too tired


I was going to write a long post on class and the humanities. I may still write it. Obviously this was in response to the conversation going on at Tenured Radical’s blog, which has largely been good. But one of the more recent comments professes ignorance as to why people who don’t come from money and/or racial minorities might not have the same capacity/desire/time/familial support/money to spend two, three, five years traveling around the world learning languages or working in a placeholder job while catching up on the literature before going to graduate school.


I don’t have the energy to go into it fully, other than to say this: Not everybody thinks it’s okay to have made a decision to do something and then to put off doing that thing (which in and of itself might take 8-10 years) for a few years, just because.

I’m not saying there aren’t good reasons to take that time off. I myself see how such time would have been useful to me. But none of these reasons eliminate certain questions. How am I going to explain to a parent who already thinks going to graduate school is dubious at best that I’m going to wait tables so I can read? Where’s the money going to come from to support my travel around the world or to pay for the expensive language programs that will teach me the Latin, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, or whatever other language I can’t learn at the local community college? And just how long am I willing to put off starting my career?

Because if I’ve managed to be the first person in my family to get where I am, don’t I need to have something to show for it soon?

Now I know that there are people from these backgrounds whose parents are completely supportive of whatever. Of course there are. But I think if we look closely, we’ll see just how much money is required to learn languages or to live in the countries to get more practice in these languages. We’ll see the kind of money that lies behind feeling comfortable enough to traipse around the world and know that either you or someone you know has enough money to get you home in an emergency. And we’ll see a certain worldview where time is not money, where years spent waitressing while waiting to go to grad school are perfectly legit choices. (I should be clear: I am not talking about people who are working so that they can go to graduate school; or people who chose to do one thing and then later decided to go to graduate school; or other eventualities. What I’m talking about is an active choice to tread water for a few years before embarking on the decision one made years previously).

I came from another worldview, one in which when your family sacrificed time and money to make sure you went to college or when you’re one of the first in your family to get a bachelor’s degree or when you’re the child of an immigrant, you do not then turn around with your degree from a fantastic school and work at Starbucks for a few years, regardless of the reason.


6 Responses to “too tired”

  1. 1 servetus

    Me, too, frogprincess. My parents would have been more than puzzled if, having decided to become a historian, I’d paused to do something else. They’d have seen it as wasting time. And they’d have been right. The whole question of how retirement money weighs into this is important, too. If you screw around during your 20s you have a very high opportunity cost in that regard.

  2. 2 Anastasia

    I think my family was more puzzled that I chose to move away from home than anything. If I wanted to wait tables while hanging around my hometown, no one would have said a word and college would have been a strange phase I went through before I got on with my real life in hometown.

    Traveling? I was so afraid the first time I traveled to Grad School city that I had a panic attack on the plane as we made our descent into the city. I had literally never. been. anywhere. The stress was unbelievable. The idea that I would have gone to a country where no one spoke English just to study was totally beyond the scope of what i was prepared for.

    Does this make me a bad person? A poor scholar? Someone who just doesn’t hack it in the humanities? Or a person who grew up in a small town with limited finances and even more limited horizons?

  3. 3 thefrogprincess

    Exactly, Anastasia. I was lucky: my mother was an immigrant so I traveled out of the country a few times growing up and I grew up in an area of the country with significant military presence, so lots of people had been out of the country with the military. But all that gave me was the desire to travel. It did not give me the funds to do so or the expectation that one traveled for anything other than family reasons or work.

    And yeah, it sounds like I grew up in a much larger place than you did but there certainly was the idea that college was a short trip away and then you settled down back home. My parents didn’t necessarily espouse this but it’s what people did. They came back home. This is why I said over at TR’s that for some of us, going to graduate school is the act of resistance. The idea that it’s the lazy way out or just the inevitable slide snowflakes make b/c they can’t hack it anywhere else is BS.

  4. 4 thefrogprincess

    Oh, and servetus, right on about retirement. That’s even more of a concern than a meager salary: nothing’s going to make up for the years retirement savings aren’t being compounded. One of the things I despise about the academy is how it’s supposedly too crass to have frank conversations about the monetary consequences of our choices. We’re apparently supposed to revel in our romantic poverty: money’s just a crude concern that gets in the way of our lofty thoughts.

  5. 5 servetus

    I think that a lot of these conversations are gauged upon the class status of faculty who have them. The first tt job I had (a regional comprehensive univ), most of the people were from similar social backgrounds as me; at the second one (a second tier R1), I was astounded how much money was behind some of my fellow asst profs. They claimed it didn’t make a difference, but I thought that was nonsense, esp if you compared their career prospects to those of the faculty at the other campus. So i guess what I am saying is that people with money behind them often (other things being equal) make it further than those without it, and then perpetuate the myth that it doesn’t matter.

    I will agree that it has come to matter to me less than it does to my parents. The reasons for that are complex. It has to do with their experience of poverty as children, their determination not to be poor, and the way that they view work as a means to shedding class. They raised me in a different class than they were born in, and there have been inevitable conflicts.

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