First Year Issa Wrap

I have officially completed my first year of graduate school. I entered this year with the hopes of encouraging inclusive communities and improving educational systems. However, I’m not sure that’s what will sustain me in the future.

Below, I have written 9 lessons or considerations during this First Year Grad Experience.

1. Teaching in Higher Education

This year has shown me how competitive the world of higher education is. There’s a big push to publish and make departments look good. This push is encouraged within PhD programs so that you have a greater chance of finding a more permanent position in academia. I honestly just enjoy researching things that interest me at the time and am more concerned with taking action to solve problems (rather than writing about it). So I am still uncertain about whether academia is a good place for me.

2. When Students Don’t Prioritize Your Class

Teaching while studying can be challenging and frustrating. I lead classes or assist lectures to waive tuition and earn a living stipend. I do enjoy teaching and see the payment as a plus but it is difficult when students don’t prioritize your class. You know, it’s not that I’m ever bothered by my class not being a priority to them, it’s bothersome when students assume that they deserve an A for non-A effort. You earn the grade that you work for but this isn’t an easy conversation to have.

3. Higher Education as Place Holder (Limited Job Market)

I think most students (regardless of the level) see higher education as an end and forget the story in between. Often, students resort to school because there are limited options in the work force or they are anxious about that world. Personally, this dilutes my experience while studying but I also have to remember that it’s not about me. It is someone else’s race. And that’s more than okay. I do hope that our studies lead us to positions that we enjoy or that provide well for us.

4. Black in White Spaces

I have grown up in spaces with racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. I have also lived in spaces where I was the only black person (or one of the few). However, I never expected the latter to be so prevalent nor challenging for me at this stage in my life. It’s not that black people don’t exist here, they do. There’s a lot of us but in comparison to the whole…it’s fairly small. This campus alone is about 70% white. Which is a lot but I never would have imagined that it’d effect me as much as it has. But perhaps this is because I’m no longer surrounded by my friends who are black or people of color (or just with different mindsets than I find here). Who knows?

5. Education Versus Wellbeing

The previous lesson learned led me to consider whether or not to continue my studies. Graduate studies are challenging. Traveling and putting down roots is challenging. Living in space where you don’t feel considered breaks my spirit. I do not feel that acquiring an education is more important than one’s health (e.g. diet, sleep schedule, mental health, physical health, etc.). My life shouldn’t just be about school. So I’m constantly thinking about how to support myself and my happiness within a toxic environment…or if I should just remove myself completely.

6. Inner Creative

Speaking of happiness: as a leader and teacher, I am still forever a creative. I’m pushing myself to find a method, schedule, and balance that works for me. I think the first step is living in a place that inspires me. A place that is visually and audibly stimulating. Maybe that exists here and maybe not. So I’ll continue exploring places and working on projects.

7. Paying the Bills

I’m becoming more interested in just focusing on making money to put down roots and build myself. I think that previously I’ve been okay with floating around and being paid peanuts. But I’m starting to realize that I allowed companies to devalue my worth. My mind and hands are so incredibly gifted. I have developed skills and gained knowledge that should help me to do more than just pay the bills. However, I do enjoy my lights.

8. Content Versus Fernweh

I am not sure if I have less of an interest in traveling because I want to collect more money, I am getting serious about settling, or I am just tired of starting over and relocating. I also am well aware that I’m exhausted, finally entering adulthood, and anxious for answers. This changes every day but I’m not as concerned with traveling very far  or as often anymore.

9. Discipline + Intention = Success

Finally, the biggest lesson learned that helped me survive graduate school was that discipline can occur in different ways. I never considered myself to be disciplined until this year because I usually associate that word with people who work out (I am not one of those people). However, I am disciplined in scheduling the personal and professional, in developing methods to conduct classes and complete my own assignments, and in budgeting my money. In looking at this past year, intentionality with discipline made me more successful. By envisioning and speaking goals to following through on, I have created a good reputation and earned great grades. I also continue to surprise myself with opportunities and possibilities for the future.

Final advice to first years:

  • Find a planner that works for you.
  • Build healthy habits.
  • Position yourself as the main focus.
  • Show up physical, emotionally, and mentally.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up.

I learned that I am still uncertain about what I want to do in the future. I realized this over the past year. This matters because I am continually pushing to see what the end looks like. In light of this, I will continue to pace myself and be patient next year. The goal for my second and final year of graduate school is to produce great work which interacts with the public and continue pursing my inner creative needs. I’m anxious and excited to see what makes itself available this time next year and will keep you updated.


Cayla Jae


Don’t Forget to Schedule in Joy

I started this blog to provide stories about how I navigate my higher education. I think that it is important to have some level of transparency because we all experience things differently. I hope that some of these stories give peace to those who follow or words to what others might be feeling.

I literally have not written in two months. At one point, I would have blamed it on my schedule, studies, and work; however, the honest truth is that I have not protected my time for making or creating. I am a creator and an artist who has gotten so lost in the noise of my environment that I deserted my inner creative.

Scheduling and planning things has become a top priority for me. It is a skill that I have been developing for years and is unique to the individual. I value scheduling the personal and informal just as I do the professional and formal. I do this because it is important to create, maintain, and sustain boundaries.

As we age, our lives get more complicated; therefore, maintaining space for yourself is key to your well being. We naturally prioritize things that are important to or urgent for us. For me, I value art making, singing, dancing, cooking, and baking. These might come in the form of me getting lost in painting, creating a PowerPoint, writing a paper, or headlining my own karaoke performance in my apartment (sorry, not sorry neighbors). For others, it is important for you to identify what you enjoy most, what recenters you, what helps you breathe a little better, and stand a little taller. These priorities will look different for everyone and appear differently in different seasons of your life. However, since these things are super important to me, I schedule them to ensure that no one or no thing else can interfere with my joy.

For example, when making plans with friends in undergrad, I would pull out my calendar on my phone to confirm whether or not I was truly open. There have been times where I would say, “I actually have Zumba from 5-6 on that night, so we can meet before then or I can find you all afterwards.” Even now, as I teach, I often have students who want to make up assignments outside of the time allotted for them. Recently, I discussed trying to find time for a student who needed a make up and having limited options for them with coworkers. As my coworkers inquired about my schedule, I realized that they were trying to gauge my work or study obligations (which were definitely present); however, I was more concerned that this make up would interfere with my joys that I prioritized and scheduled in advance. These things are so important to me that I will not move them, but I will carve out time around them if needed.

As I write this, I sense that some of you might think this is selfish. Which I would answer yes, I am concerned with my own personal pleasure and I would hope that you are too. For me, in the words of Drake, I’m here for a good time, not a long time. I do my best to eat, sleep, and move well but I also want to be having fun while I do it. In a sense, the students who ask to rearrange plans are also being selfish, because they have prioritized something else that is more important to them than the work for my class which they committed to. Therefore, I see nothing wrong with protecting my time and space necessary for me to be happy…necessary for my inner creative.

As we near the end of this academic semester, I imagine that I will be more aware of protecting my creativity and writing to you all more frequently. I have fallen out of my habit to protect my art making space and will be sure to schedule more consistent time for it in the future. I hope that you do as well!




Back to Top Priorities

Weeks ago, I wrote about priorities and choices. I wrote about my top priority always being the warm embrace of happiness. Throughout life, our choices may be limited or affected by our environments which question our commitments to that which matters the most.

I left undergrad in a place that was uncertain but proud. I had finally met Cayla. I listened to, supported, and embraced her. Through allowing her to thrive, I learned that she needed to be in the gym at least 3 days out of the week, silence for a good portion of the day, and to create things that were both important to her and others. And even if I moved, it was my responsibility to ensure that she continued to have those things which made her smile.

I did not do my job well. During this gap year experience, I’ve noticed that I’ve stopped supporting myself. I placed myself too far from my chosen family, outside of the gym, into 57 hours per week of noise, and within an uninspiring location. Instead of listening to her, I added distractions to my life which have veer me off of a path that I fought so hard to build.

At one point, I knew that I was meant to live alone somewhere near the sun. Somewhere where I could read books, enjoy hot tea, and dance to the sound of the wind. I knew that I wanted to help people by creating solutions to issues that make my heart sad. I knew that I didn’t care for economic wealth, just financial stability with zero debt. I knew that I would move the bubble to a place I could call home.

However, this year, I have developed unhealthy relationships and habits. I can’t remember the last book I read nor cup of tea I’ve drank. In the past, when I danced, there were always two friends who’d join in, but now I’m more of a spectacle. I have an endless list of things to do and no motivation to start them. I lie in bed eating marshmallows and watching Grey’s Anatomy for the 10th time thinking about all the places my body screams to go to.

9 months ago, Cayla would’ve written this to current Cayla:

1. Set Priorities

2. Assess Your Situation

3. Check Happiness

4. Plan Small Goals

My ultimate priory is to be happy and have silence. I can’t get that from anyone but myself.

I’ve allowed people into my space who don’t deserve my attention. However there were quite a few new relationships that I hope will stick. I’m also making some good decisions with how use my money. So I feel that I just need more structure to my life to rebuild some good and healthy habits.

I am unhappy because I’m not content with my environment. I want more choices and freedom than I currently have. I feel like I’m suffocating. As result, I’ve become more defiant and nasty, because I’m fighting… without a goal (besides freedom of course).

My current plan is to finish my service term within the next 2 weeks. Once released from service, I can allot time to think about myself, achievable goals, and actually follow through. So small steps: finish service, live alone in a pretty place, join a gym/ dance studio, read for pleasure, and eat healthy.

Hopefully by this time next month, I will have attempted some of these goals to get back to my priorities.

Untitled (Blue) 2017

This piece was the heart of my show last spring. It was the last piece that I began working on and the first one that came to life. Although loosely created as a self-portrait, it embodies the spirit of the impact I wish to leave and the person I am creating.

6' by 3.5" acrylic portrait painting
Portrait of my guiding spirit and mood of my new mindset.

Gap Year: Romance for the 20 Somethings

You were my smile for every mensiversary complimented with an handmade card. You wrapped me in tales from the past, gazed forever into my soul, and escorted me home through the night. You were my home manifested into the skin of an imperfect human. You were the best friend that I wished I were not afraid to loose if I uttered that one four-letter word. It was as if God themselves had made a copy of everything that was me and changed my sex. It was as if they knew I needed someone to talk to about what all I questioned. It was as if I needed a night of mint chocolate chip ice cream before meditation. It was as if I had to know that I could develop feelings so quickly. For you were the only one who I was brave enough to trade numbers with while on the clock, because you are my Sunday morning.

And somehow, you were more than my sunshine. You watched my every move out of fear that you could not keep me. You didn’t listen to me when I said no. You lied to me about accidents and stood me up three times. You preferred the company of alcohol and cigarettes than me. You were always searching for something else or someone else. You suffered greatly of fernweh. Your heart was preoccupied. And unfortunately for me, you need time to work on your own holistic health.

There’s nothing more that 20 somethings like to talk more about than love. It is this fascinating mystery which is televised as high school sweethearts and uncontrollable foot pops. It takes a while to get through the myths and learn from mistakes, but once you get here, you question everything. While some found one of their soul mates and live in the butterflies every day, others have been let down and hurt. At this age, I am surrounded by young adults who are learning what adulthood means which includes how to develop and sustain relationships. We talk about love, because we all want to believe that it still exists. We want to know that it doesn’t have to be toxic, painful, confusing, forced, or just not right.

My first two paragraphs were statements about all of the boys and men I have encountered thus far. We remember people through emotions and experience. While the details may not remain, I remember who made me feel that I was never enough and who reminded me that I was a Queen. Against everyone’s advice, I have never let go of those relationships, because for me they define romantic and platonic relationships. Although these memories circulate within my mind as I date new men, I still allow for a new slate. However, I am still triggered by certain words or movements which remind me of those from my past. I honestly think there’s no way to avoid it either.

For us 20 somethings, many of our relationships are measured and outlined according to our past experiences. I’ve recently ventured into the territory of online dating which I wrote about in an earlier blog post. While it is fairly simple to find decent people to chat with, it is so much harder to find someone who’s a great match. Also, a good number of people online opted into the dating sites, because they find it difficult to find and talk to people in real life. After trying out a number of sites, I discovered that it was not going to me my path to a lasting romantic relationship (unless you want to be married asap, because there a plenty of people who can’t wait to get to the altar). I also realized that I have just as great of a chance going out to events and finding people. Even when I do that, I still get people who like the idea of love, but are too afraid or not emotionally available to dive into something new.

This reality makes me reconsider my own priorities. What is my goal? Do I want a romantic relationship? Do I just want friendships? Do I just enjoy flirting and the chase? Do I want more or will I accept having access to only a small piece of someone’s heart? But most importantly, do I even care? Right now, I have so many other things that are more important than figuring out who will buy me chocolate for Valentine’s Day. In short, Romance for the 20 somethings is confusing, exciting, ever changing, emotional, and different for everyone. It is defined by moments in life. It has new perspectives. It is a wondrous mystery which we dream about.


Cayla Jae

Untitled Senior Show

First, I apologize for my absence. This Winter and Spring has been occupied by events, projects, trips, and conferences. Although I have not been writing as much, I have been documenting those memories on my other social media platforms.

My last post summarized the most important parts of my senior Communication research. Since then, I have noticed that I really enjoy learning about how the world informs us about race and how that encourages us to or hinders us from taking action. As I work to improve my physical being and my outlook on the world, I began focusing within and actively practicing more self-love.

My senior Art Capstone documents this process through paint. I will release the artist statement and final images for the current exhibition on display within the next couple of weeks. However, I will insert a sneak peak below! More images are loaded onto my Instagram

With Love,

Self-Portrait of Artist/ Writer in Acrylic on Canvas
Self-Portrait of Artist/ Writer in Acrylic on Canvas

Senior Art Show

During the last couple of months, I have conducted research on the self-image and self-definition the identity of young African American women. Much of the literature review and expert interviews led to conversations which were challenging to grasp. Just understanding the reality of the adversities that come along with the intersectionality of being an African American woman in the U.S. was disheartening. However, the research did not end on a sad note.

What I realized is that young African American women see the importance of self-love. The group in my case study had begun to practice self-love and a freedom of expression which may initially sound rudimentary, yet is so complex and necessary to the collective progression. The majority of participants agreed that the thing they wanted most was to be free from expectations on who they should portray, what they should say, and what they should do as African American women.

With this in mind, I am continuing with this research into an artist project. For my second undergraduate capstone, I am creating a show through paintings which address the issues mentioned above. I have planned three large scale nude self-portraits in an attempt to humanize African American women through my own personal experiences. I am in the process of releasing myself from pre-prescribed labels and expectations. I am excited to keep you all updated with this process. The show will be exhibited on the 13th of April. 

You can follow the experience in real time via Instagram: cayla_jae. I will be posting sketches soon and process shots throughout the next couple of months.

Tune In This Winter

I have spent weeks trying to find the words and the perfect quote to express this thought. What I have now realized is that it does not have to be ingenious or flawlessly crafted. What I want to say is that I am transitioning.

For years, I have created work that I felt others wanted to see. I have painted, drawn, and written narratives that we not of my true nature, voice, nor intentions. Therefore, following my explorations aboard through the landscapes of Ireland and then nationally within the suburbs of Orlando, Florida, I have reached a period which I consider the eye of the storm.

I am currently doing research, along with person soul searching, in order to properly articulate my narrative. For this reason, I have not and will not be posting as often as I have in the past; however, this Winter you can expect sneak peeks of my first exhibition. I am excited about this for many reasons, but I am most excited to be able to sincerely share myself with you.



“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
― Thomas Merton

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.

  • Maya Angelou