Independence

The fourth of July, Independence Day, is not my favorite holiday (ok fine, I’m a curmudgeon who doesn’t care much for holidays in general, but I have more problems with July fourth than most). At a certain level I understand patriotism. Loving the place you’re from, or the place you’ve chosen to live, makes some sense to me. But the history of this country, the history of freedom, isn’t one that leaves me entirely comfortable waving a flag and cheering. Of course, it would be absurd to argue that if a country isn’t perfect you can’t celebrate it. Still, the particular flavor of patriotism that seems to be the norm today is something I have difficulty swallowing.

As a pacifist I also balk at the strong militarism that seems to come out in these celebrations. Sure, the celebration is related to war in a certain sense. But it should, if it’s a celebration of war at all, be a celebration of the end of the war that brought our independence from the English. In my mind, though, ideally one would see it more of a celebration of philosophy, of the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence. I’m not entirely sure how the jets that seem to fly over any municipal celebration of any size play into that.

I’m also, I’ll admit, not big on explosions. I like professional fireworks displays well enough, I suppose. Shiny things in the sky are pretty. But the number of people setting off stuff in my neighborhood makes me nervous. I suppose if I were the sort of person who watered every square inch of my landscape multiple times a week (which is, by the way, a violation of current water restrictions) I’d be a bit less nervous about fire. Even then, though, there’s still a fire risk. Not to mention the fact that all the noise keeps freaking out the cats.

Since I’m so not fond of the holiday, it’s an interesting twist that I made one of the biggest decisions of my adult life on July fourth, 2007. I woke that morning and worked some on the outline for my dissertation proposal. From my department’s perspective I was already way behind schedule and was in danger of being asked to leave the program if I didn’t get my proposal written and approved by fall. I’d been spinning my wheels for a long time, but had finally gotten much of my anxiety under control to the point where I was convinced that I could actually write a dissertation, that I could get my proposal finished in time to not get kicked out.

Later that afternoon I went to a barbecue at a friend’s house. Sitting in her backyard with her family and some mutual friends I found myself wishing that my life had more down-time. I found myself wishing that I had more time for people, for hobbies. I thought “I wish I didn’t have to write a dissertation.” And, slowly, I realized that I didn’t have to write a dissertation. I realized, sitting there with a beer and watching the conversation fly by, that I didn’t have to be an academic. Even if I wanted to do research, I didn’t have to be the primary investigator. Moreover, I realized that I didn’t really want those things. And if I didn’t want to be on the career path that a PhD would take me down, why get one? It was a surprisingly fast decision. Almost as soon as the thought of leaving the program entered my head, I was sure it was what I wanted to do.

Looking back I’m convinced that I’m happier than I would have been had I finished grad school. I do sometimes get a bit wistful. There are things I might like to do career-wise that the lack of a doctorate makes more difficult or impossible. On the whole, though, I’d characterize leaving grad school as one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Right up there with going to grad school in the first place. And so, even if I’m not particularly keen on fireworks (and am particularly unkeen on the chaos in my neighborhood right now) today is still a day of personal celebration for me.

Let’s hear it for the pursuit of happiness!

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