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The first day of the rest of your life

Yesterday was the deadline for depositing dissertations for May graduation. After a final bit of drama (my advisor emailing to tell me that she hadn’t in fact finished circulating the signature sheets, so I needed to come get them, collect signatures, overnight them to my distinguished outside reader, and get them back again by the deadline), and despite losing my hard drive, I turned it in. Which means: I made four copies on the prescribed paper weight, put each copy in its own individual properly-labelled envelope, filled out the Survey of Earned Doctorates Form, filled out the UMI Microfilming Agreement and the UMI Abstract Sheet, paid the University Cashier to get the thing bound and microfilmed, clipped the receipts to the copies, attached the signature sheets, hauled it over to the Office of Graduate Studies, and handed it to the Graduate Dean.

And then I met up with Peter and the kids at my favorite Williamsburg restaurant, ate an enormous meal, and went home and watched The Two Towers, which for some reason is my favorite of the whole trilogy. I think it’s all that orc-hewing.

Whew.

NOW I feel better.

Really. It’s remarkable. I feel amazingly FREE. The apple trees are blooming.

The azaleas in Peter’s garden are coming out.

And as my friend and co-doctor Lauren remarks, “Now we never have to write anything we don’t want to write ever again.” (OK, that’s not ENTIRELY true, but we never have to write to ORDER again, and that’s a most wonderful thought.)

So I cleaned up my office again and reorganized everything.

And then I sat down to consider, seriously, the next challenge: How do I avoid falling back into the same habits of thought I’ve been cultivating for my entire life?

See, graduate work instills in you the dreadful mental habit of considering the whole shape of your life to be temporary. You’re always looking forward, to the time when the degree will be over. You’re always stressed, because so much of the process is out of your control. You’re ACCUSTOMED to being out of control, to having deadlines and duties assigned to you without any power to shift or alter them. You’re forced into a sort of prolonged and unnatural adolescence, dependent on your “elders” (who are mighty close to being your peers, by this point), desperate for their approval and dependent on their whims.

Now that it’s over, it’s vitally important that I get out of crisis mode. It’s far too easy to just continue on, always scrambling to meet the next deadline, to put out the next fire, to fulfill the next demand. It’s far harder than you might think to STOP. To say: I will no longer continually look forward. To resolve: I will find satisfaction in the work I do every day, not in some imagined future payoff.

The truth is that the imagined future payoff is always unsatisfying, once you get there. It’s like publication day. If you motivate yourself by holding up some future satisfaction, like a carrot at the end of the maze, you always find that the carrot has worms in it.

If you’re thinking to yourself that I’ve blogged on this topic before, you’re right. It’s the Big Challenge of my life right now.

Two final notes, as I go back to the first day of the rest of my life.

General media reviews for The History of the Ancient World haven’t yet materialized (maybe because the book is so long? I’m actually a bit puzzled by this), although I’ve had a few nice online reviews, like this one from Bookloons. In the meantime, if you feel like reviewing the book on your blog, put the link in a comment post and I’ll create a blog-review sidebar.

And now about Virginia Tech. I’ve been a faculty member in the Virginia state university system for over a decade, and all of us are shaken beyond words by the events in Blacksburg. I don’t intend to blog about them, and I won’t approve for posting any comments on the subject, so don’t bother to make any. But I did find this essay in the Chronicle to be wise, so go over and have a look.