Tuesday, April 6, 2010

an interlude

i often find myself on the east side of campus, with some awkward amount of time to kill between events over there - say, somewhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours - that is just not enough time to warrant going all the way back to my office on the west side. yesterday was one such day, so i gravitated to where i always gravitate to -  the bookstore.

i love bookstores. when i walk in, a calm and yet excited - or maybe hopeful is a better word - feeling settles over me. calm because i am surrounded by my primary comfort source: books. i know, somewhere, hidden on the shelves, are the books that are most like old friends, that the very title of makes me smile. hopeful because i am reminded, again, that the possibilities for new learning and growth are endless, that there is always so much more knowledge and beautiful prose out there that i haven't read yet, that there's some other new best friend out there, waiting for me. at the OSU bookstore, first comes the entry way displays: staff recommendations, top sellers for indie bookstores, and the bargain table. this always warrants a quick overview. then i head to my favorite aisles in general books. is there a new, absolutely perfect tree or flower identification book out? new hiking guides, travel guides, maps that are calling my name? on to forestry/ecology, then gardening & quilting, then religion, a quick glance at some puzzle or music books, quite a while in history, then literature for the finale. sometimes i'll wander through the kids' section. and, even when not textbook shopping, i always head to the text book section. i always browse the forestry aisle (yep, the book i want is here - silviculture and ecology of western forests - but not a used copy yet; will check back later), but apart from that, i mostly check out what the undergraduate literature courses are reading this year. i check to see that i have a sufficient percentage of them, i look for new and interesting titles, and if there's a classic i need cheap, i'll grab a used copy. this year i'm pleased to see lots of familiar faces - slaughterhouse-five is still on the list, for example - and some impressive new choices - fight club, for example. (nicely done, prof!)

yesterday, though, as i'm going through my normal routine and circuit around the bookstore, it suddenly hits me: what am i doing? not at this moment, in the bookstore, but in a general way: what the fuck am i doing with my life?

what i am interested in, what makes me happy, what i enjoy and get fulfillment out of is perfectly represented by my wander through the bookstore: different places. trees & flowers. quilting. spirituality in its many forms/ideas. music. history. and most importantly, books. books, books, books. writing and reading. prose and poetry. fiction and non-fiction - all of it.

why does this matter? and why am i writing about it? because i am currently a phd student in applied economics. what is applied economics?  well, here's what it says on our web page:

The curricula provide, at both master's and doctoral levels, a foundation of rigorous courses in economic theory, and econometrics and other quantitative methods. Areas of concentration are available in international trade, public health economics, resource and environmental economics, and (for the MA/MS only) transportation economics. Students employ economic theories, principles, and methods to examine real-world problems with significant attention to data and institutions.

let's see - do you see books in there? trees? quilts? beauty and the search for meaning? no, me neither.

yet that's what i'm doing. and that's why i haven't blogged lately. why the quilt books i check out of the library languish on the end table until, a couple of testy overdue email notices later, i reluctantly return them. why the trails i want to hike again have remained unsullied by my boots. why i haven't been to my inspiration point since february. because i am studying, continually, a subject that is as foreign to me as chinese and that provides me with no passion, no inspiration - in fact it sucks out my soul.

yesterday morning, before this, i sat in my microeconomic theory class and worked on the  problem on the right. that was it. that's what we do.

in just 10 short weeks i have two exams to take: on june 18th from 9am to 1pm four of us will solve 6 of these microeconomic theory problems. if we pass, we continue on to study - hopefully - something genuinely interesting. if we fail, we can try one more time before leaving the program. on june 16th, from 9am to 1pm, is another exam that will be even worse, if possible - over quantitative methods.

i'm not trying to complain too much about being a student and having to take qualifying exams. everyone has to do it. i choose to come back to school, after all - no one twisted my arm. obviously i do find some aspects of economics interesting. i'm just realizing that i will have very little time and inspiration to write between now and june 18th, may have very little soul left after that, and i expect it will take me a while to recover.

and, that i'm still trying to figure out what i'm doing with my life. and these mini-identity crises always take up so much damn time. 

"Can one know one's self? Is one ever somebody? I don't know anything about it any more. It now seems to me that one changes from day to day and that every few years one becomes a new being."
--George Sand


  1. So, becoming a librarian of some kind was/is not an option? seems like a no-brainer to me! You'd be awesome at that. Not that you wouldn't be awesome at anything, really.
    Study hard, but save some of that Oregonian heart and soul for the playoffs, baby!

  2. i always figured i was too loud to be a librarian!
    anyway, don't worry. studying comes second once the playoffs start. i do have some sense of priorities...

  3. my question is when do those 'mini-self identity crises' ever end? it's something that seems to haunt anyone who have many and varied interests, because rewards seem to be given to those who do one thing really really well. kudos to you for having so much depth and best of luck getting through june!