Saturday, July 30, 2016


A little over three years ago, people started telling me I was brave. For a long time, this label made me deeply uncomfortable. But people just. kept. saying it, and I got tired of debating my (lack of) bravery.

First I practiced not arguing with the people who told me I was brave. When I had mastered that, I practiced not physically recoiling from the word. And when I had finally mastered that, I started thinking about what they might see that I did not.

Because, really, from my perspective, I have not done anything brave or, for that matter, anything strong. First I did the next necessary things. Then I did the next logical things. Then I did the next possible things.

In a fit of nostalgia this evening, I was watching the 2001 romantic comedy Kate and Leopold, and Hugh Jackman's character told Meg Ryan's character that
The brave are simply those with the clearest vision of what is before them--glory and danger alike--and notwithstanding go out to meet it.
It's a beautiful definition, but it certainly doesn't apply to me. While I have continued to act despite fear, I wouldn't say that I've ever had a clear vision.

Recently accepting a postdoctoral teaching fellowship, a full-time contract position with salary and benefits, was such a joy. I was walking down the sidewalk that afternoon, grinning like a fool, and feeling validated, not only by the job offer but also by recent progress in academic publication.

A little over a year ago I was an unemployed graduate student whose life was in boxes, and now I'm a post-doctoral teaching fellow with one article forthcoming and another under review.

A little over a year ago I was an unemployed graduate student whose life was in boxes...and I moved my family halfway across the country? Without a job? What the fuck was I thinking?

This last year could have gone much, much differently. All along, I had had a vague sense that things might not work out, and I made sure that there was enough cash in my emergency fund to drag my life back to Kalamazoo if necessary, but I did not have a clear vision of the dangers until this moment in which I finally feel safe.

I only ever see my own audacity in hindsight.


  1. I haven't seen the movie, so I don;t know the context of the quote, but here I notice it says "clearest", not "clear." To me, this means the person just has a relatively more clear vision of things, not that they have a complete and total view. And that sounds a lot like what you describe when you say you had some sense of things that may or may not work, and a fall back plan in case they didn't. You had some vision of the dangers (clearer than others) even if you didn't have a vision of all of them (totally clear), if that makes sense.
    Not trying to debate your perspective, just saying what I noticed when I read this, because it struck me.

    1. I hadn't thought of "clearest" in those terms, as the most clear vision held by any of the people in the room. I had been reading it as the most clear it could possibly be.
      Thanks for the change in perspective. I'll be pondering.
      *Kate and Leopold* is a sappy rom-com (with bonus time travel), but it has some gems.

  2. Your "clearest vision " was also the ability, when faced with a hundred hundred things, to see which were the necessary things, which were the next logical things, and which were the next possible things. That is more than many people ever see.