, “I bet you were popular in high school.” That time, at least, I knew I was being insulted.

It’s funny, the comments that stay with you and bury themselves deep in your pockets — small, smooth stones you can worry over in idle moments. I can still hear the voice of the boy who called me a sissy on a school-sponsored weekend trip to the North Carolina mountains when I was in the fifth grade. I can see his face too, ruddy in the cold, chubby with baby fat. I no longer remember the point of that trip, except that it was sponsored by the gifted and talented program and brought together kids from three or four different schools. But I remember walking through the woods with a girl I’d just met, a girl I was quickly developing a crush on, though at that age I didn’t know what to do with my crushes except stand near them, like a wood stove in a drafty cabin. I remember that she had an unusual name, hippie parents, and the kind of chunky, plastic jewelry I associated with much older women. I think we were supposed to be identifying trees. More… “My Trouble With Men”

Mike Ingram is a founding editor of Barrelhouse Magazine and co-host of the weekly Book Fight! podcast. You can follow him on twitter at mikeingram00

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I’ve always been a storyteller. In middle school, I came in every Monday with a story to tell my friends as we sat on the windowsill in our homeroom. At the time, my mother was in prison. I was sharing a small room with my younger brother and living with a family that had three daughters, girls who had been my friends for years. I remember once my half-sister came to visit from Florida. She was an only child who lived with my father and her mother. She marveled at the fact that all us kids lived in that small house. If it appeared fun to her; that’s because, most of the time, it was. This is the thing about being one of the “unfortunates”: If you survive, it’s because you learn how to spin gold from the thread life has given you to hang yourself with. That’s what storytelling is.

In that house, we all wrote stories. We were the children of Caribbean parents who had pushed our noses into books so young that when they stopped pushing, we just stayed there. Writing was naturally the next step. Bringing these stories in to share with my friends at school followed. More… “For Post-Graduate Starving Artists”

Kesia Alexandra is a freelance writer, teacher, and mother from Washington, DC. You can connect with her on twitter @okaykesia.

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I just started a new graduate program in a new city and I’m feeling lonely. I don’t have anything in common with my colleagues. I started a semester later and most of them are good friends by now. – J

 

The fact that you are in the same graduate program in the same school as your colleagues shows that you all have more in common than you realize right now, but I understand: Entering a program in the spring can make you seem like the odd man (or woman?) out. From my experience, graduate students are pretty eager to see a new face in their classes, so once you get over your fear and start opening up, you’ll realize that you have quite a bit in common with them. By sharing more jokes, hobbies, and stories of turbulent youth,… More…

 

I’m graduating soon (BA in Art History) and I’ve never felt so uncertain as to what to do next. Should I get a full-time job? Should I go to graduate school? Should I do something like the Peace Corps? I want to take the road not taken. — Amy, Syracuse, New York

Amy, keep your options open. Apply to full-time jobs, apply to the graduate schools, apply to the Peace Corps — but understand that not all of these will have an immediate positive result. As for a full-time job, I would apply to just about anything you see. Anything. Scan HigherEdJobs.com and CareerBuilder.com and Idealist.org and Monster.com on a daily basis and apply to the new posts and see if they respond (and if they don’t, it’s totally their loss. Totally). They say that in a recession,… More…