The time has come… (part I- Academia)

The time has come, my soul has said, 
To write of many things, 
Of weights and scales and social acts, 
Of jealousy and rings. 
Of construction of realities 
And the madman’s right to sing. 

There comes a time when life no longer makes sense. All of the things that you have been working towards crumble when hit by a single word. These are the times of crisis- the quarter-life, the mid-life, and if you are me, the every couple of years-life crisis. I have grown accustomed to these crises, more or less, so that when hit with the final, soul-shattering, mind-blowing bullet I give little more reaction than a hot face, a hint at the possibility of tears and a few deep breaths. These are growing experiences.

For the past few months I have had it in my mind that I will apply to graduate school. In many ways it seems like the next logical step. After all, I love academia and I am rather successful in it. Despite the fact that I am no longer anything close to the traditional student I am still faced with the choice: grad school or work after graduation? I realized that both ideas terrify me, but grad school does so a little bit less than actually starting my career. (Yes, I have been “working” in my field for the past ten years, but the experiences that I have had as a volunteer and crew leader have been the experiences of working within someone else’s construct. To actually start out on my own and stick to my values in the career sense is still foreign territory to me.) I chose an okay graduate school that my grades and test scores (although the tests have yet to be taken) will surely gain me entrance, and I just thought that the next two years would be research and writing. Case closed, life is simple. I get to stay in Turkey, be in love, and thoroughly research my career field before getting my feet wet. However, something as simple as turning in a research proposal last week has made me question whether or not that will actually be helpful to me, and whether I am just doing it because I am scared of the real world.

The class that I had to submit a research proposal for was my communication and media course. We have been discussing how different types of communication are constructed and how the construction perpetuates the status quo. I wanted to do my research on billboards as an advertising agent that is created for specific places and times. I had what I thought were some pretty solid arguments, but when I submitted my proposal my professor informed me that my basic proposition was flawed: that in Istanbul people do not at all regulate billboard advertising. It is an honest enough, if embarrassing, mistake. But here is the thing: I don’t believe it is a mistake. Sure, there may not be formal groups protesting billboards, and there may not be city ordinances regulating the billboards, but I do believe that there is a link to billboard advertisement and the locale that they are placed beyond visibility, even in Istanbul. Perhaps the research is too large to undertake for one semester and I am not even interested by it, but there is still a strong possibility that I am right, or maybe I am wrong but the relationship between culture and billboard advertising in Istanbul is still worth exploring and understanding. However, my proposal was rejected, quite simply and easily. I find it ironic that the day my professor rejected my proposal was also the day that we were reading Foucault’s thoughts on discourse. He spoke of the limiting factors of commentary and the educational institution- how everything must say the same thing that has never been said before, and at the same time must say the new thing that has already been said. He speaks of the madmen, and how their ramblings are discarded. He speaks of all of the areas of discourse that we do not allow in our lives. This article had a very strong effect on me. It depressed me, and in the midst of that depression this final straw of rejection (which, lets be honest, is never easy to bear) wormed its way into me and made me realize that I am not actually “good” at academia. For years every thesis that I have made has been rejected. My instructors all tell me, in not so many words, “That is not the way the world is.” Usually I rework my writing to reflect a reality that has already been proven by research and that they understand. Sometimes I don’t, and I get points for the style and logic of my paper even though they disagree with the main premis of the article.

What I realized last night is that I can function in academia. I can play the game. But coming back to school after 10 years in the real world I realize that it is just a game. It is just repeating the same things that have been known for too long. It is just accepting the reiteration of ideas that are rarely new, and any alternative viewpoint is not accepted. My viewpoint is never accepted. I am tired of being told that the world is nothing like what I see and feel. I am tired of being told that my experiences are not valid. I am tired of being told that I am the madman and my voice is fun but useless. I am, most of all, tired of having to hide myself and my opinions in order to be considered valid. Is this what academia is, and do I belong here?

I am not making any quick decisions. Possibly I will get over this in a month and keep working on those grad school applications. I will spend two years researching my field, ignoring the things that I think actually matter in order to get published, and I will find it worthwhile. But maybe, just maybe, there are other things that are more important in life than research. Maybe it is time to really start working towards the things that I value. Maybe, I am realizing 10 years later that it is not that I got into the wrong major, but that there is no major for me. I will always be grateful that I am lucky enough to experience college. I have had the time to remain infantile and to thoroughly question the world. I have been exposed to many theories and schools of thought that have definitely shaped my worldview. However, maybe enough is enough. Maybe it is time to protest the acceptance and strike out without a higher degree. 

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