Well folks, grad school has come and gone.
It’s beautiful on campus. I grew up on a college campus; my earliest memories are of playing under my father’s desk while he met with students. My parents met on campus. My maternal grandfather ran the post office and general store at a college; my paternal grandfather was a professor. I have spent a majority of my adulthood in school. While it’s a bit embarrassing to say, I really don’t function well anywhere else. Campus is really the only place I’ve ever fit in or made sense.
Now I’m in a spot where it’s unclear if I’ll get to return. I am a good academic. I love to teach and I can really do it. I really can. I really come alive in the classroom. And I’m built to be a researcher, as I am a compulsive writer (in the old school sense of it being out of my control) and habitual reader. I think my stuff is good. But I hardly need to tell you that many talented academics are left out in the cold in current labor conditions. I am hardly giving up. I have a very strong CV, and I’m still applying now, and there’s some jobs I’ve interviewed for lately that would be awesome. I will also give it another go next year if it doesn’t break for me this spring or summer. If it doesn’t work out for me my second go around, then we’ll see. Obviously, my compulsions to write, and my style in writing, do not always help. Like the lady sang, “I need to tame this wild tongue if I’m to touch these white streets,” but all these years later I’m still learning, still regretting. I left my last class a few weeks ago hoping that it won’t be the last I ever teach. I am not complaining. I am in a really rare spot of freedom. I can go anywhere and do anything. I just may not get to stay on campus any longer. If not, I’ll figure it out. You don’t always get what you want in life!
I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve made a lot of mistakes.
I have more regrets than I can count, but the last six years of MA and PhD, the decision to commit myself in this way, aren’t among them. I am a far healthier and more functional human being than when I started, although there too the work is ongoing. Going to grad school was the best decision I ever made. Looking back, I think of the work. The endless hours of reading books, of chewing through terrible old facsimile PDFs, of drafting and redrafting papers, of staring at a paragraph of text from some 19th century Scottish rhetorician and trying to make it make sense, of laboring over a graphing calculator as I agonizingly dragged myself to competence in stats, of grading huge stacks of papers, of mildewy lecture halls, of the stacks in the library, and always of the paper, the paper and the ink. The work is what I was in for. I know that sounds impossibly pious, and I promise that I’m not trying to prove my virtue. I’m only saying that, as the person I am, the work is ultimately the only satisfaction, the only tool to quiet my unquiet mind. I only regret that those who built this smokeless fire inside of me and left too soon were not there to see any of it. If I get to stay, I will give thanks every day. If I leave, I will be OK, and I will leave behind a folder on my computer that houses within it 2000 nights of grinding, grinding, grinding away, for my own self, 2000 nights of purpose. And I did it all for you, dear father, nurturing mother, for you.