If you could redo one moment in your life, what would it be and why? How would it change who you are now?
For me, regret isn’t tied up to one single pivotal moment. It is more a cascade of memories that starts perhaps with dropping out of graduate school (the first time around) and shimmies through either the previous or following years, wrapping around other moments with tentacles that create a perceived network of failure, mistakes and regrets.
Rather than a slippery slope, it is a muddy hillside that offers no triumphant resolution. Just dirty shoes and sore calves.
I didn’t finish my master’s program in political science because I couldn’t complete the thesis. I spent a full year trying while I completed three additional semesters of coursework for a Ph.D I didn’t really want. I couldn’t complete the thesis because I was very ill and simply unable to write the paper. I did all of the reading – every single word. I went to and passed my classes. I knew what I wanted to say. I knew the degree would help me even if I didn’t pursue the Ph.D.
I was in the throes of depression and wasn’t being properly helped. I had sought help a little bit in college, but they never actually referred me to a clinician so I assumed that wasn’t necessary. At the student health clinic in graduate school, I saw dozens of therapists and a handful of student doctors rotating through. I was on all sorts of medications. I was a hot mess and eventually on a manic upswing that almost destroyed me.
While yes I would have liked to have completed my thesis, earned the degree and revolutionized the way you understand Alexander Solzhenitsyn, that’s not what I would change. Instead, I would have changed where I sought treatment. I would have gone to a community clinic where I could have a treatment team versus a rotation of students. I would have been properly diagnosed by practicioners, not residents. I would have watched the Patty Duke story in my dingy little graduate student housing apartment, realized that I had the same symptoms and had someone to listen to me.
I might have ended up on the appropriate medication. Maybe. I might have finished the 50 page analysis on the art of politics in the writing of Solzenhitsyn. Maybe. I might have finished my Ph.D and been utterly miserable (for sure) instead of pursuing social work.
But I didn’t.
When I think about my time at LSU, I don’t indulge in academic regret. I had a terrific education there. I learned to write, to think and to engage. I read great books. My worldview was blown open. I still have all of Solzhenitsyn’s writings and revisit them on occasion. I learned about frameworks and paradigms and data. None of that knowledge was lost or contingent upon earning the degree.
So I wouldn’t trade completing the degree for the 20 year perspective on why I wasn’t able to complete it. And I doubt even now I could pull off 50 pages on the topic. LOL.
While we are speaking about important moments, let me thank Ms. Christine Romanus (now Mrs. Pasinski) who required me to read “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” during AP English. It was one of the books that truly changed my life and is on my nightstand to this very day. And, yes, it was written by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
In fact, the past 20 years have given me a firm belief that rereading Solzhenitsyn would be very useful to understanding the modern pathos of the Cold War white men who are malcontented and disaffected. I wasn’t particularly drawn to his ideas on how to order our souls and our states, but really to his writing. He was a hell of a writer, especially considering the horrors he documented. ‘The First Circle’ is pure genius. ‘The Cancer Ward’ haunts me. And, yes, I read all of the Gulag volumes. And Matryona’s House is this horrifying twist on the legacies of Tolstoy and Dostoyevky. It will literally slay you.
He writes women with almost zero regard and little respect. And that will stay with you, too.