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Valediction 2 | Philomathy by Danny Fekete

Valediction 2

Danny from 2016: My M.A. years, and the thesis that came out of it was an awfully dark period, marked probably by undiagnosed depression, but also a number of good things: I got fit, I met my thesis supervisor, Clare Brett, who continues to be my exemplar for the non-academic responsibilities of a mentor and good human, I experienced unalloyed, simple joy in solitude at my family cottage, and as the miasma of the struggle dissipated, I eventually became proud of what I’d produced.  It took me at least a year not to feel broken, and I still don’t think the document’s tremendously good (or useful) reading, but if you’re interested to see what all this resulted in, I’ve built a little shrine for the misshapen leviathan over here.

I started writing this in my head during a shower two days before I finished my thesis, when my albatross fell off prematurely and hope flooded in.  I felt superstitiously hubristic, but I couldn’t stop being happy and peaceful.  It was awful.

I don’t know how much those minutes of time-warped exaltation were responsible for my ambivalence when people (all the people) subsequently asked me how it felt to be done—it’s been old news since before it happened.  There’s other stuff, though: I also didn’t feel like I’d accomplished anything meaningful: my work was incredibly narrow in scope, with a rotten theoretical foundation, which makes it unlikely that I’ll be able to chop it up into articles and offer it up to Academe, which is really the only way it might begin to make a contribution.  I’m not planning to teach in Second Life.  The document, in terms of broader literary value and polish, is a crooked sandcastle rendered in sun-ripened meconium, capable of bringing joy to no one I’d be comfortable meeting without adult supervision.  The sheer output of words seems impressive, but my snobby creative self immediately points out that it could have been a novel.  The thought of going on to do a PhD right now is revolting, and I have some very good friends who, if I seriously considered the enterprise anytime soon, could be counted upon to quite rightly break my legs.  I took two extra years to finish, at a pretty significant cost to my family’s finances and emotional wellbeing.  I’m not celebrating.

It often occurred to me, even when things were unrosy, that I wouldn’t take these years back if given the choice.  I sort of like what the environment did to the way I think and communicate, and I’ve felt more interesting and competent as a result, on several occasions.  Less so now, though, a month after my submission.  I’ve gone from identifying myself as being in the throes of my interminable thesis to identifying myself as having lost my identity, no longer being in the throes of my interminable thesis, which is, obviously, tedious.  I’m grateful to have people who care enough about me to ask what I’m going to do with my life now but I’m not in a position to provide much satisfaction to any of us at this point.

At the end of my undergrad, I was so twitchy after my spate of exams and papers that I wrote a sprawling, imaginary valediction to my non-vocational formal education (I didn’t think I’d be doing the M.A. until late into my subsequent eddie year).  Besides being even more obnoxious and twee than I am now, and showcasing the requisite elitism and naïveté of my yooth, it captures an intensity of purpose that I remember trying righteously to embody during my B.Ed., and clinging to during the early years of my M.A., but which I can’t begin to sustain now.  I feel broken.  The me of 2006 would probably be really disappointed.

I’m going to try to rebuild myself into a person, now.  I’ll tell you about the interesting bits, if I find some.

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