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A Can of Black Beans and a Prolonged Adolescence

January 28, 2013

Saturday night over dinner I had one of those moments of self-reflection.   It was the weekend so my roommates were out engaging in various social activities.  Home alone, I was eating dinner: a can of black beans, prepared with salt and garlic, and a tomato salad- you know, a few diced tomatoes, a sprinkle of salt and some lemon juice.  Whilst enjoying my simple meal, it all of a sudden hit me: some of my friends and other people my age are off getting married, buying houses, having babies.  And here I am, Saturday night, chilling in my shared apartment, eating dinner by myself, and it was of course, random, quick and easy food–the sort of thing you make to feed yourself but wouldn’t share with a guest.  In total: I was a college student.

It was one of those moments when you are struck by how different your life is from what it could be; a few different choices and I could be living right now in a home I could my call my own, maybe even with a family.  Now, I am only twenty three and I feel very young—I am not saying I should or need to have a settled family life by now—only simply that I could.   It is strange to have such a different life from the other naughty princesses.  Snow Whore and Cinderslut are married, and although Sleeping Booty isn’t, she is off working a real job in the real world.   I know the twenty-something condition affects us all in different ways, but sometimes I feel like I am the only one of us that is still in an in-between state: neither a crazy college student nor a self-sufficient adult.

This moment of reflection brought back a conversation between my thesis advisor and myself that occurred in the fall of my senior year of undergrad, two years ago now.  In that conversation my adviser had, in a nice but blunt way, urged me away from going to graduate school.  What he described was akin to what I was feeling Saturday night: ‘If you get your PhD,’ he had said, ‘you’ll end up in your late twenties- you will still be in school.  Your friends will be getting jobs and getting married, but you will still be a student under someone else’s authority: a kind of prolonged adolescence.’  He then went on to describe the unlikelihood that even if I were to follow through and get my PhD that there would be a job available for me.  It was a tough conversation.  But I have realized since then that what he said was true.  Sometimes graduate school does feel like a prolonged adolescence.  In many ways, the details of my life are much the same now as they were three or four years ago.  I live in a little room in a shared house.  I eat whatever I want, whenever I want.  I don’t have a husband or even a boyfriend.  I have no free time.  I am a student.

Now.  Perhaps I have set up a case that seems depressing, and, indeed, when my advisor outlined such a life it did sound depressing.  But really, what it comes down to, is that I get to do the things I love.  I spend my days learning dead languages, and working on my German.  I read Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas—sometimes even in the original.  I get to work with texts and ideas that have been left untouched for years, if not centuries.  If the exterior of my life is dull, mundane, adolescent, the interior is rich, varied, and fulfilling.

So when I mentioned my revelation before of how different my life could be, it wasn’t exactly that I was longing for that life—although sometimes I envy its comforts.  It was instead simply a moment of clarity. I could see the choices of my life lined up, side by side, with other choices I could have made.  Somewhere along the line, I picked black beans over salmon dinner, and books over family nights around the table.  Now I am not saying having both things is impossible, indeed, I do hope that my future will contain a little of both worlds.  But I realized that for this moment I had made a choice.

I wish I could go back and tell my thesis adviser: he was right about graduate school– but I don’t regret it, not for a second.  Somehow I don’t think I ever will.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2013 3:22 pm

    i slightly resent that you think I have my life together. The fact that I could be self sufficient and am choosing not to be is just further proof of how absurdly in between my life still is. But i feel you, school is super duper in between-even when it is awesome it’s still hard to feel like you’re moving forward. good thing you love what you do so moving forward doesn’t have to be your focus. enjoy it!

  2. January 30, 2013 4:27 am

    To use a super cliched quote, “If you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life.” And I will be unemployed in a few months time, so my life can’t be considered totally together yet either. 🙂

  3. thelittlemerskank permalink*
    January 31, 2013 9:21 am

    I love you both– and don’t worry, I know everyone’s lives are not really all put together. I know that if it seems that way it is an allusion– we all do have twenty-something conditions after all! I think I just meant that, in some ways, my life seems the most unchanged from the days of undergrad. But, hey, then again- I do live in England now, and by this time next year I will be teaching little undergrads myself!

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