I had lunch with a sixth year UChicago Ph.D. candidate today and–among many other things–we discussed the politics of readers, advisers, slow death by committees, and slow starvation by unemployment. I am nothing if not a effervescent date. While the conversational topics might suggest that the two of us were prevented–only narrowly–from suicide by our quick thinking wives, the reality is that we were two thirty-something men with a few months to go in our programs and prospects twinkling tantalizingly on the far horizon barred to the breeze.
You see, for myself and the rest of the 2011-12 Masters students this is the top of the hill, the tipping point between still finding one’s groove and being grateful to get out of a rut. As it turns out this point came up much faster than any of us expected. Quite without warning, I find myself at home in U of C’s system: starting my seminary papers at the four week mark–and hoping to have them completed by the sixth, having collected enough information about my professors to know with whom I’d like to take a class–and with whom I’d pay not to take one, and fully expecting that while some of my emails will be courteously answered–knowing full well that others won’t ever be opened.
The beauty and the tragedy of Chicago’s accelerated Masters is that just about the time you’ve got a sense of what you’re doing, it is time to begin looking for a new place to be. Sure, there is a myth of the “gap year” a time when students recover from the stumble-headed, crack-junkie-on-the-roof windmilling great Pete Townsend swathes of paper into theses like spinning gold from too much fine cloth frenzies. But, I’m thirty-something with a wife and plans for a baby or two and I just can’t imagine such a luxurient soak in the tub of molasses idleness. I’m too old to lose any momentum–for I fear I’ll not find it again. So while unsure if I am one of those who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war, I can certainly agree tha I am one all too subdued by the machinery of mediocrity to forsake a model-year closeout deal, a chicken in every pot, and a hard-scrabble job search to make the first two plausible. That is to say, I can’t imagine ever being on hold again–and you can record this call if you’d like for training purposes: I want to get on with a job hunt and pay check.
I’ve learned at least this having studied Plotinus, Poe, St. John of the Cross, telepathy and bop-kabbalah, you can howl at the road not taken, but its far better to have enough coin in hand to buy a naked lunch.
My apologies to Carl Solomon. Billie Burroughs, and Kerouac. 😉