July 24, 2011

An evening with humanities grad students

One of my friends just finished a masters program in humanities. She hosted a little house party tonight, and several of her classmates were there. I liked her classmates a lot. I knew that I would, because I double-majored in English, and I've always liked other people who study literature.

None of them have jobs. They are applying for things like retail, clerical work, whatever they can find. And they seemed pretty calm and upbeat about it. They didn't go back to school for the money. They knew their masters degrees would not lead to lucrative career opportunities, and so they aren't stressed out about the job market.

It was really refreshing to be around them, actually. They are my age, and they don't have jobs or kids or houses, and they haven't let those societal pressures affect their choices. They took out thousands of dollars in loans for a humanities degree, and now they are back where they started, but they are glad they did it.

In some ways, they remind me of me. I Just want to be happy. When I graduate, I just want to make enough money to rent a nice apartment with a dishwasher and air conditioning. I don't need a prestigious academic job, and if I can't find an academic job at all, I will just do something else. But even though I think I have a healthy detachment from the pressures of academia compared to many doctoral students, sometimes the anxiety gets to me. The financial anxiety, especially, but also the feeling that I've failed to become a real adult because I've spent my 20s in school.

So I was envying their social group a little. Most of my friends in academia have serious career ambitions, and my other friends in the city have normal professional jobs. I miss my English major friends, my fellow poetry writers, and their approach to life.

At the party, we lit candles and listened to Back to Black. Amy Winehouse was born two weeks before me in 1983. I think we have to be numb to death and suffering in the world, to some extent, or we would never stop crying long enough to function. But when you know someone's story, those defenses break down. It's incredibly sad.

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