Because I am a pessimistic traveller, I found myself last Friday morning with several hours to kill before my flight back from Chicago. And because there really isn’t much to do at an airport except people watch and eat McDonald’s french fries, I bought Tina Fey’s memoir-type book, Bossypants. It’s been on my “list” for a while and it seemed like the perfect sort of fun read a student on break, such as myself, could digest comfortably. So I bit the bullet of Illinois sales tax and bought it, hardcover and all. It’s definitely funny, definitely witty, definitely hilarious. But it’s not the sort of fun read a student on break, such as myself, can digest comfortably. In fact, it’s pretty uncomfortable to get through. Tina (we’re on a first name basis, you know) spares no detail of her North Side post-graduate (pre-Second City) existence. And while she spends only a chapter detailing her incredibly depressing desk job at an Evanston YMCA, it was enough to scare me.
Tina Fey’s story is not really exceptional. She is both incredibly successful and incredibly talented, but she didn’t necessarily get to the success solely through talent. There was luck and there was hard work, And Tina’s post-grad years spent living through the “grimness” of the YMCA reception desk are anything but uncommon. The people are grim, the lunches are grim, the bosses are grim, the concept of being awake for the morning is grim, and the existential crisis over your degree’s worth is grim. We’ve all been forewarned about this grimness and we all, at times, feel the weight of it looming over our heads. But in the end, Tina was glad to have that UVA theater performance degree because while it didn’t get her the job at The Second City (that did actually come from talent), it did get her a promotion from the reception desk to the actual office and a pay raise that allowed her to continue improv classes. So if life in the work force will be grim for everyone, I’m going to want that college degree to get me from reception to the office. I want these four years to binge on education and living while I have the time and opportunity.
In my first quarter at UChicago, I’ve wrestled with number theory and pondered infinity (albeit begrudgingly). I’ve force fed myself passages of Marx and Durkheim, Ovid and Eliot, taken a workshop on memoir and storytelling, acted in a UT workshop and Theater 24, gone to lectures and seminars, and cleaned up my academic writing. I’ve gotten lost on the CTA, seen concerts in the city, eaten too much Mexican food, and strolled around the Art Institute for free. I’ve danced salsa and merengue at an OLAS potluck, taken modern and ballet from professionals, and even fallen on my face at the dance floor of DU (that was one time okay). I have taken it upon myself to meet as many people as I can and I daresay I’ve made some friends. I’ve done so much and yet whenever I allow myself to sit alone and indulge in an episode Gilmore Girls, I feel guilty for not seizing some opportunity somewhere. I know I’m not alone in feeling that. It’s a privilege that I have and I don’t want to forget this fact.
So if the grimness must fall, I want to be prepared and take it on with my liberal arts degree thank you very much. I don’t want to grow to half-resent my degree as Tina seems to (how true this actually is, I have no idea). Self-deprecation is fine. In fact, at this place, it’s encouraged. But resentment is never what you want. So I’m taking Tina’s advice that comes from the Second City herself. I’m saying YES. I’m saying YES to four years of studying theory and literature and art and YES to a life of living, of beating off the grimness with those very liberal-artsy luxuries. Yes.