November 10, 2008 § 3 Comments


Tonight, winter approaches like a slow-moving train.  It is cold and damp, and the dark came so early that there was hardly any day to speak of.  I resolve to hunker down for the longest season with my cat, my dissertation, and a distinct sense of foreboding.  By all indications, this one will be longer than most.

By the time I finish writing it will be spring, which is a pleasant enough prospect save for the fact that by then most of the world will be in full-blown recession.  Already, the papers are full of stories about budget cuts, hiring freezes, and restructuring at the universities at which I hope eventually to find work, and each one underscores the probability that I will experience my moment of triumph in the shadow of an insurmountable brick wall.

I have noticed a pall of desperation come over some of my cohort as they churn out applications for this year’s trickle of jobs and research grants.  Over dinner, one confessed to feeling terror at the prospect of being unemployed for the first time in his adult life, and another to the sudden return of debilitating panic attacks.  What remained unsaid was the fact that, even absent a recession, only one in four of us is likely to secure full-time academic employment.  After all, why ruin a perfectly good meal?

Still, for me, this statistic is the elephant in the room, which shuffles and farts every time I sit down to write.  Unfortunately, my first weak efforts to evict the beast have been delayed, and although all is by no means lost, I find myself grappling with disappointment and a temporary loss of equilibrium.  Meanwhile, the elephant has made itself quite comfortable on my living room sofa, where it will presumably remain until I devise a Plan B.

As someone else’s therapist wisely counseled, one should first mourn a loss and then stave off anxiety with action.  Having sufficiently mourned the demise of Plan A, I am carefully reviewing my post-PhD options, all of which may yet be undone by another swoop of the stock market and the austerity measures that inevitably follow.  It is impossible to know what the world will look like come spring, but I am inclined to agree with Mark Kingwell‘s millennial prediction: the future will be just like now, only worse.

That said, I am determined to cling to a slim tendril of optimism, which is as necessary a fuel as spite if in considerably shorter supply.  Somehow, something will work out; until then, there is a dissertation to finish and a Montreal winter to survive, which is more than enough to worry about.


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