Tuesday, September 18, 2007

thinking more about school

Of the two schools, Columbia University's MA program in Religion is by far the more attractive but it offers no aid to MA students. I have a significant amount of student loans from my time at The University of Chicago already and with no job, it wouldn't be wise for me to get further into debt for a program in which my interest is for personal enrichment and not aimed (at least for the moment) towards a clear profession. I heard back from NYU a bit over a week ago and their MA Religious Studies program does offer one full-tuition scholarship in addition to a stipend of $20,000, which is given based upon intellectual merit and scholarly promise, but for my particular academic interest it doesn't offer the courses or resources that I'm looking for. Columbia, of course, does! I checked out the courses offered for this fall and next spring at Columbia and I was thrilled by what I found. For example, there are interesting courses titled "Perspectives on Evil and Suffering in World Religions;" "The Science-Religion Encounter in Contemporary Context;" and "Religion and Its Critics."

This afternoon I browsed the websites of The New School, Hunter College, City College, and The Graduate Center - all of which are educational institutions in NYC - but they either lack a Religion/Religious Studies program all together or only offer a course here and there.

A few days ago, Eileen told me about the Postbaccalaureate Studies Program at Columbia University in which one could take courses in over 50 areas of study, such as Religion, towards a certificate but at about $4,000 per semester it's too expensive without financial aid. As some of you have commented, it would make a lot more sense to go for a Ph.D for which full aid is granted generally to those accepted but the question is am I interested enough in the study of religion to go for it. For a long time, I contemplated a Ph.D in History about which I still have a strong interest. I would like to explore these religious and philosophical questions that I have had for some time and an MA program or even a program that leads to a certificate, such as the one at Columbia, would be fantastic but financially it wouldn't be practical.

More fundamentally, I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life and I have these different ideas but have yet been able to say, "OK. This is it and this is what I will work to become." At the moment, I'm a bit confused about where I'm going but there's time. It's OK. This is just a something that I'll continue to think over as I recover and contemplate the future.


Comment Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't know how serious your interest in religion is but have you ever considered whehter or not you have a calling to enter the religious life as a priest or brother? Your life would be dedicated to serving others and for some, there is extensive study in the theology, philosophy, etc.

6:44 PM  
Comment Anonymous Sarah from up the street said...

There IS time, you're right, Duane.

In the meantime, just decide to read a book, or maybe you could just sit in on a class?

You want the knowledge, but not necessarily the certificate or degree to go with it. A couple days or weeks at your public library never hurts.

Plus, it might help you narrow your focus or find what you're looking for in a more non-traditional way.

What are you looking for? What will courses teach you that you can't learn on your own? :)


6:55 PM  
Comment Blogger Duane said...


Thanks for commenting. I really enjoy getting feedback from my readers.

I'm more interested in the study of religion than theology, so I'm not looking to become a clergyman but I appreciate your question.

Thanks again for commenting!

7:39 PM  
Comment Blogger Duane said...

My friend Sarah,

You hit it on the head. I'm interested in the knowledge but not the degree necessarily. I'm just curious to explore some issues. As you suggested, I could (at least for now) just read and see where my reading takes me.

I hope you're well. I miss you.


7:41 PM  
Comment Anonymous Emily said...

Its tough to decide what you want to be when you grow up...I still don't know and I'm eight years into a career with the state. See if you can learn what won't necessarily be a profession without going back to school...trust me, the business end of student loans sucks. Learn the stuff you want by reading, attending workshops, etc. without incurring more debt unless its career material.

8:14 PM  
Comment Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey love,

My more-than-two-cents remains to be that a great way to explore your interests without making a HUGE money commitment off the bat is to take your post-recovery recovery time to do an internship or two in NYC, possibly at one of the shows on WNYC, the local public radio affiliate, such as The Brian Lehrer (public affairs) or Leonard Lopate (arts & life) shows, which are both daily and heavily use interns for actual research, reporting, pitching, etc, plus you learn some radio production skills. They're based in New York, so that means no rent, and they pay a little but mostly you LEARN A TON. Whether or not it ends up being what you want to do, it will help you find out as part of the LONG process of trial and error that everyone I know has undergone in finding what they want to do. Education alone is only part of the deal. A lot of it is getting out and taking the leap to try things, succeed, fail, try again, rinse and repeat. Instincts are always good to go with but sometimes you have to challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone (perhaps academia is one of your comfort zones?) just to see what else there is. You can always apply to Columbia later. The money may seem prohibitive but perhaps once you've done a little more traveling and interning/working/writing you'll have a better sense of if it's what you want to do in terms of more formal education. Columbia will always be here, in New York, were you're based, and the more experience you have when you go with only benefit you. Remember that education isn't about job training but the greater mission of helping you with self-discovery - As you know from Vassar and U of C and the Watson. Which is to say it is part but not all of the journey. Much of it is unknown. And in the words of Mya Angelou, "there is a world of difference between being educated and being trained."

I know cancer has interrupted your life at the beginning of your discovery process. Allow yourself to have faith in time and yourself and allow yourself the freedom to discover it slowly for it cannot be sought and found deliberately.

In so many of our conversations you've talked about your dual interests in religion and writing, and of course you're also a world-traveler by nature (a Vagabonder) and a genuinely curious, intelligent, observant man. You could be a wonderful professor or writer or both or neither. But I have no doubt you will be, as you are now, always curious, intelligent, and observant.

I know we've talked about Robert Bly and following your bliss. I think, or my experience in my almost 10 years since graduating college have learned me, that following your bliss, though it may at times be in great passion and at other times a bit of a murmur roiling beneath the struggle of various jobs, is what gets you to a place of joy in both life and work. And I say this as I still struggle in both while realizing that though it has seemed disparate and slow at times, it has always - every job, apt, etc - gotten a bit better each time and that even what seemed like meaningless pain has turned out to help me understand myself and others. It all reinforces what I believe about the beauty of imperfection, the uniqueness of being that is true beauty. As Leonard Cohen wrote/sang, "there is a crack in everything/that's how the light gets in."

Which is all to say, a day after my 31st birthday, ruminating on my chaise lounge with the neighbors cat at my feet, that you don't need to decide what you will be right now and that you already know a few things about yourself, such as that you are a writer (and a lover), a vagabonder and a news-media junkie, and someone passionate about the cosmos, religion, science and art.

The best thing about the post-treatment recovery period for me was when I was feeling well enough to do things I enjoy, like walking around Brooklyn and reading and going to movies and plays and museums and listening to the radio and eating out with friends. I remember saying to someone, a friend's father, when asked if I was back at work that I was unemployed, and the friend's father said, "No - you're on sabatical!"

Remember that you are not getting well to go out and earn a paycheck. Yes, there are bills to pay but you did not get such a wonderful formal education simply to pay off those bills. Maybe concrete plans for next fall are a little premature. Maybe entertain the idea that your job is to take pleasure where it is to be had for the next year or so - for now in walks and 24 and kisses, later in exploring more of the city and sooner than later traveling the country and the world. That's really what inward journey is - how it is brought forth.

And you can see the world many ways. Again, the radio thing made me think of you because of shows like "Speaking of Faith" which isn't produced locally (I think it's on the west coast or in the midwest) which talks about religion in an exploratory way that interests you. Also StoryCorps, the project to record oral histories, which hires people to go on the road - literally travel around the country - to interview people and set up booths for people to interview each other like the one in grand central.

These are just some ideas of things that you could check out before getting another degree.

And remember, as a tax payer you're going to be on the dole and will remain on it quite a while, even when you're able to go back to work as they give you almost a full year of continued benefit while you essentially ramp up and get back to work/school/employment. It is perhaps the one silver lining of this illness.

Take the time when you are being paid a monthly stipend from the dividends of your tax dollars of summer jobs past, differ your student loans as you are entitled to while on social security (contact loan office now if not already as you are not working or able to work). Readjust yourself, if you can, to the idea that your responsibilities are not bills and employment possibilities but literally finding your bliss. There will always be times later for jobs and paychecks and bills. This is the one reprieve you are being given and you should honor yourself by taking your time to do what you WANT, what you are passionate about, and to explore what interests you outside the classroom. Even the post-bac program at Columbia, costly as it is, is much less expensive and sans long term commitment of another MA and it offers you the opportunity to test the waters. If you want to do it, you'll find a way. Be not afraid of a little debt, but also remember that the biggest debt is owed to yourself.

This is the longest, most rambling comment ever. I always strive for brevity only to deteriorate into logorrhea....

I know you're struggling with what to be when you grow up. We all do. And even if we know off the bat, it takes ages to sort it out. Don't limit yourself to planning ahead so much. Test the waters. You'll be more than okay.

And your thesis is wonderful! What about working on it as you were thinking of for submitting for publication? Not that I'm shoulding you - I just mean, if you need something to do to stimulate the academic part of you, that might be a good project now or later rather than writing grad school applications. Look around but keep an open mind about next fall/next year/the next step.

Start with the things you like.

And remember mine is no different than any advice, particulary the unsolicited kind: take the useful bits and chuck the rest, no need to explain or apologize.

I love you so very dearly and completely trust that you will find what you want to be if you just let yourself. We always pressure ourselves the most, and sometimes it is the hardest thing to realize that we are also the only ones who can let it go.

Good night, sweatpea. Or morning, depending on when you read this. I look forward to seeing you soon and hearing your voice on the phone sooner.

With endless kisses know my love,
your Su

1:52 AM  
Comment Blogger Sara said...

I love it that Su comments on your blog. And I know, Duane, that you like getting comments, and I have been reading your blog for some time, and have not commented once.
I do agree with Su, however, that now is the time to explore, and do things you might not get the chance to do once you commence normal working and/or academic life. Rest, and recover, and enjoy your sabbatical. (That said, from what I've read of your blog, you seem tailor made for the world of academia, and it's not such a bad world as all that.)
Sara, a friend of Su's, who just now realized she forget her birthday (so perhaps not such a good friend after all?)

10:37 AM  
Comment Blogger Duane said...

Hi Sara,

Nice to meet you (virtually). :)

I agree with you and Su that this period of recovery can be a wonderful time for exploration and relaxation. Thanks.

I'm sure Su will understand about her birthday. She's of the school of thought that says the entire month is one for celebration, so there's time. :)

Thanks for commenting.

Best wishes,

2:09 PM  
Comment Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I recommend an excellent book entitled "Back to Virtue" by Peter Kreeft. Just started reading it and it's very thought provoking.

6:01 PM  
Comment Blogger Duane said...

Thanks for bringing "Back to Virtue" by Peter Kreeft to my attention. I'll check it out!


7:20 PM  
Comment Blogger Sarah said...

I still don't know what I want to do with my life, and I've got a 'career'!

Sarah in DC

4:45 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home