Wednesday, October 23, 2002

A Day in the Life

Grad school is a notoriously lonely place. The demands can be so insane that lovers and friends often fail to understand why we keep going.

Truth be told, I don't recall ever making the decision; academic life chose me. And I suspect this is true for a great many of us. But this doesn't seem to come without a price - relationships fail ("Honey, I don't understand why we can't just have a normal life together...") and friends disappear ("Research isn't real work. In my job...") Sometimes it can feel as though you are being punished for something over which you have no real control, and we struggle to explain our motivation in terms that don't strike others as selfish. I hardly choose to be lonely - it's just so difficult sometimes to find people that want to share this space with me.

On the other hand, relationships with fellow grad students and other academics can be extremely satisfying. Not only can you talk about your research without fear of boring them half to death, they actually want to hear about it. And so I was thrilled this afternoon to meet David, a new PhD student in our department. He's studying public attitudes to gun control in the wake of recent gun violence and terrorism. He was explaining how difficult it is to get people - even other academics - to think of gun culture as something other than a bunch of raving lunatics. It seems that while we are quick to acknowledge heterogeneity in many sub-cultures, when it comes to politically volatile activities, we still resort to notions of homogeneity, "us" and "other."

My father is a gunsmith, and I was raised in a house with firearms. I can intelligently discuss the extraordinary mechanics of revolvers, and competently shoot a 9mm. Sure, I've met plenty of people who probably shouldn't own a gun, but I've met more people whose quality of life would genuinely decline if they could not own a firearm. And what this boils down to is that I understand that there is no such thing as gun culture - its members, practices and attitudes are as diverse as the guns they own.

And so for an hour, a stranger and I came together and truly listened to each other - which consequently, if only temporarily, eased each other's sense of loneliness.

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