There is no path not taken, I said. The only path is the one you’re on. So it took awhile for me to remember that I might have gone to grad school where I am working now. My intellectual self could have been formed in this library, shaped by studying these artifacts in the Rare Books room; I might have walked these streets daily for six or more years, taken this architecture for granted, seen these views, explored this region, made different friends, been prodded, stimulated and evaluated by other faculty.
Naaaah. I just can’t see it. Being here is fantastic. Everyone is nice, and I’m getting so much done. I can concentrate: no small thing, after the past few months. Nonetheless, the school I did go to shaped me so irreversibly that any alternative is now unthinkable. I think my alma mater was better for me; this place might have chewed me up and spat me out. (I suspect it’s easier on its visiting fellows than on its students.) Or maybe I don’t give my younger self enough credit; maybe I was scrappier in those days than I am now. Could this place have shaped me, honed me, polished me to a hard bright gloss?
Or is this a sort of grass-is-greener phenomenon? If I imagine spending a month working at my alma mater, I do not feel the sense of inspiration I’m feeling now (although in some ways I prefer the library there). Instead, it summons up feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, not the grown-up version, but the pre-Ph.D. version: what am I doing here? Didn’t I get a job? But if I’d gone here, I might feel that way about this place, and look on my alma mater as the bright beacon of rescue from this winter’s discontent.
This path brought me here, now, with a span of time short enough to make me focus on making the most of it. That’ll do.