06 July 2009

Your Call is Important to me

I am done. After seven years my parking permit has expired, and I don’t need a new one. I’ve turned in my keys. I have no office. There are no more forms for them to sign. There are no more forms for me to sign. It has got me to thinking about the things I’ve learned here in the last seven years. Graduate school didn’t teach me much of what I thought it would. This process has taught me far more than I expected. In part my mistake was assuming that I’d learn a lot of facts. I knew going in that I’d have to learn a language, and read a lot of theory. But I never quite understood going in how much I would learn about how people think, and why we do what we do. I both value this knowledge and understand it’s the exact kind of knowledge that people easily disregard as fluffy or too subjective.

More recently I’ve been thinking about the paradox of this knowledge. There is something about this degree that makes people want to
1. Quiz me in hopes of catching me in a mistake; look, I just don’t know what year the Spanish American war ended. Deal.
2. Criticize my major choice and/or my university choice,
3. Accuse me of being self-indulgent to the point of embarrassing myself, and
4. Reassure me I’ll never find work, and I’d die in the poor house

The paradox is that people work diligently to undermine what I’ve done, and yet seem intimidated by what I’ve done. Which is it? I had no idea how isolating this would become. In part this is isolating because the further I delve into my topic the more I know and the less others still have interest or knowledge to talk with me. And in part this is isolating because people just don’t see me as the same person for some reason. Directly or indirectly, I have lost all but two of the friends I had when I began this. It has been pretty painful to learn who among those I care for is willing to discuss directly my perceived “lavish lifestyle,” and admonish me to “live in the adult world and get a job.” I must have missed the Lavish part of this. I taught for five years here for 1500 bucks a month. Teaching douche bags here has never seemed lavish nor well-paying, but I assure you it has often felt like tedious labor. What really irritates me is that if I told people I was having a baby, people would express happiness and well wishes, and likely never once point out what a self-indulgent thing that is, or caution me that raising a child will likely cost a million dollars or more. Lavish? Self-indulgent?

I expected I’d enjoy the same emotional support I received as an undergraduate, and the opposite has turned out to be the case. It has been very difficult to hear people I care about say really stupid things to me about what choices I am making. Few people have congratulated me. Almost all those I speak with have asked me if I’m going to actually get a job, or if I’m ready to live like an adult. Wow, I would never say such things to those who have said stupid things to me.

And yet, I wouldn’t change a thing. I love what I’m doing, and I expect this is the biggest reason people are willing to say crappy stuff to me. I no longer feel remorse over lost friends because I’ve met some wonderful and encouraging people along the way. I would do anything for those folks I could, as they already have for me. I have an amazing committee, and I’m astounded at what they have helped me to learn. They are generous, funny, and kind. When I finished my dissertation defense they had a meeting, and then came in and hugged me and congratulated me, and had a bottle of vodka for me. I really am hard pressed to imagine what more I could ask for. I wouldn’t change a thing.

I also really underestimated how much I would learn about myself throughout this. I remember at the end of my Masters talking with a student one year ahead of me. She’d done all I had in addition to teaching. I could not at the time fathom doing as much plus teaching three classes. She said, “You’ll be amazed at what you can do.” I’ll never forget that. And I am amazed. I don’t know a lot of facts, but I’m good at explaining why people do what they do, and I can put that on paper and go to two conferences, and write a zillion seminar papers, and teach three classes, and grade 75 crappy essays, and still have time to knit and watch DVDs with K.

As this time comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned in the past seven years.
1. Who my real friends are
2. I can live well in a place I dislike
3. I’m pretty good at “learning on the way”
4. I can live on one cup of coffee a day
5. I can live on 20 cups of coffee a day
6. How to weave
7. I’m a good teacher
8. Though I’m still terrified of public speaking, most people don’t realize this when I’m speaking in public
9. I can teach a class even if I’ve done none of the assigned reading
10. Graduate students generally have only two ways of responding to questions in seminars: “I thought this part was interesting because…” or, “No, I didn’t like this article because I didn’t see how it fits with my project.”
11. Upper division, undergraduate classes are a million times more educational than a graduate seminar
12. I can shop at Whole Foods even on my salary
13. Graduate students have a lot of time, despite what they claim
14. The library is actually a phone booth
15. I can read a book a day and retain information that interests me
16. Intelligence is no requirement for finishing a Ph.D., but focus is
17. That ordinary people aren’t stupid at all (despite how they tried to convince me of this when I worked in retail in a past life)
18. People are inherently good
19. My decisions are now on trial
20. There is no greater threat to human rights than religion
21. People will believe what they want to
22. Anderson was right: “Whatever you can imagine, people do that; whatever you can’t begin to imagine, people do that too.”
23. Business majors cheat more than any other major. Then, they lie in their feeble attempts to extract themselves from their own homemade shit storm
24. Business majors resent learning more than any other major
25. The social sciences are much harder than the natural sciences because they require critical thought, not just memorization
26. I can reinvent myself in my 3rd year of graduate school and still finish on time (so there!)
27. People with Ph.D.s can still be nice and down to earth
28. Melville knew everything