A Year into the Process
I have written a blasphemous post.
I recently came upon the year anniversary of returning to my studies and professional pursuits. After some time away from focused academic work, it has been nothing short of revelatory to return. The compassion I found in my department's faculty, the opportunities I have been given, the long hours of retraining atrophied muscles, and the acquisition of a courage I did not know I had—all this and more have all been profound experiences in my life over the past year.
It was thanks to my father's loving admonitions during a winter visit one morning that I found, what felt at the time, a risky courage necessary to begin considering a return to the academic pursuits I had left several years prior in order to care for my son. After a brief period of contemplation, I realized I had return to see my epic task of education through to its completion or it would consume me. So, I wrote to the department chair of my old program.
Often people speak and write of a divide between the academic ideals and real world implementation of those ideals. Honestly, I used to be one such critic. However, I felt my opinions and my own self deeply changed as I was not simply granted permission to return to the program but actually welcomed back to my Ph.D. ambitions with a compassion and encouragement I had not anticipated. What they gave in words and action cannot be overstated. Professors McRuer, Cohen, and Mitchell were particularly wonderful to speak with and solidified in my mind and heart why I had returned to this path of study and career. Since then so many have helped inspire me, likely without knowing it. Professors Dugan and Hsy have also been incredibly inspirational in their work, their online connectivity, and simply their good natures.The faculty at the George Washington University took pity on me and my quest to return to my studies, research, and writing; in so many strange ways this both validated and further inspired my scholarly and activist interest in pity itself.
I have taken the opportunity these faculty have given me and run with it. I rise very early and devote time every morning to scholarly writing and nearly all my free time during the day to reading. (I occasionally break to blog a little and keep connected to digital scholars during this introverted process.) It is of the utmost importance that I not waste an opportunity so many cannot even dream of. I am sure many would not have the slightest desire to work towards strange goals such as I have committed myself too for reasons myriad reasons. (The job market for my field likely being one of them.) However, I know of many who would cherish an opportunity of any sort but for reasons socioeconomic and otherwise, they will not receive such a chance. I think of this every morning when the decision between sleep and work is to be made. I will not waste this second chance.
That I can take this chance and that I can continue make the choices I do every day to follow my dreams is also indebted to supportive family and friends. How can anyone accomplish anything without the many strong foundations that surround them? That I could not accomplish a single thing without them helps me work through the pain. The muscles of critical reading and writing atrophied, to be sure. I had feared that would be most weakened from disuse was the strength and endurance to push through failure and rejection. No reading of texts ever improves without facing ignorance and confusion. No writing ever improves without practice, feedback, and revision. All of this requires great vulnerability, one which a year ago I feared had grown weak within me. I was wrong: it's stronger than ever before.
I have always told students that it takes great bravery to read and listen, to consider thoughtfully, and then to respond articulately. Perhaps because I am older, perhaps because I have a child, perhaps because of a million things I cannot understand, I find I am more courageous in this regard than I have ever been before. Simply, I am more willing to be wrong: to write poorly, to read incorrectly, and to think obtusely. It has felt like a visceral knowledge over this past year that I am not open to such possibilities, I cannot grow in clarity, comprehension, or compassion. So with every decision I try to ensure that I remain open.
I decided to return and take the opportunity. I decide morning after morning to work hard for a dream and for what feels like justice. I have decided today to share all of this openly. I am so grateful for having made these decisions, but it is a constant battle against the fear that pushes back. I realize that in many ways I struggle with the very concern of my dissertation research. These decisions (I am sure there is an I that has made them) reach so much further than I can often anticipate. They have brought me back to my impossible task: from GED to Ph.D. In this attempt to reach beyond the possible, to devote so much time and energy to reading and writing on the reading and writing of animals and animality, I find powerful reminders why I am doing this in passages like this:
Because every decision (by its essence a decision is exceptional and sovereign) must escape the order of the possible, of what is already possible and programmable for the supposed subject of the decision, because every decision worthy of the name must be this exceptional scandal of a passive decision or decision of the other, the difference between the deciding decision and the undecided decision itself becomes undecidable, and then the supposed decision, the exceptionally sovereign decision looks, like two peas in a pod, just like an indecision, an unwilling, a nonliberty, a nonintention, an unconsciousness and an irrationality, etc.; and then the supposed sovereign subject begins, by an invincible attraction, to look like the beast he is supposed to subject to himself (and we already know, having often—last time too—verified it, that in place of the beast one can put, in the same hierarchy, the slave, the woman, the child). ~Jacques Derrida. “The Beast and the Sovereign, Volume I.”
As decision and indecision run around a möbius strip of differánce, and as the substitutions for the beast and the beast itself continue to suffer in pages in the flesh, I find myself considering what choices I would like to see myself make over the course of this next year. And the answers come in a way that feel more like compulsion or need—a thirst and hunger to continue to be courageous and work hard. I have decided to escape the order of the possible. I could not have decided otherwise.