15 October 2010

The thin line between twenty-six and twenty-seven

I had to double check my age so that I wouldn't repeat the surreal few months of my life after I turned 22 and had been telling everyone I was 23. But, yes, tomorrow I celebrate 27 years. Am I being dramatic when the quote coming to mind to commemorate the occasion is from Shakespeare's Richard II?
I wasted time; now time doth waste me.

Maybe I'm a little bothered because in my ongoing reading of Milton, I still not made it past his juvenalia (including his Sonnet VII, "How Soon Hath Time," in which he moans—very eloquently—about turning twenty-three). By then he's already developed into a super-genius poet so what's there to complain about?

Milestones like birthdays are difficult for me because they invite a cold, calculating eye to review personal achievements, goals met and unmet, and strategies for the future. Let me be clear: I had my chance to enter a profession where success is measured quantitatively, and I chose instead to follow a path where that is impossible. In academia the quantity of what one publishes is always tempered by its quality. That gets frustrating because it is difficult to judge one's own work and one is always sailing on the choppy seas of other people's opinions.

The bottom line is--and I don't think it makes me conceited to observe this--that I am good at a lot of things. Obviously most people could say that about themselves. But what am I great at? Or, to put it another way, after putting in practice and effort what activity would get me recognition?

I don't know. I always thought I would know by now. Of course I expect that one day I will get recognition for my academic work (beyond, for example, the Fulbright fellowship that I'm honored to have received) but it's a slow process. It's so slow that I often wonder whether I shouldn't be filling in the gaps with other things, like creative writing or freelance reporting. Anyway, that's enough confiding in the entire Internet for one night...

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