The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Good 1-3

1. Marie

Strictly-speaking, Marie should go in the “Amazing” category, but then the nifty categorization which I use to approach the bite-sized summaries of my life wouldn’t sound as cool. “The Amazing, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” See what I mean? It starts to sound labored. So here’s the deal: two months ago I had my life all planned out, and things were going exactly according to that plan. I had gotten accepted to a great Ph.D. program in the States, and was starting to mentally check out from Tianjin, especially the master’s program at Nankai, which at this point has turned into such a classic disaster movie scenario that I really do wonder sometimes if a Wizard of Oz-like character is consciously, methodically causing everything to go down the tubes. Anyway, I was looking forward to getting out of China, and then I hit a snag. Well, more than a snag. See, I had been spending a lot of time with a French girl in town named Marie Rodiet. We had been meeting a few times a week so I could practice my French and also help her with her guitar skills. I won’t go into the long version of this story, but I didn’t give much serious thought to the obvious interest I had in her until, well, roughly the time I got into grad school, and then, suddenly, it struck me that I was in fact REALLY interested in her, and didn’t think I could leave China unless I knew how she felt. So I asked her out.

She was interested, too, and for the following two weeks I got NOTHING done. I did stare at my computer screen, from which my master’s thesis stared out forlornly like a dog on the other side of a sliding glass door when it realizes no one inside is going to let him in, for three or four hours without doing anything, and even that was a herculean feat. The rest of the time I was either with Marie, thinking about Marie, or with Marie thinking about Marie, and she was doing the same thing, only with my name in place of “Marie” in the previous formulation. It was like someone had hit a mute button on the rest of our lives. It kept up that way for. . .well, until just within the last two weeks or so, and even now it’s hard to go more than a day without seeing her. Fortunately, we discovered that we do have the ability to study together (a lot of the time, anyway), and that has been very helpful. If not for that, I think there’s a very real possibility I would have cheerfully flunked out of Nankai, and her Chinese study would have degenerated to nothing.

So what next? Well, we figure out where this goes, is what. We’re both insanely excited/scared/calm/curious/happy, which I’m led to understand by those who know is the way these things go. I wouldn’t know, myself; this is my first ticket on this boat ride.

2. Getting back into writing

Life for me just makes way more sense when I’m able to write more seriously. (Note: “More” in this case, in the post-Romance Coma stage, means at least an hour a week. I consider that admirable. When I’m able to think about something non-Marie related for more than an hour, it’s newsworthy.) I’ve got two novels I’m working on, and I’ve finally gotten back to, well, working on them. And the more I work, the more settled and calm I become with the rest of my life. Strange, that, but in a way it makes perfect sense. After all, what could be more relaxing than spending significant time in a world you have created and can control?

3. Being close to graduation

At this point, Scott and I just have our eyes on the finish line. No high-minded ideals about professional thesis work or having an impact. Just get us out of here. In this, we’re identical to marathoners who get to their final few miles and can barely even control their own bowels any more, and believe me, having sat through the travesty that was our “mock thesis defense”, the bowel-control motif isn’t metaphorical. More on that later. The idea of no longer having to monkey around with the Literature Department here is relief on an epic scale. It’s been an incredibly informative experience, has yielded some fascinating and hilarious stories, and has given me some great friends, so in that sense it has been absolutely worth it. But then survivors of a shipwreck, a house-fire, and a Cubs playoff series would all say the same thing. Just get us out of here, comrades.

For the record, our Chinese classmates are saying many of the same things.



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