I started grad school fifteen years ago next month, and the other night, as I was falling asleep, I had a vivid recollection of the apartment I lived in for my first four years and what falling asleep there had been like. It was a narrow studio, longer than it was deep, with my bed only a few yards from the front door. Under the door, even in the dark, a bright strip of light from the hallway shone in. Every second or third night I'd be unable to fall asleep, convinced that the framed poster that hung over the head of my bed was going to crash down in the middle of the night. So I'd take it down and hang it back up in the morning.
I've been trying to figure out what I've done in the past fifteen years, and finding the list wanting--professionally I'm perfectly on schedule, if that's the right word, but haven't done anything grand--but then I went back to the journals I kept in grad school. I kept a journal for a dozen years, from roughly ages 17 to 29, but haven't so much as laid hands or eyes on them in a decade. They lived in a sealed-up cardboard box, which I moved from place to place and then shoved in the back of a closet. Until now, I'd never had the nerve to re-read them. I knew what was in them, basically, and didn't want to revisit it.
But yesterday I did, and the experience was. . . surprising. I'll say more about that in another post, but reading the ones from my first two years of grad school make it clear that I was a lunatic. I remember with some clarity how depressed I was, and some of the reasons why, but that's not the same as reading entry after entry about walking home from class crying, about weeping at this party or that party, about my increasingly elaborate and paranoid social fears. No wonder I slept badly.
It's hard to believe how late I stayed up, how little I slept, and how much I drank. In retrospect it's clear that most of my friends were lunatics, too--even the ones who weren't literally alcoholics or addicted to drugs were in crazy, anguished places. My journals are full of worries about this friend who seems to have lost a quarter of her body weight, and that friend who's having an affair, or the other who's picking up strangers in bars. And I recount, drily, the story about this one falling over backwards in his chair or another passing out face-down on the table.
So though I was going to come up with a list of what I've done in the past fifteen years to make me feel accomplished and cheerful and whatnot (M.A.! Ph.D! Tenure-track job! Articles! Tenure! Book!), I have to say, I'm just glad we all survived.