I take this as my honi soit, to be hoisted on the masts and engraved on the crest. Or at least heat-stamped on a T-shirt. I had planned a rather humorous, lighthearted disquisition on this topic, but some serious thoughts keep pushing their heavy-handed way in. So bear with me, and maybe we'll get to the yucks later. Or maybe not.
I've always been a smart chick (too smart for your own good, missy, some would say) and a mouthy one as well. I have a showy kind of intelligence, the sort that ranges wide but doesn't settle particularly well. As my dissertation director once said to me, "You are good at synthesizing a broad amount of information; you are not good at digging into one particular point to follow it to it's end." Basically, what she was saying was: you're terrific in a class where you see the connections among the works; you're lousy at writing a dissertation. And she was right. As, obviously, my continued status as an ABD (All But Dissertation completed for the Ph.D) will attest.
Having given up on academia, however, I am left somewhat bereft. There is no place to settle the huge respository of [useless] information that one acquires while doing a lit PhD. No one gets my allusions. There are times, it might even be said, when no one knows what I'm talking about. The other night, for example, I sat at my Wednesday night knitting group at Knitique Yarn Shop, and noticed a hand-lettered sign that had a missing hyphen. I felt compelled to inform all and sundry about the missing hyphen and exactly how it altered the meaning of the sign. Around the table were the faces of my friends, looking at me, with that expectant look that signals someone hopes you'll start making sense soon, but for now you're speaking gibberish. Which is fine, and appropriate for that setting, yet it make me long for the times when three or four grad students would have gotten their teeth into that hyphen and argued it until it's head whipped off. I miss that. It's a part of me that is almost never tapped these days.
This morning while brushing my teeth and reading O Magazine (there are few places in which I don't read), I was reading the list of Zoe Heller's favorite books and Amy Bloom's article on poetry, and I felt quite keenly the absence in my life of people with whom I could talk about such things (and if you don't think I'm an unrepetent grad student, check all those prepositions that come rolling off my tongue in exactly their proper place). It's not that my friends don't read. Some of them do (and some don't, it must be said, which to me is unimaginable but I love them anyway). It's that no one reads a book like a literature grad student, with the full play of the critical conversation, past and present, weighing in. I miss that. I miss the intellectual wrangling that is the academic arena.
I have tried to fill these gaps with what would seem to be similar activities. In LA, I was a member of a bookclub. We met monthly to eat, drink, schmooze, and talk about the book. I think at first they liked having me there, because I more or less taught whatever book we were reading. But then I think that they got tired of me pushing far deeper into the work than they wanted to go, and I got tired of them thinking that "I liked it...It sucks...This would never happen in real life....I hated the main character" sufficed as literary criticism.
In LA I was a grad student again, this time in psychology. That wasn't such a far stretch from my lit studies, as one of the areas of criticism with which I dealt was psychoanalytic literary theory. However, psychoanalytic literary theory and psychoanalytic theory are different beasts, it would seem. Lacan never figured in our class lectures or discussion. The French Feminists? Do they have to do with fashion?
So there I am, with this rich inner life, that gets very short shrift in the outside world. Except here. On By Jane. Here I am free to expound and explicate and elucidate at will. Here, I am free to be me, all of me, not just the comprehensible bits. Thus, for Descartes, it was cogito ergo sum. But for me, it is blogito ergo sum--I blog, therefore I am.