Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Where We Were

Since my wife is out of town, and the novel I'm reading isn't holding my attention, I think this would be a good time to take stock of where I'm at, what I'm doing, where I'm going these days. I had lunch earlier this week with the principal architect of the firm at which I was working before going back to school, and I feel like that closed some sort of cognitive loop for me. So, let's see...

Three years of coursework, complete. I have learned an incredible amount of *stuff* over the past three years. Let's face it--when I started the program, I could barely find India on a map. I couldn't tell you the first thing about even the Taj Mahal. In three years, I've managed to learn a foreign language, start on two others, spend two summers in India, demonstrate competency in two unrelated exam fields, present at three conferences and one graduate symposium (four different papers), win two paper prizes, have an article accepted for publication, and successfully defend a dissertation proposal.

I've traveled to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Madison, WI, Los Angeles, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Savannah, Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati to look at/learn more/talk more about architecture. I've managed to win a Critical Languages Scholarship, a summer FLAS, an academic year FLAS, a Fulbright-Hays DDRA fellowship, an SSRC-IDRF fellowship, two Graduate College Conference Travel Grants, a National Science Foundation Travel Grant, one Graduate College Dissertation Travel Grant, and several fellowships/grants within the School of Architecture. I've put in the hours to complete the campus Graduate Teaching Certificate. I've worked as a Teaching Assistant for the introductory course in architectural history, and I've planned an upper-division course on Indian Architecture to hopefully be taught before I leave this place.

I've talked back to a senior scholar in front of a room full of my colleagues. I've gotten into an emotional argument with a full professor during a doctoral colloquium. I have alienated graduate students in multiple departments on campus because of my unwillingness to listen to stupidity during seminars. I have earned the respect of one or two professors for the same reason. I have managed to hold on to just one friend among all the graduate students in my own department, and made a spectacular friend from the faculty in another department.

I have lost my flash drive twice, and recovered it twice. I have fallen asleep in my library carrel and failed to wake up before my afternoon class. I have received some of the highest praise I have ever heard about my work, and I have received the worst grade I've ever earned in a graduate course. I have fallen asleep behind the wheel of my car while commuting between home and campus, and I have run over a small animal making the same commute after dark. I have gotten lost driving from the apartment to campus in a blizzard. I have been frightened beyond belief by the sound of a snowplow passing over my head while in an underground room of the library. I've arrived home at the end of the week and burst into tears by way of greeting.

I have gained forty pounds. I have lost thirty pounds. I have gained fifty pounds. I have eaten food I don't even like from vending machines in the middle of the night. I have enjoyed eating a great deal of tomato soup. I have retreated from my own hysteria into the comfort of a warm plate of risotto at a local restaurant more than once. I have visited the campus clinic after falling on the sidewalk (twice), for treatment of giardia (twice), and for treatment of whooping cough (countless numbers of times). I have had surgery on my left shoulder, and flexed the collar bone on my right shoulder. I have gone to the student counseling center in crisis (twice), and have spent an obscene amount of money on regularly scheduled therapy sessions.

I have realized (belatedly) that only I will be able to call a halt to this entire process. I have decided that I want to be an academic. I have decided that I would rather put a gun to my head and pull the trigger than be an academic. I have driven as far north as Kankakee and as far south as Effingham while attempting to run away from home and my life. I have lost contact with most of the people I considered friends three years ago. I have lost an aunt, an uncle and a cousin to old age and disease. I have dealt with the extended and terminal illness of my father. I have learned how to grieve in twenty second bouts of tears while riding in the elevator of the main stacks, and during two hour sessions of sobbing while driving on the interstate.

I'm not sure I can really take three more years of this lifestyle. Everything that looks like a success seems to be propped up by a devastating amount of sacrifice. In September, I will leave home and country for twelve months overseas, with no allowance for returning home outside of a death in the family or health crisis. I can easily say that it hasn't been worth it, it hasn't been worth it since about 1/2 way through my first year. But I also don't seem to have the guts to stop myself, and the system doesn't seem to be doing anything to stop my forward progress, either. So, I have three years to finish up the next part of this task, complete my research, write and defend my dissertation. I can't believe that I will ever give myself permission to quit, and at least a small part of me wants to see if I can do it, even if I leave academia immediately after depositing my dissertation with the graduate college. Check back with me in three years, maybe you'll find another "my life in summary" post just like this one.

Something to look forward to, right?

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