It’s been 3 weeks since I started my PhD program and with the heavy sigh at the end of every week comes the heavy thought: capitalism SUCKS. Not the inherent qualities of capitalism, but what it necessarily does to humans. What is meaningful has a price on it, yet we are fooled by the conditions of our economic society to think “it’s all worth it in the end.” What is “the end”? You will continue to sacrifice what is valuable to you (another price of capitalism) so that you can fit into the capitalistic system, even after getting a degree.
What I find more and more ludicrous about education is not just how much money it costs, but THAT it costs. If the capital-driven model of education were entirely demolished, the world’s economy would be devastated. And yet, nothing “education-wise” would really change- the people who were going to school to just “get a degree” would continue being as un-educated as they would be with their degree, and the people who really thirsted for knowledge would continue to seek it, independently. Why reach the same end point, but scores of thousands of dollars later?
Clearly, my issues with being in school are multi-layered. For one, I don’t like how, quite literally, poor it makes me. For another, I don’t like how it tests my sanity and even my health, and makes me constantly neglect what I value and love most. And lastly, I don’t like how it has made me mysteriously incapable of throwing in the towel, despite my protests. Why do people (including me) willingly put themselves through intense pressure and stress for years on end? And willingly continue in that pattern (and perhaps a worsening of it) even after attaining their degree? Here’s a useful metaphorical analogy I have acquired from talking to Bree about his recent research. He found that there is a species of wasp that has a complex and quite sadist relationship with the roach. The wasp first stings the roach in its thorax so that it is temporarily immobilized. Next, the wasp finds just the right spot in the brain in which to sting the roach— a spot that paralyzes the roach AND destroys its “flight” reflex. The roach, now entirely paralyzed—yet completely aware and lucid— is unable to flee because the reflex which causes it to do so is impaired. The wasp then takes the roach to its nest, where the paralyzed body of the lucid roach is used to grow the wasp’s eggs on. This is horrendously disgusting. But it serves a strikingly similar resemblance to grad school- somehow, students have been sucked into academia’s lair, have somehow had their flight reflexes immobilized, and are being fed upon by the university. Again, quite disgusting.
But seriously, you may be asking the very valid question of why I am still in school if this is how negatively I feel about it. Besides the proposition that I believe academia has impaired my flight response, I’m just taking everyone’s advice, including my own, and “trying it out.” I approach it with the understanding and hope that the first semester is insanely hard and possibly disillusioning, but that if I can get past it, a brighter experience quite possible lies ahead. You may also be asking how it is that I’m in school when I wrote in my last blog that the complicated situation of switching schools last minute forced me to wait until 2013 to start. Long story short, GSU contacted me while I was mid-flight to Phoenix (visiting family) to let me know they received some unexpected funding and could now fund me starting the 2012 school year. I had to make the decision in a day. Of the two choices I was faced with- spend a year in Atlanta being a nanny, exploring the city, reading a lot (for pleasure), taking photos, cooking, etc….and start a PhD program, with all the it entails and was mentioned with great drudgery at the beginning of the blog— I chose the latter, because…well, who the hell knows. For complicated reasons. But here I am, in a PhD program, daily wishing I was living a different and more relaxed sort of life.
It’s been hard to find my “niche” at GSU because none of the professors there have the background in communication (interpersonal, qualitative research) that I come from. I did however, make acquaintance with my research advisor, who is perhaps one of the only interpersonal researchers there, and it has proven so far to be a potentially blessed connection. She does research in gerontology- something I have never had an interest in. However, in taking one of her courses and discussing/reading her research, it turns out I really am interested in this field. Rather than merely studying “old people” (with whom I find it difficult to relate), she studies “aging” (which we can all relate to). I’ve been learning all sorts of negative cultural messages about aging and old people that we are bombarded with daily and that we believe. I am definitely guilty of this- I have always greatly feared aging, and I have not looked upon old age as something good. I have always dreaded being an old person and have vocalized publicly my desire to die young. But what I am learning is that our construction of what it means to age is so tainted by cultural messages of it, that it is possible to dig underneath that and come up with healthier, more truthful, beliefs about what it means to age.
With that said, I spontaneously decided to join a non-profit organization, “Adopt-A-Grandparent,” where I partner with an assisted living facility and visit my “grandparent” buddy every week. This is something I never would have imagined myself doing- as I said, I grew up with some pretty deeply entrenched discomfort around older adults, and though I enjoy volunteer opportunities, I have intentionally sought opportunities related to young people. I still can’t explain why I am doing this, but I know that part of it is because I’ve begun to feel more empathic for older adults- one driving force being the knowledge that I myself will get there one day. Plus, older people are way less drama than younger people. I look forward to starting my work in this program this month.
On the home front, Bree and I have both been trying to manage being in school while also spending time with each other and trying to maneuver errands like grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc. I’ve always enjoyed grocery shopping, but now it is a chore. The danger of that is, since I’m the only one with a car, I go alone and my shopping is driven by the fervent desire to never have to do it again. I buy enough food to feed a family of 10 (not exaggerating). On my last trip, I came home with nearly 40 apples and nearly 20 sweet potatoes. It did not occur to me, at all, that this was an insane amount for two people, and that we wouldn’t be able to finish them prior to the end of their shelf life. Bree found it quite comical. I think the flight mechanism that grad school has destroyed is also connected to some side-effect of making me disoriented and disconnected from reality in general.
Bree has been having a grand old time at Emory, diving thirstingly into his readings (and usually reading more than he has to), and attending extra-curricular events. Last week we both attended a “Students for Philosophy” event that is student-organized and allows Emory students, weekly, to present their current research with one another. We are both really impressed with how self-motivated the grad students at Emory are. Then again, they are also always “partying” (not in the negative sense of the word). We have spent several nights going out with new friends at Emory and doing things like Karaoke night at a Korean karaoke club, coconut night at a friends house (we literally just got together to eat coconuts), and birthday parties. What really strikes me about Emory students is how I have heard not one of them complain about their work load. It’s a real glaring difference between the cohort at GSU. In my program, I think people get together IN ORDER TO complain about their work load. When students at Emory hang out, you wouldn’t even know they are in school, let alone a grad program. Being pitted against people with such carefree attitudes has given me quite an inferiority complex when I am around them. All in all though, there is good potential to make good friends with Bree’s group of mates at Emory.
We have also been attending a weekly “compassion meditation” class, held in the dark, quite, cold basement of the Emory campus chapel. It’s actually incredibly peaceful and calming. It’s our chance to leave everything at the door for an hour and focus on fostering compassion, both for ourselves and for others. The instructor has a very heavy and calming presence and she exudes compassion- if you both catch each others’ eye before/after meditation, she smiles so big, with her entire body, that it becomes humanly impossible not to feel cared for- not just by her, but by the whole earth.
Well, I have written enough for now and apologize for having taken up so much of your time. I do welcome comments, even if you just want to tell me how stupid I am. I miss everyone and wish that everyone could always be happy and always win.
When I visited Phoenix, we (my brothers Beni and Dani, and friends Stephen and Aeni) spent a day in Fossil Creek...the beauty shall speak for itself!
With Beni and Dani at one of the many waterfalls at Fossil Creek.
With Stephen at Fossil Creek.
It took him a long time to contemplate it, but he did eventually jump.
We went upstream and found another small waterfall with a natural whirpool...we had it all to ourselves and played in it for some time.
This is the whirpool. If we just floated in it, it would take us round and round in circles, by its own power. Fun!
View of the waterfall from above. The cliff-jumping spot was just feet away from here. I did not jump. I am not insane.
The walk up to the waterfalls.
Leaving Fossil Creek...shall return soon!
My mother forced me to work and make food the whole time I was visiting home. So much for being a guest. JK....totally jk.
You don't see very many people yet (because it's early morning), but this is downtown Atlanta, where GSU is. It's huge and disorienting and scary.
There are some parts of downtown Atlanta that are less formidable-- there are many parks. Live music happening basically all the time. Lots of international restaurants.
This is the classroom I teach in- 3rd floor in a huge, old building. I hate it. It looks like a high school classroom.
There is always activity in the parks. This huge chess set has people waiting in line to play. It's quite comical to see grown men lift chess pieces that are half the size of their bodies.
The building to the left is one that our Comm department will be moving into in January. High rise buildings make me incredibly nervous.
A party with Emory students at our friend Sasha's pad. It reminds me a little bit of the inside of Lux.
A coconut party at our friend Justin's (left) house/backyard. Justin and Bree were at odds about what is the best way to open a coconut. Justin's method: a machete. Bree's method: a drill.
Facetime with Lavi!
Facetime with Bree's family! We spent about an hour reading the second part of Bree's book that he wrote for his papa, David. David used to makeup bedtime stories for his kids when they were younger, and Bree took the general themes of those stories and wrote a children's book based on them, which he gave to David. Precious.
We went to the Decatur Book Festival, where we spent $14 on 14 books. Apparently, we broke the record for this booth's sales, so they wrote it down on the white board (Bree gave his name as "Spartacus") and had Bree take a picture with it.