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


Blogger Martha in Michigan said...

I am one of the ones who has neglected to congratulate you (and Kevin, too). This was for the same stupid reason that has blocked me from following impulses many times in my life: I wanted to do it "right" and so never got around to doing it at all. An email or blog posting did not seem adequate acknowledgement of all you have learned and experienced and sacrificed over these years. I am proud of the strength and independence both of you exhibited (and, likely, increased your store of) during the process. I am simultaneously in awe of and envious of your cultural immersion in mysterious (to me) lands among unfathomable (to me) people. I have vicariously enjoyed a small fraction of your growth in knowledge and insight through your generous sharing. While I gasp internally (well, perhaps I did not keep it to myself) at the prospect of the two of you taking on more debt in your next life stage, I also recognize that it's none of my damned business AND that you obviously have it covered. Please don't consider my OCD tendency to worry as a personal reflection on you, or of my opinion of your competence or judgment -- it's just my way.

I wish the two of you the best, but know that you will enjoy and profit from your adventures wherever they take you. Loved The List ... and expect you can continue to add to it. Bon Voyage! -Aunt Martha

3:50 PM  
Blogger just me said...

Congratulations on finally graduating! I'm so proud of you for following through with all of it (not that I had any doubt in your fortitude).

Hey - I was a business major!
I don't think I cheated (a lot...) nor do I feel that learned more than others who chose a different major. I feel I learned less & simply received a piece of paper in the end.

Glad you're still posting, hope you will have more time for it in the future!

S from PSE...remember me?

9:44 PM  
Blogger Weeping Sore said...

What comes across most strongly in your post is your reaction to the reaction of others who question your life choices, and particularly the value of your edumacation (sic).
I think this shows that despite verbal posturing about higher education, many of us measure the worth of your efforts by how much money you will earn. Of course, we wouldn't admit that openly; speaking instead of how you are now more mature, wiser, or more interesting, engaged, compassionate.
I love that you're both still focused on devoting your lives to worthy and challenging causes, rather than to earning the most money. I'm glad that you're coming to terms with the fact that many others aren't.
I'm also vicariously proud of/for you and all you've accomplished. I'd like to add one think to your list. Call it an unintended consequence of your education. Many of those around you have been educated too.

10:30 PM  
Blogger Miss Carousel said...

this is very interesting because i faced similar issues when i graduated and as i worked through grad school: unsupportive family, no money, criticism from every walk, isolation, etc. what struck me one day is that, like you, i thought: if i was getting married or having a baby, people would be lined up to shower me with money and money-disguised-as-bad-shower-gifts, yet not one person was proud of me nor did they help me pay for my education. it baffles me.

then, when i recently landed my first full-time job, i got a lot of "well, how does it feel to have a REAL job." made me want to cut a bitch.

as you know, i for one am really happy for you; i'm proud of both of you, and i think i miss you too much. berkeley is a puddle jump airplane for an hour to come visit! :D

i hope i can see you sooner rather than later.

8:07 AM  
Blogger WDW said...

Congratulations! I agree with many of the things that you learned, especially that you don't need intelligence to get a PHD just determination (I'm proof of that!).

Sorry about the loss of your friends - I experienced the same thing when I went to college with my high school friends - what losers they all are now!

6:24 PM  

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