Yesterday was the deadline for depositing dissertations for May graduation. After a final bit of drama (my advisor emailing to tell me that she hadn’t in fact finished circulating the signature sheets, so I needed to come get them, collect signatures, overnight them to my distinguished outside reader, and get them back again by the deadline), and despite losing my hard drive, I turned it in. Which means: I made four copies on the prescribed paper weight, put each copy in its own individual properly-labelled envelope, filled out the Survey of Earned Doctorates Form, filled out the UMI Microfilming Agreement and the UMI Abstract Sheet, paid the University Cashier to get the thing bound and microfilmed, clipped the receipts to the copies, attached the signature sheets, hauled it over to the Office of Graduate Studies, and handed it to the Graduate Dean.

And then I met up with Peter and the kids at my favorite Williamsburg restaurant, ate an enormous meal, and went home and watched The Two Towers, which for some reason is my favorite of the whole trilogy. I think it’s all that orc-hewing.


NOW I feel better.

Really. It’s remarkable. I feel amazingly FREE. The apple trees are blooming.

The azaleas in Peter’s garden are coming out.

And as my friend and co-doctor Lauren remarks, “Now we never have to write anything we don’t want to write ever again.” (OK, that’s not ENTIRELY true, but we never have to write to ORDER again, and that’s a most wonderful thought.)

So I cleaned up my office again and reorganized everything.

And then I sat down to consider, seriously, the next challenge: How do I avoid falling back into the same habits of thought I’ve been cultivating for my entire life?

See, graduate work instills in you the dreadful mental habit of considering the whole shape of your life to be temporary. You’re always looking forward, to the time when the degree will be over. You’re always stressed, because so much of the process is out of your control. You’re ACCUSTOMED to being out of control, to having deadlines and duties assigned to you without any power to shift or alter them. You’re forced into a sort of prolonged and unnatural adolescence, dependent on your “elders” (who are mighty close to being your peers, by this point), desperate for their approval and dependent on their whims.

Now that it’s over, it’s vitally important that I get out of crisis mode. It’s far too easy to just continue on, always scrambling to meet the next deadline, to put out the next fire, to fulfill the next demand. It’s far harder than you might think to STOP. To say: I will no longer continually look forward. To resolve: I will find satisfaction in the work I do every day, not in some imagined future payoff.

The truth is that the imagined future payoff is always unsatisfying, once you get there. It’s like publication day. If you motivate yourself by holding up some future satisfaction, like a carrot at the end of the maze, you always find that the carrot has worms in it.

If you’re thinking to yourself that I’ve blogged on this topic before, you’re right. It’s the Big Challenge of my life right now.

Two final notes, as I go back to the first day of the rest of my life.

General media reviews for The History of the Ancient World haven’t yet materialized (maybe because the book is so long? I’m actually a bit puzzled by this), although I’ve had a few nice online reviews, like this one from Bookloons. In the meantime, if you feel like reviewing the book on your blog, put the link in a comment post and I’ll create a blog-review sidebar.

And now about Virginia Tech. I’ve been a faculty member in the Virginia state university system for over a decade, and all of us are shaken beyond words by the events in Blacksburg. I don’t intend to blog about them, and I won’t approve for posting any comments on the subject, so don’t bother to make any. But I did find this essay in the Chronicle to be wise, so go over and have a look.

Showing 10 comments
  • faithhope

    I’m still trying to figure out how to shape my life after earning the degree. I find homeschooling is hard work and fun, but doesn’t always give the gratification of a short term goal a job or earning a degree did (so many boxes to check off, hoops to jump through). Luckily, I still get to enjoy the smell and feel of fresh books and notebooks as I plan my own and my children’s education each semester.

    Please continue to blog on this topic and share what you figure out.

    Congrats on jumping through the final stressful hoops!

  • Rev. Jen

    After my ordination ten years ago I found myself in the same place. I did what is probobly not a healthy thing to do and promptly gave up trying to live “in the moment” and set goals for myself to fret over. Ten years later I am still doing this and have decided that I just seem to work better under deadlines. They make me hapy in a sadicstic kind of way. Hopefully you will succeed where I did not and can enjoy life without the plan.

  • Terrill

    I tend towards one of the LOTR movies when I want to relax in an evening but I always start at the beginning and watch them through (over a period of days/weeks). I am sure that this speaks something about me but I am not sure what.

    I really appreciated your thoughts on living today– my dh is in the military and we move more than most military and I find myself always thinking about our life when we get to the next place- what will our activities be? what will the other homeschoolers be like?

    Congrats on your doctorate. Terrill

  • Suzanne B in CA

    Hi Susan,
    It’s so funny to me that Lauren Winner is your friend because when I read Girl Meets God and Mudhouse Sabbath I felt like she was so much like you. I’ve never met her but after knowing you for a couple of years and then reading her books, for some reason I felt like I kind of knew her because her books reminded me of you. And I loved her books, so that’s supposed to be a compliment 🙂

  • Miz Booshay

    I hope you are feeling a little better today….

    A little time and some dandelions…

    You will figure it out,
    I know you will.


  • Terrill

    I quoted part of your post and linked to it on my blog– I wanted to talk about military families not living in the present and I wanted to mention that your post is what made me start thinking on it. If that is not okay- please tell me and I will take it out.

    I have not quoted another website before so I wanted to be sure that I was doing it right and that it was okay with you.

    Thanks, Terrill

  • Meredith

    Well of course the Two Towers is the best one. It has a beginning, a middle, and only one ending. Unlike the others. Plus seeing orc-blood spilled is the next best thing to actually taking out your annoying supervisor….
    he he.

  • Susan


    Absolutely fine. Glad you found it thought-provoking.


  • Susan


    I’m sure that NEITHER of us has EVER had such violent thoughts. 🙂


  • Patty in WA

    First, congratulations on the degree! What a wonderful accomplishment.

    Second, on the “next steps”–when I left my busy busy busy life in Corporation, Inc., I used to take my “baby” (11 almost 12 now) out for walks in his stroller, and I would just lose myself. It was a good thing we had a whacking big stroller, because I could put serious food the the undercarriage and we were gone for 8 hours at a time… I think was stunned me was that it had been more than 15 years since I had been able to take serious time out to reflect, to think, to “be” instead of producing units of work. It’s been 11 years, and we have moved from that house, but when I go back to the town (3 miles away, not that far), people still stop me and say, “You’re the lady with the stroller!” Good heavens. I must have met everyone at some point. It’s pretty funny when I point them to my baby.

    And speaking of babies…3. Your book is wonderful. I keep reading bits of it to my dh (which he hates because he is busy reading something ELSE) and my son (which he likes because he can listen AND play LEGOs). We are going to Hawaii soon and it is my BOOK. I read all of Austen on past beach trips, so have to move along here and your book is IT. Well, yours and a couple by Frederica Mathewes-Green, so you are in good company.

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