Saturday, February 06, 2010

Riding the rails

Spent the day riding the MAX around the greater urban area and thinking about what comes next. Grad school and debt, or hopping back into the job market debt free.

Grad school is an oddly attractive option. On Friday my cultural history professor handed back a perfect A+ on a twelve-page paper that I had been worrying about. It's the third perfect paper I've cranked out among a number of lesser but acceptable plain-Jane A's. I'm also on the Dean's List now, which is an odd place to be given that I nearly flunked out of the university the first time around.

(verse on the train)

And that's what make's grad school so attractive. Because I can. Well that and I truly love history. Not just the reading and research; the critical analysis or the clever syntheses; but the knowledge itself and the ability to successfully engage people with it via the spoken or written word.

(The glass tube on the wall holds a bore sample drilled out in preparation for the construction the West Hills MAX tunnels and the subterranean train station seen in these photos. With its intertwined geology and evolutionary biology lessons, this is my favorite of the MAX stops.)

The problem with this course of action is that there are ten to fifteen deeply in debt PhDs fighting for each history professorship. Nearly all of them will never pay off their student debts or even practice in the profession that they have spent years readying themselves for. And it's not much better for public historians--i.e. historians who present history to the public via museum exhibits, public projects, television, etc...

Normally taking such a long-shot chance on landing a fulfilling job would be acceptable. Risk taking usually seems to pay off for me, and I've always landed on my feet, but in this case taking a chance would also mean taking on debt - lots and lots of debt. That's something that I've managed to avoid so far in life.

Writing remains as always a part of the future (one that the tea leaves of my life continue to argue for), but science fiction is such a poorly paid genre that even if everything continues to go well it would be several years before I could reasonably hope to support myself off it.

Therein is a major strike against grad school: it distracts from writing. My level of literary productivity has fallen through the floor since the start of this term with its three 400-level classes. I'm doing great as a scholar but it takes up so much time and mental focus as to be incompatible with serious sci-fi writing.

Part of me wants to take whatever drone job I can get after graduation in order to regain some financial security, rebuild my savings, and to be able to stay here in downtown Portland. Even a fairly modest salary would allow me to sustain a lifestyle acceptably focused on writing and traveling around the Pacific Northwest during my down time.

That being said the last round of trying to be homo economus didn't exactly work out very well. Taking on a wholly normal office job would probably leave me restless and looking at the horizon in six months or less.

There's also always the possibility of finding a reasonably exciting job with a BA. While there are a lot of people fighting for jobs here in PDX, but I do seem to present myself well to perspective employers.

So, much to think about and research during the next month.

Needing to think is a good a thing as I still haven't ridden the full Green Line yet. So far my favorite is the Yellow: North Portland has a nice Midwestern feel during the winter, and an idyllic 1950s Northern California atmosphere in the summer months.

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