Ph.D. Dreams and Reading Challenges and a lot of parentheses


I am going to join this reading challenge. More on that in a minute.

I’m sad! I currently work in leased office space off campus in a building shared with lots of shops, businesses and, conveniently, my medical system. Just a few moments ago I joined my plebotomist on the elevator after securing a bottle of water from the cafeteria. Darian has been my plebotomist for two years, and not that I get my blood drawn that often, but I do often enough to know him, to know he is gentle and never misses my vein, and he understands I can’t look until it is all over. He says things to me like “Hmm, baby – if you weren’t married I’d be ALL over you,” while he is drawing vials for cholesterol checks, celiacs disease, the level of my immunizations ( my cholesterol, it is sort of high – I don’t have celiacs disease so far – my hospital demands annual check ups to make sure we don’t bring anything funky into the chemotherapy ward), and I never leave with a bruise. Well, Darian has been laid off – yet another blow from the Michigan economy. I am sad for him, although I have no doubt he will be able to find work somewhere like Arizona or Texas, the two states Michiganders seem to be flocking too right now. I guess it might be nice for him – he is single and I bet the arms in Arizona and Texas are tan and toned, unlike our flabby, pale Michigan arms. Now other women will receive his utterly inappropriate but oddly charming jokes, and I have to trust my left arm to someone new, someone who doesn’t know just how much I hate having blood drawn, or where my veins are located.

As I said. I’m sad.

Anyway. Lately dreams of pursuing a ph.d. have been knocking around in my head.  I think this is primarily because S. is considering such a move, and I’m sort of jealous, which, note to self, is NOT a reason to pursue a ph.d., but these thoughts are there, nonetheless. When I received my M.F.A. I truly believed I was done with school – I had an incredibly enjoyable, stimulating three years (punctuated by weeks and weeks of strife) and I thought, well, now I write, and then I publish, and then I become a professor at a University maybe, or Margaret Atwood, or the guy who wrote The 40-year old Virgin. Whatever. 

Maybe it’s just the time of year…there really is nothing like oppressive mugginess, endless gray skies and unpredictable thunder storms to harken August, and thus school (the weather is not a reason to get a ph.d.) or maybe its because my husband, my best friend and her husband are all returning to school (other friends getting ph.ds are not reasons to get ph.ds).

As an undergraduate I was totally convinced I wanted to be an English professor – my teachers encouraged me, as well. One told me she thought it was my destiny, another told me he anticipated the market being great since so many (then) current professors would be retiring around the time I graduated. (flattery is not a reason to get a ph.d.) – I saw my moves after graduation as essentially a straight shot – I would immediately go to graduate school, and then on to my doctorate, be all done by the time I’m thirty and signing “Dr.” on all my checks.  But in my fourth year of undergrad, my grandma was diagnosed with terminal cancer and between weekends home, working and balancing school work I just couldn’t bring myself to face applying.  I would wait, I decided. After all, I didn’t know what I really wanted to do.

And waiting was undoubtedly the right thing, for me – I spent time acting in North Carolina, I studied writing, I started the beginnings of a profitable writing career. And most of the time this seems like more than enough. I think one of the main reasons I want to consider a ph.d. is because I recently realized what I would, if I were to,  pursue. And that, coupled with all this back to school nostalgia, is enough to make me a bit feverish and surreptitiously looking at programs on my lunch break. 

Regardless of what I end up choosing to do in this arena, I know I’m not ready to even consider pursuing this idea this year.  I’ve spent some trying to figure out what seems to be lacking in my life, that I would want to put myself through the torture of a ph.d. program, and I think it’s this: I’ve gotten quite far away from myself.  By this, I mean, I used to go to plays, movies, museums, festivals (you get the idea) – I used to read books because they were important books (I still remember my one full summer of Austen – sigh) – I used to have a lot  more appreciation of and time for the arts in general.  Partly, I blame the metro Detroit area on my lack of enthusiasm – it is a difficult area to live in, financially and situationally, but mostly, the blame rests with me.  It is easier to turn on the television at the end of the day than it is to pick up Anna Karenina;  It is easier to watch one of my movies mailed to me from Blockbuster than go to the art house 20 miles away.  But as I’ve settled for doing less I’ve found myself less and less intellectually challenged, and possessing less enthusiasm than I used to, and I don’t like it.  I have my health, I’m childless, and I have extra income…this is no time to settle into a suburban matron.

In thinking about how I could change some of these things, I decided before I even consider a ph.d. I at least need to do a year of structured reading – to discipline myself enough to in a sustainable way. To this end, I’ve decided to join Carl’s  RIPII Challenge. I don’t yet know what books I will read, but I am going to complete Peril I. This seems like an excellent place to start with a more structured reading plan – and what a community to read along with. Now, I’ve joined these challenges before, but this time is different for me – this time, it’s to help me learn a little more about myself.

I’m considering some other things to shake up this autumn, when so many will be immersed in their textbooks. I’m thinking of taking an acting class, since it’s been six years since I acted and I think enough time has passed. I’m still writing my novel and working on essays – my writing, it is always there – I never leave it.  A couple of different friends would like to take classes with me as well, but I’m not sure if I’m going to do that or not, yet. I might need the time to read, and finish a draft of my novel by Christmas. I need to think. One thing I know for sure – this fall and winter I am going to read through all of Hemingway’s work in an attempt to finally complete my essay “Haunted by Hemingway” so a new category on this blog will be formed soon, called the Hemingway notebook. 

Hmmm….fall….so much possibility! Maybe that’s what I miss so very much about the beginning of school – new notebooks, clean texts, fresh syllabi…two whole semesters of opportunity. Hey, if I can harness all of the good feelings about autumn and learning without applying for a ph.d. – the never have to face the clusterfuck that is March, when all hell is broken loose, a highlighter has leaked on your pants, you can’t find the one paper you need out of the thousands you have, and a mental breakdown seems entirely possible.  Missing March, academically speaking, is not a bad thing at all.

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8 Responses to Ph.D. Dreams and Reading Challenges and a lot of parentheses

  1. Sarah says:

    Because I’ve either been in school or been in a relationship with someone who is in grad school themselves, my new years holidays always arrive in September rather than January. You’re right, it’s a perfect time to shake things up a bit and explore opportunities. I’m looking forward to the Hemingway notebook by the way, as I will be attempting my first ever Hemingway novel in the next few months (any recommendations as to which one should be the first?).

  2. litlove says:

    I adored this post, and think I ought to print it off and hand it out to students who are considering doing PhDs for all the wrong reasons! Mind you, if people only did them for the right ones, I do wonder how many research students there would be out there!! You’re right to break it down – wanting to do research is fundamentally about wanting to turn one’s curiosity and engagement onto the outside world in a meaningful way, to master some vagary of experience, to give oneself something back that’s spiritual and enlightening, to embrace a discipline as a way of expanding oneself. It doesn’t have to be a PhD to do all these things, but a well done PhD will entail them. I think you will be fantastic at whatever you decide to do because you have such an honest and thoughtful approach, Courtney. Whatever you do this autumn, enjoy yourself and tell us all about it here.

  3. Pingback: Stainless Steel Droppings » Something This Way Comes

  4. Shupac says:

    Think hard about it. Six years ago I got a PhD for lack of anything better to do. Since then I’ve been teaching in a university for the same reason. If I could do it over again, I probably wouldn’t. Getting through a program requires embracing not only the subject, but the culture and manners of academia. Those have never been a good fit for me. That said, I had many great experiences, intellectual and otherwise, on the road to the degree. It can be a very fulfilling undertaking, provided you know why you’re getting in, and what you want to take from it.

  5. Andi says:

    You will be fantabulous at whatever you decide. I was just telling my mom the other day, that I’m really surprised I’m not already jonesing for the PhD since I turned Illinois State down. But, surprise surprise, I’m enjoying having a life and coming to grips with the fact that maybe teaching is what I like…moreso than research.

    But enough about me.

    Fall is definitely a time of possibility and brings with it a sense of beginnings. I have a bouquet of sharpened pencils with your name on it. 🙂

  6. Stefanie says:

    Glad you’re joining the RIP Challenge. Best of everything in deciding whether or not to go for the ph.d.

  7. LK says:

    Ph.D. — ??? I know how you feel. Keep chewing on it, keep talking to people: An answer will become clear. My personal doubts for myself is that Ph.D. study is so specific and research-oriented. I think I am more of a generalist. I adored the master’s experience because I had a lot of freedom.

    I look forward to your RIP selections.

    Hang in there!

  8. Idetrorce says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

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