Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Euphoria of lost

Well, I'm done with my dissertation defense. . .I actually have been for three weeks, today. . .but I've not really been able to get it "together" since. Being done with something that I've been working on for such a long time brings the expected feelings of relief and pride. Admittedly, it's the biggest accomplishment of my life, academically & career wise. It is the thing, in fact, that I have been motivated to achieve since I was a teenager. Here I am, nearly two decades later, doing it.

But it's not all sunshine and roses. This leaves a gap in my life that has, for the last few weeks, been filled with a sense of confusion and disorientation. What does one DO after the Ph.D? What's next? To say that this is something I should have thought about before is both true and impossible. As a mother of a toddler, part-time teacher, wife, poet, and managing everything that comes along with those titles, it's safe to say that actually finishing the Ph.D. was a feat in itself. Actually bracing for and preparing for the next step surely would have resulted in full melt-down. Now, however, the question has descended, like a villain from a fairy tale, resolved to steal whatever thunder and momentum such an accomplishment has given me.

I feel extremely lost, but not in a scared, trapped sort of way. It's more of an inquisitive, probing process of lost. There is a job or two I might apply for here in Denver at the school where I'm already teaching. There's a part-time thing here and there that I'm shoring up for. And life might just look like this for a few years until I find my niche, publish my book (please!) and build my resume. But otherwise, what am I supposed to do with myself? My highly-educated, motivated self? What is there to fill the hole?

One of the things that has been agitating me for quite some time is that a Ph.D. doesn't REALLY get you anywhere. Right now, my part-time teaching job requires only a Masters, which I had six years ago. The poetry teaching jobs that I dream about require at least a first book if not multiple books. What then does a Ph.D. give you? An in-depth knowledge of which to talk about at cocktail parties? Overqualifications for nearly any other job but teaching at the college level, which you're still, somehow, underqualified to do even though most of us have been doing it since day one of our Master's degree? I don't mean to sound ungrateful-- I truly do feel that the Ph.D. experience taught me SO much about professionalization, how to speak about my poems and make them reflect my ideas, how to speak about other's poems and relate them to complex theories that I would have NEVER been exposed to in, say, an MFA. Nonetheless, here I am. Armed with the highest possible degree known to poetry, and not a single thing to do with it. Truth be told, I'm not even teaching poetry at Metro- I'm teaching composition (which I like, don't get me wrong. . .but my qualifications are obviously stronger in other areas).

I suspect I'm not the only poet in academia to ever run into this dilemma. I'm reminded of a friend who I met while working on my MA at CU, Boulder. He had his Ph.D. and was teaching at CU part-time as an adjunct. He was and is a brilliant poet, but when I would speak to him in those days, he was extremely frustrated by the exact thing I'm speaking of. He had yet to have his first book published at that point, which meant no "currency" on the job market. Now, three books later, he's the head of a fairly prestigious Creative Writing Department. Does this evidence suggest that on top of ten years of graduate school, MORE dues need to be paid before getting the "break"? I also think about the fact that this friend was a single male, not a married mother. Surely, this gives me a huge handicap.

And I haven't written a poem since the defense. Bizarre.