The cost of a useless degree



I think one of the most popular games that twentysomethings play is talking about what city you want to move to. There are many shade of this game, depending on how impractical you’re deciding to be on any given day. If you’re being very impractical, then the cities will be European. If you’re being only somewhat impractical, then the city will be a super-hip one in the U.S. where no one has any jobs, like Portland or New Orleans. If you’re being only moderately impractical, then it’ll be New York. The game is funnest when you approach it with your eyes slightly unfocused, saying to yourself yes, yes, I could do this, I could move in three months, while simultaneously knowing that this is, like, definitely not going to happen.

My favorite answer is Los Angeles. There is no heavily-inhabited place on Earth where the weather is as good as it is in LA. Also, everyone is beautiful. And, since I have no desire to be in the film industry, I feel like I’d avoid associated angst.

However, I know that I am definitely not going to be living in LA anytime soon. It’s just a daydream.

Now, I can hear some of you saying, “Oh god, Rahul…you gotta, like, take life by the reins and just go where you wanna go and do what you wanna do.”

And, like, sure…but I’m pretty sure that no matter where I was or what I was doing, I’d be playing the “What city should I move to” game. So often, life is portrayed as a choice between being a dull and lifeless cubicle drone and being a jet-set world traveler who has adventures on six continents. But that’s never really the option. The choice is between some perfectly good thing that we have in hand and some fantastically amazing thing that we’ve conjured up out of thin air.

I am exactly where I wanted to be. The day-to-day experience of this program is about as good as I could have hoped for (though, as always, I am waiting for the bottom to fall out). The people are wonderful. Baltimore is extremely livable. The workload is light. I am productive. All of this is very true.

But I still dream about packing up and leaving.

An MFA program is more like a vacation than a step in the career ladder. It doesn’t take you anywhere. I mean, I guess it theoretically qualifies me to teach college, but, while I think I would enjoy doing that, I’m not sure that’s going to happen for me (and it doesn’t happen for the vast majority of MFA students). So when you’re here, you’re acutely conscious of how you don’t really need to be here.

I mean, you know how some twentysomethings join the Peace Corps or teach English in Taiwan or just screw around in France for a few years (or, if they hate themselves, sign up for Teach for America). Well, for me, this is that. It’s a discontinuity. It already sort of feels like that thing that I did.

And because it’s not really useful vis a vis my future, these also feel exactly like the years when I could be doing any of those other off-the-beaten-track sort of things.

Of course, I don’t want to be fatalistic. I’ll do plenty of interesting things in my life. I’m pretty sure that life doesn’t end at age 30 (which I will turn six months after I leave this program). But still, each day, there are a million things that you choose not to do. And the joy that you get from the things that you do is only a fraction of the joy that you can imagine you’d have gotten from one of the things that you didn’t do.

There is a larger point to be made here about the writing life. Since writing something that you prosecute mostly in your spare time, you’ll find, if you continue as a writer, that the vast majority of your leisure time is given over to writing and reading. That’s the time that you could be spending searching for love or going to parties or, I dunno, biking? Brewing your own beer? Working 100 hours a week at a high-powered investment-banking job? Practically speaking though, most writing time is reclaimed from the television and video games, so it’s not actually as time-consuming as one would think it would be.

Oh well, I wrote a blog post today, so I consider it pretty-well-seized.

4 thoughts on “The cost of a useless degree

  1. Becca

    I live in the city I’ve always dreamed of living in. And I love it! Now I nightmare about the cities I’m going to have to move to when I graduate with my specialized, useful, step-in-the-career-ladder skills that will probably require me to move to, like, middle-of-nowhere-Wisconsin. “I could pack up and do it in three months!” I think, despairingly.

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