Tuesday, November 15, 2005

directions

We're standing outside the classroom, waiting for the Italian 001 students to finish their vocab drills. I am fervently grateful not to be among their ranks; Italian killed my GPA. Without Italian I would have graduated summa, and it's not like learning to say "the pasta is very good" helped me when I was lost in Verona and desperately needed to get a cab to the train station before the 9:34 AM train to Innsbruck.

The other students are chatting about what classes they're taking next semester. M, the thoroughly nice guy who asked me out earlier this year but I turned down because my main college relationship taught me never to date a man who wears jeans with embroidered decals, asks me what I'm taking.

"Nothing as of now," I croak. Despite a paycheck's worth of Halls, the Death hasn't really left me yet. "I'm not technically a grad student."

Two other people look over at us. "I mean," I add, "I'm just taking this class because my job gives me great tuition benefits. I'm not a masters candidate."

"Really," he says. "Why not?"

I hesitate. It's complicated. "I just... now isn't really... I'm just not sure yet."

M shakes his head and goes on talking with the other people. I refill my water bottle, and it's a good thing I did. When we finally get to go in the classroom and the discussion starts, I play a big part in it. I do most weeks. I'm really not bragging here, at least not intentionally; I would be incapable of of graduate-level (or undergrad-level) work in a lot of disciplines. I'm good in this class because I studied these topics really intensely in college and the format of the class is very open-ended and free, a style that really suits me.

I get a lot out of it, too. Even though I bitch about the reading and often don't give it the attention it deserves, I always leave class with a million different thoughts bouncing around my brain, running in all directions. I often also leave wondering why I'm not doing this full-time. I have the means to do it if I want to, though it would leave me with less financial freedom down the road. A masters would make me a more valuable employee, would give me more power in salary negotiations and help me find a better-paying job. More importantly, it would be hugely stimulating and rewarding. Beginning to become an expert in a field, to be slutty with academia and learning, would be a delicious experience. I know I'd be good at it, I don't have any doubt about that.

So why am I not doing it? Why am I not pursuing this? My current professor, who I studied with as an undergrad, almost refused to sign me up for this class. "EJ," he said, "why the hell do you want to stay here? Go to Yale, go to Harvard. Is there a good reason you're not getting a PhD?"

The reason, though I didn't tell him, is that I don't know if I'm capable of that level of scholarship. Right now, I'm not even capable of doing a practice GRE. It's easier to stay in this comfortable limbo, full of relatively secure finances and a crazy fun social life. For the first time, I'm in a job I enjoy and can support myself with. I'm the head of my household, and giving up work to be a full-time student, no matter how intellectually rewarding, would be a huge lifestyle change. I hate to think that my shallowness is the reason I'm not a grad student. I'd hate to think that it was kickball and happy hours and community theater and dating crazy French guys and crappy television that is keeping me from pursuring this.

Yet another part of me wonders if these are really such shallow things. These are all earned, this lifestyle maintained solely by my work. Despite all noble notions of higher education, that one goes to college to become an educated member of one's community, we also go to college so that we can begin careers that can support a lifestyle to which we become accustomed. This isn't shameful; it's a practical reality, and one that is a hell of a lot more satisfying than women fifty years ago were faced with. There's freedom in it, independence and control over one's future. I'm very big on all of those.

Plus, it's damn fun. Who knows what's in the future? Now is the time where we can spend disposable income on building our networks and our lives, where we just begin to reap the fruits of all our labors in college.

All this is on my mind throughout the class, which is excellent as usual. When we're done two hours later, M and I walk out chatting about possible topics for our final papers. I say goodbye to him at the bike rack and start walking towards the Metro when he calls out after me "Hey-- you did really well today."

Maybe he just said it because he still wants to get in my pants. Maybe he really meant it. I happen to think the latter. I go home from class, as usual, with a million things on my mind, spinning off into a million directions.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is fun to be had in every year and every decade. Having less of it now does not preclude having more of it later. While having it more of it now, rather than using your 20s to lay down a professional foundation, may not preclude but may make enjoying yourself more difficult later (i.e., less money, status, choices, etc.) Some things are harder to do as you get older, not impossible but harder. Single,childless and responsible for no one but yourself (and a cat) is a better time to pursue a Ph.D. than married with children. Just a thought.

Jaimie said...

I do not personally know you, but I do know 2 things about people-you are probably way more capable than you do, and, it will be a lot of work. I love the social life too, but realize that pursuing a phd means no social/family life (and I have a young child at home). Amazingly, though, you (and I) would be able to do it if needed.