What’s been bugging me lately

Uchhh, it’s so hot today. We’re in a heat wave, y’know. The only positive about it being so hot is that I don’t mind getting some physical work done because I sweat no matter what I do. Get all the sweating over with on a hot day, that’s the idea, so on a more reasonably temperatured day I can stay cooler. Today this so-called physical work entailed assembling a few bookshelves. Organized Living is going out of business, so everything in the store is at least fifty percent off. I dropped by today and to my disappointment most of the good stuff was gone–dumb of me to forget that other people might also notice the sale signs plastered all over the windows–and the nicer bookcases were too big to fit into my little studio, but I did get a few small shelving units for a quite decent price. I’ll take a photo when I get my apartment cleaned up a little more. Alas, my grad-school-induced fate seems to be collecting bookcases… I’ve now got five more in my apartment than I did when I moved in.

It was quite nice, actually, to spend the day doing something other than school reading. I do very much need to get some work done today, so that’s where my evening will be going, but I’ve been so irritable about having to read over the summer that it’s really… well, more than anything else, it’s just making me less fun to be with. Not that I’m usually so surrounded by people, but still. I actually threw a tantrum the other night, over the phone, to Erik, because I was just so frustrated. I told him–and this is how I was feeling–that I hated grad school and that I didn’t care about history anymore, and that it was all stupid. And, I said, the worst thing of all was that I couldn’t even say honestly that I’d made a mistake, because I couldn’t think of anything else I would rather be doing. That is, I couldn’t think of what I’d rather be doing that would support me; I could think of plenty of things I would do if I had the time, and I listed them for him: baking things and sharing them with people, spending time with my friends–and with him–and with my family, working on my website, reading books for fun and then thinking about them, redecorating my apartment, and just spending time by myself, thinking. I said that’s how it used to be, and I missed it. I’ve gotten too good at what I do now; I’ve become too analytical (not to say I’m good at it, but I do it) and I don’t think it’s good to go through life like that, analyzing everything. I said life is to be jumped into and you go with it as it happens, and you can’t not think but you can’t analyze everything either, and you should just let your mind go on its own and do what it wants. I told him that I feel like I’ve forgotten how to do that, I’ve lost that ability that used to be one of the best things about me, and I hate that and it makes me angry and sad and depressed. And of course the worst of it is that it’s not even for a good cause, because I don’t even like what I’m doing.

I said I didn’t think I could ever be a good historian, because it didn’t look like I was ever going to be able to write anything important or interesting. But I didn’t even care, because I didn’t want to be a historian anymore, and I didn’t even care about history any longer. All the history books I read have started to sound the same, and it seems like all anybody cares about is making the kind of argument that will make a splash; it’s all about keeping your reputation in academia, fitting yourself for the highest rungs within the narrow confines of what scholars deem significant or interesting. And it was all so stupid because I was completely unmotivated to get any work done because it didn’t seem to matter anymore.

Erik listened very patiently while I ranted and whined. After a while I paused for breath (and probably I’d run out of different ways to whine and things to whine about). So Erik, bless his heart, starts telling me, in what seemed to my cranky self to be a most inarticulate engineer-like way, about the history of psychology in China. He said that some time ago there were only about four or so psychology PhDs in the whole of China. Because no one cared about that field; it didn’t fit into the Chinese way of thinking, or something, so there were only four. And now there are a lot more, because people are starting to understand that this is an important subject and it ought to be taken seriously. And I was still very grouchy and wanted to ask, “So what?” But then–you can’t say, after all, that I haven’t been trained well–my brain started working in spite of itself, and I asked him, bluntly, “So what you’re saying is that I should just study what I want to study, and research what I want to research, and to hell with everyone else?” And he sort of waffled and said he wasn’t sure why he mentioned it at all, but I decided that that was what he was trying to tell me. And right away I felt less cranky; I felt much better, and it took a historical anecdote to do that. Damn.

After we got off the phone I was still feeling a bit rebellious, so I took my time about getting started on my work again, and ended up not getting very much sleep that night. But when I woke up the next morning my heart seemed lighter than it had been in a while, so I guess my brain had turned over what we’d said during the night, and decided that Erik was right: I should just study what I want to, and pay no mind to anyone who tries to make me over to better suit the silly academic world. I’ve always known, and frequently told other people, that we should all just follow our true inclinations, because that’s the only way to be happy, and anyway if we don’t they’ll come out eventually. But it’s hard to remember your own advice sometimes. I’ve known since I got here that academia is screwy, but I kept telling myself that I had to understand how to fit the mold before I could break the mold. I guess trying to fit it just got too tiring, so now I’m rebelling against it. I’d say let’s hope this doesn’t ruin my career, but honestly, I don’t care if it does, because so far I haven’t received any sign to indicate that fitting into that mold is something I want to be doing for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, while I’m feeling less trapped than I was, the real problems haven’t been solved. I still think academia is stupid, but if I want to make a living in it I do have to conform to it somewhat, and that also means taking exams and doing assignments and reading books I don’t want to. And I’m still not so sure I’ll ever be able to write anything worthwhile. So while I do seem to miraculously be able to breathe again and live life without analyzing quite so much, I’m still stuck, pretty much. Short of dropping out, I don’t know what I can do about that.

I’m editing a ton of photos right now from my visit home, so I’ll be posting those soon. Check my site later–say, after nine pm.

The site has now been updated with four more photo albums. [links broken]

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com.]