What a week! 95 Theses Day, soon followed by Guy Fawkes Day--and, oh yeah: there was an election in there, too.
I'd been thinking about the 2000 and 2004 elections a lot as this particular cycle wound down. The former happened in my second year of graduate school, and one of my classmates held a big party where we all huddled around her t.v., drinking bourbon and laughing and waiting for our home states to pop up on the map. Needless to say, it turned into a long night (and an even longer four years).
In 2004 I was back in the big city--though still in grad school--and I didn't have a t.v. The election hadn't been definitively called by the time I went to bed, but by the time I got up early the next morning to fly to a conference it was clear that Bush had been reelected. I sat in the airport talking to my then-partner on the phone. He was a libertarian Republican who'd cast his first Democratic vote for any person, for any office, for Kerry. I was arguing that maybe it would be okay--that at least Bush would get stuck with the fucking war he started--but he was almost in tears. "You don't know these people," he said. "I grew up with these people! They're gay-baiting creationists and there's nothing to stop them now."
We hung up, and soon one of my grad school friends arrived at the airport: we were rooming together at the conference. We stared at each other, unable to muster up much conversation. Our conference was at a college in a deeply red state, and I don't remember very much of it--just that everyone looked as if their father had just died.
I've been thinking about those elections, and about those people. The woman who held the election night party in 2000 finished her Ph.D., but is no longer in the profession. One of my classmates, who kept declaring that he was going to D.C. to protest Bush's inauguration (which he did) by throwing feces at his motorcade (which he did not) has disappeared. He fell into a dissertation worm-hole, and I've heard nothing about him for years. The friend I shared a room with at that conference in November 2004 is the same friend I'm sharing a room with at a conference in November 2008.
Just before Election Day I spent some time with another person I was friends with in grad school, but who (for various reasons or for no reason) I've barely seen or been in touch with for the part five years. We spent some hours catching up one-on-one, and after we parted I felt strangely transformed: it was as if I'd both recovered access to my grad school life--but in a new and better way--and realized, definitively, that that era was behind me.
I started grad school nine years ago last August. Eight years ago Bush was elected. Next month, my Ph.D. will be three years old. And the month after that, President Obama will take office.
Here's to fresh starts.