Sunday, July 09, 2006

About My Dragon

I’m having a hard time with the “About Me” section of this blog. I’ve changed it many times, and I expect to change it many more. Part of the problem stems from the fact that at a certain point (which I have apparently reached) all the succinct descriptors are defined by relationships that I either do not have (wife, mother, etc.) or seem sort of pathetic if invoked as defining. For instance, though my friendships with the people in my life are rich and satisfying and occupy a great deal of my time and energy, to describe myself as a friend in the “About” section of a blog would appear a little plaintive and over-reaching. If nothing else, it would be a bit misleading. My friends do not define me, though my time with them certainly does.

The other problem I’m having in telling readers about me is that it’s bringing me face to face with something that’s much larger, much more defining than I had ever intended: being a graduate student. I never meant for this one fact to be so all encompassing. And by encompassing, I mean grad school has eaten me in quick, messy bites and swallowed me with very little ado. I’m here, on the verge of beginning my dissertation after four years of course work, a masters thesis, studying for exams, working up a dissertation proposal, and suddenly I realize that if I tell you I’m a graduate student, you’ll have a better picture of my daily life than if I tell you any other single fact about me. I’m a graduate student. I spend long hours working at the most minute possible tasks (I’d be embarrassed to say how long a single sentence can occupy my attention) and longer hours avoiding those tasks. I spend my time with people who swear they will not talk about history during a meal only to find themselves deeply involved in a conversation about source problems in a dissertation on race in the 17th Century or the best way to keep abreast of current journal articles. We can’t help ourselves.

A while back, peacay over at BibliOdyssey (which is wonderful in every way) posted the image atop this post and I immediately saved it to my desktop and sent it to a friend as the perfect representation of how I feel about graduate school. To me, the image appears calm and violent simultaneously. It’s just a depiction of the simple fact of an encounter with a dragon. I often look at it and wonder whether the person in the picture is being eaten or spit out (in this grad school-inspired metaphor, I’m not sure which would be the more awful) and sometimes I think the person is launching an assault on the dragon, climbing down his throat. The dragon does look uncomfortable. Regardless of the actual circumstances, whether by accident or design, the legs have thrown their lot in with the dragon and their story will be told together.

I imagine, then, that the dragon sits smack dab in the middle of my profile looking self-satisfied and full. And as much as I want to say something in my profile that has nothing to do being a graduate student (just as I’d desperately like to believe that there are things about me unrelated to my grad student status), I can’t pretend that the perspective here isn’t going to be one defined by the belly of this beast. I’d tell you I teach and lecture history, but that’s part of the grad student gig. I’d tell you that I’m a dog owner and hope that balances things, but the truth is that being a dog owner is one of the reasons I’m a graduate student. I had to find something to do that seemed worth the time away from this animal that I love. That doesn't make me seem balanced at all.

I suppose the elements of my life, for as out of whack as it seems in profile, do fit together quite neatly. I have a life that allows me to walk the dog in the morning and discuss surveillance and sexuality over coffee in the afternoon. I teach to make money and to make sure that the ideas I struggle with on my own are worth boiling down and passing on and giving new life in the minds of the students who I both adore and who exasperate me. Even my hobbies work as coping mechanisms that relieve the stress of grad school. It's all been woven together in a pattern that's neither jarring nor boring. I love being a graduate student. But I’d like, very much, to believe that I haven’t been swallowed.


Blogger EOL said...

S, I love this post and the way you describe the grad student experience. It reminds me of a friend who told me during her MFA work that she felt like that picture of the snake eating its own tail -- but I like your illustration better, because it allows for the fact that higher ed. isn't in the eye of the beholder -- it's a real, consuming creature. Anyway, keep writing, because I'm selfish and want to keep reading.

4:21 AM  

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