In two weeks I’m going to the Beyonce+Jay-Z Concert. I’d been racking my brain trying to consider what to wear. The obvious choice would be something with one of her witty or catchy lyrics inked on it. But no way was I going to pay $40 for a graphic tee-shirt I’d never wear again. However I was obsessing over the idea of a t-shirt and denim cut-off shorts, obviously inspired by her “Flawless” video (the flannel shirt to be tied around my waist). Every sleepless night I’ve had lately–and there have been many as I slowly adjust from Bali time to San Diego–I have looked for outfits that felt right. Always consisting of the essential elements, the shirt and the denim cut-offs.
Today I had a meeting with the Chair. I promised her I would not make her the bad guy in this blog. Honestly, there is no bad guy, there is only what is. What IS right now is that I’m losing the last piece.
My timeline. I gave myself today to grieve it to think of it, to remember it as it was and then slightly less every day forward. When I made the decision to drop my research class, I made a decision to then be ineligible for Dissertation Seminar. When I made the decision to both forfeit my eligibility, or exemption from seminar pending a successful proposal defense, I (essentially) made the decision to take the course once I’d completed my coursework. Which means next year…the semester I would be graduating. I knew it when I did it. I guess I hoped it wasn’t true, but a meeting with the Chair confirmed it. I was going to be here five years.
Sidebar, some ask why a whole extra year. Our degrees are only conferred in January and June, and graduations take place only in May, part of the celebration, pomp and circumstance of becoming a member of the academy is your hooding ceremony. After three women WW, Dr. Cameron and Dr. Lee reenacted the hooding scene telling me I ‘for SURE did not want to work this hard and miss that moment’ I realized that there was no real incentive to hurry up and finish in August or finish in December. I might as well wait until Spring 2015. I can defend early to beat the throngs of April defenses if I need to.
The Chair asked me, “Why don’t you stop trying to time when you finish?” It was as if she’d spoken in an entirely different language. Why don’t I what? I recounted her comment to friends later, scoffing at its obvious absurdity. And then, when I got quiet enough I heard what she was asking me.
Why don’t you do the thing you’re going to spend your life asking other people to do? Trust the process. Let go of your expectations, plans, and preconceived notions. Live a little while in the unknown. Oh.
Then came the tsunami of guilt. How was it that I was able to be a “feather in the wind” and listen completely to the Self that told me to drop this class because it did not feel right, but I was not able to trust that same Self when it came to owning the consequences of that action. Well easy, my ego was majorly bruised. I felt like I said I was going to do this thing (graduate in four years) and here I was breaking my word. But my word to whom, exactly?
Two things happened then. The first: I could see the situation very clearly for what it was: a meeting of expectation (ego) and reality (Self). I made graduation, not just the ceremony but the entire act, mean something about me. I was now the fraud who doesn’t have her shit together, which is basically one of my worst nightmares. My achieving this thing somehow made me more of some things (competent, capable, sure) and less of others (novice, uncertain, green). And when the loss of that event came, it was as if I lost all those pieces of myself as well. It wasn’t until I got to look in the mirror through a relationship that my feelings shifted. My best friend was having a bad day, studying for the bar feeling defeated, and sullen she fed herself wine, cried and went to bed. I wrote to her:
I don’t know if you’ll pass the bar. Or find a husband. Or have a kid. But you’ll be You without all those things, you’ll be my best friend and I’ll love you always.
It was as if I said the words to the both of us. These things, titles or degrees, husbands, children, or any relationships…they can be wonderful but they do not define me. For now they are options, and should any come to pass they will be part of my story. None if it would ever be all of me or all of her. We needed to hear that. Then the second thing happened, I thought of my outfit for the Beyonce concert and immediately said to myself, You don’t even wear shorts! Talk about a wake up call. It was as if I had completely forgotten who I was. It was then that I had the very distinct thought that if you are not careful to remember who you are, there are endless things in the world waiting to try to tell you.
I am not “not” together because I am taking another year to graduate. I am not incompetent nor unsure. In fact, I have never been so sure in my life, that’s what got me here today in fact, my certainty that THIS was the path I was meant to be on. I do not owe an explanation to anybody. Not even my silly ego who is still up-in-arms about trips planned and “doctor by 30” deadlines.
And even though today was marred by the news of my great loss, I am not said I wasn’t “wise enough” or fill-in-the-blank enough to avoid this feeling. Competence surely won’t outgrow consequence. I am not ashamed that I struggle STILL with things that I know, understand, and want to teach. It is a beautiful thing to still have lessons to learn. Lessons to share. That is a gift, and if that is what the fruit of today bears then it certainly is sweet.
What I can take from it all is that life happens and that if I want to be the person who shows others how to exist and even thrive in the unknown, WITH the unknown, then I had better make myself at home in it. I don’t need cut-off denim shorts (was I really going to wear those?) or a ’15 on my tassel to prove anything to anyone, even myself. Jessica, you have the gift of knowing yourself and your purpose, do well to remember it. That old southern saying, “It’s not what you’re called its what you answer to” comes to mind. Essentially others and even my disappointed self may call me all kinds of hot mess screw-ups but that is not what I choose to answer to, because that I certainly not who I am. I am a woman on a different path than the one I originally thought I was on. Nevertheless, I am going the way I need to go, and so: onward.