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Comprehensive exams

Listen, I’m in this rut. It came on easily, unnoticed. I finished with finals after a long, long summer of intense reading and study. The test itself was more of a mean-spirited hazing than a test of anything I knew or didn’t know. Everyone says it’s like that, as if that’s a justification for continued torture of the unsuspecting.

When the test was over, my dissertation committee rushed from the room, leaving me standing there among falling bits of paper. I should have known.

Sure, I cried for a while. I’d written too much, didn’t make much sense. The test was rapid-fire questions about all the loose ends. But, you know, I thought I had to write down everything. That’s what everything in the lead up to the test told me, so I wrote down everything. One hundred twenty one pages was all I had to show for all of grad school. I’m not sure I like academics anyway, so I don’t really know what the point of it all was.

Sure, I liked the work. I liked learning about stuff. But I’ve become convinced that the study of history is good for only one thing: confirming what people want to believe.

After I left the building, I had big plans. Sit on the deck for a while. Gun diet-cola. Watch the pretty girls walk by. And that’s what I did. Only, now, four months later, I don’t think I ever got out of that seat.

First it was just a sense of purposelessness. The previous three and a half years brought me to the point where I didn’t give too much of a shit about anything, much less my career as an academic. At forty-five, what’s the chance anyway? By the time I get the dissertation done, do post-graduate seminars, teaching, and research, my opportunities are limited. There are thousands of young, ambitious, and delusional people out there. They are bent on getting into the one of the fewer and fewer tenure-track jobs on the market. I’ve paid dues in a lifetime of work. My hands go numb without warning. My back is beginning to arch forward no matter how much strain I put into standing up straight. I have the middle-age paunch. I want to have sex with every woman I see, including my wife. But I don’t think it’s important enough to get off my ass.

Purposelessness led to staying up late, sleeping late, taking naps after I woke up in the morning. On rainy or snowy days, things were a little better, probably because I thought I had a reason not to do anything. The thought of starting again tomorrow, of getting more done, stalked me. But the next morning, the next week, the next month brought just another round of I’ll start tomorrow and things will be better.

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