Along with dumping Ryan, applying to graduate school seemed like the perfect solution for escaping the rut she was in—a way to recapture the excitement of college while also making a transition into a recognizable version of adulthood. She cultivated an image of herself as a young professor, a feminist film critic, perhaps. She would be a mentor and an inspiration to girls like herself, the quiet ones who’d sleepwalked their way through high school, knowing nothing except that they couldn’t possibly be happy with any of the choices the world seemed to be offering them.
Within a couple of weeks of starting the Ph.D. program, though, she discovered that she’d booked passage on a sinking ship. There aren’t any jobs, the other students informed her; the profession’s glutted with tenured old men who won’t step aside for the next generation. While the university’s busy exploiting you for cheap labor, you somehow have to produce a boring thesis that no one will read, and find someone willing to publish it as a book. And then, if you’re unusually talented and extraordinarily lucky, you just might be able to secure a one-year, nonrenewable appointment teaching remedial composition to football players in Oklahoma. Meanwhile, the Internet’s booming, and kids we gave C pluses to are waltzing out of college and getting rich on stock options while we bust our asses for a pathetic stipend that doesn’t even cover the rent.
Sarah could see that it was all true, but she didn’t really mind once she adjusted her expectations. Graduate school didn’t have to lead anywhere, did it? Wouldn’t it be worthwhile just to spend a couple of years reading and thinking, reawakening her mind from a long stupor induced by too many espresso drinks and lame one-liners? She could just get her master’s, maybe teach in a prep school after that, or join the Peace Corps, or even figure out a way to climb onto the Internet gravy train like everybody else.
What did her in was the teaching. Some people loved it, of course, loved the sound of their own voices, the chance to display their cleverness to a captive audience. And then there were the instructors like herself, who simply couldn’t communicate in a classroom setting. They made one point over and over with mind-numbing insistence, or else they circled around a dozen half-articulated ideas without landing on a single one. They read woodenly from prepared notes, or got lost in their muddled syntax while attempting to speak off the cuff. God help them if they attempted a joke. The faces looking back at them might be bored or confused or hostile, but mostly they were just full of pity. That’s what she got from her two semesters of teaching: enough pity to last her a lifetime.
Broke and demoralized, Sarah quit school and landed back at Starbucks, this time with a seriously diminished sense of herself and her future. She was a failure, a twenty-six-year-old woman of still-ambiguous sexuality who had just discovered that she wasn’t nearly as smart as she’d thought she was. I am a painfully ordinary person, she reminded herself on a daily basis, destined to live a painfully ordinary life.
“[He smiled and took her hand and pressed it. They got up and walked out of the gallery. They stood for a moment at the balustrade and looked at Trafalgar Square.] Cabs and omnibuses hurried to and fro, and crowds passed, hastening in every direction, and the sun was shining.”—Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham (via the-final-sentence)
“All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.”—Noam Chomsky