Metaphors for Graduate School: a post-lette

Perhaps metaphor’s not the right word.  You’d think, being in literary studies, that I could be precise about that, but then, it’s literary studies.  And I think we’re in the territory where metaphor shades into conceit.  God help me if we’re in metonymy; that would be bad indeed.

One day, my son, still in diapers, was home from day care for a demi-holiday: you know the kind, where some people get the day off and others don’t.  So my husband was working, and I was home with the boy.  Only staying home was not the best plan that day, so we went to our favorite spot(s): the playground next to the coffee shop.  Ideal.  It was a beautiful day, azure skies, big puffy clouds, light breezes, low humidity.  Exactly the kind of day when you’d run into your academic colleagues inside the caffeineteria.  Which I did.

That day, I ran into my department’s director of graduate studies.  I did that thing, that grad-student thing, where you think about pretending not to see him, and you worry that you’re out having fun rather than slaving on your dissertation, or that you’re out in public with a child, where anyone can see you haven’t taken the academic vow of celibacy.  And then I thought to myself: fuck that.  Whether I make it anywhere in the field or not, I’m going to have to go through the world talking to supervisors and colleagues, whether they esteem me or not.

So I said hello, and chatted briefly about something ephemeral, while my son scaled the stack of rectangular restaurant high-chairs, and otherwise entertained himself.

When I say “otherwise entertained himself,” I mean that when I glanced over at him, he had stuck both hands down his diaper and was hard at work.

All at once, the whole moment coalesced in my mind into a beautiful gem, a dark crystal — a metaphor for my graduate career.  And I plastered a smile on my face while I pretended the whole thing wasn’t just some big wank, said goodbye, knelt down to my son, and told him that we don’t do that in public.

No.  We do literary criticism instead.

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