a woman of words
One of my favorite games I can remember playing (and loving every gumdrop second of) with my sister when we were really young was called Candy Land. (Most of you probably recognize the name… A close second to it that I also recall loving was Chutes and Ladders, but that’s just a side note.)
Its been over 30 years since I’ve actually hopped my little gingerbread player down the winding red, green, orange, yellow, blue, and purple track, but after completing my dissertation and walking [hopping] away with my degree, I couldn’t help but notice similarities between the board game and the graduate school experience – and actually, higher ed in general.
So I diverge for a moment in my Candied Land series in order to explain the metaphor behind the title.
So let’s get something out of the way right now. I’m
horrible appallingly challenged at board games. I don’t mean playing the games. THAT I can do. I mean I stink at winning. If you want a competitor, don’t ask me over for a long game of Monopoly.
At this stage in my life, I can admit I have little talent in the way of strategy or competitive skills (when it comes to board games, of course). So, if you want to win, but don’t care you played someone who was bound to lose in the first place, then I’m your gal!
The beauty of Candy Land is that there is no strategy involved. As a player, you aren’t required to make choices. You just follow directions. And it is especially ideal for me because there is minimal counting involved. The so-called “skills required” involve color recognition. I can handle that (even with the hereditary color blindness).
Essentially, the winner of the game is predetermined by the shuffle of the cards (remember the little rectangular white cards with one of the six colors on it? Some cards even had two marks of a color?). Predetermined winning is not ideal, I realize. But somehow this lessens the blow when I lose.
So you draw a color card and then follow a winding linear track. When I was a kid, if you landed on a colored space with a black dot, you were stuck until you drew the color again.
I hear this has been changed so that the younger, contemporary players only lose one turn. I suppose this makes the game a little less discouraging for the predetermined losers. Maybe even fair.
Certainly less irritating than when you would continue to draw card after card hoping to get freed while you watch your older sister skip along the rainbow track to the coveted Candy Castle.
Once you are free again, however, you jump along to various confectionery locations on your way to the castle and to winning the game.
When I first began my graduate degree (even when I started my master’s), I felt like the little girl and boy rushing to the rainbow colored track at the beginning of the game. I was naive, excited, eager. I was fully prepared and enthusiastic to find King Kandy.
I suppose King Kandy represents my degree, but in another sense, it was my dissertation. As a graduate student, you spend most of your doctoral program consumed by this writing requirement.
You spend the first half thinking and worrying about writing your dissertation.
And then you spend the second half of your program trying to write your dissertation (and worrying about that).
Along the way (in the board game, that is), you encounter various, and rather tasty characters – Plumpy, Jolly, Mr. Mint, Gramma Nut, Mama Gingersnap, Princess Lolly, Queen Frostline. Within your program you will chance on similar individuals.
The truly inspiring and supportive faculty and staff I encountered in my program quickly reminded me of the Candy Land characters. The secretary of the English Department will forever by my Mama Gingersnap – she was sassy, dressed like she’d walked out of a Cold Water Creek Catalog, and she pretty much ran the department (from an operations and technical standpoint). She always made sure we were registered for our courses and just took care of us (and the rest of the department – faculty, undergrads, staff – everybody!).
Then there are the unsavory characters – Lord Licorice and Gloppy the Molasses Monster. Actually, I don’t remember if Gloppy is a villain, but I’m not a huge fan of molasses (straight up at least, but I won’t turn down a Molasses cookie at Christmas time), so I’ve included him in this category.
I didn’t encounter many “villains” in my program. Most of the faculty, staff, and my peers were quite “collegial”, as they say. (Although collegiality is broadly defined and loosely implemented in most academic circles, so don’t expect much when you first enter your graduate program.)
I suppose there was one faculty member with whom I had the misfortune of taking a class, but that only lasted 16 weeks and then it was over. I learned from the experience, picked another colored card, and skipped on down the road to the Lollipop Woods and the Ice Cream Sea.
Overall, there may have been “sticky” situations during my graduate experiences, but I didn’t let it hold me back.
The point is that if you follow the program, complete your courses, and finish your dissertation, then you find King Kandy (your degree) and you reach the Candy Castle (your dream job!)!
I realize that, while you might have to hop around (from your first teaching position to another, and even from project to project within your institution), you are always hopping forward, and the only thing that really holds you back is you. (Don’t you just hate that kind of unsolicited advice? I do, but it’s the truth.)
And yes, superficially there might be “Gumdrop Mountains” that offer a gumdrop path, AKA shortcut, but the only thing that really propels you to the Candy Castle is perseverance and focus. And if you enjoy learning as much as I do, it doesn’t really feel like work in the first place.
Even now as I work on my tenure process, I can’t help but return to my Candy Land metaphor. Yes, there might be a Licorice Castle with licorice bats (darn you Lord Licorice!) or Gloppy’s Molasses Swamp (and all the sticky situations that can trip up a junior faculty member), but the path is pretty clear. Just like the expectations and requirements for a degree, an institution’s faculty handbook and a good, long chat with your Dean (or whoever ultimately signs and sends you your offer for tenure) typically spells out what the university is looking for and expects for long term contract renewal.
And from what I hear about the newer versions of Candy Land, it is a lot easier to win because they changed the final purple square to a rainbow square. In other words, whichever colored card you draw when you reach the end means you win!
(I remind myself of this quite regularly now so I don’t stress too much about whether I’m effectively developing as a new faculty member …. because at my university, they focus on teaching and follow a more broadly defined and contemporary approach to scholarship and research.)
And because I can’t help but make the confection connection, when I am having a particularly stressful week (you know, the days when you work from dusk to dawn and can’t seem to cross off one item from your to do lost. In fact, you add more items!), I find myself humming a tune from another candy-related fixture from my childhood: the Candy Man song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Somehow, life seems less serious when I think about covering my problems in chocolate and sprinkling them with dew. Or taking a rainbow, wrapping it in a sigh, then soaking it in the sun to make a lemon pie…
Who can take tomorrow
And dip it in a dream
Separate the sorrow
And collect up all the cream
The candy man
Oh the candy man can
The candy man can cause he
Mixes it with love and
Makes the world
I mean, let’s face it. It is pretty darn hard to stress out about work when you sugar coat your neuroses and worries with a dose of candied logic and a snap of gingerbread strategy.
So that’s where I find and see myself now – in The Candied Land. Higher education is certainly not perfect, but pretty straightforward (and certainly rewarding – Candy Castle or no Candy Castle!). And so… hence the name….