Tuesday, March 31, 2009

through the surface.

I have needed this deep breath. I have come up for air, just for a moment, to gasp at the life-giving force that words and reaching out and spilling guts are want to give. It is a lonely life, this world of academe. Not always, of course, but often. It is stifling and exhausting and frustrating, all the while simultaneously exhilarating, redeeming, and oh-yes-this-THIS-is-why-I-do-it. But lately, it has been the former. The isolation. The sacrifice. The tunnel with what seems to be the smallest, oh-so-smallest point of light, a dot of white on the head of a pin.

I realize, of course, that it is self-inflicted. This pain I feel, this suffering I endure, has all been caused by me. I do not regret it. I do not clench my first and curse the air at this choice I made. Despite those many moments when I Just Wanted It To End, I thanked my God for giving me the strength to keep going, to have made the choice in the first place, to have been given the opportunity for this education, this one that others would fight to have in my place. I know this. I know this.

But it is still hard.

I have needed this deep breath. I have come up for air to reach out my hand from below the murky waters, to touch you, to feel life on the other side. Because that is where my heart truly is. For five years I have felt out-of-place. For five years I have struggled with and questioned and cursed my intellect, have searched for that thing that would just explain it all and make me more like them. The intellectuals. The real students and scholars and thinkers. The ones who made the same choice as me, but for oh-so-very-different reasons. I have searched through that dark tunnel, waiting for that smallest point of light to burst into a million rays. But the darkness remained.

Until this week. Until today.

I realized, as I count down the days left in this world of measured thoughts and ideas and smarts, that I will no longer search for the light that tells me I am like them. Because I am not like them. Thank God, I am not like them. Thank God I am just me. I went to graduate school because I love to read. The twists of the words, the smell of the pages, the feel of the book in my eager hands. The stories inside, the experiences of people from every walk of life, every corner of the earth, every culture under the sun. My brain wraps around those in its own way, not in their ways. And that is valid. And worthy. And beautiful. Yes. Yes.

I have seen the way she rolls her eyes at the one who speaks of ideas she doesn’t validate. I have heard her snigger under her breath when one announced her desire to study a particular area of literature. I have heard her brag and boast and brag and boast about the work she’s doing—the important work. I have noticed the way she no longer even acknowledges me, because my ideas are not expressed in the manner of hers. I have seen it. I have felt it all. And I have realized how very sad that is. But not for me.

Do you think you’re better than me? Because you have an ability, a gift, for serious intellectual rigor? Because you made a choice to make your life within this Ivory Tower? Because your time as a student will culminate in a 300+ page paper?

You are not. You are not better than me. Nor am I better than you. We have abilities, each of us, different from one another’s. We have made choices for ourselves, in accordance with those abilities, in accordance with our hearts. They are different. No better, no worse, no more worthy, no less important than the other’s. But you do not see this. You see only yourself. And that, that has made me realize how very wrong I was to want to be like you.

I read tonight the story of an immigrant. Her words made me laugh and cry, sometimes within pages of one another. I thought of my Nana, an immigrant herself, her Polish accent singing in my ears.

That. That is why I went to graduate school for literature. The realness of it all. My heart, written there on the page so that I would never forget the power of this life I’ve been given. Not so that I could sit in a classroom and tout my abilities in front of others, to spout from my mouth ideas and insights that only camouflaged what truly lay within them: lack of courtesy, lack of confidence, lack of grace.

These last few days in which I remain a graduate student will be filled with beauty and peace, because I have come to realize, albeit near the end, what truly matters to me. I will never let anyone take from me the beauty of words, the power of a story, or the determination it takes to Just Get Through It. And I certainly will never apologize for why I made the choice I made, will never apologize for not being able “to speak theory” (let alone understand it), will never apologize for not fitting your image of what smart looks and sounds like.

We made choices, you and I. I did not have to make this choice so that I’d get a PhD or teach. There are many other reasons, all of which—even yours—are valid.

This deep breath fills my lungs with peace. I can continue. I can finish what I’ve started. For me. In my way. For my reasons.

I descend again, below the waters no longer murky with uncertainty and strife. I no longer hold my breath, but breathe in the life I have received in this moment, this moment of acknowledging what it has all meant for me. I descend in order to complete the work I have set out to do, the work I have set out to do for me. And I will surface again, a million rays of light surrounding me.

with love from Pittsburgh,

8 lovely bits o' feedback.:

Melissa said...


Meg said...

Honey, you have expressed this better then I've ever been able to. I sit here, nearly 6 years after making that same realization and subsequent decisions. Living an entirely different life and career that i adore and reveling in the beauty of it all. The way we, God and the world give us what we need at all times. The skills, the strength and the wisdom to make the right decisions for ourselves, even when they are different from those we are surrounded by---those we love and admire.

I am so proud of what you have accomplished and excited for what awaits you...

Elise said...

I love this and feel this way as well. Working in admissions for a graduate school, I encounter misconceptions every day from Doctoral candidates and the validity of their degrees. I am so glad you are not the ivory tower type, that is not the Laura I know.... :)

Petunia Face said...

I could have written this (though not so well) because I was the same graduate student--the one who didn't "get" theory but loved the clickety clack of the keyboard and the loamy smell of the spine of a book.
People often ask me why I got my MA in Literature in Creative Writing. What do you DO with it? people ask. And I say "live." I live with it. It is one thing I do not regret doing. I studied my passion. Not everyone is so lucky.
Congratulations to you :)

Irishembi said...

It's so good to hear from you. And in that brief surfacing in an odd way, you made me feel better about my choices. That were not so much choices as moving along with time and tide in a different direction OUTSIDE of academia.

We are similar you and I - as we have discovered - and you'd never guess it by looking at our "life's work". But with or without the degree we both pursue the words and books and learning we love.

One inside the halls and one outside, and every now and again we meet here in the middle.

I've missed you. :-)

Rachal said...

Despite having read many of your other blog posts, for some reason this one really made me appreciate what an amazing writer you are. It was almost spellbinding, actually. Makes me wish I was in Pittsburgh even more than I already do... :-]

Irishembi said...

Just checking on you. Hoping you'll come back up for air again soon.

Claire said...

Oh Laura, this is a beautiful posting. I wish many more people in academia would read literature as you do: not only with brain-intelligence (which you have aplenty), but also with the balance of heart-intelligence. Academia's heart intelligence is scarce, and to tell you the truth, I don't think a lot of academics get what literature is really for---they get lost in the "cultural studies" haze and forget that it is supposed to touch your heart with its extravagant generosity and draw you close to others.
Thank you so much for sharing this.
(P.S. I'm half Polish! My great-grandparents came over from Poland.How cool that you have Polish blood, too!)