Posted by: downtothesea | March 4, 2009

Pulling up roots and what lies beyond.

Things around here have been insane lately. 

I have made the tremendously difficult decision to leave my PhD program for the time being–for a million reasons, but cost and practicality being two of the foremost.  It’s broken my heart.  I’ve defined myself by my desire to be a professor for so long that I’m not entirely sure who I am anymore.  I feel like I’m letting down so many people, and I’m terrified to reveal my decision to my wonderful history professor at University College Cork who originally encouraged me down this path a bazillion years ago when I was a weepy, aimless college student in Ireland.

I’m in the midst of grinding out job applications and finding a new place for us to live.  My husband has sunk into a deep depression about moving out of Canada, so I’m working out all the details of our move alone.  The days are hard and the nights are so long.

But inevitably, my mind turns to all my immigrant ancestors, who left behind everything they had, everything they were, all of their dreams, their friends, and their homes, and came (blindly, in some cases) to America.  Maybe they were like me, afraid to allow myself to think too far into the future for fear of disappointing myself down the road.  Or worse: disappointing my husband.  We’re not being chased by the spectre of famine or abject poverty, but being uprooted is being uprooted.  It hurts, and when it stops hurting, there is regret.  Regret can eat a person alive.

Jobs are so scarce in the States now.  I am applying for teaching jobs, hoping I have a chance to find employment at least close to my field, but I know the first priority is to find ANY work, for the sake of the family.  I am not too proud to pour people cups of coffee if it keeps us solvent for now. 

I wonder what my great-great-great grandfathers Owen McCabe and Michael Gavin were good at?  Did they have special talents?  Were they singers or storytellers or magnificent stick-in-the-dust artists?  What did they LOVE to do?  Did they dream of being explorers or locomotive engineers or musicians?  I may never know.  And that makes me a bit wistful.  The only activity I know occupied most of their waking hours was their work as day laborers. 



They could have been composing gorgeous, lush stories in their minds to tell their children before bed while they slung their heavy picks and shovels, digging, digging, all day long.  As they laid down mile after mile of railroad track in the blistering summer sun and the painful winter cold, they could have been dreaming up melodies so beautiful their wives would cry upon hearing them.  I don’t know.  Maybe they were strong enough to keep close who they really were as people despite the thankless work they did.  I hope so.

I hope so, because that means I have a chance, too.  Maybe I can still remain true to the essence of me, even as I ask you whether or not you want whipped cream on your white chocolate mocha.



  1. Best of luck in whatever place you go and whatever job you find. I, too, made the difficult decision to leave my Ph.D. program years ago, knowing it would most likely be not to return, and not immediately but eventually ended up where I wanted to be – a job which required a Ph.D’s worth of knowledge but not the degree and in which I have been happy for 27 years. I believe that higher education is something that may not necessarily take place over a particular continuous span of years but may have to be spread out over time and different venues. Times will be tough now but something will come of it later. I wish you both strength and luck.

    • Greta,
      I can’t thank you enough for sharing your own story in your comment. I have felt very alone in my decision, and I am so thankful to learn I am not the only one who has had to make this tough choice. Your words have been a great comfort, and thank you also for your kind wishes!

  2. As I read your post it seems clear to me that you have the same spirit as our ancestors who made the difficult decision to immigrate – a determination to face the present and make the best of it. I have absolute confidence that you will be able to “remain true to the essence of me”

    I also want you to know that I find your writing style to be wonderful. Your post moved me to tears, and I am not a weepy person.

    I wish you all the best – and hope that you will continue to blog ~ and some day write a book! The literary world could use more people who actually write well 😉

    • Diana,
      You’ve just made my heart sing. What kind things so say! Thank you so much for reading and commenting! Goodness…a book! That’s an idea… I’d never seriously thought about that, but heck, at this point I suppose the world is my oyster! And in all fairness, at this point, I haven’t a thing to lose. Why not? I suppose I should first try to work up enough gumption to write an article for a Carnival!

  3. I meant every word! And as for Carnivals, there is a great one coming up ~ A Tribute to Women

    I hope to “see” you there!

  4. Any change is hard, but feeling like you’re giving up your dreams at the same time you’re giving up your home? That’s especially hard.

    I’m in awe of your ability to look at what you’re doing in terms of how your ancestors dealt with the trials and tribulations of their own lives. It’s inspiring. You certainly inherited their spunk.

    Good luck!

    • Patti,
      Thank you for such a thoughful comment! I am humbled to think I could have inherited even a drop of my ancestors’ pluck. I often find these days that I do turn to my ancestors for inspiration; thanks to their example, I know trials like these are not insurmountable–my very existence is proof of that! Thanks again for your comment and for your very kind words.

  5. By reading your post, I can guarantee you have more than a chance and that by doing what you have to do, you are staying true to your essence.

    Sometimes the best things come out of an initial heartbreak. Like your ancestors, you are going to be like the phoenix, about to start a new part to your life. I wish you luck and happiness.

    • Amanda,
      Oh, the phoenix is such a lovely symbol…thanks very much for that reference. And you are absolutely right: heartbreak is sometimes necessary to force us towards something better (kicking and screaming as we go!). Thank you for your sweet words…they help so much!

  6. I wish you the very best during this threshold in your life. I was just reading a book today by John O’Donohue. He stated that many of us often feel like we are “in transition” when we are really on the threshold of a new and exciting time in our lives – we just can’t see it while living our lives forward, only when we look backward later with hindsight.

    May you find (and very soon) that these decisions and their resulting changes are a blessing to you and your husband and family. If only you could see into the unknown future!

    I loved reading your “wonderings” about the talents and dreams of your ancestors. I have often wondered the same, particularly about those who had such hard lives. From which of them did I inherit my love for poetry? My enjoyment of music? So many of my other interests and abilities? Finding our ancestors’ paper trails is so rewarding, but still leaves so many unanswered questions.

    Best wishes to you at this difficult time!


    • Lisa,
      I thought that author’s name sounded familiar, so I scooted away to Google him…and found that I’ve read his book Anam Cara! I really enjoyed it, as I recall…I read it one summer at my husband’s family’s camp in New Hampshire. Lovely memories. Thank you for recalling his words here; he’s a wise fellow!

      I am lucky enough to have a few love letters my great-grandfather Will Miller sent his new bride Nellie Gavin in 1902. I treasure them particularly because I can see a trace of my own odd sense of humor and rampant romanticism in his words. I have a bazillion other records concerning him, but his letters, his own thoughts in his own hand, are more precious to me than anything else. They make him a “real” person, in a way.

      And thank you so very much again for your encouragement. It means so much!

  7. Hi, it’s me from CMS! First, you are NOT the only person who’s thought very seriously about doing this, but you are braver than some who stay simply because of the fear you write of here. All right, that doesn’t really make it feel better, knowing that someone thinks you’re being brave, but I would take your class or read your book any day. For real. DO IT. (If you possibly can in this insane economy, and if you can’t, then do it as soon as you can.)

    I promise that I’m not reading more into what you said than what you said, but I will say that after living for a while with someone who had SAD (and, in my opinion, some other emotional instabilities), oh, man, I know how hard it is to be with, help, survive someone who’s truly down. Many hugs, hopefully soon in person. And you really should let us know if there are practical things we can do to help tie up loose ends. (Better than writing a thesis that is depressing and also about people who aren’t currently alive.)

    • You’re a superstar, darling Em! I can always count on you to brighten me right up! Thanks a million for the encouragement (ha…for the first time I truly understand the connotations of that word) and the kind words. *adores you*

  8. I wish you good luck in your job search. You never know where life’s journey will take you and our ancestors were probably surprised by some of the twists and turns. If anyone told me when I was 25 or 30 that I’d have the job I have today and love it I’d have laughed and called them crazy. So if the first job you find isn’t for you, try something else.

    • Those are wise, wise words! I guess I’m just going to have to “roll with it” for a while, and, despite as aged as I feel these days, I am going to have to remember that I am still on the young side of my 30s, and anything is still possible. Thanks so much for your lovely comment!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: