Friday, September 23, 2011

Chapter 62: In Which I Rant About College

So I'm in grad school. Mills College. I'm in grad school because I want better job prospects. I go to Mills because I got rejected by my other two choices. This was a choice I made. Its astoundingly expensive and I had to take out mad loans to do it. Fine. I'm told the twenty grand I owe (after cutting every possible corner) is modest by loan standards. The economic prospects for my generation are so dead that everybody's in the same boat anyway. All of us who aren't inheriting money are going to be working two jobs for the rest of our lives. When I asked the people at the school about grants and that sort of thing, they told me there was nothing out there. The whole published author deal didn't mean anything to them; they let me know pretty firmly that it was my privilege to be there. Fine. Some people are just hard to impress.

Is it just possible to eat the food?

Today was the convocation/inauguration of the new president. I'm told she is the first black president in the history of the school, which means just as much as it does any time a black person becomes president of something. This is the post-racial America, meaning we are now aware that having people of color at the head of racist systems has little significance. African nations learned that a long time ago, by the way.

Anyway. In case you don't know what a convocation is, its where the trustees, alumnae and graduating class of the college are shuttled around to different events and have this sort of "pre-graduation" ceremony. At least, that's what I got out of it. There was tons of catered food for the Mills community, wine and exotic foreign foods like quesadillas. One stipulation: you have to RSVP. To RSVP, you have to be in the procession. To be in the procession, you need the cap and gown. To afford the cap and gown, you have to make far more money than I do. Sure, plenty of students got around the food situation. I chose not to, as I kind of stand out (only black male student on campus, as far as I know) and don't like dealing with lots of bullshit. It feels surreal to me that the “Mills community” taking part of the festivities is mostly comprised of rich people people who haven't seen a lecture hall in twenty years. Because I can't afford it, I am not allowed to eat a sandwich next to them.

Nobody's fault but mine. I chose to be in the academy and reap the career benefits. I chose to watch them eat right in front of me.

It's hard not to be bitter sometimes. What I find interesting is that the staff at the school is aware of the dynamics. Of course they are; it's a women's college in the Bay. Everyone in the Bay is "aware," the question is whether they care or not. Because they are aware of it, that makes everything okay. “Yes, this is a wealthy, exclusive campus in the middle of the inner-city. All the workers are people of color and the student body is white. It's awful and problematic.” And they leave it at that.

The first time I ever came to Mills, security literally trailed me across the whole campus. Like, right up to the admissions department. Like most servants around campus, they were people of color who internalized certain rules about who should be allowed. One thing I find aggravating about racism (as opposed to the non-aggravating parts, I guess) is how infantilizing it is. There's a reason they call us “boy” in the South. Anybody who looks at me can see I'm in my late 20s. Do you seriously think I'm coming here to fuck with teenaged white girls? Seriously? Never mind the fact that the only available English faculty I talked to, when asked what opportunities were available for poverty-level students, said maybe I should consider not going to grad school.

Which is fine. Again, I chose to come here. It's just hard to be in such a place and not feel like I've fallen somehow. There was a time I took what I wanted and didn't care whether someone said 'Hands off the food.' There was a time I got a full ride to a school based on the quality of my work, a quality which has multiplied exponentially in the last few years. The older I get, the more inclined I feel to follow rules. Today I went to People's Park and joined the other poor people in the Food Not Bombs line. A wonderful, beautiful and encouraging way to spend the afternoon. That food was free. I pay to go to Mills and feel alienated.

And that's fine. They are who they are. I've looked at the prospects of teaching college when all this is done. After all, it's a job and I'm qualified. Whatever enables me to keep writing. Would I then be the asshole telling a hungry person they can't eat?

And I know it's college. I know everybody else figured this out years ago and dropped ut to go ride trains. I know you'd get the same bullshit at Stanford or anywhere else. There's a certain amount of responsibility that comes with self-alienation. People who choose to come to academia should not bitch because its elitist. People who vote should not complain when the politicians do things they don't like, such as escalating the Middle Eastern wars. Man, you surrendered your agency to this person, sothere you are. And this is the last time I'll bitch about my own choices. Many essays have been written about the plantation-style aspect of higher education. I don't want to write another one. I just want a fucking sandwich.


I want to be a detail-oriented writer. I'm not saying I am. It's what I want. Sometimes I get so caught up in writing that I skip all the juicy little things that make a world come alive and just jump into the plot.

Which is why I need to go to a jazz concert.

The characters in my novel like jazz. I don't, but they do. They're currently at a jazz festival. When I think of jazz, I think of Count Basie. But when I go on the SF jazz festival website, I see all kinds of things. All the different musical genres blended together, which I guess is the essence of jazz. Certaibly not just the New Orleans or New York or Chicago stuff that developed in the 20th century.

One of my sisters from IWL is doing a show with Brenda Wong Aoki next month. Brenda's performance consists of Noh-inspired storytelling, accompanied by jazz/traditional Japanese taiko drum. I can't even begin to fathom what this looks like, but it sounds awesome. I need to know what modern jazz looks like. Where it happens. Who goes to see it. What do the musicians look like? What is the between-song repartee? It's time to learn some specifics. That's my next field trip for this book.

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