A number of months ago, a friend of mine who completed his MFA with me at Maryland noted that what he missed most about school after graduation was losing the milestones, the markers along the way. I think I grimaced at the time feeling the pressure of many new milestones ahead of me in the PhD program. I understand today more of what he meant.
At the end of August, I finished one of the first milestones of my PhD program. Honestly, it was exhilarating. I spent the summer reading and annotating a list of books and articles. Then seventy-two blissful hours of writing. Integrating the ideas and information. Playing with them on the screen. Printing the pages, editing, correcting, altering. It was a game for the seventy-two hours to see how many citations I could build in from the larger list within the constraints of the thirty pages allotted for each essay. Then, one Monday at noon, it was over. All printed, sealed with a binder clip and delivered to the university. I came home and cleaned my workroom. I vacuumed. I emptied out the pending emails that I had stored away. I poked around at a new project. I picked up a new book or two. Still, I felt empty and at bit at loose ends. That weekend we whisked off to the Midwest to visit family and I didn’t read at all, or work online. Home. Silence. No looming deadlines (well, a few.) I started new projects, but still there was a particular emptiness, even loneliness, to the completion.
Now, a few weeks later, I’m embroiled in other projects. One nearing completion. One that is a huge and hairy project which exceeds any possibility of completion before the end of my natural lifetime. The despair of those first days after the last milestone is dissipating, slowly, though at this moment as I think about the milestones ahead, I remember the high of completion and honestly, I crave it again, but I know that it comes with the despair, the loss of focus, the silence, the loneliness afterward. I’d like to avoid that, please. I’d like only the pleasure of the driven weeks, days, and hours in advance, the glory of the intense engagement, then, then, I don’t know what, but I know what I don’t want. I’d like to replace it with a satisfied, clear mind. With the revelry of some free time, the restfulness of accomplishment.
It’s like how at the end of a day of writing, the writing seems so perfect, so clear, so accurate, so beautiful. Then the next morning, with a fresh cup of coffee and the computer quickly booting up, the clarity of the previous day vanishes. Edits, slack prose, poor word choices, doubt. They creep in to that mid-morning despair. Can’t we do away with that? Can’t we preserve the high of completion without the despair afterward? Please?