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Friday, September 11, 2009

Linda Rader Overman & PhD at almost 60...really!

It's the middle of a July afternoon. In Lancaster it's in the low 60's. I am listening to the graduate school director at University of Cumbria, Lancaster, in the UK describe the PhD process, and I wonder...what am I doing here?

I'm 58. Sixty sounds closer than I want it to. A child of the sixties is how I always think of myself. My novel Letters Between Us, published last fall, was in part a testament to living during that chaotic and free-love wielding generation, but also a testament to surviving the drugs, the sex and the rock 'n roll so prevalent in that time. Yet now at almost 60, I've begun a PhD in Creative Arts.

Classes are held in the summer over a two week period at UC Cumbria, Lancaster campus.
The degree is ultimately awarded by Lancaster University about an hour by train north of the city of Manchester.

It's raining. It rains a lot here. The rain is more of a light shower. It's not cold, just wet. Everyone wears summer clothes. I brought rain boots. I never wear them, mainly I wear flip flops to class. I carry my brolly (code is umbrella for those of us from America) constantly, a purse sized one that is no bigger than a brush. It allows for instantaneous opening and closing in a quick downpour or drizzle that lasts less than five or ten minutes, consistently.

I share a flat (a dorm) with three other bright and dynamic women. Two of them live in the UK and attend courses more regularly through the year. Both frighten me with their brilliance. My nearby roommate teaches with me at CSUN. Jacqui is completing her final year of a three year required attendance. I am just beginning. She has consented to hold my hand through this first trip of mine. She originates from South Africa and understands the system here. Jacqui celebrates her recent accomplishment in this UK system of Phd studies: a successful Transfer from MPhil to full blown PhD candidate. I am still considered probationary. I haven't been on probation since I was 17 and a juvenile delinquent.

I chose this PhD path...why was it again ...I wonder as the class comes to an end on July 17, 2009 at 3:15 p.m. I am among some of the best and brightest here. Students seeking PhD's in Medical Imaging Sciences, History, Geography, Education, Business Marketing, Contemporary Literature, and them there's me...Creative Writing.

I skip the class that covers the ethics of data collection for Subject Human Research. But they call it something else here, and my brain hurts so much I can't recall what that is. I skip the class to collapse in my twin bed and try to sleep just to feel some measure of rest and reassurance that I am doing the right thing. My God, I'll be closing in on 65 by the time I complete this doctorate. If I complete this doctorate . . .

I have to do it...I tell myself this all the way home on the plane even though my brain hurts from all the academic discourse forced upon it over this jam packed two weeks of three courses a day and constant discussion with my colleagues treading this same journey.

They are all so incredibly smart. Again I wonder ... what I have done as I sip my last airplane provided cup of hot tea.

Two months hence, I have done little work on this PhD...those three initials that will now rule my life every moment for the next five or six or seven years create an odd fit in my head. Balancing other aspects of my life intercede, teaching and prepping for fall courses at CSUN. Grading papers, remodeling a bathroom, buying a mountain vacation home (a surprise from my husband), supporting my two adult children emotionally and otherwise, facilitating care for an elderly relative, among other daily demands of being human exact their much needed time.

I am supposed to send two more chapters of my novel to my advisory team by October.

Does just thinking about it or feeling guilty about not working on it yet, count as doing something?