Monday, September 28, 2009

One Mountain Outpost
Why Would I Want To Leave Serenity?

"You old sorcerer!" the boy shouted up at the sky. "You knew the whole story. You even left a bit of gold at the monastery so I could get back to this church. The monk laughed when he saw me in tatters. Couldn't you have saved me from that?"

"No," he heard a voice on the wind say. "If I had told you, you wouldn't have seen the Pyramids. They're beautiful, aren't they?"

(from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho)

Well, I did it. I quit grad school. I suppose some people will consider it amazing and scary that I quit grad school, but honestly, I don't understand why I didn't quit sooner. Why? Well, for starters, the economy has made things so utterly terrible that a lot of departments can't afford to pay their grad students. I ended up having to take out a lot of student loans, even though I was TA'ing last semester.

Yes, wrap your mind around that. I paid to be a TA, one of the most unrewarding jobs ever invented.

I also quit working for my advisor and began working under another professor. This second professor ended up leaving Virginia Tech, giving a month's notice, and leaving me and two other grad students effectively without any way to finish their degrees. This meant that I would have to start over for a third time. As Yahtzee would say, "Bother that nonsense," except he didn't say "bother." Or "nonsense."

As sudden as it might seem, this happened over the course of...well, over the course of most of the time I was in grad school, anyway. I used to say, only half-jokingly (and now, not jokingly at all) that the best parts of grad school had nothing to do with grad school itself. There were really three main reasons why I stayed in this town after quitting. In no particular order, they are my choir, my swing dance group (and between those two, most of my friends here), and my girlfriend.

It's rather a belated and sophomoric realization, but I think I finally understand why someone ends up settling in one place. It's because the idea of staying in that one place NOW, when they find it (or notice it), seems much better than wandering more and possibly losing this one precious moment in time when things seem to click. This isn't the same way I loved Williamsburg; I loved Williamsburg because I went to college there, and I have no such filial relation here. No, I love Blacksburg in spite of everything that has happened, because there are times I've felt so alive it's almost frightening. And so, in a sense, Blacksburg itself was the fourth reason I stayed.

It hit me, one evening back in August, when I was exploring some of the side streets in Blacksburg. I drove up a hill to a golf course so I could turn around, and it just so happened that pretty much every direction looked out over the mountains and valleys in the summer twilight. I remember thinking, "I don't see how anyone could get jaded in this town," and drove down the hill to my church for choir practice. About thirty minutes after choir practice started, I had one of those 16-ton-weight moments where I realized I had been jaded, so incredibly jaded and depressed, squeezed dry. And now I wasn't. It had taken a cataclysmic event to do it, but it had woken me out of my stupor. Woodsmoke came drifting through the open window of the choir practice room and I realized that there was no other place I wanted to be, right now. In spite of the fear, the anxiety, the anger, and the uncertainty leading up to everything that is my life right now, I had come to love a place that I had only chosen after I started to live here.

I call it Serenity Syndrome:

Inara: I wasn't gonna stay [on Persephone], you know.
Mal: Yeah? Why's that?
Inara: Someone needs to keep Kaylee out of trouble. And all my things are here. Besides, why would I want to leave Serenity?
Mal: Can't think of a reason.

Me either.

"One prairie outpost, you are how I feel
Alone in a flatland between the dream and the real
The irony? Ask me, 'Where have you been?'
I don't know, I don't know
Because I don't know where to begin."

(I'm still flying.)

(P.S. There's some stuff from the end of last semester that I've been wanting to backpost. However, because it might get lost in the shuffle, I'm just going to post it, either this month or in early October. It's not gone, just late.)


Anonymous said...

Yes! Someone else who feels the same way I do!!

So, without trying to sound like spam, we started a new column on our site featuring fictionalized notes from grad students to undergrads and vice versa. I'd love to hear what you think - if you have time, I see you're backlogged - and, we would welcome any submissions from your or your readers.

11:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will - I am very disappointed in VT for giving you such a bad experience. Now I think less of the school. Your intended path in life will come to you eventually. Meanwhile, stay where you love what you have and continue to be thankful for the non-school related things in your life.
God bless.

2:18 AM  
Blogger Gryffilion said...

The behavior of the people I dealt with should not reflect too poorly on VT. To be honest, I had many positive experiences with professors and other staff to whom I went with my problems and complaints. The terrible economy is causing a lot of departments to cut student contracts and to bring in students without telling them there's no money to pay them. If the financial situation weren't so bad, I doubt this problem would be as pronounced as it.

Thank you for your words of encouragement.

2:49 PM  

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