The Spirit of Quals Eve

Today is the day before I am to receive my questions for the qualifying exam of the PhD program I am in. We call them “quals” for short. The quals begin as four questions – one from each of your four qual-panel members. For me I have two areas of study with two panel members in each. What I will need to do at 9:00 tomorrow morning is pick up my four questions from the school, and choose one question from each of the two areas. From that point I will answer my two chosen questions in the form of two papers of 20-25 pages each all over the course of 10 days. This is the gauntlet we all must run to prove we have the mettle to be scholars. There’s also an oral review we do approximately two weeks after that, but that’s another story for another day.

So today I realized that it was Quals Eve. With it being Quals Eve I must prepare in some way for quals. For the most part that means to not freak out. In truth I have been preparing for several weeks, and in truth of that I have been preparing for two years of course work, and in truth of that there were the previous two years of master’s work, and in truth it’s really all of the actions of my life that have lead me to Quals Eve. I am all of my “mes” today.

I have been toying with several analogies of what the quals are like, but perhaps the best, which is probably really a metaphor, is Carlos Castaneda’s book where he goes out into the desert to find himself and is guided by his spirit animal along the way. It’s from a series I believe, but I had only read the one book. And there’s a lot of hallucinogenic drug taking as well. That might, or might not explain a lot. Anywho, Matt Groening has emblazoned it in my memory through The Simpson’s when Homer, after eating a super hot pepper at Springfield’s Chili Off, is lost in a desert and then guided by a Johnny Cash-voiced coyote. Homer asks if he should get rid of all of his worldly possessions, and after a guttural guffaw, Johnny Coyote answers, “If anything you should get more possessions – you don’t even have a computer.” Classic.

So toying with this some more in my mind today I was wondering what animal would be my spirit guide through this mysterious journey called quals? My 10-year-old daughter and I were walking around the corner of our apartment before dinner this evening and we were startled to see a baby squirrel sprawled out on the sidewalk. The little critter was about 7” with tail and it looked extremely young. It was still breathing and actually looked more like it was napping. We poked it a little here and there and it moved different parts of its body. It’s eyes never opened, so we surmised that it was to young to see, and probably fell out of the tree we were standing under, and doing the only thing it really knew how to do. Chill out.

It became clear at that moment that I had found my spirit guide. Though at that moment I failed to understand how this lethargic little creature was going to engage my inner spirit and guide me through one of the most important moments of my life – or at least the most important moment at hand. I have always been partial to squirrels, so that was maybe something? But then I remembered a paper we had read in one of my first PhD courses and the author related some story to squirrels and they had impressed me as someone who knew very little about wild creatures, and had probably never even taken the time out of their lives to just observe those around them. And in “those” I mean creatures other then humans. It is easy to put us on the top of the list of Animals That Communicate to Each Other the Best, when we as humans are the ones writing that list. Further more, maybe we only came up with writing so that we could make that list? Don’t get me started!

It was obvious that we were not going to be able to keep my newfound spirit guide, so we needed to find a place to bring him. And so the journey was revealed. The closest, and perhaps only place, to bring my wayward friend was the Wild Baby Rescue Center in Blairstown, NJ. That’s an hour and 40 minute one-way drive from my house. That’s over three hours of driving for those playing at home. However, the time was not to be questioned. It was only a human construct that I must measure in to bring the baby squirrel where he needed to go. (We discovered that he had a penis at the center, which is an amazing place and could well do with your donation.)

I see that it’s now 12:02 AM and officially Quals Day, and I have seen what my spirit guide had to tell me: relax, write, and the time will pass. Thank you, Spirit Squirrel.