Thursday, May 27, 2010


Everybody likes hearing about other people's dreams, right? I'll keep this one brief:

I was standing in my Mémère's kitchen, sunlight streaming through the windows. I looked down at my feet and noticed that the linoleum was rapidly morphing into large slabs of concrete which then began to heave and fracture. An earthquake was underway, but seemingly only where I stood. Scrambling over the crumbling concrete, I tried not to look at what lay below the floor.

I awoke, my skin clammy and my breath shallow. I've had strange, unusual dreams, but never one quite so . . . literal. So, the ground is feeling shaky beneath my feet, is it Mind? You're saying that my foundation's crumbling, huh? Thanks for the head's up on that one.

My Mind obviously doesn't read my blog.

I'm feeling ungrounded, fragmented, not myself. I feel like I have little to hold onto, like I might be, at any moment, swept away. I feel crazy, sometimes. I don't remember what I used to feel like before the foundation starting breaking up underneath my feet. I reread books from my childhood (L.M. Montgomery!) to ground myself, but the feeling is only ever short-lived.


I came upon some new insight today, and it's brought me some reassurance. If you'd asked sixth-grade me what I wanted to do when I grew up, the answer would have come quickly, triumphantly: "A professor of English literature!" The words felt grand and important when I spoke them. 

School came easily to me, and since I was good at it without really trying (English in particular) it only made sense to apply to English M.A./Ph.D. programs after finishing my B.A. at Bates. More than that, though, pursuing an advanced degree was compatible with "my story." The story that I told myself of who I was/am/will be. Going to grad school is what smart, capable, successful people do, I told myself. And of course this is true; but smart, capable, successful people do a lot of other things, too.

The first couple of years in grad school felt very similar to undergrad: I was doing fine academically, and I finally had the chance to teach college students . . . just like a real professor! I was living the dream, meticulously following the next prescribed chapter of my story. Yet, a small voice inside threatened to ruin everything. I was teaching freshman composition at the time, so I soothed the voice by reminding it to wait, just wait, until I could start teaching literature. That's what I really wanted to be teaching, I reminded myself. I squashed the voice pretty successfully for a few years, but eventually, frustrated, the voice grew impatient. And loud. After five years of teaching Composition and one disastrous semester of teaching literature, I finally allowed that small voice to be heard.

I don't want to be a professor. I loved my own literature classes, but I don't have any passion for leading a class of my own. I've become disillusioned and burned out and I wonder on a daily basis how I'm possibly going to finish my dissertation.

Or even if I should finish. When I get to this point in my thinking, I'm reminded of Geneen Roth's words which relate, apparently, to every blessed area of my life: compulsive eating, anxiety, and dissertation work. "Never underestimate the inclination to bolt," she writes. I roll my eyes, but acknowledge nonetheless that I don't want to finish the diss. because I don't really believe that I can. That I can ever get a Ph.D. And now that I don't want to teach at a university, is there even a point in getting a Ph.D.? So quick to throw in the towel, I'm running away from the fear of failure.

So, I will continue to work on my dissertation. I will get my Ph.D. (eventually). And I will try to let go of my fears that I'm letting people down (including myself) by not continuing on the path I had envisioned for myself. And I will try to figure out my next move. Once I defend my dissertation, then what?


A crumbling foundation. How can I bolster myself again? I know what won't help: creating another story for myself, defining who I am by the roles I perform. Stories do serve a purpose, though, and I look to them for inspiration.

I remind myself that I am not alone in facing what appears to be a terrifyingly blank slate ahead. Next to my dissertation research on my bookshelf sits an old passport with a hard, navy blue cover. Inside, a darkly lovely young woman stares out at me. At only twenty-two, my father's mother (whom we call Mémère) moved from a small town in Quebec to the bustling city of Holyoke, MA where my grandfather awaited her arrival. Her story is a common one: she left behind family and familiarity, and, speaking only French, plunged ahead into a new life which can only have been frustrating and exhausting in the beginning.

I don't know how she managed. Sometimes I don't know how I'll manage. I look into the eyes of young Mémère, and I see strength. I think that I have some of that, too.


  1. Oh, it seems like a blank slate, but it's not just that. It's a stage for whatever you build. A foundation to replace the one that seems like its crumbling, a beginning. And it doesn't have to be just one thing built on it. It can be many, over time. I thought I'd be a high school teacher until they kicked me out of the classroom. I am now on my fourth career, it seems. And they've all been good. Sending you love and light!

  2. Hugs to you! God has an amazing way of showing us where we need to be, when we need to be there. You'll know. :-)

  3. Thank you, everyone. I appreciate so much the kisses, hugs, love and light!

  4. I have the same starting point. My mother's passport from 1959. I was born 7 months later. She left a husband and everything she knew, not realizing she was pregnant yet, when she arrived here in Feb., and I was born in September.

    Stories I could tell.

    I will watch with interest.