Rivers know this

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” —Winnie-the-Pooh

Over the past several months I’ve drafted and deleted several posts, most of them mental posts. And I delete them, because they feel lame. But I think that I will write it down, because I think it will be cathartic and stop impeding my productivity if I do.

I’ve come to the realization that my life as a graduate student has to develop through a natural order of things and that I just have to go through the stages in order. Much like all people, in order to learn to write, no matter how old they are, have to go through certain development of scribble techniques. (There’s a very interesting book about that, by the way.)

So this is where I am: you know how three and four-year-olds want to do things but they can’t quite really, but they almost can? Like pouring some orange juice for instance: my 4yo can get a cup out of his drawer, go to the fridge, get out the orange juice, attempt to pour his own juice, put the juice back in the fridge, and drink his juice. If this is all done successfully, he feels a great sense of accomplishment; however, if not everything is in the right place, his task is impeded. His success is dependent on their being clean cups in the kids’ dishes drawer that he can reach. Also if the juice is too full, it will likely result in spillage, and sad frustration. He is a pendulum of exuberance and despair.

And that is where I am. Sometimes, what I do works; it’s exhilarating. Most of the time, I’m grasping for an independence that is so close, yet so far. On the one hand, I want to feel more confident as a well-functioning adult in her mid-30’s, mother of two. On the other, I realize that there is so much to know before I can start drawing lines between, that I feel like a child. These discordances are disconcerting.


How do I know that what I’m doing is valuable? Or that I’m on track? There are plenty of people to tell you when you’re wrong or off track. Why should I care to know? Is it a “girl” thing? I start using the details of my life as measures of value: conference acceptance? plus one. Not funded? take away…a lot. Even if I know that these things are far more complicated than just measures of value. The thing is that *I* value what I’m doing, so I want to feel valued. But it’s all so arbitrary and unmeasurable.

I wonder, staring at the lacuna of What There is Yet to Know, how I can make a contribution.

I’m sorry for the self-obsessiveness. What I usually do, and what I will do when I finish this post, is just get to work. Because someday, pouring the juice will not be an occasion for triumph or despair, but will just be something I’m confident that I can do and won’t think anything of it.


2 thoughts on “Rivers know this

  1. [insert really huge, deep, heartfelt sigh here]
    Oh my friend, I think it us so much harder for you because you went into this already knowing most everything about the dark side.

    Who am I to say anything encouraging? I admire you for taking this step knowing how hard it is, how uncertain the future can be. It just makes me feel thankful for my absolute ignorance (part of which was due to the fact that I was supposed to go back to Brazil after grad school, not to stay here, so it didn’t matter whether what I researched was “valuable” or not).

    In any case, I just had a week in which I struggle with all kinds of angst regarding academia, my past, my future, etc. I guess all that’s left for me to say is that you need to find out what what Anastasia & I are calling “the rules” — find what “the rules” are for your discipline and follow them. I think that this will help you. I didn’t care if others didn’t think that what I was doing had no value whatsoever and I did it anyway, and I still think it has value.

    But that means that I really don’t have much of a place in academic circles and discourse now. Because that’s how it is. You will only have a shot if you do what others value more than you. I ultimately think (and I wrote a post about it this week) that being passionate about something doesn’t mean much of anything in academia.

    I’m sorry, I didn’t want to be so discouraging, but I can’t help but be 100% honest with you. In my heart I want to say that you should do what you value, but my brain (and my pocket!) tell me otherwise. Sigh…

    I’m glad you finally posted this. And I know how hard it is to process these things, I know how vulnerable we feel when we’re in this “in-between” phase of life. I hear you when you say that you want to feel like a responsible adult in your 30s with two children. I sometimes feel like a failure as an adult in her 40s with two children who is working her very first full-time job ever at 41 and afraid of not having it again next year. 😦

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