Tuesday, April 28, 2009

There's nothing gradual about graduation

This is what tries to pass itself off as advising in my program:
After our meeting, I went carefully through your file and have made an unfortunate discovery. Because of your many hours within the program, you will hit 97 doctoral credit hours in the spring of 2010 (assuming 9 hours of enrollment in both fall 2009 and spring 2010). After that point, we will be unable to offer you a continuing TAship and once you hit 99 hours you may have to pay the higher rate of tuition. Practically, this means that your highest priority should be the completion of your dissertation. I’m sorry I didn’t notice this during our meeting since it has a direct bearing on planning for your future.

Let me know if you have any questions.
No real advising anywhere to be seen, and certainly no advice about possible ways to deal with transgressing absolutely arbitrary guidelines. I also enjoy the lamentably pathetic afterthought quality of it all: it's not like the Assoc. Dean did not have at least a week's notice that our appointment was approaching. And then to wait another week before taking the time to do his fucking job!

All the more reason to finish my dissertation as quickly as possible so I can leave this Podunk university and return to my professional life.

You heard it here first: one more year.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Europe Calling

I've recently discovered outrageously inexpensive airfare to Europe, and you might as well think I've discovered a cure for erotodromomania as well: $139 one-way from DFW to Frankfurt, Germany. I could get there and back for under $390, including tax and fees. I don't know if it's better to take advantage of the prices at this point or just wait it out until the winter break, when I know (or at least hope) that I'll be in a better frame of mind to make a reasonable decision without relying on what my emotions whisper in my ear.

Angst declares, "Even if you still feel what you feel in Germany, feeling what you feel will feel better in Germany. Hell, I built Germany single-handedly!"

Ennui confides, "Your heart won't be so heavy over there, on the continent where Euro Frankie rules with a fauxhawk and an iron fist. Reading philosophy and poetry over a Milchkaffe will suit you just fine."

Malaise chides, "How do you ever expect to stand out from being if you don't get out of your own fucking head long enough. You've worked too hard these past few years. Grab this break by the balls and don't let go. And why do you even need to come back so soon?"

This damned swine flu travel advisory/quarantine better not make the decision for me. And I better not get sick. There were so many piggies on the train today coughing and hacking, I'm surprised I haven't turned into a ball of quivering phlegm myself already. I may just drive to campus Wednesday instead of risking the spread of other people's filth on public transportation.

Tonight I finished rereading the Michael Henry Heim translation of Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice," an eloquent and austere work. I carefully pronounced every word aloud as if I were calling this story into being, making especially sure to properly enunciate the declensions and diminutives of Tadzio's name. As an undergraduate, my insanely pretentious professor pronounced "Tadzio" as if it were Italian, but I fought such intellectual laziness with correct Polish inflection. Finally, all those years of studying Polish have paid off.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Breakup + Breakthrough = Still Broken

Once, if I remember well, I had to end an intensely demanding relationship with someone much younger whose native language was not English. We had been playing at breakup for several weeks, and the time finally to commit to severing all ties approached. I knew when I walked out that evening that I would never return, but leaving so many things unsaid propelled me to that last door on the second floor.

I stood in the hallway and began the well-scripted yet nevertheless still spontaneous speech. After an hour of speaking through clinched teeth and tightened fist, he offered me water, and I refused: I would say what I had to say and owe him nothing for the effort.

Perhaps I was waxing poetical. Perhaps, after so many words under so much duress, I was becoming incoherent. I said something complicated, and he asked me to repeat myself. Instead, I refused, sneering what amounted to an insult of his grasp of my native tongue. I had become wholly other than what I was. I had been so pushed and hurt and bruised that I might as well have ridiculed him for wearing glasses. Or being tall.

I recognized the monster I had become, the monster I had allowed him to make me. I choked out a disbelieving “wow” though my stubbornly dry mouth and headed for the door. I never returned. I neither saw nor spoke to him again. Now, several years later, when he has even surpassed the age I was when we were lovers, I think about that final conversation, what I became on love’s final battlefield. Despite the maturity and sensibility I had hoped to exude, I now pity the pitiful me of so many years ago. I was so certain of being right before turning into something so wrong.

While I do not wish for anything otherwise—certainly not a continuation of a romance blinding us to the distance between our lives, our ages, our ideals—I do wish I could have remained human when confronted with such raw and pained humanity. Despite the attitude of the jerk he postured, I would have liked not to become a jerk myself. But such is the game of love when the only players are losers with everything to lose.

I have just finished rereading André Gide’s The Immoralist. One particular passage made me smile to myself, when Ménalque tells Michel as one immoralist to another, “Let them be right. That’s all they have.” But I too know that the reverse is equally trite for fellow immoralists. And true: being right doesn’t make anything right. Even when one is wronged.

I’d like to order a round of apologies and forgiveness. For everyone. And while you’re at it, pass the Shiraz.