And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain …
Actually, it’s not the final curtain at all, it’s only intermission. In another three weeks, I should (hopefully) have passed my Ph.D. qualifying exams and be ABD; that is, All But Dissertation, though I can’t stop thinking of it as Anything But Dissertation. Which means that my time here in New Haven is over and done, and there will be another columnist in my place come September. It may be intermission, but I’m offstage for Act Two.
Of everything I’ve done in three years at Yale, I’m still most proud of the fact that I never said “I love you” and didn’t mean it. That won’t get me through my exams, admittedly, but it’s something to cling to. My other source of pride is writing (the words for) a musical; while I have no pretensions to originality in academic scholarship, I do think I can make a contribution to theatre.
While I certainly don’t regret coming here, I’m ready to leave: partly because I seem incapable of settling more than three years in one place, but mainly because — without going into self-pitying detail — my time at Yale has correlated with annoying medical concerns that probably have nothing to do with New Haven but make me think it’s time to go. My life is beginning to feel like the lyrics to “Santa Baby”: “Think of all the fun I’ve missed / think of all the fellas that I haven’t kissed.”
And believe me, that is a very large company of men.
By my reckoning, over the past two and a half years I have written 39 columns, including this one, for various sections of the YDN. Assuming that figure to be correct, and assuming a mean average of 800 words per column, that totals 31,200 words, or a very slim volume for the Christmas market. Perhaps that could include, as an appendix, those columns in my files that were either not published or not submitted. The latter were usually withheld due to a mix of cowardice and prudence, as they were often directed at those Op-Ed columns (and we all know they exist) in which the intellectual content would have been improved by replacing them with a blank space.
I have one major problem with Yalies, which is their inability to use a sidewalk without occupying all available ground. But I also don’t think you need to be a card-carrying Republican (as I’m not) to feel that some of the moral infantilism directed against the president is, or should be, an embarrassment to an institution like Yale. The next time you see a comparison between Bush and Hitler, imagine driving round Berlin in 1938 with a bumper sticker saying “I love my country but I fear my Fuhrer” and think how far you’d get.
Yalies are unsurpassed in the neat trick of identifying the mote in their own eye and ignoring the log in their brother’s. It seems bizarre to complain about diversity when I look at the students in my “Cold War” sections, at least four of whom were children of immigrants. I do realize that neither Yale nor New Haven is exactly a microcosm of America, but I nonetheless assert, with English understatement, that I rather like your country. The British commentator Matthew Parris wrote that, in the end, it would come down to a choice between America and the Rest of the World, and he chose the Rest. That’s okay if the Rest were Switzerland, or New Zealand, or my own beloved country, but taken all in all I’d vote for America. Without hesitation. While Starbucks may not be the absolute pinnacle of civilization, the sight of a Starbucks usually means that the world is proceeding as it should.
There’s a lot to like about America. And there’s a lot to like about Yale.
Yalies are some of the most amazing people I have ever met and from whom I have learned — the abilities, achievements and drive of Yale undergraduates continually make me wonder what I’ve done with my 27 years. Many are ferociously intelligent; many enthralling company; most are just great to have around. Many are as artistically gifted as contemporary professionals: I am privileged to have seen some extraordinary theatre created by undergraduates. “Copenhagen” (Feb 2005) and “HMS Pinafore” (April 2005) come to mind as illustrations of what can be done with a minimal set but a huge amount of talent, commitment and flair.
Many Yalies I shall miss; some I shall miss intensely. I shall even miss some of the professors. But the dogs bark and the caravan moves on. It’s been a blast, really; I’ve been paid far too much money to read books, drink coffee and talk to clever people. Hopefully I may have added something along the way, something ineffably English. Something like one of the finest programs BBC Radio ever devised, from which this characteristic valediction is taken:
“So, as the short-sighted terrier of Time chases the startled stick insect of Hope, and the supple dachshund of Fate is knotted by the absent-minded balloon magician of Eternity, it’s time to say goodbye.”
Nick Baldock is headed off to his mother country, where he’ll dive into his literature career.