12 March 2008

trust me, i'm more sick of writing about this stuff than you are of reading it

Over the usual table of teas and coffees, a few of us were discussing "big plans" post-graduation, one of my friends talked about his difficulty in deciding between moving back to familiarity in his home city, or following some career prospects in yet another bigger city. He knows that either pursuit will mean he'll be giving something up.

When he said, "It seems like the further you push yourself, the lonelier it gets," I got to thinking:

Is this the case with everyone? Will it be the case with me?

Does delving deeper into school inevitably turn a person into a weirdo? Does specializing in obscure things make you less and less able to relate to other people?

Right now, being obligated to sit, isolated, at a desk is lonely. It's not like we didn't know this was coming when we applied to do an MA. But before the warped reality that is thesis writing really started, I think I had convinced myself that all grad school required me to do was to watch a lot of movies, make fun of things and people over drinks, throw around fancy words, and read the odd book.

Yes, now is a rather lonely stage, but I take comfort in the fact that the isolation doesn't suit me. I haven't started muttering to myself, collecting cats, or getting too comfortable in my desk/cave existence. In fact, I can't wait to finish and move on to the next thing.

The worst possible scenario would be that I'm not slowly going crazy and not noticing, and then by the time I re-emerge into the world everyone will wonder what happened to me.

The best case scenario is that I finish my thesis, learn to tuck the nerdy side of me away when living my everyday life, so that I don't scare away normal people.

I look at a lot of my peers who will, like me, be wrapping things up in a few months. When I look at them I know they will get through this and be really successful professors, writers, publishers, artists, and contributing members of society. I have complete faith that a lot of them will excel, just as I know (with utter certainty) that others will continue to be condescending oddballs.

It's easy to envision what others will do, but so hard to do the same for oneself.

And, this post, from the blog Stuff White People Like, is one of the most hilarious, depressingly accurate descriptions of grad school I have ever come across. The post I just wrote is the freaking epitome of what this post describes. Shoot me now.


Emmett Macfarlane said...

Oh, the grad student malaise. How universal and prevalent it seems to be...

And definitely, to do a Ph.D. in the arts/social sciences, one must have a certain level of masochism in them. All those years of education, and what do you get? No guarantee of your first-choice job, and relatively low-pay if you're lucky enough to land it!

Chris in NF said...

really, you shouldn't worry about this so much ... in my experience, academia doesn't affect people's basic personalities. If you're an extroverted, gregarious person when you start, you remain an extroverted, gregarious person. If you're an condescending oddball when you start, you remain one.

I think part of the perception that grad school transforms perfectly normal people into over-specialized social retards is because there's a tendency for social retards (sorry -- "socially challenged individuals") to be drawn to what they perceive as an essentially isolating career and become, well, overly specialized.

The problem for these people is that, if you follow academic through to its (il)logical conclusion, you end up being in many, many situations where a certain amount of social skills are needed (such as teaching).

The problem for the rest of us is that we then need to deal with them at departmental meetings.

So, Miss singing-dancing-bar-hopping-featured-on-CBC, I'm going to go out on a limb and imagine that your natural outgoingness will remain unchanged through an academic career. The more pertinent question is: can you endure those people who are what you fear becoming?