In my ever resourceful attempts to keep this page updated without personal internet access, I'm writing this journal entry at work. Of course, this means that instead of using the PageBuilder program in Geocities which makes designing these pages incredibly easy, mostly because you don't have to touch HTML, I'm actually editing the saved template in the HTML editor. I'm pretty sure I remember enough HTML so that this page will still look decent-- the code I need is really not terribly difficult, and since I actually saved the template as a file, the difficult code is all already written for me-- but no promises. However, you can still read my lovely words, even if it doesn't look as spiffy as if I could play with the text directly.
I went ahead and registered for the rest of my classes yesterday, thanks to the glitch/mistaken identification of me as a varsity athlete due to the three weeks I was a fencer at the beginning of freshman year. I still don't know what I'm actually going to take. I'm going to go ahead on a whim and take a random elective course on "Philosophy, Race, and Empire," just because it sounds cool. And another one I'm looking at, "Islam and Modernity: Clash of Civilizations?" is also effectively an elective-- it would count for an upper-level International Studies requirement, but I already have taken a poli sci one that would count so it would only be useful if I use up my double-counting. Assuming, of course, that I even major in International Studies. But I'm trying to tell myself just to take the classes that look most interesting, and to let the rest work itself out.
I talked to my dad on the phone this weekend, giving him the heads-up that it looks like his daughter will not be a Medill grad after all. I could tell he was disappointed, as I expected. He was very sweet about it, of course, telling me-- and sincerely-- that he just wants me to do what will make me happy. But I could hear the undertone of most of his questions to me, which were, "Well, what are you going to do after you graduate, then?" I don't know, Dad, I don't know.
For a long time, I've been absolutely convinced that the jobs I do after I graduate will have to be completely dedicated to making the world a better place. No cop-outs for me, please! I've told myself that not only couldn't I take some fun and meaningless job like being a sportswriter and covering the Yankees for the rest of my life, but neither could I "take the easy way out" by staying in school and becoming an academic. I've always known I'd be tempted, so I've always forbidden myself the option. Taking classes, focusing on minute details with little real-world application, writing articles in obscure academic journals, giving talks to other academics that no one else understands, teaching in a university-- these things don't change the world! I've always thought that analyzing and studying was a weak alternative to being out in the world and doing.
I'm being perfectly honest when I say that I never let myself seriously consider this possibility until a few weeks ago. And when I did start taking it, it was almost a form of rebellion against myself, and falling into the sort of depressing worldview that I was feeling very intensely at the time (and haven't completely gotten over). Basically, I was saying to myself, "There are so many goddamn problems in this world, and you're never going to be able to fix what you want to fix. Why devote your life to fixing problems, when you can spend your life studying and teaching? You can tell yourself that what you do will let other people actually make things better, and give up on your stupid ideas to make things better yourself. That way you won't feel like a failure when you don't succeed." And that reasoning really does not completely convey the degree to which I felt like I was being a rebel by breaking my rules for myself by even considering this.
So, then of course, I ended up by being stung by the realization of something that should have been breathtakingly obvious to me-- becoming an academic isn't easy! When I would tell myself it was the "easy way out," I meant emotionally, but I also always kind of assumed that it would be something I could handle and would be good at, and that's why I had to avoid the temptation. But honestly, it'd probably be very hard for me to be good at it. I mean, I love classes and learning, but I have pretty lousy self-discipline, as anyone who knows how long I wait to get papers written can attest to. I don't get stellar grades, either, although I do alright. And being a grad student means a lot of working with professors-- I have no experience at that! I'm about to finish up my fifth quarter at Northwestern having never once gone to a prof's office hours. Maybe it's a holdover from high school, feeling like if I come see the teacher for "extra help" it's some kind of failure on my part. I feel awkward about it, and even though I keep telling myself I ought to go and experience talking with professors one-on-one, I never do.
Of course, the other part is that if you're going to grad school to study something, you're really supposed to know what it is you're going to study before you get there. It's not a good idea at all to find yourself and your interests after you enroll in grad school. And I really have no clue. One of my biggest problems is that my interests are so goddamn broad, and I feel like I have no ability to narrow them or eliminate things. It seems like every day I find something else that excites me and I think would be fascinating to study.
Even with all of these obstacles, I guess I can't really completely rule out going to grad school. But I can't picture myself doing it immediately or soon after I leave Northwestern. If, after having some experiences in the world and some time to mature and figure out what I'm most interested in, it seems like it might be right for me, perhaps I'll give it a try. I mean, honestly, if it's done right and you're not studying something like the techniques of 16th century Italian painting, there are actual and real contributions academics can make through study. And there are things I'd like about it, like the fact that professors have the credibility to get to write op-eds in major newspapers like I've always wanted to. Or having your university fund your travel to all sorts of interesting places. Or the fact that professors are allowed to-- and expected to-- write books.
See, there's a big piece of me that would love to just stick to the writing books part, to stay at home all day and write. I'd love to write all sorts of things. I dream about writing profound political manifestos to alter the consciousness of the nation and the world, but I'd also love to write fiction, travel literature (which would, of course, require me to actually be able to travel), hard-hitting investigative books telling stories that don't get told, anything and everything. Maybe at some point in my life I'll have the financial situation where I could focus solely on writing. In the short-term, though, I'm going to need a steady income, which means writing in my spare time.
So it all brings me back to the same thing. Right now, all I can picture is me working in some little non-profit which pays just enough to live on, working on hopefully global justice/human rights, but more likely community development and urban poverty. Neat-sounding little places, with full-time staffs of 3 to 5 people, spending lots of time on the phone, writing press releases, doing "membership outreach" and trying to get enough money so that the organization can survive, feeling like the mission of the place is something I really believe in but sometimes wondering whether what I'm actually doing is meaningful at all.
In the meantime, perhaps I should finish transcribing this interview. Remind me next time that doing this at work is incredibly distracting...
27 December, 2002
Intellectual Property Rights denounced by Britt Gordon-McKeon, 2002