Wish

[Nathan Altman - Portrait of Anna Akhmatova]


So Monday and Tuesday were the all-important visit to SJC. I was invited to come up on Monday evening to attend dinner with the undergraduates, and then a freshman seminar which happened to be on Book X of the Republic. Tuesday included sitting in on a Freshman Lab and a Freshman Math class (the Math covered Book IV in Euclid, Props 11-15). The visit culminated with my interview with the Instruction Committee.

Setting the formulaic details aside, those two days were much more dynamic and stressful than I had expected them to be. I found myself confronting the hollowness of my current decisions and lifestyle, and my memories of a town I fell in love with and an academic program that means very much to me.

During my interview, which was really more of a conversation, I was asked to talk about what sort of things I am interested in. Normally this wouldn’t be daunting at all, but that’s because I normally operate with an over-excited sense of self-worth and vanity. The difference was that Tuesday’s conversation was between me and a group of people for whom I have the highest regard and respect. I found myself struggling to be articulate, searching for words, examples, descriptions, anything to help me stabilize the ideas I was trying, and failing to explain. I was trying to talk about processes and becomings, of creativity and imitation. I spoke of moments and tried, horribly, to describe what it’s like to be in a pure timeless moment and then the effort involved in recapturing it once it has passed. I referenced everyone, Christopher Isherwood, Virginia Woolf, A.N. Whitehead, M. Proust, Leibniz and Aristotle. And I felt, the whole time, as if I were grasping at straws. I was asked to talk about the effect my studies on Leibniz had on my studies on Whitehead, and could barely even remember Leibniz.

I think the most disappointing thing was that I had retained so little of what I read and loved. I knew I needed this time off (the last year and a half) from studying, but it was not spent in an academic life-of-the-mind way I guess, and everything just sort of dissipated. I have so many notebooks full of notes, and so much marginalia, but if I can’t remember it, what good is all of that work?

We raised some very important questions in the conversation, especially the question of what it means to even talk about “process,” “reality,” and “art.” Those are St. John’s questions and even though it humbled me to sit there and remember how little I knew and how little I was sure of, I recognized that feeling as a positive feeling and my frustration as something born of vanity. But what about the questions I’ll face when starting my PhD? the technical, precise questions that I have always been so clueless with. I still haven’t written my personal statement because I’m still unsure as to what I want to do. I know that I don’t have to know now what I will be writing about in 5 years, but I want to at least know my area of interest.

The overwhelming feeling I walked away with yesterday was of immaturity. I guess that at the bottom of all the insecurity and worry, I’m really just afraid of being too young, too untutored, too instinctual with the way I approach ideas and books. I’m sure that these things can and should be used in my favor, but I can’t help but feel a frisson of fear when I think of what I’m attempting to do. It’s almost as if I’m a schoolchild again, craving the praise of my teachers and my parents, elated with good marks and perfect scores, but so focused on the praise that others might hand me that I forget to think for myself.

I’m just really tired of being in this in-between stage. Not finished with school but not in school. Working jobs that do nothing but deplete my energy, time, and vitality. Moving too often and leaving friends behind each time. I’m tired of not having someone to share my ideas and thoughts and all of the other quotidian events with.

Aside from all of this woe-is-me stuff that the events of Monday and Tuesday prompted, the visit was enjoyable and quite thought-provoking. I met up with quite a few Annapolis friends, visited the library where this blog began, and enjoyed some delicious food in my favorite restaurants there. I got home Tuesday night with just enough energy to hug my pup and cats, have a glass of red wine, and put Amelie in the DVD player.

I was offered the chance to teach at St. John's for the Spring semester yesterday, so I guess all of my worries were without real cause. I'll be co-leading a graduate seminar on Philosophy and Theology, which means the Old Testament, Augustine, Aquinas, Kant, and Kierkegaard.

Hooray!