Friday, April 15, 2011

Greatest Con

Let's see who can follow this article. It's one of the best that I've seen on the subject in quite a while. Of course, you always have to take these types of articles with a grain of salt, but it is well thought out and explained. Questions?

Friday, April 1, 2011

My Brief Stint as a Grad Student

"Education is a form of self-delusion."
~Elbert Hubbard, 1856-1915, American author, editor and printer

I don't remember exactly what I was expecting to feel like doing after passing my thesis defense. Something along these lines: indulging my vanity with an extravagant shopping spree at Banana Republic. Or flaunting a wad of cash (not mine, because I don't have any) during a celebratory dinner at Log Haven Restaurant, one of those places in Salt Lake City where the main courses sound like this, "Shinshu miso grilled Japanese eggplant with Thai chile ponzu," and the waiter brings out a tablespoonful of odd-colored fare on a square white plate with a 12-inch diameter. Or the spontaneous purchase of plane tickets to Jules Sea Lodge in Key Largo, Florida, described as follows:

Located at the bottom of the Emerald Lagoon in Key Largo Undersea Park, Florida, this undersea lodge invites you to spend a night sleeping with the fish. Located 30 feet below the sea, the only way to get into your room is with scuba gear. Once you dive down and swim into this underwater ‘cottage’, you can relax and enjoy views of the marine life through windows in both bedrooms and living room. The facility also comes fully equipped with refrigerators, sinks, enclosed shower and toilet, entertainment center with VCR and DVD set up, mini kitchen with microwave, telephone, intercom and marine radio.

Instead I felt like a deflated balloon. Defending my thesis was anti-climactic. Like waking up on your 26th birthday and expecting to somehow feel new and shiny, invigorated with the mental acuity and clarity of perspective that supposedly comes with one more year's worth of living. I sat through the defense thinking one thought every time a professor asked me a question about postmodern deconstructionist theory or Shakespeare's inheritance of Ovidian metaphor: "IDK." Fortunately, my answers to such questions were slightly more articulate. Slightly.

And when my committee asked me to leave the room so they could confer, I felt, momentarily, like the last contestant in a beauty pageant, huddling with her fingers crossed and uttering a silent prayer in the soundproof booth while watching her fellow contestants answer the final question before the judges announce whether she has won the title of second runner up or Miss Universe. And when my committee called me back in and said, "Congratulations, you've passed your defense, sign here, goodbye!" I thought, "That's it?" 

Yes. That's it. The end. No more literary criticism for me. If I've learned anything in the last two years, it's this: "Education is a form of self-delusion." Which is different than admitting that the master's degree was a waste of time. I think I simply expected to feel distinguished, or, erudite, or much more accomplished at the end of those two years. Truthfully, I've mastered nothing, except for maybe the art of pretending to look interested in someone who's talking to me about things I will never understand.

The highlight of my graduate education is encapsulated in this quote from an email exchange between me and my thesis chair, in which my thesis chair responds to my last-minute acknowledgment, the day before my defense, that reading the collected works of Stephen Greenblatt in all my spare time might have made me feel more prepared for the impending onslaught of nebulous questions I was about to receive: "But as you say, at some point you just have to get on with LIFE, which is enhanced by books but not found in them." Four semesters of graduate tuition was worth it, to get that advice, I suppose.

At least that's my current assessment of the situation. Perhaps I'll know, years later, the real reasons for going through all this.

My brief foray into the trenches of academia--or rather, my cautious tiptoeing toward the edge of the trenches--has shown me that I am meant to do other things, and to write things that people can, and will actually read.

If I hadn't bothered to apply to the program, I would have spent the rest of my life wondering "What if?" with John Greenleaf Whittier's lines perpetually gnawing my conscience: "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, / The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

Now that I know, I can get on with life, as my thesis chair says. I think I'll fare better in the company of hyperactive prepubescent people who may or may not be able to write complete sentences.