Distinct from what, exactly? Clearing the post-exam air

So, I passed my oral exams. I did some last minute cramming, reading reviews of the books I didn’t get to and re-reading my notes on some key texts I knew my examiners liked, and ended up earning “distinction” for my performance.

I don’t give much weight to this ranking, really, though others seem to. I know from my time on Executive committee that between 70 and 80% of students who pass the orals get distinction, making it pretty meaningless. In effect, the only thing the ranking does is make anyone who doesn’t earn distinction feel shitty about merely earning a “pass.” In fact, I am one of the last students who will ever earn distinction on this exam, since the program just voted to ditch the ranking. Not to say I’m not proud of my performance, but just to say that my pride is heavily salted.

Now that hurdle is jumped. This week I made my first attempts to get a stable working/living pattern going. Since I’m not teaching at the moment, my only professional obligations are working as a Quantitative Reasoning fellow at Hostos Community College two days a week, 9 – 5, and doing occasional Communication Fellow work by appointment at Baruch. This leaves me lots of time to be writing: writing a dissertation prospectus, writing conference proposals, writing the CFP for a special issue of the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy I’ll be editing, writing poetry and emails and posts for this here blog.

I’ve drawn up a provisional schedule that has me writing for at least two hours a day, five days a week–usually in the morning, usually followed by or following the gym. I’d be curious to hear from others how you manage your day to day writing schedule in this post-coursework, post-exam limbo called the dissertation stage.

I am anxious about entering this self-directed writing portion of my degree. I haven’t kept a self-sustaining writing practice for quite a while: usually I write to deadlines only. So, having time set aside for writing nearly every day, making writing my primary job, represents a substantial change in my routine. I think it will be good for me, but it will also mean I have to confront my writing demons more regularly.

This morning was my first long writing session. Since I’ve taken the post-exam week to rest my academic brain, I didn’t end up writing anything dissertation or scholarship related. Instead, I spent some time writing some poetry about a dream I had while I was in Spokane, Washington for my brother’s wedding last weekend. Naturally, it’s just a quick poem and would need substantial revision if I wanted to keep working with it, but I thought I may as well share it here. Feedback, as always, is welcome.


Tree Dream

I know that trees are dangerous. Sonny Bono, for example, died

after skiing into a tree. I look at the concave hollow around the tree’s trunk

where the canopy’s shadow blocks the snow and know he laid there

unseen and injured and sad for who knows how long.


I am alone now with one tree among many in a shallow scoop

of mountain, and as danger does, it beckons.

My skis are off, anchored upright in the snow behind me.

The tree has shed its lowermost branches for me, cauterized,

clear to my head-height a smooth column.


I lean my mittened hands against the trunk, testing our weights.

My palms pivot outward, beginning a slow embrace:

press with my forearms, then my bent elbows around to its sides,

then flat chest to chest, turning my head to the right to protect my nose.

I am shocked by the chill bark against my neck and left ear.

Would we were all so quietly alive.


I grip harder as the tree takes to the sky, pulled upward

as if by the tweezers of heaven and cast loose in the wind.

With the ground falling away, my legs wrap tight too,

my sensitive groin pressing in, ankles locked together.


As the updraft floats us down the mountainside,

I imagine my brother and father’s befuddled bodies

poised, pointing upward, below me. They stand

on their skis side by side with my abandoned gear and seem

with their poles as if to wave me down or wave goodbye.

I can only nod, pressed as I am to the trunk, holding on for life.


I didn’t know I had wanted relief from the ground.

What a gift–from this tree whose embrace accepts me

as it would a nail, apathetic and secure.

I have married this dangerous tree. We will all of us be missed.



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