defining my terms

I have updated my weekly picks on time two weeks in a row!  Anyway.

The doctoral ceremony was Friday and was, of course, one of the moments when my hard work paid off.  I wore a tam!  And I was particularly grateful for the opportunity to recognize everyone in my life, both professional and personal, who dealt with The Crazy until I finally put on my regalia and stood in front of a crowd, smiling awkwardly, as I officially ended my graduate career at Rice.

My dissertation director put his arm across my shoulders as we walked off the stage, and it felt great to know that someone I respect was proud of my work.  “It feels different, doesn’t it?” he asked.  And it does.  It feels great.

But really — and just a disclaimer, I will be feeling sorry for myself for a moment here — I have mixed feelings about the ceremony and its supposed weight and finality.  I’m not moving onto the next big thing like so many of my friends.  (And these friends are very deserving.)  Instead, I’m trying to figure out how to negotiate the emotional, mental, and financial liminal space between earned doctorate and some as yet unrealized, perhaps never-to-be-attained, future professorship.  The small talk occasioned by the events of this weekend was often a practice in keeping a stiff upper lip, and the muscles in my face are a little tired.

Please don’t comment and blame the economy.  Because I can’t punch the economy in the face.

But — and this is where I stop being a pathetic self-pitying spoilsport — I am a firm believer in the power of framing your own reality.  It’s like I tell my undergraduates:  sometimes, you have to define your terms.  Let your reader know how you interpret the world around you.  Let them know that words, images, and circumstances are not transparent, that you can decide how they work in your writing.  Or, maybe, in your life.

So, what does this summer — in which I’ll be reading Where the Wild Things Are to five-year-olds instead of packing up the apartment and heading off to a new English department — mean in the context of my life?  How am I going to define this particular set of terms to support my argument — that my work, my time at Rice, was valuable and will pay off?  What does success mean right now, and what can I take away from the sometimes ridiculous and overblown rite of commencement?

This series of rhetorical questions means, obviously, that I haven’t figured it out yet.  I have a set of possible definitions.  Experience with children will be rewarding, potentially useful when I apply for children’s literature jobs.  And remaining at Rice for a year, hopefully as a lecturer, will give me the opportunity to beef up my CV with composition courses and, perhaps, another publication.  These definitions are accurate, but they still need work.  They’re the kind of shallow, lazy answers that I don’t accept in my students’ papers.

“Say more,” I would write in the margin.


4 thoughts on “defining my terms

  1. You rock my socks. And you will rock a future English department’s socks, too, when they get their collective heads out of their collective rumps.

    For whatever it’s worth, I’m trying to think less about success and more about happiness. If I can be happy most days in a position/place where I never expected or wanted to be, that’s all I can do. Sometimes easier said than done, though.

  2. I don’t know how much meaning this will have for you but this is how I think about it:

    That our lives, and ourselves, are not about a series of successes and failures, but about the composition of our character. How do we meet our daily challenges? With acceptance or contempt? How to we treat others? With kindness or cruelty?

    Obviously I have experienced things I perceive as failure in order to redefine my terms that way. But those are the terms I use to face the days of playing dolls and changing diapers.

  3. i am so incredibly proud of you! i really like what sandy said about happiness, and she is more eloquent than i am, so all i will say is that i second her emotion!

  4. You’re probably already doing this, but I just wanted to send a friendly reminder for you to submit your career questions and anxieties to God in prayer. Then, do your best to listen attentively for his answer (which may not come right away). He won’t speak to you in an audible voice, but he will answer in other ways. When life is not going as planned, that is when you will find the hand of God is at work in your life. He has a plan for you, and it is probably something much greater than what you have envisioned. Be confident in him, and he will take you places you haven’t dreamed of.

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