Here's part of an e-mail I sent to my uncle Robert Schenck. He teaches 100-level English at Metro Community College. Kim, tell me just how alienating grad school can get.
I've just had a sort of epiphany (well, maybe not that far) this week. I found an older English major from my undergraduate college, Abram Anders, who had gone on to graduate school at Penn State. I e-mailed him. Our interests were similar at BV. I actually had a class with him: western civ. Anyway, long story short, I respected this older student who was bright and also, I thought, represented the sort of ultra-BV thinking/possibilities (as in ultramontaigne--above the Alps) that I thought I could also represent. So I was moved to hear that Abram had similar initial plans when he went to graduate
school (in modernism and theory) and has since relinquished those plans. He's switched to the rhetoric and composition side and is doing his PhD proposal on a mix of "ecstacy studies" (reading Castaneda in a "medical" context no less!) and working under the tutelage of Michael Berube, a professor at Penn State that works in disability studies; he had a memoir about his disabled son's life published in the mid-90s.
The realization for me is that I'm not trapped in graduate school, so to speak. There are a lot of options on how to go about doing what I want to do with research, career, and the like. Communicating with him was informative, even. He described grad school in the way the people here have not. It occurs to me that grad school is not a place to be acted upon, but a place to act.
Anyway, I've been feeling alienated with my two courses this semester. The teaching's been great, though. Very engaging, stimulating, interesting. But I'm in the endless-theory course; theory I may have idealized because of a (near total) lack of access to that kind of thought at my undergraduate institution.
Then I'm in the course with the famous half-asser (if I may try to use the term without too much negative connotation) where I can only hope to listen to him tell a story and try to ignore the rest. Here's my critique of Momaday: all story and no hat.
So learning that Abram had a similar feeling is comforting. My idea for right now is to study the politics of teaching English comp. and literature. I will be in a "Teaching Literature" course next semester, so I think that may lead me where I want to go. And that place is certainly not to the fast-tenure-track research-two university. (I think "research-two" means the profs teach two courses and do publish-or-perish research.) In other words, I'm longing for familiarity: ideally, I'd like to teach at a small liberal-arts college, and teach a couple courses of 100-level comp. and a couple lit. courses. Teach writing and read literature and discuss it with less pressure than here, in other words. Anyway, it's interesting to see the areas that grad students choose to really focus on. Seems logical to 1) do what you love and 2) do what you love and try to get a job doing that. Guess that's all a person can ask.
Thanks for reading,