Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Art of Rejection

I received another notice of rejection today. Rejection letters from universities are such unique messages: "While we intend to remain professional, we cannot ignore your presence entirely and must acknowledge you. At the same time, however, we deem you unworthy to attend our institution and feel we must inform you politely. This is our feeble attempt at softening the blow."

I decided last year that I would go back to school, understanding at a basic level that it would mean that some of my ego would have to be chipped away. From what I understand, that is the very nature of postgraduate education: it is the quintessence of the rule which states without equivocation that no matter how much one excels, there will always be someone more excellent. Even the greatest physicist of his era will read the work of Newton or Einstein and be humbled by men who appear without equal.

Yet, at the same time, that is one of the most potent reasons for my decision to begin a career in academia: I wish to utilize my mind in the same way as those thinkers whose ideas, conceived in centuries or millenia past, still resonate in my life today. The most effective way to do that is to stand on those same shoulders... and a $100,000 education just happens to be the tradionally acceptable way to do so, and I find that I can no longer divide my mind between surviving and living and thinking the way I want to. Holding down a job which has no meaning to me and diverting my attention between maintaining that post and aspiring to pursue an entirely different career is more than I can bear.

But to do it that way, you have to compete. You have to take the whole of your education, all of your questions and your revelations and your ideas and compress them into a few pages of qualifications and aspirations. Then you have to hope that the professor who reads your few pages didn't spill coffee on his favorite shirt that morning, or someone didn't cut him off on the way to the office, and when he sees your pages he isn't inclined to crumple them up toss them out the window at some of the idiots he has to teach that morning. You have to hope that he measures you favorably with 4.0 students with honors that won't fit on one page and more extracurricular activities than Leonardo da Vinci in his prime. And then, you have to hope they can give you money.

All of that understood, you have to expect rejection from some quarters. You have to be prepared to receive those "We found someone better" letters which you hold and read several times to be sure you didn't miss some praise or loophole in the two sentences that comprise the single paragraph they wrote to you. You're never prepared, not entirely. If you were, you wouldn't care one way or the other, and in that case why did you apply in the first place?

That's when you take a deep breath and tell yourself that you had to do this. The crushing doubt and anxiety that accompany the rejection - by-products of the years of your life you critically review and find wanting - were inevitable, and you would have it no other way. Because you realize that the only true things come out of extending yourself into unknown and dangerous territory, of exposing all of yourself to someone or something that could crush you. You think that rejection should be a common theme in everyone's life, because otherwise there would be no great loves, or truly inspired works of art, or ideas which drive the world another way. All of those things require the strength to give up control over your tiny little life in the hopes that there might be something more.

None of it is true, of course. You would do anything to avoid rejection and you wish that you'd never sent this goddamn letter in the first place because what was it worth? Just more frustration and some money out of your pocket for them to tell you that you weren't good enough. But you sit back, sigh, think about your next step, and then you take it. What else can you do?

You know, I find so often that I really hate learning the meaning of old sayings. They're always hard lessons, if they're good sayings. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Political Dissonance

I have only recently begun to think of myself as a person in a political sense – that is, a person for whom certain decisions are made by people who have no idea who I am. And I noticed that as soon as I began to think that way, I became acutely aware that actions were being carried out by these people in my name – with my tax dollars, for one, and also with the implicit assumption that I have condoned and currently assent to every single decision they make.

So when I don’t agree with them, the cognitive dissonance is staggering.

I didn't always feel this way about political decisions, so it's not an easy thing for me to describe. But of course I'm going to try. I'm an English major, after all.

So: I live in a society which supports me in ways I do not fully comprehend. My days are spent for the most part without the slightest consideration of death or suffering, and from what I understand, that condition is actually quite rare in the history of human experience. I try to appreciate that, but I do a poor job at it.

This society is upheld by all of its rules, institutions, and government, built one upon another. I don't agree with certain rules, but I follow most of them because they're necessary to prevent de-stabilization of society and because I hate being punished for things. I don't like certain institutions, like the Texas courts, for instance, which kill people on a monthly basis, but I do appreciate others, like the Tropicana company, which makes excellent orange juice. The same applies to my government and its various branches and representatives, with a notable exception - those are elected and are in the position to change both my society's laws and its institutions.

A company acts on the will of its executives, and I have no control over their actions - which, though often aggravating, is acceptable because I also feel no responsibility for those actions. When my government enacts a war and commits what I consider to be atrocities in the pursuit of this war, I cannot separate myself from that decision and that action. It was carried out with my assent, because I follow the laws of America and benefit from its institutions. And this hurts my heart in a way that I am not accustomed to.

So I have recently been thinking that I should do more to express this conflict, and this guilt, and this surprising anger. My wife is very good at expressing these things, so I'm learning. When you spend most of your life as a detached observer, it's not easy to join the fray. But I'm learning.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

An Introduction

Anyone who has read “Sirens of Titan” will think that it was exceptionally presumptuous to title a blog as I did, and of course they would be absolutely correct. My intention, however, was not to claim ownership over a confluence of all correct ideas (and I doubt the U.S. Patent Office will help me in that regard), but rather to create a place for myself to share my ideas with others, and hopefully find a variety of viewpoints in return. Chrono-synclastic infundibula as Vonnegut defines them are volatile, even dangerous places, but I believe that anyone who can reach them will come out the funnel a better person (if perhaps a little bit more disarranged). So welcome, and I hope that we can both agree to avoid thinking about agreement for a little while as I ramble on.