I’ve been in a bit of a tailspin the last few months. Something that was supposed to happen didn’t happen, and I didn’t really have a contingency plan or any concept of how to deal with failure.
I didn’t get accepted to a PhD program. Writing that still makes my stomach clench. I think this is my first actual failure at something I cared about–I mean, I’ve done poorly in science and math classes, but who cares? I’m a book person–c’mmon, ask me anything–and everything else is secondary. Always.
There are reasons I didn’t get in. Well, there is one very glaring reason–there was a problem with my recommendation letters and my applications weren’t complete. And those who love me have told me repeatedly in the last few months that nobody even looks at an incomplete application, that if it was a failure, it was a failure to followup, not a failure of intellect or whatever. Sometimes I believe them. And sometimes I’m not so sure.
So I’ve been spinning out.
About five years ago I was in a terrible wreck– I was headed home in one of those sudden summer downpours in South Carolina, and hit a patch of rain and did about four complete spins in the middle of the highway, hitting the center median at each rotation. I had no control and the blows just kept coming. I (obviously) survived. I crawled out the passenger door, threw up on the side of the road, and called for help. I was fine. My car was totaled. Kind of amazing, actually, that it turned out so well. But it was terrifying. I didn’t know what was going to happen next.
I don’t know what is going to happen next here. I’ve had such a clear plan for so long– when I found out that my unaccredited Bible college undergrad degree wouldn’t let me go to grad school, I redid my undergrad. All four years. I finished my Master’s. I’m supposed to be packing up to move to PhD now. That’s the plan. Finish my PhD, get a job teaching literature and gender studies, write and garden and read in the long, hot summers. I kind of tuned out the so-frequent articles about the demise of academia, the warnings from professors about the difficulty of finding a job, the distinct possibility that the life I envisioned existed only in novels. I didn’t want to have to question the plan, or think about the plan–it’s so much easier to just keep doing the work and turning in the papers and assume that it’s all just going to turn out right if you stand by your plan.
One of the hardest things about leaving religion is having to make your own plan. I grew up Independent Baptist– religions are different everywhere, but what that meant in our family was that every person has a God-ordained purpose, that all things work together, that if you have faith, then it’s ok if you don’t see the big picture. That’s what God is for. And leaving that was wrenching. Not leaving God–if I believed in God then I wouldn’t have left–but losing that sense of purpose, of knowing where you fit. Without religion, you have to figure out the plan on your own. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing–there is a freedom in not having the path set for you, in striking out on your own, in making your own decisions that I couldn’t have imagined a few years ago, when the way was ordained and deviation was unimaginable… but it’s also a little terrifying. Without some overarching purpose–that ideology bigger than yourself–then you have to give your life meaning. You decide your life’s meaning. You make the choices.
So that’s why I’ve been spinning. I’m not great with choices–I avoid them. I’ve been hiding under the covers, inhaling books like a chain smoker, pouring one more glass of wine, marathoning seasons and series in days, sleeping on the couch with the TV on, terrified of my own thoughts, of failure, of the wrong choice– terrified of everything.
So I’m hitting reset. I’m working to find the ideas that inspire me, that make me feel a bit more sure, those things that make me feel most like my ideal me. It’s hard to care about pictures of flowers when you fear cataclysmic changes are coming, but if pictures of flowers help, then pictures of flowers it will be. Better fiction. Poetry. Long walks. Museums. I want to write more–both here and fiction. I’ve been so worried about the future that I’ve lost the last few months. But I don’t want to lose any more. So I’m hitting reset.