Wednesday, June 25, 2008

From the deep freeze

About half a year ago (yikes...) I started some entries that never made it through to posting. Here's one of them that I think is sort of interesting as a snapshot of my growing-up angst:

"My mom and I don't talk about the big narrative arc of my life much. She knows I'm interested in pursuing arts, which was my rationale for staying in the same place after I graduated in the spring, but as far as the my other options went, eh. I kept them to myself. Mostly because there were so many other options, the bulk of which were indistinguishable to me in terms of the potential career satisfaction they'd offer. Cause, really, who the hell was I to know?

"Other options," obviously, have grown increasingly important in my life of late, particularly over the past summer. I've got the Ph.D. program to think about--for which I was basically guaranteed admission today, according to Advisor Guy ("not that we're corrupt or anything")--and I'm more and more enthusiastic about pursuing a career in academia. I don't know how I feel about this in the context of my musical aspirations. My job and my auditing of classes just drains me so much, which, along with a lack of practice space and a busy teacher, has really put the brakes on my big plans for how much of myself I was going to devote to music.

That's where it ended, as I am wont to leave my thoughts incomplete. (Bad habit.)

Where I was going to go with that was a phone conversation I'd had with my mom that prompted the writing of the post. In the conversation I told her that I was applying to a Ph.D. program, and for the first time I was confronted with the reality that my mom has little idea what that meant, either as a practical matter (how many years it takes, will I have enough money to live on) or what sort of career path such a course of study routes people into. It was a little weird, correcting her that it's more likely to take six to eight years rather than three or four, and needing to specify that (for all intents and purposes) I'm pretty much bound to becoming a professor afterward (taking good luck on the job market as a given, knock wood).

I think the weird/vaguely queasy vibe I got from the conversation stems from two things. One, it really drove home that my mom and I are quite distant from each other; we make pleasant, small-potatoes talk on the phone, but we're neither of us the most forthcoming people. She has little idea of the specifics of my life or opinions, and vice-versa. I don't think we've ever been entirely comfortable around one another. So, my announcing to her, from her perspective from out of nowhere, that I'm going to get a Ph.D. (when I was supposed to be pursuing this arts career), and her supportive but slightly bemused reaction, underscored that basic wall that's between us and likely always will be.

Two, building on the first thing: it seems that if I enter this profession of which my mom has pretty much no knowledge, despite her being a well-educated person herself, well, it just seems like there really will be no "going home again" (even if such a "home" of reciprocity never truly existed). I mean, perhaps this separation happened to some extent when I went off to an elite/elitist college for my undergrad degree, but it didn't seem that different on the surface--my mom went to college. She skipped two grades when she was a kid, so notwithstanding familial constraints, I'm sure she could have gotten in to as good a school as I did (paying for it would have been another matter, in the days before generous financial aid packages). Heck, she has a master's degree, so she still out-credentials me. But I can't shake the sense that this Ph.D. deal is going to make any efforts at "getting" each other quite a bit tougher from now on.

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Reductionism who in the what now?