My niece Sidney started Kindergarten this week. Her brother Emory started Preschool. There was, for each, a book about the night before. We read them when I last visited, and we all agreed that there should be a book for “The Night Before the PhD Program.” But there isn’t.
What would a book about the night before entering a PhD Program say? The Night Before Preschool talks about taking a favorite stuffed animal for naptime, so perhaps The Night Before the PhD Program should talk about being separated from your lover and learning to sleep alone, about renting yet another crummy grad student apartment, finding the cheap restaurants and a market that sells good tofu in a new town.
The Night Before Kindergarten talks about the anxiety of entering big-kid school, where there is no more nap time and the activities are more academic. The Night Before the PhD Program should talk about the anxieties of moving to a smaller pond with bigger fish, taking out student loans to get a degree that is becoming less and less likely to lead to a tenure track position, and what it means to commit five years of your life to something?
It should also be a lot like The Night Before Junior High, though such a book doesn’t exist. Worrying about whether or not you have the right clothes, read the right books and literary journals, if you will be (as I was when I first started the MFA program at WVU) marginalized as a dilettante housewife who writes as a hobby. What if nobody likes you?
And then there are the worries that are peculiar to getting a PhD in Creative Writing. Will you be the only person who finds Kristeva completely incomprehensible? Will everybody else glibly quote Derrida in the French, talk about their summers at Breadloaf, throw fabulous parties to celebrate the publication of their third, fourth, or fifth book while your book still keeps coming back from publishers and agents who think it’s too quiet and that the brilliant homeless man who fascinated you isn’t really very interesting to anybody else? What if nobody likes you?
What if, in fact, everybody thinks you’re sort of a hack and isn’t exactly certain how someone so untalented, so unhip, and so clealry middle-of-the-pack made it into the program at all?