I’m having flashbacks to the New York State bar exam. I know that’s ridiculous, for two reasons: first, a dissertation defense is nothing like a bar exam. It doesn’t even involve snakes. Second, I didn’t actually stress out all that much about either of the bar exams I took, New York and Massachusetts. In a way, the dissertation defense will be more stressful, because although it will be half the length (only three hours), they will be three hours of speaking in front of people I know and respect. The process will be more active than sitting and filling in bubbles (which I’d gotten very good at, by that point in my career).
Tonight, I’m going to make a list of the books I want to look over again before the defense. Tomorrow, I’ll go to the library. I’m not sure it’s a matter of being prepared, because I think I am prepared. I just need to make sure I feel prepared.
In the meantime, I’m going to deal with the stress as best I can. Which involves creating sanctuaries of various sorts. (I’m glad I came up with that concept. It’s coming in so handy just now.)
So here is a sanctuary:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
That’s W.B. Yeats, of course: “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” When I was a child, I used to fantasize about going away somewhere, a magical valley or island. There I would have a cottage, a garden, a hive for the honey bee. (Well, actually I think there were magical trees from which I could gather food, sort of like in the Oz books. After all, I could gather food from the magical refrigerator . . .) Would I actually want bees? Sometimes I think about having chickens, like my friend Cat Valente, and gathering eggs. But I don’t know how well chickens would go with the writing life that is, fundamentally, at the heart of all the plans I have for the future: a life in which I can spent a lot of time dreaming and writing, and doing all the things that go with writing. Like traveling to conventions. I’m not sure how well bees and chickens fit with that, no matter how romantically bucolic they sound! But I will have the garden, and the cat on the windowsill. Those are non-negotiable. (And honestly, although as a child I fantasized about being completely alone – I was such an introvert – now I would want a place where friends could gather, writers and artists sharing their work, connecting with each other.)
Here is Yeats, as an old man, reading his poem:
What I would also like to do, one day, is go to Ireland, where I’ve never been. Better yet, go to the British Isles and spend a few weeks wandering around, going to Devon where friends like Terri Windling live. And going to all sorts of other places, seeing Wales and Cornwall and Scotland. And of course going to Ireland as well. I even have a practical reason, because for a long time now I’ve had an idea for a children’s book that takes place in an alternative version of the British Isles. It is, in a way, my response to the Narnia books, as Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials series is a response to the Narnia books. But a very different response. So, you know, it would be research.
Can you tell how tired I am? I’m rambling terribly. I think that in a way I still haven’t recovered from completing the dissertation. I’m not sure I will recover completely until after the defense. That’s why I need those sanctuaries: the dance classes, the music, the poems. They, and the knowledge that this process will eventually end, keep me going.
In the meantime, I’m going to dance, and listen to music, and read poetry – and of course try to get some sleep, because I don’t do enough of that either. And I’m going to dream of Innisfree, with those nine bean rows, and maybe some honey bees, and maybe some chickens. But definitely a desk and computer, and time to write. And friends around me.
I love your sanctuaries.
Good for you, for dancing (which is so good for body and soul) and reading poems and listening to music! Giving yourself some more time in bed sounds self-nurturing, too.
So, about the dissertation defense: Talking in front of people you know and respect could be seen as more stressful than filling out bubbles with a #2 pencil. But it is also much more interesting and stimulating. You are looking forward to talking to people, sharing work, and connecting: Make the dissertation defense one of your earliest opportunities to indulge in this!
And then: I really want to read that children’s book you are planning! I think I grew up in Narnia/Cherry Tree Lane/Pooh Corner/Rat’s house by the River as much as in Virginia and Maryland. Take me back with you!