But the other night, slogging through a round of changes, I found myself seized by the heart-clutching, tear-welling sense of hopelessness, panic, and despair that I hadn't felt in a long time. It's a un- or pre-rational feeling, pure emotion and physicality, like I'm going to expire on the spot. And though I hadn't felt it in a while, I remembered, more or less, how I used to pull myself out of it: by probing patiently, like a shrink or a father confessor, until I got to the heart of the crisis.
What is it? I asked myself. Is it this chapter?
No. The chapter is going slower than I'd like, and it's frustrating, but it'll be fine.
Is it the next chapter?
No. That chapter's a mess, but it's my last one, and even if I only make cosmetic changes now, with a good intro I can still send the manuscript out for review.
So is it the intro?
I don't think so. That will be hard. But I got a good start on reframing the project this fall, and it'll get written.
Are you worried about finding a publisher?
Not really. It may take longer than I'm hoping--but it will get published. And I can get tenure on the strength of my other publications.
Is it about all the stuff that has to be got done between now and April?
Hmm. Maybe a little? But every semester is like this, and I always get through it.
Wait, your second book? You've got to finish this one. And then you have a whole damn edition, whose 2014 deadline you'll be lucky if you can meet.
Hold up there. You're seriously freaking out about a second book?
And yes, it appears that I was, at least on some level--and when I realized it, I started to laugh. It seems that even after the real hurdles are past or are within comfortable reach (finishing the dissertation; getting a job; finishing the book; getting tenure), the need to freak out, to panic and despair, is still a live one. Surely there must be something for me to fail at! Or to send me into a hysterical paralysis of self-doubt!
The next time someone asks what I got out of grad school, that's what I'll tell 'em: the belief that there are always more things to fail at.