This is going to be a mess of a post. I am feeling all the feels today, and I can’t quite seem to make sense of it. So, I’ll start somewhere and then end up in a totally different place than where I intended. Let’s start with the facts: my doctoral qualifying exam (known as DQE in my department) is on the 28th of this month. 12 days away. My prospectus has been sent in, I’ve practiced with a colleague who gave excellent feedback, and I’m already starting the re-reading of one of my primary texts for the writing process that’s about to begin. I’ve got this.
And then, this morning, I woke up in a cold sweat, because my first-ever DQE nightmare came to visit.
[Sidenote: every summer, late July, early August, I start to have School Dreams. Something odd always happens in my classroom, and one of my nightmare students is always in it. It sucks. I get this momentary dread that school is going to be bad. It’s not.]
In my dream, I was at my dissertation director’s house. Now, I’ve never been to his house, but my dream-sense told me that it was his. He grilled me on “brionext theory.” I have no idea what that is even supposed to be. He grilled me on The Passion of the Christ. You know, the Mel Gibson Jesus-gets-crucified film. And asked for the medieval literary connections. So I rambled on about Margery Kemp and Julian of Norwich. This is funny for several reasons: I am not even close to being a medievalist/medieval studies scholar, and haven’t read any medieval texts for a good 7-8 years; also, my director is not a medievalist. Not even close. He’s even made some good-natured gibes about the medievalists in the class I took with him last spring. So, there’s that. And THEN, his children showed up. Now, I’ve never met his family either, but again, dream-sense. So somewhere in there, I started reading to his child.
AND THEN, one of my committee members started talking about her childhood in Mexico and all the sharks that lived along the beaches. This is funny for several reasons: she has not, to my knowledge, ever lived in Mexico. Also, The Chancellor and I watched a Shark Week program before bed last night featuring sharks possibly breeding off the Mexican beaches. Or a rogue shark trolling the beaches off Mexico. I can’t remember now. But there was a map to accompany this sidenote. And my other committee member was not there. I remember wondering if the other two had dis-invited him from my committee. Which is crazy. And not true.
I woke up in an absolute panic. What if I can’t remember every single point of every single thing Fredric Jameson’s ever said (yes, I thought that at 6 am)? What if I get lost and can’t even remember the names of the books I read (also thought at 6 am)? What if I don’t pass?
So, the anxiety about not passing the exam has caused me to put off studying with shocking ease. I started rewatching an old TV series when I should have been reading Money or brushing up on my Fredric Jameson. I actually feel like it now, so I may just do that before I lose my nerve again.
But that’s the honestest truth about this process: there’s a whole of brain, yes, but there’s a nerve aspect to it that I am finding unpleasantly surprising. I have absolutely got to keep my wits about me, especially for the really difficult questions I’m not going to know how to answer satisfactorily. I cannot expect perfection, even though I am a fairly extreme perfectionist. I just need to pass this exam so I can write my dissertation and graduate and get a job. This 2-hour segment of my life is very important, yes, but I need to remind myself: it’s a short-term means to a long-term end.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my old crony Martin Amis is calling me.