Archive for the 'I crocheted but I swear it didn’t mean anything to me' Category

This will not be over quickly

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Did anyone else break down this weekend and “prepare for glory” by enjoying a screening of 300, the exciting action film the Rolling Stone aptly observed would appeal to “guys of all sexes and ages”?

And how right they were!
I finished Minnie’s back over the weekend too. Not that the Spartans would care.

To my mind, the best scene was when the Spartans were finishing off various unfortunate Persians—felled in battle, doncha know?—while their leader, King Leonidas, munched on an apple. It is entirely unclear where he got that apple; there were no apples in the ravaged landscape! There were no apple orchards on the fields of glory!

I can only conclude that his wife, Queen Gorgo, packed him a bag lunch before he set out. He probably had a juice box in there too and a box of animal crackers, but he was too embarrassed to eat them in front of the guys.

Then there was the awful scene where Theron forces himself upon Gorgo, all the while hissing, “This will not be over quickly…and you will not enjoy it.”

Funny thing was, that sounded SO familiar. Then I remembered: that was what they told us at our graduate school orientation meeting.

Okay, they tried to dress up that last bit in a lot of flowery verbiage about how we would be enriched by graduate school just as graduate school would be enriched by us and so on and so forth. But really? This will not be over quickly. And you will not enjoy it.
Tonight we bead in hell!!!

On a lovely day during the fall of my first year, I had a chat with a South African friend from the German Literature Program who was at that time a fourth- or fifth-year graduate student. I remember this part with exquisite clarity: she said, cheerfully, “Oh, well, being in graduate school is very, very bad for your health. People gain a lot of weight, they get depressed, their skin loses its glow. Very bad. Very bad indeed!”

I was horrified. And then I proceeded to gain weight, get depressed, and develop at least one clinical skin condition related to stress. The good news, though, is that now I’m losing all that weight again because I’m so traumatized that I can barely eat anything.

The stress giveth and the stress taketh away. Blessed be the name of the stress.

I expect to finish this degree in six years total. Just for scale, the average in my department is still, I believe, eight years. I myself just have to finish sooner so that graduate school doesn’t kill me.

You think I’m joking.

Before I started I could not have known the exact parameters of why it would be so hard to go back to academic grad school in my mid-thirties. Some things I knew: that my income would be cut to a quarter of what I had earned before. That I would probably have to live with housemates after living alone for a decade. That there would be a lot of work.

What I didn’t, and maybe couldn’t, foresee was what the effect of those conditions would be over a sustained period. For instance, I failed to realize that I would be essentially unable to make any friends my own age, unless they were also graduate students, because I would no longer be able to afford the opera, the theater, the ballet, the restaurants, the wine, the lift tickets, the airfare…all the things that people my age, particularly those with careers and no children, would be buying and doing with their free time. This might have been different had I stayed in New York, where people knew me from my “previous life” and were already invested in me as a friend and would have had patience with, say, endless perambulations around Central Park (100% free!). But I was not in New York. I was in Berkeley, the Land of Milk and Organic Honey.

And as Townes van Zandt once sang, “If you want good friends, it’s gonna cost ya!”

I failed to realize that living with housemates would make me feel like I had no real home. I vastly underestimated how excruciating that “homelessness” would feel to me at this point in my life.

I failed to realize how invisible I would feel once I was no longer an authority figure in my own right, once no one particularly saw me as an expert any more. Once I had lost access to the sure-footedness and the accoutrements of true adulthood as I had known it.
Yes, I crocheted last week. But I swear it didn’t mean anything to me!

There have been stretches of the past four and a half years characterized by what I can only describe as grinding, unrelenting misery. Not unhappiness. Misery.

And yet. And yet! This weekend I finished the first draft of the first chapter of my dissertation. It’s far from perfect, of course, but I used my sources to show some things that no historian has ever showed before. I nailed some interesting arguments. Nailed them! And best of all, I can see the immense intellectual progress I’ve made from the beginning of this adventure to now. And I gotta tell you, there’s nothing so exhilarating. Absolutely nothing. Not to me anyway.

This, this moment, is why I’ve hung on like a pit-bull in a fight.

Even now, this will not be over quickly. But maybe I’ve finally gotten to the part where there will be at least a few shreds of glory. No Spartan was ever more prepared.