It's been especially difficult for me to write this week. There are old tasks piling up, ongoing tasks continuing, and new tasks for which to wait with dread. But, when I don't feel motivated about political science, or forget why I chose this path, I watch the West Wing. I began watching this show while I was working in D.C., where once upon a time, I was the girl taking her LSAT and planning on making a difference by going down that very wide path of law school. Then I started loving the show, I started internalizing the characters' dilemmas, and I started agonizing about the show's topics long after the credits had run at the end of the hour.
And then I finally started exhibiting symptoms of the sickness calling addiction. I watched episode upon episode, sometimes with earphones on my laptop so I wouldn't disturb my roommate with the 6th episode of the night at 4am. I started lying to my then-boyfriend about other engagements, just to get some time alone to watch an episode. I stopped tasting my food properly; I'm serious about this one--I started eating quickly during commercial breaks, or stayed so engrossed in the dialogue that I'd chew mindlessly.
I decided at some point in that oddly dark stage that I wanted to study politics. I thought that maybe a Ph.D. would somehow get me closer to living the lives of the White House senior staff I'd grown very--fictitiously--attached to. I guess I didn't know how exactly to become them, but I thought a) you had to be smart to get there and b) it had to be hard get there. And I'd heard that you had to be smart to get a Ph.D. and it was hard to get a Ph.D., so maybe, just maybe, getting one might get me street cred with the other. (On a side note, I once met Bradley Whitford at a reception in D.C. and was frighteningly close to seeming like one of those cat ladies who thinks that soap operas are real--smooth, really.) Anyway, that's what I thought (and why I couldn't stay in D.C.) and now that I'm closer to getting the Ph.D. I'm realizing that it's not helping me get closer to that world at all. In fact, law probably would have been a better choice. Because while academics and lawyers can both be incredibly invested in being right, lawyers do it with a sense of urgency--at some point a lawyer could stop and say, we're going with what we've got because at some point you have make a decision to move on, rule a verdict, file charges, help people.
I think we've lost that sense of urgency in academia. I think long-tenured minds are often found out to pasture experimenting in left field because they realized that this gig is only good if you take advantage of getting paid to read and write about what you're really interested in. I think newly tenured-minds are still ailing from the competitiveness bug and trying to distinguish themselves so that when they go out to pasture, they've gone there with others' respect. I think young, non-tenured faculty are too scared trying to prove that they weren't an accidental hire that they're too scared or professionally obsessed to have any vision beyond the tenure track.
And there's a way that this all relates to the West Wing, after all. Because my husband, whom I met in this same Ph.D. program, is going to law school now. And I decided that I loved him during a West Wing marathon session, a binge relapse a few months into graduate school when I had some blinding side pain and my best friend from college, Be, came up to visit. We stayed indoors, me laying down on my couch, eating lots of fried food, and watched episode after episode of the big WW. It was during this session that I thought more about my now-husband-friend/then-just-friend and realized that he could have those discussions that they have on this show and--while it would definitely be a slower show because he's veeeeery careful with his words--the integrity would be the same. And I realized that I was glad he was going to law school, because more people who could have conversations like that needed to. So he's still new at it, but it looks like he's headed to D.C. already, and I'm really proud of him.
So I guess you could say that I fell in love my husband because he reminded me of my favorite television show. Sounds a little crazy when you say it like that, huh? Anyway, I know this is veering off into the personal, but I just watched a good episode of WW (another relapse, I'm afraid) and it made me sentimental. And if you've read this blog more than once, I figure you might be interested in some of the chaos behind the curtain.
Ah, and the connection to this blog is that it was the most recent episode of WW tonight that motivated me to finally return to this blog. I can't write a chapter I'm supposed to be revising and so I watched the WW. And in this episode, there was a great discussion on wheat and the miracle that it brought to India in the 1970s. I didn't know of this, but apparently the main problem with India's wheat levels originated from the inefficiency of a type of wheat whose stalk keeled over when it grew high. Now, that's mindboggling to me--that a whole country can be in famine because of a plant's particular relationship with water and the sun. But it's also amazing that India was brought out of famine, not by humanitarian aide and not because of charity, but because scientists by the names of Dr. M.S. Swaminathan and Dr. N.E. Borlaug discovered a type of wheat that would stay short, not fall over, and yield high amounts and this research stayed in India, enabling Indians, themselves, the ability to create wheat as a survival crop.
It's bittersweet to learn about these--what WW called--"miracles" because, on the one hand, it reminds me that politics can take a back seat to the fundamentals of scientific advancement and humanity; on the other hand, it really makes me angry about the state of science and politics today. The WW episode discussed the sale of affordable, generic HIV medications, but there's also stem cell research, drug rehabilitation, and health insurance... just to name a few.
I really wonder what our 'wheat miracle' would look like.
P.S. I was kidding when I said that's why I had to leave D.C.