That Time I Got An A-

Let me begin by thanking each and every one of you for reading, commenting, and reaching out in meaningful ways in response to yesterday’s post. I am one lucky duck. I don’t feel brave. I feel exposed. But I think that’s OK.


And now on to our regularly scheduled post.

I went to graduate school as part of a dream. For most of college I wanted to become a professor. When weighing the options of programs and degrees from the three programs I was accepted to (I was rejected from seven), I settled on a Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies. I liked that it was a terminal degree and that the school would pay for my classes and provide a small teaching stipend. Then, in my plans, I would continue on to a PhD program. Those dreams turned into a nightmare, but that’s another post. Or three.

For a feminist art history class I ended up doing my final project on author and illustrator Alison Bechdel, she of the famed Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip. I enjoyed reading her comics in college and wanted to focus on a non-traditional artist, amidst the papers on Artemisia Gentileschi and Judy Chicago. Judy Chicago is not a traditional artist, but there was nothing new I could say about her work.

Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). The Dinner Party, 1974–79.

Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). The Dinner Party, 1974–79. Ceramic, porcelain, textile, 576 x 576 in. (1463 x 1463 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, 2002.10. © Judy Chicago. Photo: © Aislinn Weidele for Polshek Partnership Architects

So I set out to research my paper and prepare a presentation about Bechdel. It included making slides. People, this was 2001, but slides were still the mainstay in art classes and it was revolutionary that I was using a Zip drive to store my classes.

The best part of my paper? I emailed Bechdel, telling her that I was writing a paper about her and she agreed to an interview. I still remember calling her from my apartment, notes in front of me, so nervous. It was fantastic. We talked for 45 minutes. Others had to look to history books for their research, but here was my primary source, alive and well in Vermont.

Have you read her work? It’s amazing. Amazing in that here’s a working artist who is continuously fine-tuning her craft. Fun Home deserved all of the accolades it received, and in reading Are You My Mother? I am so impressed with her dedication.

I wrote what I thought was my best paper ever. I read it out loud to CH over the phone. I rehearsed my presentation with slides and even had a few chuckles when I gave it in class.

After all that, when I got my paper back, there was an A- on it.


I am not an over-achiever. I believe in throwing yourself into projects, working on a team and doing your best, but it’s the process of projects that I love – figuring out to get things done. It’s the goal-oriented part of me that makes me strive, but really, I’m not as Type A as some would think. If anyone thinks that about me.

But the A- slayed me. Why? Because it was another example of how graduate school was the wrong choice for me. This was not sour grapes, but this was seeing that on the day I was to give my presentation, a fellow graduate student was called to give her presentation – the day the papers were due, too – and she gave a yelp. People, she had forgotten. Forgotten to make her presentation. Forgotten to write her paper. She had done nothing. And when she finally submitted her paper, late, what did she get? An A.

Have I mentioned that I spoke to Alison Bechdel for 45 minutes? On the phone? In real life?


Fast forward a few years. I’m back in Madison, and Bechdel comes to A Room of One’s Own for a book tour. I bring her my book to sign and heart pounding, tell her that I had interviewed her in previous years for a graduate school paper. She smiles, says, “oh yeah,” shakes my hand and signs my book.

I say, “We got an A-.”


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