On Sunday morning, I took the last final for the last university course that I am obligated to take for the rest of my life. I was enrolled in two courses this past semester and one was an introductory basketball class, so I wasn’t exactly nervous about the content of that final. The other was an undergraduate Computer Science course, CS367: Introduction to Data Structures, and was much more difficult, particularly since I feel like I’ve come to programming relatively late in the game–most of my undergrad peers seemed like they’d be fiddling with code since they were in their early teens, and I had muddled my way through 302 (Introduction to Java) a full year ago. The final for the course took me about two hours to complete, most of which I spent filling out a scantron. I finished and left the building, feeling very little relief or lightness. It was quite anticlimactic–the most pressing feeling I had was a niggling feeling that I could probably have answered several of the questions with more certainty if I had spent a little more time studying–far different from the crushing sadness and slight relief I felt after finishing my preliminary examinations at the end of this past summer. It’s strange to think that my future involvement in university life will be either unstructured (I’m on my own to write my dissertation proposal and the dissertation itself) or with me as structure-maker (I’ll be in classes exclusively as an instructor rather than as a student).
In one respect, this change feels sad–I’ve been taking classes as a full-time student for more than 20 years of my life, and it’s been a role that I’ve loved and savored. I like being in school, I like learning from university professors, and I even like taking classes–so much so that I’ve considered taking at least one course a semester until I finish my dissertation and perhaps beyond–just picking classes that seem interesting or useful and enrolling in them. I’m still undecided on this, but I’m starting to think more carefully about my future, about what I’m going to do with my time, and about how well I will do without the structure of course work to guide and direct my attention and help me set my priorities. It’s been exciting having been finished with English graduate courses, and it was similarly exciting last semester to have finished taking Library school courses, and now to have finished all my required coursework, I feel like I’ve finally be weaned off of courses altogether and am still feeling a bit bewildered and unsure of what happens next and how it’s supposed to happen. I’ve no doubt that I’ll struggle to find ways to fill my time, but throwing myself into a dissertation project has proven difficult for me over the past year (the idea of it has daunted me for various reasons for some time before that as well).
So, what have I done since finishing my last final? I’ve started reading more, started boxing up books and clothes for an upcoming move, and have even planned to type up notes from several books that I’ve read in the past few months but haven’t gotten around to notating or integrating into my larger stream of thought. I’ve cleaned up my email, taught a course on the Beats at a men’s prison, and eaten some delicious food. I walked a dog, called my mother, and made plans to treat a friend to lunch before she leaves on a trip to Israel and NYC. I sat in my office waiting for instructors to come in and talk about their grades, but like Eleanor Rigby’s funeral, nobody came. Today, I’ve had an interesting conversation about the psychic impact of my missionary service and recent divorce, read a few chapters of Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue, listened to several old podcasts from KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic (my favorite today has been Charlotte Gainsbourg and Beck) and tried to catch up on several feeds on Google Reader (favorite two pieces I read this morning were an article in Mother Jones on why we so frequently refuse to change our minds on topics about which we already have formed convictions and how successful persuasion frequently requires an appeal to values rather than to “facts” and this great blog post from Timothy Morton in which he describes some of the consequences of our realization that we “coexist” or “share our social space” with “a plenum of actual entities, a very large finitude of real beings such as glass, potato viroids, kerosene, gar and oyster catchers.”). This afternoon: grade check-ins, English department Follies, soccer, garden work, and more packing. Tomorrow? The dissertation, for sure. Yes, tomorrow. Always tomorrow.