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Oh, Finals Week…

December 8, 2006

I find that there are two brilliant insights I always gain during Final Exam week…
1) A device that gave you caffeine intravenously would be very well received by college kids world-wide.
2) Final Exams are not a test of knowledge or skill, but rather a sort of decathalon. In other words, its not how fast you can sprint, but whether or not you are still standing after thirty miles.

The quest for good grades generally comes down to an ability to discipline oneself, and to go without sleep, food, or normal social interactions for days or weeks on end. I have written upwards of seventy graded pages in the last two weeks, and I have yet to enter finals week itself.
I am supposed to be hammering out another ten of them tonight, about Critical Analysis of the poetry of Mary Wroth, and an explication of one of Ben Jonson’s strange little poems. I had better luck making nonsensical genius out of Gertrude Stein yesterday…
My professors seem to like to give us life-lessons around this time in the semester as well. Mostly, they keep reminding those of us who are plugging away in academic buildings cracked-out on coffee all night, that only about a third of PhDs in literature receive tenure-track positions at universities in this country. For those of us who have designs on academia, this hurts. So, to give up the dream is out of the question. But, ten years from now…or more, if I have a doctorate in literature and no job, what will I have made of myself? What will it matter that Lady Mary Wroth, Ben Jonson, Gertrude Stein, and Louise Gluck every teased my brain, or made me shiver with instantaneous understanding?
I want to teach. I want the energy and creativity derived from such a place as this. So on the cusp of finals week, I am sending a cheers out to those of you who are students cramming your brains and denying your bodies…and those of you who teach us, and are buried under mountains of ungraded papers, unwritten recommendations, and an administration breathing down your neck. To you, we say: thanks for the knowledge. It does not go unheaded.

Hopefully that has warmed up my brain a little. Back to the old grind…

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