The continuing story continues:
Wednesday, September 24
Finally, it’s time for department orientation. After two and a half grueling–or, not grueling, just irritating–days of TA training, a half-day of talking about the English department, the whole reason I’m here, looks refreshing. The other nice thing about this orientation is that there’s no input expected from us, as there is at TA training; we just sit there and listen to what we’re going to go through while we’re here. Oh, sure, there’s a bare-bones “let’s meet folks” thing, where we go around and say our names what we’re interested in studying, but that’s just a formality–this is first and foremost about making sure we know what we’ve gotten into.
Which is a kind of scary thing. Nothing I didn’t know, but still scary. The major things that resonated with me were:
1)The Ph.D. qualifying exam, which we take in year four; it clears the way to start work on the dissertation, consists of a written and spoken test, lasts two or three days, and was aptly described by Brian as “a demented decathlon”; and,
2) The sheer length of the program. 6 years, hopefully; 7, if we really need that much time. That means I might be an ordinary person again in 2010, but if I don’t work hard it’ll be 2011, at which point I can just get back to Berkeley using my laser jetpack. It’s simultaneously really comforting and really scary to know what I’ll be up to for the next six years. It doesn’t help that, after a month and a half here, I’ve basically exhausted all the entertainment options Irvine has to offer. Well, I guess I have to make my own fun, or D.H. Lawrence will have to make it for me.
Anyway, that evening there was a party at the trailer park. Forget everything you know about trailer parks: this is not a collection of the hopeless lower class, but rather the last vestige of interesting housing in Irvine. It’s a campus-owned space, occupied by grad students living in the trailers, which they own and can therefore decorate. This is important because, like that freaky town in that one X-Files episode, Irvine has an honest-to-God law about what colors buildings can be painted. I’m not sure how exhaustive the list is, but based on my observations living here I think that they give a tax incentive to homeowners who go with beige; so seeing trailers painted purple, or decorated with light-up santas was a breath of fresh air, even after only four days in town. This little aesthetic enclave is on its way out; the University is going to reclaim the land and pave it over at the end of this year. Everyone assumed they were going to put a parking structure there, but it turns out they have no immediate plans for the land–they’re paving paradise, but are holding off on building the parking lot. There are lots of more important things to make me sad, but that one does it for me regardless.
But, it’s a fun party. I get into a long (partly drunken) conversation with Joe and his roommate, Alex (short for Alexandra), which is pretty awesome–I’ve come to the conclusion that the most reliable predictor of a future graduate student (at least in the humanities) is a tendency to quote things without warning. I also get to talk to a number of the third- and fourth-year grads, who, worryingly, seem a lot more pessimistic and bitter than the first- and second-years do. (They do, at least, reassure me that everyone finds TA training really boring.) I head home around 1 (gotta get up at 9 for TA training…), and am improbably able to find my way home on the first try. Social Event #1 is in the bag.
Saturday, September 27
Welcome Week is over, classes has begun (my first one’s on Monday). By now I have a phone (I finally caved) and a new computer (17″ iMac, it wuvs me). I’ve made the furniture and put up the posters. It’s time to make some friends.
I invite Joe and Alex over for dinner. They say they’ll come. I keep it simple, put out taco fixin’s, coax them into my apartment complex (it’s difficult to find at night), and we just have a really fun evening. Quote of the night: they’ve brought white and red wine. Alex asks which we should have, and Joe asks me, “Well, are we having pinto beans or black beans?”
We watch “Jules et Jim.” We talk a lot. It’s a good time. This just might work out.
Sunday, September 28
I spend the day doing my homework for my composition class tomorrow. At the end of the day something feels strange, and I realize what it is: I never went outside today. I’ve spent 36 hours without shoes on. There just wasn’t any impetus to leave; what was I going to do? Clearly I’m going to have to work to keep this from happening too often.
Next entry: Tom leaves the house! To go to class!