Monday, October 8, 2012

Twin Peaks

Exactly six years ago this week, I defended my Ph.D. thesis and, while tattooing the title "Dr." to my buttocks and simultaneously cementing my henceforth inescapable place in the hallowed, hollowed halls of academia, my personal quest for fire had only just begun. Like Frodo Baggins upon dropping the ring into the fires of Mount Doom, no sooner had I defended the dissertation (that really needed no defending at all, in my humble opinion-- entitled "The Postmodern Spirit: The Postmodernization of the Ghost Figure in Twentieth-Century North American Fictions") than the future lay bare before my red-tinged, sorrowful eyes. I still somehow had to make my way home along a treacherous path, nursing a grievous wound.

On Thanksgiving Monday, I had met my venerable thesis supervisor at a downtown coffee shop and discussed the what-might-be and the how-to-be sorts of questions, then I went home to ponder the defensible that was to occur the next day at 1 p.m. As far as inquisitions go, it wasn't bad. Everyone assured me they all wanted the best for me. There were plenty of pep talks, hugs and handshakes. Then I sat before the jury, gave my statement about how ghosts in literature have changed in 100 years of literary representation, and then, after a secret meeting, they each shook my hand and welcomed me to the club. There was a beer afterwards, with a few people, including a couple of friends, and then I was set free. Two days later, in a rush unlike many they've ever seen in the office of graduate studies, I had an ill-fitting cap and gown of the doctoral variety shoved into my arms and shunted off to the arts and culture centre where I walked across the stage, genuflected in front of John Crosbie, took my diploma and virtually ran out the door (after the ceremony, of course).

Minutes later, my wife and I were scurrying across the leaf-laden, concrete landscape of Memorial University, giddy as children, anxious to celebrate, but even more anxious to be moving on.

Still clad in my red gown and clutching my degree in my left hand, I made one proclamation as if to the soothing, warm wind: "That's one big mountain climbed. But there's a bigger one ahead." She knew what I meant: if I didn't publish a novel, after years of working towards that goal, none of the other achievements would amount to anything for me. We'd always known it. After six long years of courses and dissertation writing, not to mention constant stress while teaching nearly every semester and writing besides, suddenly all I wanted was to write fiction and publish. Nothing else mattered.

The very next day, my writing career began again in earnest. After six years of being deferred -- although I did take one semester off in 2005 to write a so-far-unpublished novel called 'Maelstrom,' about a Poe-ish sort of character who finds himself in a 20th C American grad school (no publisher has ever seen it) -- the elusive dream of becoming a published author took hold of my soul once more. I swore on the steps of the Science Building that day, October 8, 2006, that the next mountain I conquered would be to publish a book.

I could never have guessed that within six years -- the exact number of years it took to do a Ph.D. -- I would have two books (a short story collection and a novel) published, with a near novella-length story also contracted for publication next March. Even if I had, by some chance, dreamed of that reality, I definitely could not have foreseen the rest of it, including winning an award this year that has opened up any number of doors for me. More important, I felt a little bit more like I, perhaps, belonged in the pantheon of writers currently published and maybe could afford to glance with a more justified longing at those who have come before me.

Even now I perpetually feel like the underdog, constantly with the hunger to prove myself to no one else BUT myself. No matter how many more lines I fill in on my writing CV, I suspect that feeling will always persist. And perhaps, that's a necesary feeling for me, to keep the creative fires burning.

Mountain high
But just for fun this morning, on this auspicious anniversary, I took a picture at the local Chapters where I happen to be scheduled to do a book signing this coming Friday afternoon. My wife calls it "The Gerard Collins section." I call it a tangible reminder that I'm about as stubborn as they come.

The next mountain has already been laid out before me. And while some may scoff, I swear that even being nominated for the richest literary prizes in the land do not appear nearly so daunting as the twin peaks that lay before me on October 6th, 2006, the day before I won the battle that allowed me to stop being at war with myself.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend! May you all have as much to be thankful for as I do.



  1. I savoured every single delicious word of this little essay, Gerard... beautiful! Another thing for which I am thankful - writers. Happy Thanksgiving! (Nice hat, by the way!)

  2. Blessings, Bobbi. I'm glad you enjoyed my musings. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Oh, yeah... the hat. :-/