Sorrow at the Parting
There are two huge ginkgo trees at the heart of the old part of Indiana University's campus. They're my favorite trees in all of Bloomington. I look forward to the brief period each fall when the trees blaze gold, the ground beneath them littered with the pretty fan-shaped leaves.
I walked under them today after I left the graduate school, in my hand copies of the signature pages I submitted as part of the finalization of my PhD.
Almost immediately I began to tear up.
I've been here for seven years -- two for my Masters degree; five for my PhD. The time has flown and crawled at the same time. When I started graduate school I was still in my twenties; now, I wake up each morning and consider the new strands of silver in my hair and the crow's feet that are beginning to form at the corners of my eyes.
Graduate school is no picnic, which is no secret. The thing is, though, that no one can really ever understand the toll it will take on you. Each of us shoulders our various burdens differently. We all juggle various priorities and, at times, find ourselves at the bottom of a mountain of commitments, promises, and deadlines we can never fathom summiting.
Some of us never do.
Those of us who finish the climb often find ourselves mentally, emotionally, and, yes, even physically exhausted by the process.
But we made it.
I walked in IU's graduate commencement recently. Even though it was hot and at times incredibly uncomfortable it was the happiest I've been in an exceedingly long time.
I made it.
Since then it's been a rush of grading final projects (I taught a section of a media ethics class this semester) and dissertation revisions. There's also the issue of getting my family's move from Bloomington back to Ohio in order. (I was born in Ohio and did my undergraduate work at Ohio University.)
I haven't had much time to ponder leaving here; to consider my actual removal from this place.
Walking under those gingkos this morning it hit me -- I won't see them go gold this fall. I won't find myself one morning, gazing up into the branches, lost in the yellow light.
Tears welled up. As I continued my walk down the red brick path and through Sample Gates I let the tears come.
I remember at one point, when I was in the midst of prepping for my qualifying exams, asking on Facebook if there was "crying in graduate school."
Yes, was the general consensus. Sometimes there was a lot of crying in graduate school.
Seven years I've been here. Seven years of stress and anxiety. Seven years of chasing funding and hoping to have cobbled enough work together for the year.
It's time to move on. And I am. In the fall I start a faculty position in Miami University's Department of Media, Journalism, and Film. I'm excited to start this chapter of my life; excited to meet my students and get to know my new colleagues.
But there is sorrow at the parting. Indiana University-Bloomington is a beautiful school. When I've been my most overwhelmed or taut I've found solace in the quiet, wooded spaces to be found all over campus. I've had the opportunity to work with world class researchers here who not only taught me skills and theory, but also helped me discover my own identity as a scholar.
Bloomington is also where my daughter has spent most of her childhood. She accompanied me to graduate classes when I was a student and then, later, served as an assistant in the classes I taught. She's seen me up late at night working on a project and she watched me walk across the stage and shake hands with the university president at commencement.
This university, this town, has been a place of growth for the both of us. We've chased squirrels through the woods, looked for fish in the "river," watched pumpkins get thrown out of windows in the name of science, and glimpsed the surface of the sun in the Kirkwood Observatory.
I'm ready to go. My tears were not out of nostalgia. Sadness, yes; who isn't a little saddened by the turning of time?
It would be a lie, though, to not admit that some of those tears were in relief. Relief that I, that my family, made it.
'So fill to me the parting glass; goodnight and joy be with you all.'
Do Not Tell Me TO Lean In
Maine is one of my favorite places. My best friend and I drove to Acadia National Park to celebrate turning 30 several years ago and when it came time to leave neither of us was really ready to pack up.
It had been a difficult few years leading up to our trip and it was the first time either of us had really stopped to breathe.
This summer I won't be driving to Maine, instead I'll be packing my things up to move to Ohio where I will begin teaching at Miami University in the fall. There will be no endless vistas for me, but there will be a leaning out not unlike that I experienced in Acadia.
My friends and I are calling this summer a number of different things: The Summer of Radical Self Care, The Summer of Leaning the F*ck Out, there was maybe something involving unicorns I don't remember.
It's a very necessary leaning out, for all of us. We've all been leaning in so hard and so long we probably should have portable flying buttresses to help keep us propped up at this point.
We are all, I should mention, women. Which is important if you've been following at all the conversation around this idea that women need to "lean in" to their careers to achieve much of anything.
What maybe some people don't understand, and what the author of the book Lean In seems to ignore, is that women already are leaning in -- we lean in to everything. Our jobs, our studies if we're students, our relationships, our children if we have them, our friendships, our communities.
Women lean into everything because we have always been expected to do so.
When it comes to careers that leaning in has been necessary, because for every mentor you have that is willing to help build you up you have scores of others chomping at your heels, trying to drag you down or looking to belittle your contributions.
I am emerging from graduate school. An endeavor that I have loved. I have always loved being in school and knew, when I was still working on my bachelor's degree what seems like a thousand years ago, that I was going to pursue a PhD at some point.
My experience during my studies has been largely one of support, fellowship, and a real feeling that I am engaged in the life of the mind. But there have certainly been moments when classmates have come after me not necessarily because of my contributions but because I am a women. There have been interactions with individuals that were at the very least disrespectful and at the worst unethical, due in part to my being a woman.
Graduate school, academia, is all about leaning in. Leaning so hard and so deep into your work that you get it done, you wipe the floor with the jerks, and you get out.
At the end, as you celebrate, you can't help feeling a little chewed up.
Those of us who get as far as I have and my mentors who are in ensconced in academia have done nothing but lean in our entire lives.
We don't have to be told to lean in. Or work harder. Or sacrifice. Or whatever else you might say to us as we pursue our careers and our lives.
We've been doing it before we knew it was a thing to do.
And things have suffered at times for it.
'For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.'
That opposite reaction this summer is to lean out as far as I can, as far as we can, so that when the new academic year rolls around we can plunge back into the thick of it with the enthusiasm and love of learning that pushed us down this path in the first place.
So, please, do not tell me to 'lean in' or anything like it. I will be leaning into something this summer that I have neglected for far too long.