19 April 2016

0 little do we know...

exactly four years ago, i sent k.clen this email... 

one thing in a long line of things to which my first thought was oh, i want to do that, and my second thought was oh, but i couldn't

in my memory, all of this took an absolute age to come together, unfurling over a period of weeks.  
there was the night when i sat in a bar with a MAPHer friend of a friend and, upon his asking if i ever thought i'd do a phd, announced defiantly that the one thing i knew i'd never do in my life was to get a phd. 

then, the next day, there was the email from the program head. to which i thought, oooooooh... but no

i imagine i deliberated long and hard about this for days. first sending k.clen the oh, if only email, and then gradually racking up the nerve to send the program head an inquiry. 

turns out, i imagine wrong. it was literally five minutes after emailing k.clen that i emailed the program head and said that i'd long been interested in the program at king's (which i had only just heard of) and would like to know more about doing a phd (which, only the night before, i’d said i’d never do).

in preparing for the viva, because i was absolutely certain they were going to ask me this (they didn’t), i spent hours constructing and memorizing a concise response to the question of what brought me to this topic, so i wouldn’t accidentally tell them the story of my whole life. specifically, so i wouldn’t start that response at the point where i’m sitting in a bar and defiantly declare i will never get a phd. a detail that, according to N, would work well in my memoir and less effectively in a setting where i was meant to be convincing as a thinker. 

but it did make me wonder where that certainty that i would never get a phd came from. had i been secretly thinking about it for years? i don’t remember googling phd programs, but then nearly every detail i remember from this story has turned out to be other than i recalled, so perhaps the thought was nascent. perhaps that i denied it so vehemently is an indicator the possibility had already emerged. 

it was a wednesday night: the night i said i’d never get a phd. the program head’s email came mid-day thursday. i was going to write "a few weeks later, when debo was in town..." but, having just consulted a calendar, i realize debo must've come to chicago the very next day. 

seriously, in my memory, this took weeks filled with angst and confusion. in reality, it seems it took three days and involved total (if occasionally delusional) certainty. 

on saturday, 21 april 2012, debo and i went for a walk through lincoln park. she was in town with her girlfriends and i had given her the dreaded: WE NEED TO TALK. she feared i was going to join the circus. given i’d not yet done trapeze, i don't know what prompted this specific fear, but her relief was palpable when i said i was merely thinking of moving to london and getting a phd. 

one of my big selling points on this idea was that king's college london was a part of cambridge. it is not, so one of my biggest selling points on this idea was a point made in total ignorance.

one of my other big selling points was that the program head, in his reply, wrote this: "we'd certainly like to encourage you to apply, as long as you understand that it would be in something of a pioneering capacity!"

in forwarding this reply to debo later that day, i noted that it was “interesting,” and concluded, "i do like pioneering…”

i now know i had no understanding of what this might mean. 

i now also know the small mercies of ignorance because it seems highly unlikely, had i any conception of the practicalities involved in being a pioneer, that i would have been bold (or mad) enough to imagine myself one. 

i wonder if this is why "the oregon trail" is such an effective and engaging game. its mimicry of this aspect of life. 

because you think: yeah, i’ll go to oregon. the whole game, in fact, is premised upon your doing so. in order to play, you must set out. you must decide to go to there. in "the oregon trail," going to oregon seems the most obvious- it is actually the only- option. 

but you’re largely ignorant of the investment you’re making at the outset. nor do you know its costs. 

it’s only after you fjord the river and lose your wagon and the buffalo you shot ten turns ago which was supposed to sustain you and your twenty companions all through the brutal winter. 

it’s only after claudia gets dysentary and dies, and dawn falls on the rocky terrain and breaks her leg and you have to give all your rice and beans to the indians to have their medicine man set it, only to bid them farewell and have mallory fall on the same rocky terrain and break her leg, so that you've no option but to leave her behind or carry her in your arms through the mountains, thus triggering a myocardial infarction.

it is only after all of that- after, having lost all your provisions, forty pounds, an arm and everyone you love- that you arrive (supposing you do).

and it is only then, from the position of having arrived, the position of being in oregon, that you have the luxury of wondering whether it was worth it, whether it wasn’t madness to have set out at all. 

four years later, i’m far less certain of the charms of pioneering. and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. maybe it's just a sign that, 400 pages and countless cries of "yes, no, but, really, this has value" later, battered about and weary, i have at long last gotten somewhere. time has passed, my astigmatism has worsened and, weakened by books, my wrists are no longer what they once were, but my sentences are stronger. 

for whatever reasons- and, to this day, i'm not entirely clear on what those reasons were- i wanted to do this. i wanted to go to there and so i did. given it all to do over? yeah, i'd play the game again. 

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