Returning My Books

Today I woke up and I knew it was the day: I was going to return my library books. This is important if you want to graduate, because if you don’t return stuff they hold up your diploma.

At first, I thought I was going to put them in my backpack and bike down to campus to return them. But when I stacked them up:

I hope I got them all.
I hope I got them all.

Scratch that idea. Oh well. I put them in a box, drove to the library after aikido class, parked illegally, and hustled them over to the book drop.

Such books. So box.
Such books. So box.

Then I silently bid them farewell.

Returning my library books means a lot of things. It means that I will be able to receive my diploma. Hopefully. If I got them all. It also means my academic career is basically over. Notice that I am not adding “for the time being,” as I have in conversation to myriad people. I have finished my MA and I am probably done.

I have mixed feelings about this.

It will be unsurprising to those who know me to hear me say that when I was in high school I wanted to get a PhD. There were probably a lot of reasons for this–I’m very ambitious but not especially interested in high power career paths; I knew that PhDs were associated with smart people and I’m smart; I went to a high school where that kind of academic achievement was relatively rare among alumni, so it would have proved how different I was (let’s face it–how superior) to my fellow students.[1]

Time wore on of course. I did an undergraduate degree and felt still interested in doing grad school, but first I went to Viet Nam for a year, came back, got a job, met a guy and fell in love, then left my job and moved in with him. At some point in there I did actually start grad school, but it wasn’t a PhD program–rather, it was an MLS[2], a professional degree designed to help me reinvent myself in a bad economy. Through a somewhat circuitous series of events, I wound up enrolled in another department, doing a second MA in Southeast Asian studies.

During this time period, I began to understand more clearly what was involved in a PhD. Unlike a BA, which you can basically get these days if you are capable of basic literacy-type tasks, a PhD requires an immense amount of reading and preparation, qualifying exams, and then basically writing a book. And the book has to be original work. It can’t be a collection of book reports or whatever. This isn’t a task where you can get someone to tell you if you have found the right answer. You are creating new knowledge; that is what people with PhDs do. In short, it’s a very stressful process.

In fact, I did some original research over the course of my MA, and that was hard.

The stress isn’t the only consideration, though when you are married it is certainly something you get to thinking about. I don’t even really need to prove how terrible the job market is for people with PhDs in the humanities–if you are curious, just go and look at any article the Chronicle of Higher Education has published in the last five years. In fact, if you have a desire to do things like: stay married, have kids, have spare time, be a novelist rather than a literary critic, have a stable income with health insurance, not be on food stamps, not have to move every few years, then you might find life as a professor quite trying.[3]

Ultimately, a combination of the above and other factors influenced me to decide that I wasn’t going to apply for a PhD. So there goes that.

It’s a weird moment. On the one hand, I know that missing out on four years of earnings and 401k contributions is not great financially, even though I didn’t take on any debt to pay for my schooling.[4] I know also that there would be no job waiting for me when I finished, and that it conflicts with some of my other life goals. And, one might argue (when talking to someone like me), given the way writers use any stupid excuse to avoid writing, consider that graduate school is really one big excuse for why I don’t have time to sit down and write another chapter of my novel.

In other words, if I want to write a novel, I should stop fucking around and do it. Now is the time.

On the flip side, though, giving up on a dream is never easy, is it? And let’s face it, PhD-holders are actually creating new knowledge through their research, which is really exciting. Getting to think about the topics they work on (in my case, philosophy and post-colonial literature and that sort of thing) is a lot of fun. Who wants to sit in an office and do technical writing when they can be thinking about philosophy?

Eventually, you have to weigh your options and make a decision about the kind of life you want to lead. What’s important to you? Stability, financial security, an exciting career, a family, having time for outside pursuits, ambition, a less stressful life, a happy marriage? Regardless of what you wrote in your “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up” paper at age 17, there isn’t a wrong answer here. Priorities can change. In fact, they should change–anyone who has the same priorities at 31 that she had at 17 is probably stupid.

I still miss my books though. I miss the excitement of learning a new language. I miss the thrill of putting little pieces of theory together and coming up with something neat. I don’t miss: the stress, the stress eating, the stress picking-fights-with-my-loved-ones, the stress crying-because-a-professor-was-mean, the sense of life-or-death about what I was doing,[5] the way academia provoked my workaholism to new extremes, the not having time for what few friends I managed to hang onto, not having time for entertainment outside of classes…

I won’t go on because I think I have made my point. I’m certainly not spending my time crying into my oatmeal about this, but neither am I resolved enough about it to bring this blog post to a happy conclusion of some kind. I am enjoying my extra time to do things like aikido, writing, home improvement projects, and triathlon training. I am also reading a lot of philosophy[6] and other books on my own, things I would never have had time for if I weren’t graduating, and I’m starting to think about teaching myself a new language. But I still miss being in classes, working in the library, researching new topics, even (to some extent) writing papers.

Being in academia sucks. Not being in academia also sucks.

The end.


[1] If you have been to high school and not harbored this feeling, well, I commend you but I think you’re lying to yourself.

[2] Technically my alma mater awards an MA (in library and information studies) rather than an MLS (which itself stands for Masters in Library Science and please don’t ask me why this is different). I only refer to the MLS here to make it clear I did two different masters degrees.

[3] Obviously the job prospects are contingent on the field. I know some PhDs who found tenure-track professorships after graduating and some who didn’t.

[4] In fact, I think I paid almost nothing in tuition for the last four years, but I worked my ass off at 2-3 jobs at a time to do so.

[5] I suppose this is true for several fields, but it seems especially bad in academia because students don’t get sick days. If you are sick, you still go to class because…you have to go to class. As an undergrad, I missed class the time I had the puking flu so bad I couldn’t stand up and walk farther than from my room to the bathroom. (As a grad I didn’t get sick.) But no one should be forced into an atmosphere where that kind of behavior is the norm. If you’re sick, you should be able to stay home.

[6] Because let’s not pretend that leaving school should ever be the end of learning. Especially at the MA level, I have the skills to continue doing advanced research on my own, although I can probably not ever publish because no one really cares what I have to say.

Em oi! #389 and #390

I still am, but a little less.

Words (rule the world)

In honor of defending my MA thesis (successfully), two comics about the final throes. I have discussions in the vein of #390 with those who copyedit my fiction as well. Hm. We’ll file these two under LB2385 L86 2013c and LB2385 L86 2013d for Theory and practice of education–Higher education–Academic degrees-M.A. You can also check out LB2385 L86 2013a and LB2385 L86 2013b. You know, for all that I seem somewhat frustrated with my advisor, he’s really been a good fellow to me, and given me a lot of space to make my own discoveries, which I’m kind of glad about. He said some really nice things about my thesis during my defense, and we shook hands. I guess that’s, finally, a détente.

I’ve recently seen a spike in traffic, probably all you crazy people who bought my book. What fun! But looking over the blog, I see that like 99% of the posts I’ve written since July have been about how terrible it is to be in graduate school. And…to some extent this post is not a change from that. Whoops. Sorry. Next week I will have comics that are not about being exhausted and stressed out. I promise. I already have them drawn, even!

Anyway, the big news can be seen in this photo:

No, not the copy of House of Leaves in the background. The postcards are here! If you want a signed one, send me your snail mail address to ehlupton+postcards(AT)gmail(dot)com [ehlupton plus sign postcards at sign gmail period com]. As you can see, I have a lot of postcards, and I believe thus far only three people have asked for them, so get your order in!

Em oi! #385: Terms of Reconciliation

It's cappuccino chip ice cream.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything (the plot, anyone’s perceptions of graduate school/me) to say that my advisor and I have a somewhat rocky relationship. It consists of him mostly ignoring forgetting about me and me alternately making desperate bids for his affection and raging about his inattentiveness. Super healthy. One learns so much about relationships and professionalism in graduate school. But on the plus side, things are getting better. He finished reading my thesis and made comments on it that were quite helpful. And we did actually have a nice (i.e. productive) conversation about some of my translation’s idiosyncrasies. So things CAN get better.

And I should add that my advisor is a really nice fellow. I’m also acquainted with his wife, who is wonderful, and I don’t wish either of them any ill.

I promise my next comic will not be a meta-mopey grad-school-is-hard feel-sorry-for-myself fest. Probably. We’ll file this one under LB2385 L86 2013b for Theory and practice of education–Higher education–Academic degrees-M.A.

What else can I blog about? I ran a 5k a few weeks ago. Despite my foot injury, I finished in 24:40, good enough for 4th place in my age group. Also, I had a lot of fun running with a family friend for whom it was her second 5k ever!

What else? Plantar fasciitis. It should I guess come as no surprise to anyone who has been on the internet that when you google something and you see five hundred potential cures, none of them work. That seems to be the case with PF. My foot is still about where it was when I posted the last comic several weeks ago.

I’m trying not to get too depressed about it. I have an appointment with a PT in a few weeks and in the meantime I’m still running three times per week. That’s okay. (Ok, it’s not something I’m okay with, but it’s something I have to do.)

I’m actually pretty frustrated and depressed. I’ve had to switch from doing the full marathon in Baltimore to doing the half. In the meantime, I’ve decided to pretend I’m training for a half IM, so I’ve been doing lots of bricks (or at least swim/bike days; it turns out that if you want to do a brick before work you have to get up at 5am).

So my past week looked like this:
Sunday: Swam 3550 yards/Biked 23 miles
Monday: Ran 7 miles (also lifted weights)
Tuesday: Swam 2500 yards/Biked 16 miles
Wednesday: Ran 9 miles, ellipticaled 2 miles (plus lifting and aikido)
Thursday: Swam 2550 yards/Biked 17 miles
Friday: Blerched.

Tomorrow is my long run (about 13 miles), then another brick on Sunday. I’m going to try to push the bike ride a bit longer, maybe to 25-30 miles.

I also bought new insoles and a Strassburg Sock in a desperate attempt to heal myself with placebos.

So that’s me. How have you been, internet?

Em oi! #375: Another Terrible Thing Done in Nietzsche’s Name

The age of specialization is over.
Have you heard of a madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to the market place and cried incessantly, “I seek God! I seek God!”

Writing a thesis is simultaneously the best and most terrible thing I have ever done.

Anyway. Nietzsche! Has there ever been a philosopher with a cooler mustache? I think not. Other things Nietzsche had: Syphilis. But that’s not to say we should write him off. He grew up next door to a church–his father was a Lutheran pastor (who died when young Friedrich was four). That he later went on to propose some revolutionary ideas about man’s relationship to religion in the 19th and 20th centuries is not entirely surprising. He lived a quiet life in the mountains, because of health issues, and so he knew what he was talking about when he said that happiness comes from overcoming obstacles. That’s an older idea than him, actually; I believe it goes back to Aristotle. At any rate, Nietzsche is quite cagey and doesn’t say what he thinks the new morals he’s calling for should be like. He is pretty clear that he thinks hanging on to Christian morality is stupid and outdated. You can check out the famous passage on the death of God from The Gay Science here. (He talks about the death of God again in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.) He has a marvelous mode of writing, it’s very readable. What else? Philosophy Now magazine did a marvelous podcast about our fellow that you can listen to here. And philosopher Alain de Botton did a 24-minute episode of a longer series for the BBC about Nietzsche, and you can check that out here. It’s awesome both because the US would never air something like that (not enough desperate housewives) and because de Botton is very good at explaining the essence of Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Is that enough links? Can you tell I’ve been doing some research? I’m having an affair with Nietzsche; don’t tell M. Foucault, I fear he would sulk.

I wrote an article on running for a local running blog called Technically Running. You can read it here if you’re interested. You can check out the last comic I did with Nietzsche in it here.

This comic will be filed under B3317.L86 2013, for Philosophy (General)—Modern (1450/1600- )—By region or country—Germany. Austria (German)—By period—Later 19th and 20th centuries—Individual philosophers—Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, 1844-1900—Criticism and interpretation.