The Day after Disappointment

What do you do after you pour your heart and soul into something—only to fail?

“I’m confused,” I wrote yesterday to Jim, my former thesis advisor. I had promised to let him know the outcome of my applications, both the MFA and the PhD.

Both outcomes were the same.

“I thought I’d be getting a terminal degree and teaching college for my life’s work,” I wrote. But it seems God has other plans.

So, what do you do the day after disappointment?

Well, after a little weeping and gnashing of teeth, I sat at my computer and got down to business. I have an almost-finished magazine article I’ve been putting off for over a year—and I have known where I can get it published—but I just haven’t finished it. Today I will finish and submit it.

This week I am also going to get back to the “before-thirty” manuscript I’ve been putting off. And lying in bed this morning I was hit with the possibilities of e-publishing some even older work.

It was like some barrier had been removed; some permission given to just do it, damn it—stop waiting for someone to wipe my nose and just move on, already!

A cocoon was what I wanted, I think. Just a few more years before I grew up. But even with the benefit of one night’s sleep, now it seems kinda silly.

I’m almost twenty-nine. I’ve been in school for about six of my eight years of marriage. I already have a book forthcoming with a co-author. I’ve been published in three magazines. And already for several years I’ve been learning about creative writing on my own.

Oh, and just one more thing. Time will tell, but was it a coincidence that yesterday, after opening my mail, and after crying my tears, my queasiness didn’t go away? Was it a coincidence that I also woke up feeling nauseated again this morning, and that I’ve felt that way for the past four days?

If it’s what I think it might be…well, that would be just too clear—and it would carry the kind of poetry this writer delights in—an extra special way for God to tell me that, even in the wake of disappointment, He knows the plans He has for me (Jer. 29:11).

Note: On the day after the day after, I find it was just a false alarm. Oh well. God gave me a distraction to numb the blow. In any case, I still believe He knows the plans He has for me!

The Question Every Young Couple Must Answer

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“When are you having kids?” my high school students always used to ask. Why they were so interested in this detail of my life I never understood—much like I didn’t understand when family members or anyone else asked. The question used to come frequently when we were first married, and then, as year after year slid by with no child, but only new feats such as a bachelor’s degree, teaching job, and master’s degree, the question all but went away, and with it, my child consciousness.

But when I got to my first semester of grad school in 2010, I had an epiphany. Sitting in class at that time as both student and teacher, I was to finally understand why students and so many others wonder that question.           

It happened one night in literary theory class, when my professor, trying to explain the infant stages of Freudian development admitted, “Well, the research says this [insert windy explanation of anal and oral stages]; but I don’t have kids, so I don’t really know firsthand.” That’s all. One comment. Then he continued his lecture on Freud. But I was stopped.

Before that night, he’d been Mr. Know-It-All.

Now, he was just a man out of touch with reality…who, perhaps, had never changed a diaper.

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(Photo from giftsfordadtobe.com)

What did my professor have? He had his books and his scholarly journals and his research (and with those, late night library visits while bedecked in baseball caps [to blend with students, he’d told us]), but what, beyond that? He didn’t have a wife. Or kids. Or religion. (Lots of grad students and professors end up losing their religion, I was also to find out.) The closest relationships he had seemed to be with us, his students. And he was great with us, very gentle and caring, and genuinely concerned for our welfare.

But in general…in general, I had to ask myself that night: Is this really the life? And more importantly, is this the life I want for myself? Do I want to be like this professor someday, standing before a class of adults (or high school kids, for that matter), in my forties or above, with no life experience to share with them, besides what I had read in books?

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This was a profound moment for me. I journaled at length about it the very next day. And I talked to my husband. Was I missing something here? Was I about to embark on the wrong path, this path to the PhD? What did it mean that I was having all of these questions?

Mind you, I was hardly ready to toss the birth control, quit teaching, and/or withdraw from my graduate classes. Just then I wouldn’t admit that I wanted kids. Because I wasn’t actually sure I wanted them.

But one thing I now understood: If I had kids, I would become a more interesting professor…and a more interesting person. I would become more credible. More human. And that alone was something worth considering.