You know what you shouldn’t do when you’re trapped in a holding pattern, and you’re sure of…absolutely nothing other than your cat’s undying love? You should not binge-watch The Good Wife.
For the past few weeks while waiting for news of my PhD application, I’ve lived and breathed Alicia Florrick, Will Gardner, and Diane Lockhart (and okay, sure, you too Peter). Why didn’t I have a “small” 4 bedroom apartment with a kitchen island? Why did I spend my youth sneering at a profession that could land you $400 an hour? Who was I kidding? I rewatched Laws of Attraction. I lusted after Julianne Moore’s series of pastel, tailored skirt suits. I started revising my choice not to pursue a sensible life direction, one that immediately translated to lasting, lucrative employment—if only on a paranoid loop inside my head.
That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well, I left out the part where I spend the rest of the time googling the LSAT, preferred scores for Georgetown Law (if you’re going to scrap your life and start again, at least aim high like Will and Alicia), stress scrubbing the tile grout in the bathroom, avoiding everyone so as to spare myself the well-intentioned questions about the future, and asking myself what dreams are really worth when you could have stability?!
It didn’t help that this was around the time I discovered the existence of AB 5, California’s soon-to-be law restricting businesses from hiring freelancers, and my advisor mentioned that there really weren’t any jobs in academia so I really ought to play up the freelance writer schtick in my cover letter.
People talk a lot of shit about PhD programs. They like to say that PhDs will drive you crazy, and attempt to dissuade you from moving forward. Those are the people who have tried and failed, or tried and succeeded—sanity in tatters. Everyone else nods blankly and murmurs bland praise of your intelligence and fortitude. The more I’m told by strangers that I “must be really smart,” the more I want to shout that they’ve got it all wrong! I’m a bumbler with access to alarmingly cheap education and a stubborn streak you really don’t want to borrow!
Yet in my case, I’m not being driven towards the edge by the pressures of research or a demonic advisor. No, it’s waiting for a committee to approve the project in the first place while simultaneously staring down my upcoming RDV with the préfecture to renew residency based upon the success of the aforementioned academic proposal.
During a meeting last week, a professor jokingly told me that if we were living in the Middle Ages, we’d be nuns—choosing books and higher thought (under the guise of religious zest) over the labor of family life. “Welcome to the convent!” she said. “We have tea in the cupboard—help yourself!”
I take some comfort in reminding myself that I am passionate about my project, and that there’s always time to sell out down the line; my father started law school at 50. But at the moment, my life is yet again tied up in a forest of bureaucratic red tape so thick that I can’t see the way forward. I’m tired of waiting and dodging questions about my plans. I’m tired of going in circles to the point where none of my options seem viable anymore. I’m tired of second-guessing myself for believing in this insane experiment that is building a life in France.
But for now, I wait.