When A.A. Milne first wrote about heffalumps — which are elephants in little kid speak — they existed as a figment of Winnie-the-Pooh’s imagination. All the same, Pooh was determined to capture these pachyderms that stomped through his dreams. In the end, Pooh snagged himself and his nervous little buddy Piglet in a trap that he set to catch one of these critters.
I bring up heffalumps because some friends and former colleagues have told me I really should write about what it’s like to be an older person in graduate school. That is the heffalump in the room, so to speak. Honestly, I haven’t done it, because I could not see why anyone would find my impressions of graduate school interesting or the slightest bit entertaining. A lot of times it’s neither of those things. Footnotes? Please. Historiography? Please. Sitting still for three or more hours straight? Please. I also haven’t done it because I felt like my first year of graduate school mainly consisted of battling Heffalumps, Wizzles and Woozles — imaginary monsters that trapped me in my own net.
Now that I know those monsters aren’t there, I laugh a lot more.
I’ve also thought of the people who told me to write about graduate school. Many of them are my age and have wondered whether they could go back and do this to themselves as they juggle a career and kids and whatever else. They’ve wondered whether the time and the toil are worth it.
I’d say yes and no. I’d say yes because the experience has knocked some cobwebs out of my brain and helped me refine my so-called critical thinking skills. I’ll never read a book the same way again, because I’ve spent the past year looking at arguments and finding out what’s wrong with them. These skills are useful for a reporter, writer, or really anyone from any walk of life. So that’s good.
Still, a lot of times I ask myself why I did this. A lot of times I count the days until I can go back and do what I love — write full-time for a living. I miss reading well-written books. I don’t know what that’s like anymore.
I miss a lot of things but I know I’m going to come out of this grateful and good. Because I’m determined.
And I’ve had a lot of great people in my corner who have been pulling for me.
I’m a very lucky lady.
In the meantime…
Maybe I’ll start telling Student Union cashiers that I actually DO get the employee discount. Or maybe I’ll stop telling professors that no I’m not teaching the next class, I’m learning in it.
“Hell yes, I’m teaching this class,” I’ll say. “Who wouldn’t want to learn about ‘Duran Duran: A Soundtrack of 20th Century Decadence’?”
But I’ll refrain from beating the next 18-year-old with my walker when he asks “Excuse me, ma’am, can you tell me where Lockett Hall is?”
There’s a certain fun in pointing to a vague “over there” and just letting them meander through a sea of pajama-clad, hormonally-deranged humanity. I guess we come back to school to wade through that sea so we can emerge on the other side, waterlogged but stronger in who we are.