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September 21, 2007

I went to Cambridge last night for a planning symposium hosted by
Harvard as well as to meet up with my friend Jesse, who’s going to
MIT.  It felt soooooooooo good to be back in a city!  I could
feel my spirits lifting as Linnea, a classmate of mine, and I
approached the city limits and pulled off of the Mass Pike into
downtown Cambridge.

Given the fact that I grew up in a college town, it’s strange how at
home I felt in Cambridge as opposed to here in Amherst, but I
did.  Something had been sleeping in me these past few weeks since
leaving Philly and it came alive again as I walked along the urban
streets with their hustle and bustle and unique selection of
storefronts and living spaces.  There was definitely a skip in my
step as I walked to the symposium and then to search for dinner

I found myself jealous of Jesse and his classmates, whose group 
meeting I caught the tail end of.  They get to go to school in a city,
where the issues I’m going to school to learn about are at their most
intricate and complex.  A brief depression set in as I thought
about my last week in Amherst, where life consisted of
house–>school–>house–>school–>house (and so on),
without much interesting to see or do on the way.  Don’t get me
wrong:  Amherst is beautiful, but it lacks the visual, audial,
social, and economic conflict that most engage my intellect and

My mood improved as I headed out of Cambridge to Framingham this
morning for the first day of my internship.  I like
Framingham.  It’s a small town with a lot of big city issues given
it’s commuting distance to Boston and its incredibly large immigrant
population; plus I know some of the Brazilians who live there, so I
feel sort of at home.

Surprisingly–or maybe not–my mood improved even more as I pulled off
of 90 onto the back roads leading to my apartment after a long day of
work and driving.  Wafts of fresh grass and leaves drifted into
the open windows of my car, reminding me of how much I also love the
countryside.  A light fog had settled over the fields that
occasionally appear along the side of the road, creating an air-brushed
look to the landscape that softened the setting sun.  I felt
peaceful and calm, and less anxious about being in Amherst for the next
eight months. 

I love urban America.  And I love rural America.  What I’m
realizing I don’t so much love anymore is academic America.  I’ve
spent so much time now with people of different backgrounds, especially
with Brazilians, that I no longer feel comfortable with the idea of
“studying” them.  They’re my friends, my equals.  I feel this
dichotomy, this division inside of me when I’m in class and I’m not
sure what to do with it.  I don’t want to study the world anymore, I want to experience
the world, which is the best way of learning.  I want to learn by
doing, by working through problems in the real world with real people
who have ideas, talents, skills, and vested interests in realizing
positive outcomes for themselves and their families. 

I feel strange in class when we talk about “multiple publics” and
“diversity” and “self vs. other.”  These are topics that used to
fascinate me as an undergraduate–and they still do–but I am now super
sensitive to the fact that almost everyone in the classroom is middle
class and white.  Where are the multiple publics and diversity
we’re supposed to be discussing? 

I suppose I’m just frustrated because I want to be working
I want to be able to come home at the end of every day and know that I
did or produced something that made a difference–not that I
successfully completed my reading assignments and “data scavenger hunt.”

What I said above about Amherst wasn’t really fair:  there are
plenty of social issues to deal with here, and there are even quite a
few immigrants–the problem is that my life is so consumed by school
that I can’t engage with them the way I would like to.

My economics professor explained the concept of sunk costs to us in
class last week.  In doing so, he pointed out that economists
never take into account what’s already been invested and instead look
only to the future in trying to determine whether to continue or
abandon an investment; for example, if the government has already spent
$100 million on a social program and only has $30 million left to spend
to get it up and running, if that $30 million could reap better returns
by being invested in a different
program, an economist would instruct the government to drop the first
program and forget about the lost $100 million, and instead look to
spend the $30 million on second program that will reap greater
rewards.  Why keep going with something that isn’t going to result in the best possible outcome?

As my professor was speaking, I was thinking to myself that an
economist would approve, by the same logic, of my decision to leave
graduate school after a year if I decide I can’t make it through
another–to not do the second year just because I already did the first
and so I might as well finish the second; it’s a sunk cost.  But then again, the financial and
career rewards of staying in school that one more year might
potentially be greater than if I were to “invest” that year doing something else. 
But then again, I’ve managed
to do pretty well for myself without a masters up until now and even
had offers on my plate for other jobs before returning to school. 
Plus I never know what’s going
to happen tomorrow, so why not live how I most want to live today
rather than going through two years of something I don’t want to do just so that I can maybe get a better job in the future? 

I think it’s this last issue that most gets to me:  I relish
living in the present, and right now I’m having to live in the
future.  I’m impatient for school to be over so that I can work
again.  Or I could quit school and work now.  But would that
be prudent?  I don’t think I’d regret it because I’m pretty good
at letting the past be the past–or would I?

I have a feeling I’m going to be struggling with these thoughts all
semester.  Or maybe I’ll surprise myself and settle down.

Or maybe I should just go to bed and let my twins get some rest; they’ve been dueling a lot lately.


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