As I was finishing up my first MA degree in 2001, I began looking at possible destinations where I might continue working towards my PhD. I wanted a good school, obviously, but I wanted a particular kind of good school. One that was relaxed, for certain: some schools are anxiety-driven, and I didn’t want that at all. I wanted, too, a school where I could continue working to become an experienced editor of medieval texts: someone who takes a nearly illegible medieval manuscript and produces a printed text of it, making it available to more than just a few specialists. Beyond that, I wanted to go somewhere to work with a specific someone, an authority in my area that I could work closely with for the many years it would take to finish the degree. Add all that up, and I came up with one man, one school: I wanted to go to the University of Rochester to study with Russell Peck.
So I applied to Rochester. In fact, I only applied to Rochester — something that just about made my then-current advisors faint. But I figured that anything else wouldn’t fit as well, so it was Rochester or nothing.
They admitted me (whew!), and I visited the school during a quick weekend road trip from Kalamazoo to Ottawa (well, it’s sorta on the way) in order to attend a Chris de Burgh concert (don’t laugh). I met Russell, who was everything I had heard and hoped, and he sat me down after a meal. Things had been very relaxed, very fantastic.
“So,” he said, “what do you want to do for your dissertation?”
I recall smiling — I usually do this when my mind has been unexpectedly forced to go into high gear — before I admitted that since, well, I was just finishing my MA thesis, I hadn’t really had time to think about it.
Russell nodded sagely — he is by definition a sage, so I suppose he just nodded — and then said, “You should think about editing The Middle English Metrical Paraphrase of the Old Testament.”
I said I’d have to think about it — mental note, “Look up what the hell he just said” — and we moved on to other things. That afternoon I was alone for a short time in my now beloved Robbins Library, and I looked up this Paraphrase thing Russell had talked about.
Huh. 18,372 lines of Middle English. For my MA thesis I was just completing an edition of James I of Scotland’s poem Kingis Quair, which runs to just under 1400 lines. I was young. I was cocky. So I figured I had me a dissertation.
About five years later, as the dissertation rolled around, I had only managed to complete the Octateuch portion of the Paraphrase. The finish line seemed a distant mirage, determined to outpace my attempts to reach it.
Until Friday night.
Yes, this past Friday night I punctuated and glossed line number 18,372. I finished the first draft.
Here that, world?
Now it’s on to revisions, which will be a far more finite process. I’ve been formatting the edition for publication as I’ve gone along, so I can say with authority that if I turned it in right now it would be a 700-page book. I’m hoping to cut that down to, say, 675 over the next week or so.
Then this one’s off to other hands and I can turn, in earnest, to Caesarion and the other matters plaguing my mind.