14 February 2012

I Want a Divorce! or, how doing a PhD is like a (bad) relationship*

I sit here, on St. Valentine's Abomination ... I mean, Day, and realize that my date is actually my dissertation.  And I'm not even writing it.  I'm revising it, which is far, far more painful.   Thus, I reflect on the fact that doing a PhD is very much like being in a bad relationship.

Sure, it starts of all wondrous and shiny.  You spy a lovely academic field across the room and introduce yourself.... "Oh, Ethnomusicology... let us go off and make sweet music together."

And at the beginning, it is magical.  Getting to know all about Ethnomusicology, "There's stuff other than the music?  Amazing!"  And with Ethnomusicology on your arm, you are the envy of all your friends, stuck in offices working in finance, law, and medicine.  They covet your life, "You get to listen to music all day!  Music is awesome!"  Those other professions never even tempt you . . . you only have eyes for your beloved Ethnomusicology.

As the relationship gets deeper, you enjoy Ethnomusicology even more.  You bask in the sensual pleasures of new musics from different lands that offers more than just a one-night-stand with a strange academic field might offer.  True love is much more satisfying than mere ear-candy.

And then the relationship becomes more routine, hearing the same old songs, dancing the same old moves - after all, you need to settle down and pick a specialty eventually.  You see your friends and their jobs that pay them "money" and which buys them things like "cars" and "houses."**  You wonder what it might be like with those other jobs, if the novelty of their pleasures could be as sweet.  But you tell yourself that mere money and stuff can't match the satisfaction you get from your relationship with Ethnomusicology.  Those moments of true satisfaction can't be replaced.

But four, five, or even six years down the road, the relationship has turned sour.  You can't get Ethnomusicology's nagging voice out of your head. "THIS WRITING IS CRAP!  WRITE ANOTHER DRAFT!"  You don't go out anymore, you're chained to your former beloved.  You sit at your desk, wishing you could be free of the Annie Wilkes that you freely chose.  Ethnomusicology's touch has withered, and the pleasures are only occasional and routine.  There are days that you just can't stand to look at Ethnomusicology, let alone touch it.  You crave for a job crunching numbers in some financial tower downtown, wearing a suit every day, if only the pain would end, and a paycheque will have a couple of extra zeros in it.

Finally, you realize that the only way to ever be free again is to end it.  Hours and hours of paper work go into making sure that Ethnomusicology will never ever have such a hold on you again.  You examine the documents for loopholes and make sure that every i is dotted and t is crossed.  Then, you finally survive your cross-examination, submit your reams of evidence, and when it is over, you receive your get*** and are free from Ethnomusicology's evil hold, once and for all.

Until you try to write your book.


* Note to academics:  My actual dissertation title is far shorter than the title of this blog.

** Or "condos" if you live in Toronto.

*** -a get is a Jewish divorce document.

7 February 2012

Berlin: The Land of Transience

One of the things that has become perfectly clear to me in the two months that I've been in Berlin is how Berlin is pretty much a temporary place for many people here, and for most of the people that I meet.

Being an ex-pat, you meet a lot of other ex-pats, and one of the first questions that gets bandied around is "how long are you here for."  For some it's a few days, others a few weeks, and still others have been here for years and are still not really Berliners.  But, truth be told, there aren't very many real Berliners in Berlin (besides the donut, but they're not called Berliners....they're Pfannkuchen).

Berlin is a rather odd European capital.  Someone told me when I'd just gotten here that it's the only European capital that had a worse economy than the rest of the country.  Berlin is poor.  And not like Toronto which boasts quite a wealthy populace.  Berlin's populace is poor.  And because the populace is poor, the cost of living is low, which keeps the salaries low.  And yet, foreigners and Germans keep coming to Berlin, and leaving again. 

It's this lack of permanence here that really strikes me.  My friends in Toronto are settling down and buying property and having kids, and getting long-term jobs.  The friends that I've met here are in a completely different space, whether they're 25, or 45.  Everything is transitory, and people are constantly looking for a place to live for the next little while because the last short-term rental ran out.  It's a strange feeling to know that friends that you make one week more than likely will be gone soon.  Or you'll be gone soon. 

Just some thoughts on a cold Tuesday night.