I was talking about someone with my friend, and she wrinkled up her face and said definitively, “That girl reeks of grad school.” I laughed because I knew exactly what she meant. Now that I work in the same school where I earned my MFA, watching other young grads across the street is a strange experience. It’s like going back and reading your diary from age ten and cringing at the sheer embarrassment of what a naive ass you were, except that you’re discovering the naive ass you were mere semesters ago. It’s also horrifying as you begin to see how the sausage is made, like the part in Soylent Green where the guy realizes they’ve been eating people, except it’s where you realize the information you willingly signed up for was making you more annoying and less and less interesting to everyone around you.
We should be clear here that when I say grad school, I mean a major in the Liberal Arts. Fine Art, Writing, Curatorial Practice, Visual Studies, and let’s throw in other majors that don’t qualify you for anything useful when you graduate, like History, Rhetoric and Philosophy. I’m not talking about people who attend higher education to study Medicine, Law, or Social Work -- people who actually might make a difference in someone else’s life in the future. And even though I was in a Fine Art program, I still don’t know anything. So before you get your panties in a bunch, you might want to just take off your underwear while you read this. The opinion of lil old me is nothing more than a comment from the caustic peanut gallery of the old men on the Muppets and if you can’t take it, leave it.
SMELLY GRAD SCHOOL TRAITS
If you are in grad school or recently got out, no amount of perfume is going to cover up the reek that everyone you know and love finds a little revolting. It will only stop festering when you learn to recognize your particular bouquet, made up of some or all of the following personality traits you picked up while doing your time inside. I’m not saying that I’m immune or cleansed of any of these, but I am in a self-help program called reality, and I’m doing my best to wash regularly. Also, I found a bunch of cartoon personalities to make it easier to recognize similar attributes in yourself.
The Glad-Hander: Your friends have come to the conclusion that they cannot take you to events. When a friend extends an invitation to something, you will make them rattle off who else will be there to network with before you consider going.
The Know-it-All: No one would ever want to be stuck in a conversation with you alone at a party. You will proceed to tell everyone that any idea they’ve ever had has been done before, and where and when. You will then start referencing theory no one cares to listen to, and everyone around you cries ‘yield’ and slowly walks away backward.
The Star: You boldly boast of all the things you’ve been doing lately, all your latest and greatest achievements, and name-drop who you’ve been working with in every social media outlet available. Even worse, most of your news is mediocre at best, but you will put it all in a monthly newsletter clogging inboxes around the nation anyway. You announce your birthday in the same way, as if it were the only birthday known to man.
The Unsolicited Advisor: Someone somewhere gave you the idea that you know more about life than anyone else. You proceed to cut people off mid-sentence to tell them how to handle their stress, money and other people giving them advice, oblivious to the fact that no one asked you for help. You might even go so far as to explain feminist theory to a woman in your stupid dude voice. Mmkay?
The Morose Bummer-a-thon: All you talk about is how you wish you had more pills and the better school you wish you had gotten into and the fact that everyone is against you. You forget that you’re not in high school anymore and this is art school and everyone is a weirdo too and no one is judging you for being gay or socially handicapped.
The Frantic Busy-Bee: You flit around telling people dramatically about all the things you are doing, the show you’re in, and how you are just SO BUSY! You’re so stressed! You forget that no one cares about your group show/reading, etc. and that everyone around you has the same exact deadlines.
The Idealistic Child: You’re one of those weirdos who never took a break from school, from Kindergarten to your first year of grad school. You forget how soon this insular bubble will pop and you’ll have to start paying back your loans with something you’ve never had and are not qualified for: a job. It hits you a month before graduation and suddenly your face is permanently twisted with fear.
The Snobby Pisser: Because you have the gift of dropping impressive and obscure theory at the drop of a hat, and peddling it into show proposals at major museums, you end up with a free ride to a school where everyone else has to take out loans worth more than they will ever make in their lifetimes to attend. You insist on pissing on your school at every opportunity, making everyone who was dumb enough to pay for what you got for free feel like kicking their education down the road like a can full of poop.
The Political Fist Pumper: You shame everyone with your work, smugly chastising anyone who does not share your political beliefs. You make everyone feel bad about everything, and it wins you award after award because establishments are all filled with guilt. You never acknowledge the fact that if you were interested in truly changing anything, you would have become an environmental lawyer or something useful instead of back-patter.
The Hand-Biter: You get into grad school knowing the price tag only to complain constantly about the cost, as if someone higher up in academia will say, “You’re right!” and throw money down from the sky for you.
L'Enfant Terrible: Even though you are lucky enough to have a family that pays for you to dick around in art school, you pretend you can still be punk rock in a major institution by literally pissing on the walls of your studio. Sucks to be you, next door neighbor!
The Prince: You assume that, since your advisors are being paid to talk to you, everyone else on staff is, too. You delegate to the guards, the janitors, and the receptionist, as if paying for school buys you slaves. You don’t realize that you are paying a fortune to BE the slave to your education.
The Friender: You forget that almost everyone in your studio is getting paid to talk to you and you won’t quite come to terms with the fact that none of them want to hang out with you when you graduate. In fact, the door will leave a huge bruise on your ass on the way out.
I really tried to find grad movies to illustrate my points, but then I realized that there are hardly any movies about grad school. I did, of course, find a bunch of memes made by sad and angry self-obsessed grads stuck in dark computer labs across the world. It’s because even though it seems really fascinating and dramatic to complain about not getting enough sleep, it’s only mildly noteworthy to those stuck in your class with you. When you get out and have real problems, the drama of writing your thesis simply does not prove interesting to anyone. You’ll always have to suffer the fact that Mariah Carey's movie, Glitter, was deemed to have more production value than your life in grad school.