Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I have a deep, slow desire to go and get a PhD. This is an entirely impractical desire, given my current situation and my real day-to-day life (as opposed to the fantastically unreal imaginings of my mind). Yet every once in a while, like tonight, I do have to acknowledge that it is at least a possible thing. If I really wanted it, I could start making my plans. The idea is not so totally removed from the realm of possibility that it doesn't  haunt me in a loose sort of way. It's just that the line between my most beloved dreams and the limit of what I can physically manage in the "real world" has grown increasingly fuzzy, and I am bewildered.

I meant, as usual, to write about something entirely different, but maybe if I step backward for a moment I can get to the source of the idea. I was just re-reading my last post, and the brief aside about shame really jumped out at me. I suspect that shame is important and I was going to explore the idea of shame, where it comes from, and what it might mean that I sometimes feel ashamed about the way I choose to live. So something about the thought of feeling ashamed made me think of my dream to get a PhD, maybe as the opposite of shame. I think for me this dreamland idea of the PhD represents self respect, satisfaction, and thrilling enjoyment (as opposed to lifeless boredom). Somehow these are the antidotes to shame, to feeling out of place and unwanted. Shame has to do with rule-breaking and being different, maybe even choosing non-conformity. I think for me a PhD is kind of an accepted difference. It's a public representation of intellectual eccentricity.

It also sounds luxurious to me. It feels rich, or maybe even elitist. While other people are out doing menial work, the doctoral candidate is recklessly getting overeducated, gaining excessive, unneccessary, impractical, and esoteric knowledge. (I know this is inaccurate, but I am speaking of feelings now, which tend to exaggerate and idealize.)

All of the abstraction aside, I also am still hopelessly in love with the idea of the perfect job. It's incredibly foolish, as all my practical experience has only served thus far to show me just how useless is all the extra education I already have (and am still paying for).

As an aside, I just mentioned to my husband that I am writing a blog post about how I want a PhD, and characteristically he replied, "pay off all your debt and you can get a PhD." I think he knows that the real life practical realities are by far my weak point (why do you think I want to retreat to the safety of school, after all?) and also that if I were truly serious, that I could put all my effort into getting out of debt quickly so that I could get to my desired goal sooner. He's a smart guy. He wants out of debt probably more than I do, although to be fair, I don't see him offering to bring in any money to help.

Why do I want a PhD? Well, for one thing, my Dad always wanted one and never got to it, so I kind of want it because I know he would approve. For another, it is a status symbol of sorts. It says that you were smart enough to slog your way to it, rich enough to pay for it, and hard working enough to finish it. So it communicates a lot in a small space. But of course, there are plenty of people who would see it as a waste of time, or unfathomable, or just as showing off. To imitate the pedantic old Owl: In a word, impractical. So maybe I should add that I personally respect PhD holders of all stripes, that I personally envy those who have PhDs (in just about any subject so long as from an accredited sort, let's say, a peer-respected university). I know. It's ludicrous. Other people may envy those who can afford diamonds or Mercedes-Benz. I envy... PhDs. I am maddened by people who inherit their cash and can just go right on educating themselves past their first BA in Art History.

I want more education. I'm dying for more. It's driving me nuts. You know, though, what really scares me is that it's just more baloney. I mean, what if this strange and maddening desire to bury myself in books is just a ruse, a cover up for a deeper disturbance? It feels like I am trying to run away from something. I want to dissappear into a univeristy, where I will be safe and coddled and hidden from the adult world of responsibility and respectability and burdensome expectations. What I most want to escape is the endless boredom, the mindless repetions, the petty and mundane routines.

So the reality: I have a family to support. I have a husband who, for whatever reason, is currently not bringing in any income. Although he plans to bring in money in the future when the kids get bigger, neither of us knows for sure what he will do or how he will do it. I don't count on it. Also, I have two children. I need to take care of them and support them. They take up a huge amount of my time and energy, and I am responsible to them for that time and love and attention. I have extended family and friends, a social life, a church. These things also take time and energy and fill up space in my life. I have a job, and need to not only do my work while on the job, but must manage my home life and my health so that I can keep working, and keep my social network at work active in case something happens to my job or my company. I have a home to pay for, bills to pay, and need to pay for things to keep me alive and well and comfortable. I also have past debts to pay, as my husband pointed out.

So all of this to me adds up to my needing to fulfill these responsibilities first and foremost. In essence, I am already committed to an undertaking far more important to me than my flimsy dream of a symbolic degree.

Nevertheless, it lurks in the back of my mind and I can't shake it. I've had other dreams like this before of course, and just as impractical. For a while I wanted to own my own business. Later, I wanted to be a librarian. Last year around this same time, I obsessively planned to go to law school and become a lawyer. When I was younger, I once dreamed of becoming president. I've had all kinds of daydreams and nightdreams and doodledreams.

I guess the PhD thing bothers me more because it's closer to who I already am. Let's acknowledge now that I am a voracious reader, a loquacious talker, a lover of language and story, a seeker of truth, (but unfortunately also a liar!) an idealist, and unconquerably interested in relationships, people, society. Literature, Literary Theory, Philosophy (especially Practical Ethics,) Sociology, and Anthropology are my keenest interests, along with (popular) Neuroscience, Darwinian Evolution (the more user-freiendly bits) Skepticism (Study of Religion & Myth but from an unbelieving standpoint) faint interest in History and Mythology (but eclectic, not mainstream) dabbles in Music and Art (again, generally not the usual interests, however) and also Meditation (Bounce back to Neuroscience), Marriage and Family, and a vague topic I would call Personal Growth (maybe Self-Help?), but mostly, I guess to be honest the subject that interests me most is myself. How pathetic to admit!

How's that for a list. I'm also a biracial hispanic and white, thirty year old woman from a middle class household with family roots in the conservative working-class. I'm an ex-Catholic. I'm a college graduate and a commuter and an urban professional. I'm a working mom and somewhat liberal politically.

So put all that together and somehow I'm talking about identity here. Who do I want to be, to identify with, and what do I want to do, and do I really have the freedom to make the choice? Given the circumstances, and the timing, and supposing I even can do what I would have to do do get the PhD that I want (which I haven't discussed, yet), would it even get me what I am looking for in the end? Or is there maybe another, simpler, more direct route to what I want that doesn't go anywhere near a PhD?

Wouldn't it be funny if I could get self-respect and happiness BEFORE I ever get a PhD? I am assuming I will get one someday if I continue to want one, because at some point the practical realities will change (I will have more money and more time and less debt) and at that point, my strong desire will come to the forefront.

I'm not really much closer to an answer, but at least I wrote another long blog post!

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