One of the things I'm learning about myself -
I do learn. I'm a better person now than I was a year ago, two years ago, with a more nuanced understanding of the world and other people. I still fuck up, of course. I commit stupidity, as well as - on occasion - matchless self-pity.
But that's okay, isn't it? Because as long as I keep trying to learn, to do better, to improve a grasp of nuance, to be better -
You learn best from your mistakes. And other people's examples, too, but one's own mistakes do leave a stronger impression.
I've figured out, I think, what I want to do with my life. Which is something of a relief, and it's a relief to think it might actually be achievable. I'm drawn, overwhelmingly, to research, and rereading my thesis it looks like I'm not terrible at it.
It took me about two months to achieve that much perspective on those ten thousand words, and even now, the most I'm prepared to say is that as a piece of work, it doesn't actually suck. But that's an apprentice-piece, if that: scholarship has a lengthy apprenticeship, and with postgraduate work, and practice, I should improve.
It's problematic for me, I think, that my attraction is that of a generalist: everything is fascinating, and I'm not sure I'll ever muster the intense focus required to be an Authority in a single area of a single field - very few people do, after all, and mostly after a lifetime of directed labour. But that doesn't mean I can't shape myself into a perfectly adequate scholar within the areas I'm most interested in. Nor does it mean that I cannot take Mary Beard and Robin Lane Fox for my models, and strive in future years to write broad and accessible history with a sound scholarly foundation. (One may criticise Beard's claims to break new ground with her every new book, particularly when some of these have been largely syntheses of existing scholarship, and Lane Fox's biases as a Classically trained Classicist show through in his material, but no one can say they don't have a very solid foundation in their work.) And there's no harm in aiming high - I know both Beard and Lane Fox are successful professors as well as writers of decent popular history - since at least by so aiming, I don't run the risk of shooting myself in the foot.
I know, at this point, that I can do research and write it up with a reasonable competence that can only improve with practice. Despite its many frustrations and moments of flailing despair, writing my thesis was an immensely satisfying experience, and - now that I've had a little time to recover - one that I wouldn't hesitate to embark upon again.
Research, after all, is about accuracy, coherence, relevance, structure, and - in good history writing - the empathy of imagination which gives the past life. And bar the last, those are learned skills. It's only the desire that can't be learned. The passion, if you will.
Or the obsession, if you prefer.
While I still want to write novels, stories, I've no confidence in my ability to do so. Nor am I sure I want to split my attention and try to write seriously while working on something that could conceivably lead to a decent career.
The odds of earning a living as an academic are slightly better than earning a living as a writer. Something like one in twelve (or one in twenty: I understand it varies depending on your discipline) PhD graduates manage to make a career in a related field. What are the odds as a novelist? One in thirty? Worse? How many people who (finish, submit and) publish a novel go on to write full time without the support of a spouse?
Until someone tells me I've been accepted to an MLitt programme, of course, this is moot. And we'll see what happens this summer, and whether in this economy the parent and the government between them can float me long enough to acquire a postgrad degree.
But it is something of a relief, in the end, to actually know (part of) what I am, and where I want, primarily, to go. (The addiction to history books, for fun, after the first year of college, kind of clued me in to the fact that this passion is not one that'll easily suffer to be set aside.) I'm willing to do a lot, if it means I might, one day, write a small monograph that could be judged a worthy contribution to scholarship.
So we'll see. This summer I want to properly start myself on learning German and Italian, with Latin if I can manage it. Odds are against me finding employment, so I'll likely have time, if not money. And the backlog of books on the Unread shelves deserve some attention before I saunter off to learn Greek in foreign places (cash and situations permitting).
So, yeah. I'm feeling remarkably mellow and optimistic regarding my place in the world. That'll last all of a few days, I imagine, but I'll enjoy it while it lasts.