In the past day, I’ve slept more than I had in the week that preceded it. A terrible thing has finally come to a conclusion, and now I’m just sitting around slowly absorbing the fact that I might be done with school forever. I have friends and family and social obligations who have watched me deteriorate these last two years, and sometimes they’d ask me to come visit or see a movie or eat at a specific location that they were also eating at. I’d usually have to say no, and I’d cite the same reason that I had been for years: “Yeah, I’d love to, except there’s this thing I have to do for school.” Then there would be sad muttering all around because when everyone else brings chips and dip and, like, cheese trays to a potluck, I bring disappointment. And then I leave because I’ve got shit to do.
Grad school made me double down on my social exile in a way that was astonishingly a bit much, even for me. But I kept working anyway, and for the last two years I haven’t really been a person, but I do feel justified in how deeply I wasn’t a person. I feel like getting a Masters degree is about as decent a reason as I could have for not being even remotely available to exist in any proximity to anyone else. However, school has been my reason for not hanging out with people for so long that I believe it had begun to grow stale. By the end of my college career I feel like there was an implicit “yeah, we fucking know” any time I said I had to do work instead of go out. In their defense, I’ve been using that excuse for 6 years.
My defense is that grad school is unlike anything else I’ve ever done. High school was kind of like having to wrestle a slippery dog every day: pretty difficult, often unpleasant, left me concerned about how I smelled, but not overall hard and sometimes even fun. Undergrad was a big step up in difficulty, and that was more like having a boulder I’d have to push across a parking lot every week. I could take breaks from pushing it, but I had to make sure I’d put in enough time battering myself against this rock by the end of every week. Grad school was not like a wet dog or a big rock.
Grad school was more like this overriding feeling that you’re being followed by someone, probably hired by someone who thinks they have your best interest at heart, and if you go anywhere or meet anyone or do anything off schedule, then you’ll be struck over the head, dragged into an alley, rolled into a carpet and thrown off a bridge.
For more insight into just what kind of special nightmare the last two years have been, I’d like to offer a one-time-only look into exactly what a pretty normal week looked like. At first, I was going to take a picture of my planner to make this point, but I looked at it and realized nobody could interpret my neurotic panic scribbles, so I’ll describe it instead.
Every day I’d have to read anywhere from 20 – 100 pages of dense rhetorical theory. If you’ve ever tried dunking your head in a bucket of paint thinner before reading the transcript from a drunk argument between a philosopher and an engineer, then you know what kind of stuff this is. Fucking exhausting. Then, if it’s any day other than Monday or Tuesday, I’d have to write a short essay about what I’d read. These typically ran around 1,000 words and required I cite some of my own research and have slain a minor dragon. These weren’t so bad, except I’d have to write 2 or 3 a night. The rest of the week would be spent replying online to the little essays everyone else had written and working on projects and doing research and grading papers and teaching and editing my own papers and updating this other blog I had to keep for another class and working–a little–on my thesis.
That was a paragraph of very specific whining, but I’ve gotten into the habit of being exhaustive with my arguments. All that being said, I haven’t had the chance to write something fun since early March, and even then it was a post that–accidentally–sounded initially like I was about to die. But I didn’t die. I just went away for a long time, suffered, and now I might be back, but I’m not even sure what “back” entails.
I want to go back to being a person, the kind with hobbies and interests and some potential to actually answer my phone, but I also want to sleep 20 hours a day and cry for the rest. I have this weird feeling that I haven’t just been working that last two years, I’ve been gone, kind of like when you’re in elementary school and your parents pull you out for a few days. You get back and start talking to your friends like everything is normal, but shit changed while you were away. You just want to talk about how there wasn’t any chocolate milk at lunch, but Kelly S. got into a fight, and there are rumors that Connor R. is selling counterfeit report cards, and Mrs. Kepler was caught stealing erasers from her classroom and is at her trial right now and why aren’t you worried? And all this stuff has happened and you’re just there talking about milk and knowing absolutely nothing because you haven’t been here.
It’s weird to think about how long I’ve been gone, but now I get the long task of learning how to be a person again. I don’t exactly remember what people do for fun. I know sometimes people get together and don’t work. I’ve done that a few times recently, but I bet people don’t obsess over what they should be doing right at that moment as much as I have been lately. I’ve ruined at least 3 nights out because I’ve been thinking about how much I still had to do before my thesis was even close to being adequate for human consumption. I wonder how many real people shiver at the thought of checking their email because they’re so anxious there will be someone telling them about something they forgot to do. I feel like that might be kind of common, but I don’t want stress to be the thing that connects me to the rest of the world.
For better or worse, grad school is over. I won’t really know how well I did until later this month, but I don’t think there will be anything that can pull me back in. It’s over, and now I have to learn to be a person again. Hopefully, that means writing more, and sleeping more, and actually enjoying being alive more, and maybe I’ll even stop laughing at my students when they whine about their homework.