To go, or not to go. Silly question.
January 5, 2014
Half-assed thoughts coming in 3, 2, 1...
"The beginning of the end." There probably isn't more ominous a statement to make, yet it seems that the line has become a public speaker's favorite go-to opening line, securing awkward ha-ha's in a crowd filled with hopeful twentysomething graduates, or as we call them these days, soon-to-be unemployed. Granted, it might have descended from the more inspiring "Today is the first day of the rest of your life," and well reflects the pervasive desperation attached to the job market/liberal arts education complex, the mirror opposite of good ol' Ike's prophetic warning against the military-industrial complex (no connection here whatsoever, but I'm supposedly deep into studying American politics for finals and, er, sure). But more than anything, the fact that college graduates are taught to be cynical, and are expected to have a thorough understanding of You're going to be jobless and potentially very poor for a long time, only able to support yourself through unpaid internships and underpaid service jobs which will only serve to strenghten your cynicism and overwhelming need for personal recognition from some imaginary fulfilling activity... is very telling of why people are now seriously considering removing social sciences, literature, and any humanities studies from high school curriculums, and essentially eliminating the corresponding college degrees. Of course, it's only a small(ish) cog in the large wheel of generalized social capitalism, where productive potential should be the highest rung on the human-resources (and all of their inhumane components — seriously, 'human resources' is probably the most horrific expression in the human language) ladder.
But then, call me naïve, I would argue, why is someone writing a 10,000-word draft for a novel or a play not treated on the same level as a paralegal writing case studies on yellow legal pads, or an ad executive writing copy for the latest Coca-Cola commercial? The fact of the matter is that this type of institutionalized thinking — where you'll be given sympathetic and/or condescending looks and immediately asked whether you want to teach or do something else (hint: pôle emploi) when telling people that you're studying for a degree in English or else, whereas you'll be put on a social and intellectual pedestal if you say you're in an M.B.A. program or in engineering school or med school or any time of practical sciences studies — is viewed by society as an inherently normal. We all accept it. We all assume that there should be a widening gap between the unemployment rates of technical and non-technical majors, with a regular 5-10 point difference according to different college census. We assume that a creative writing major should support himself by having three jobs and potentially never find a job suited to his education, and to his ambitions and career dreams. On the other hand, outrage and disbelief are expressed when a business major doesn't find a $100K job in the five years following their graduation. It is pretty amazing to me that the median earnings for college graduates are so disparate by degrees.
Sure, it is very simplistic to simply cut the pie between English (& co, meaning Theater, History, Anthropology, and all other humanities and liberal arts studies) and technical majors. There are more comprehensive ways to look at college graduate unemployment, and obviously not every business major graduates with a deal to join a company like, ahem, engineering graduates (or any "STEM" graduates), for example. Law school graduates have it as bad as performing arts majors when it comes to available positions on the job market. But still... we've all accepted that this is just the way it is. That society rewards productivity, and that by being an English major, you've pretty much cut out all possibility of ever earning more than $40K a year, if you're lucky, unless you pursue doctoral studies and work your way up the academic ladder and ultimately manage to get tenure, at, like, 50. That petroleum engineering majors are somehow worth literally four times drama majors.
Why shouldn't it be weird? To be honest, I don't know that I have a good answer. To me it just is. Weird. I would probably have a different opinion were I a mathematics major. I guess I'm just tired of having to repeatedly face, multiple times a day, the response I get from people when I tell them I'm studying History and English. I could close my eyes and countdown to their reaction. And it's not only from grownups and new-money big shots. I recently had a history professor remind us that we are the lowest of the lowest in the higher education field, basically equalled to shit on the job market. No one can comprehend that there should be a world beyond academia where liberal arts major should be able to find a job, a fulfilling job, a relevant, productive, secular job that's valued and accessible. In a country where culture adds seven times as much to the national economy than the car industry, it's quite astonishing that there should even be a discussion about whether English & co. majors have a productive potential. But because we (students, professors, peers, parents, house guests, friends of friends, career counselors) all assume that the logical pursuit is teaching and research, all these other possibilities are never brought up. We don't discuss internships apart from journalism ones. These career paths are so uneven and tortuous that we don't even think they exist, or are a possibility. M.B.A. careers are, on the other hand, more or less straightforward and agreed upon. Here's an awkward segway, but it's funny to think that all those things back in elementary school that kids were encouraged to do and valued for, like drawing and painting and dancing and writing and reading, are now seen as useless and counterproductive. Ah, the joys of utilitarianism. It doesn't seem like the craziest idea, to me, that we could somehow find a way to follow that thread all through high school and college, to value the arts, not to treat them as time-wasting activities but actually give them adult equivalents, so that come graduation day, it's not depressed and with unemployment benefit applications in hands, but with enthusiasm and excitement for the future that kids walk out the campus definitively.
Okay so maybe there's a reason for that rant. We're
slowly but surely actually, screw that, we're rapidly, way too rapidly approaching graduation, and it's all so... strange. It's decision year for all the people I went to high school with, not that I've kept in touch with a lot of them, but it's strange to think that a lot of them will start having actual, real jobs with contracts and retirement plans, some of them will join companies and have internships, if it's not already the case, and they will no longer be clogging the alleys of the library on the weekends. They will move and make plans. Won't carry books or speak to teachers on a daily basis. IT'S WEIRD. Meanwhile, here I am, a dainty flower who still has no clue what she wants to do, will never know what she wants to do because she's the most indecisive person and will likely be shot dead in the head in the next five seconds if she doesn't stop talking about herself in the third person. I don't know. I don't know! I wish somebody would tell me what to do. Right now I'm struggling with whether I want to continue this academic life into research and teaching and frankly, I'm terrified of ending up as a teacher. "End up as" sounds bad and I don't mean to paint teaching in a bad light. I have the utmost respect for good, engaged teachers, and have found myself increasingly attracted to academia because of said teachers, but I just can't see myself as a teacher. I went into college confident that I never, ever wanted to teach, which, ha ha, joke's on you, English major. As the prospective of my being anything but a teacher dwindled, and as I saw through really cool teachers that a life in academic research wouldn't be so bad — paid trips abroad, meeting cool people, writing, getting to choose what subjects you're working on, well, why not — I've become less reluctant to consider that life. And sure, I'm in the middle of completing applications for graduate programs which would, were I to be accepted in them (ahem, not a chance), likely send me off towards that path. But I'm not sure this is the life that I want. Like I said before, I have a love-hate relationship with academia and all that stuff. It's always one step forward, two steps backwards. I get really cool feedback on a paper and get to talk to a great teacher about it, and then I encounted elitist bullshit in another class or just get hit by the perspective of feeling stuck of those walls for the rest of my life. Ugh, such a drama queen. Someone please slap me with a copy of Atlas Shrugged.
The only thing I am sure of is that I want, need, to go away, far, far away. Across the Atlantic. What I don't know is whether I will. For some reason, because I've been harboring this fantasy life of [bleeeeeeeeeep] for so many years, and have outlined the sitcom-esque coincidences and circumstances which will inevitably lead me to that life, I've become convinced that things will just happen. What is that saying again, the will creates the how? Something like that. In my deluded mind, the universe has the ability to hear my thoughts and hears me, hears me, hears me. As insane as it sounds, I can't help but think that way. Like, I want it so much, I want to live there and work there and start anew so much, and I've had so little great things happen in my life (boohoo, poor little me) that there is no way it won't happen. But it doesn't work like that, now, does it. I wish it would. I wish there was a grandiose mechanics of the universe that rested on a principle of balance, one good thing versus one bad thing, and that the magic of it all would be that it all happened in the sacredness of the unsaid. But it doesn't work like that. Duh.
I'm essentially a shy person — more like an aggressive agoraphobic introvert disguised as a shy person, but, same diff — and one of the consequences of that is my reluctance to ask for what I want, that is if I even knew what I wanted. Until now, that I would eventually get an opportunity to pack up and leave was a given. I questioned the how, and modulated the how through the years, considering the financial aspect, the procedural aspect, all of that boring but unfortunately necessary stuff. But I knew it would happen. Somehow. Even if I never voiced it. The kind of thing that only happens in movies, right? The universe granting the sad kid a message! Signs! Chances! Who knows, maybe because I was so stubborn in my belief of it's ME VERSUS THE WORLD, I missed those opportunities, I let them slip through my fingers, without even turning back to watch as the fantasy life sailed away without me aboard the ship, too busy to complain and whine about where my Opportunity went away. Now I'm still as anchored to the ground as ever and it feels like the more I wait, the farther the boat gets. Are you tired of my nautical metaphors yet? I wish I were a turtle.
This is the first time I haven't felt lifted up by the new year. Again, this whole semester has been very strange. Usually, despite my best wishes, I tend to get emotional as the year comes to a close, and make millions of promises to myself like millions of other people as the clock strikes twelve, and I vow to change or to try to be a better person, move closer to the Dream, etc. This year, nothing. Zero. Nada. It certainly didn't help that it still feels like October here, an extended indian summer I wish would go away, dammit, where is snow? Where is the cold? Snow is the best friend I get to see once a year, for a couple of days, weeks, months when we're lucky, and this year it seems to have ditched me. Who said friends were forever? Not me. Anyway, maybe it's because I've been in this fidgety mood since the beginning of the school year, what with the looming deadlines and graduation and here's a depressing picture of your future and whatnot. I'm tired. And not making any sense. Will finish this thought later. Hey, here's a list of things I should eventually do. Maybe writing it down will have a subliminal power on my mind and I will actually do those things I am supposed to be already doing:
- write cover letter for that thing you will never get in but if you do will pay you to study abroad for a year
- read books for lit class
- ask for letters of recommendation (drink two glasses of wine before. LIQUID COURAGE.)
- outline novel
- write novel
- finish novel
- apply to summer internships
- UGH. LIFE.
- try and be happy. NOT.