Last Thursday my mom e-mailed me to ask whether I’d made a decision on grad school, so instead of e-mailing her back, I called her after work on my way to the library. This is (roughly) how it went.
Mom: Have you decided on grad school yet?
Me: Not so much.
Mom: Well, you only have eleven days.
Me: I am aware of this.
Mom: You’d better make a decision.
Me: No, really?
Mom: I don’t have any advice for you.
Me: You know what, this really isn’t helping. I’ll call you back when I get out of the subway.
I called her back when I got to the library, but I wasn’t sure if they had a “no cell phones” policy inside, so I stood in the lobby leaning against the railing on the wheelchair ramp for the rest of this conversation. She told me that grad school was a very practical option. A teaching degree would be useful in the future even if I decided not to be a classroom teacher. She reminded me that the job market sucks harder than a black hole and that if I chose grad school I could at least be sure that I would be doing something next year. She also reminded me that it wasn’t a lifetime commitment—which is depressing in a way, but it’s also a relief, because long-term decisions are more daunting than short-term ones. She told me that I shouldn’t be basing my decision on money at this stage.
I argued with almost everything she said: Yes, a teaching degree would be useful for multiple reasons. I know that the job market sucks but that alone is not a good reason to go to grad school next year. I shouldn’t be spending that much money on something that I’m not 100% sure about, or even 80% sure about. Being in debt makes me a prisoner of society. I’m not necessarily going to give away my possessions and go travel the world seeking truth, but I like having the option. If I were chained to a job and a loan repayment plan it would make things like that a lot harder to do. I don’t want to do what’s practical. I am scared to death of boringness and convention. I don’t want to be a “real adult.” I don’t like the system and I don’t want to work with the system. I’m tired of all the stupid rules and all the bullshit in life that I have to wade through before I can do anything that I actually want to do. It takes the joy and spontaneity out of everything.
She told me that I was just like my little brother who had told her that evening that he was going to throw himself out his bedroom window because his life was “no fun” (prompted by Mom having signed him up for a cartooning class on one afternoon during his spring break). I said maybe he had a point. If life sucks no matter what, then why bother? Then she counted up my bonds while I was on the phone. (I hadn’t been aware that I had bonds.) Everything taken into account, it turns out I’m technically only in debt about $2,000, if I wanted to be flat broke right now. I had to admit that the money wasn’t nearly as much of an issue as I’d thought it had been. She said that I could at least give grad school a try, and if I didn’t like it, I could figure out what I wanted to do from there.
Afterward, I thought it over. My mother’s reasons were very reasonable, whereas mine were emotional and instinctive. It was helpful to have someone argue for one option so that I could argue for the other one, instead of trying to compare both at once. I think the biggest convincing factor might have been the money. If I can afford it, then why not give it a shot? Worst case scenario, I discover while student teaching next spring that it really isn’t for me, and I try to find something else I might want to do. And however angry I get at society, completely dropping out just isn’t a realistic option for me, especially since I have no concrete idea of how I would want to do that.
I went online and confirmed my acceptance after work on Monday. I feel kind of like I’ve lost a battle, and half of me has—I was bound to feel like that either way. But I’m content with the decision. I have a future, at least for now, and I have dreams, too: I’m still trying to figure out how to make the two correspond.