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By Ernestine Lahey


The Montréal Review, June 2011





If you're going to do this


it's best to have a plan which you inevitably will not follow;

all things being equal (which they won't),

middle-ground it first -

fling yourself romantically across the ocean alone

into the unsuspecting arms

of the English literati -

you will feel: out of place

you will work: one full-time MA

and one fixed-term part-time unskilled job

sucking beer from brass to glass and

dodging pink-eared innuendo

all for the sake of rent

and cigarettes

(which by now you smoke).

In between all of this

be sure to accidentally say something clever

to someone in the know -

he'll tell you what you meant by it and give you

4 years and what seems at first like enough money

and leave you more or less alone.


(It's always a good idea to make friends who will help you carry your beer

and who you'll likely never see five years from now, and if you do it'll be by accident

and you'll both feel awkward as a broken thumb for not getting in touch more often)


If you can swing it, take a lover who is also not doing a PhD

in something completely different

and who is also surprised at his wallet,

and together you can blast the system for a while

until you'll blame him for all kinds of things like

what happened that time while he was away

or for not cleaning the dishes or his teeth;

meanwhile, work two new jobs where people say thinks like

"professional development" and are not joking, even a little bit.


For assured success go to conferences;

overcome your fear of two varieties of shaking hands

and blackmail your department into under-funding you;

you won't regret it when you feel the elation brought on

by addressing that room of



In addition to all of this,

do your best to network with your peers;

after hours your superiors will get together in pubs to celebrate

paper clips or some such innovation, so be sure not to miss it,

and if you can at all, drink a lot and say things which sound impressive

until the morning,

and think how you fancy the Renaissance man your friend also fancies and so you don't

tell him, because she helps you carry your beer and even though you may never see her again

after five years, that is still long enough for an engagement should she ever choose to tell

him the truth.

In short, have integrity.


Learn secret passwords like "viva" and "curriculum vitae."

Job selection will be done strictly on the basis of Latin lexical density tests.


Finally, spend an hour in a room with two people you don't really know at all,

while they determine for you what these years have been

and if you're lucky, you'll be finished, and you'll fling yourself

into the arms of the English literati

and you'll say something clever to someone in the know

who will give you tenure and what seems at first like enough money

and leave you more or less alone.


Ernestine Lahey was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada. She now lives in the Netherlands, where she teaches linguistics and literary stylistics at a small liberal arts and sciences college. Her poetry and fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Literary Magazine, blue skies poetry, and Red River Review. She is a regular contributor to The Montreal Review.


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