Grad School Hangover

The most acute contractions of our ever-birthing souls are unutterable: inward-wrung and full of psychic ache. Alan, what in heaven is an “ever-birthing soul?” It’s the phrase I concocted yesterday morning to represent the central core of personhood, a terrain beyond vocabulary. I’m leery of this kind of writing—it’s too easy for someone to sound smarter than they are. But this deep questioning of existence was the thing peeping up out of its muddy burrow on a gray Monday—the thing demanding a response. And so I’ll obey, despite the risk of entire paragraphs falling out fluffy, like the sugar-spun drivel of amateur philosophers (I’ve been that guy; I pray I’m not still). Such writing is only tolerable when poeticized by a Rilke or fictionalized by a Kafka. But this is my blog, so I’m taking liberties.

I can’t prove that our souls’ ache has a cause; perhaps it simply is. Like infinitude held hostage. I know this is neither entertaining nor touching, this self-conscious self-examination. And I know the Christian response to the first sentence of this paragraph. But as I did with my thesis, I am approaching this dilemma from a purely human place, free of doctrinal or spiritual association, just to see (just to see!) if these questions that haunt us—these mysteries of existence—can bear the weight of of honest self-directed questioning, without recourse to inherited systems. Drivel, indeed. It’s no fun to read about this stuff, unless it’s cleverly buried in poetry or fiction. This subject is too big for a blog post anyway.

So what’s really going on, I think, is a graduate school hangover. Friday night was Belmont’s December graduation, and I finally secured the master’s degree I’ve always wanted. And while the end of this four-and-a-half year foray into academia brings not only relief but also excitement about new possibilities and free time and choosing my own books to read, there is also something a little like grief. Not a blubbering bereavement, but a quiet, disorienting kind–one that’s left me unsure how to feel for several days now.

It was strange to sit inside that gymnasium at the Curb Event Center, surrounded by celebration, where families cheered as if at a sporting event; seeing all those fresh-faced undergrads brimming with their goals met; and me in the next-to-last row, growing more anxious every moment, tottering between exhilaration and depression (a sensation not unlike puberty). I wonder what the lone Ph. D. candidate behind me was feeling. The experience was so different from when I was twenty-two. The younger me would’ve assumed certain things about what the future held, but the current me holds no such convictions. The current me struggles to see past the thing I’ve lost: my status as a student. I’ve loved being a student.

My thesis advisor told me that writing a thesis changes a person, and that it may be a while before that person realizes just how. As with many things Dr. Paine says, the statement carried a whiff of indisputable wisdom (and he’s advised enough theses to know). I can attest to feeling different, but as to the nature of this difference, I haven’t a clue. Not yet. For now, what I must do is languish in the bone-white comforts of winter; in the straw-colored and misty gray promise of a season of waiting.

Rapid Blog, No. 4

A pair of plump, skinny-legged women, late middle-aged and top heavy, balance in the belly-high seawater, yards from shore. Each holds raised in their right hands a beer can, and in their lefts, a cigarette. They are offset mirrors of one another, their cheeks abused by the sun, and they stare glumly at the beach. The sand-clouded, yellow-green waters washing around their expansions and crevices, their tumescent and skirted one-piece bathing suits, have surged and sucked and trembled and roared for millennia and are just as likely to do so for millennia hereafter. The indifference of the sea is pure. Few places preach the passing of time like the beach. Few things taunt us with death like the ceaseless pummel of waves upon our eroding shore.

A Difference of Opinion

“I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds.”                                                     –from “Araby,” Dubliners. James Joyce

 

Rainy days are unpopular in many circles. I hesitate to tell people that I exult in them. A close IMG_1897friend once told me I was “just trying to be different,” and so, by the tiniest of degrees, I turned further inward. The rainy day is freighted with a stigma, like introversion, as in, the loudest among us see it as undesirable. The only time a rainy day is undesirable to me is when I am caught without an umbrella, but a lack of preparation is not the fault of the rain, out there puddling the sidewalk, pattering the leaf litter, dispersing its crystalline sheets in the gray dusk.

 

I suppose rainy days do magnify the melancholy. But, oh! How they magnify the melancholy! A land beset by weather brims with readymade stories—everybody knows this. And not only stories but imaginings. I cannot be the sole dreamer who looks out at the soggy air, the soil rendered as clay, the rain-blackened bark of the sugar maple, and has visions of monsters or shady dealings or doomed romances—hints, even, of the supernatural—all with the creeping fog as backdrop, the mist as backlit scrim. In rain, there is a somber mood (believe me) that delights, ripe with that feature whose signifier has become trite with overuse: ambience.

 

If “ambience” is overused, then “atmosphere” is vague. Maybe it is better to speak of rain in terms of space, in that it creates its own space. It narrows the field of vision, brings it close. Is not the horizon more intimate when sunlight has been muted? Whether by weather or by setting. I mean “close” as in snug, accessible. Depth perception askew, we guess things closer than they are—a coyote’s bark, a scream that we tell ourselves is a mountain lion, sticks that crack under a moving body’s weight, tires sloughing “softly on wet macadam.”[1]Darkness gathers the horizon at night; rain can do it by day, often dimming the transition from sunlight to moonlight.

 

Rainy days provide space for the imagination. Everybody knows this.

 

 

[1] In Provinces of Night, William Gay describes the sound of a patrol car rolling up behind one of his characters on a rainy night. Macadam is broken stone used to pave roads. “Slough” is a beautiful verb.