A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal. -Oscar Wilde

Sunday, January 17, 2010

a question of class

This week featured a whirlwind visit to our nation's capital for my fellowship assessment. It was... tricky. Not difficult per se, but after a while it felt like a never-ending parade of trick questions. Of course, now I'm a wreck. Well over 8,700 people made it to this stage-- compared to about 5,000 last year. And placements aren't predicted to keep pace with application growth, making this the most incredibly competitive year yet for this program. G r e a t. But, well, whatever will be will be. Hopefully I will have scored high enough to make it into a pool to be considered, and hopefully my more varied interests and actual working experience will differentiate me from the other applicants. Hopefully. At the moment, that's the best I can do while I wait out the next month and a half. That and to keep applying to other positions. I really don't like writing cover letters.

Okay, back to something I've been ruminating on since Wednesday.

The assessment was my first good look at my competition. As expected, there was an assortment of ambitious high-achiever types, but few that I'd call truly intellectual (hey, I observed people trying to psych each other out for an hour-- I feel quite justified in making that call). I spoke with two who seemed intimidating at first, but... well, it goes back a little to the whole thing where I hope that having to actually work counts to someone. Both are widely traveled, but while the one talked about being invited to go to Antarctica after meeting a photographer on an archaeological dig in Israel (her field has nothing to do with either), I first felt that far-too-familiar twinge of it must be so very nice to have mommy and daddy footing the bill for your ivy league law education on top of traveling to Israel and then Antarctica on a whim.

It really irks when I hear upper-classers going on and on about how gosh-darned enriched they are after doing something like pretending they're an archaeologist on vacation. It's hilarious, because they'll rarely admit that they just did it for kicks-- it's always to help some organization or other, to preserve our collective heritage, or something just so important that you dare not suggest it was a matter of leisure or fun. Which, please. It's not like that one week really magically transforms anyone into an expert on all matters archaeological and anthropological as they'd have you believe. But the gosh-darned self-importance is pretty much a dead giveaway that it's more about obtaining oh-so-important life experience to get a leg up on the rest of us proles that have to actually work our dull and dreary jobs rather than pretend we're saving history for a week. It's just like the ones that tell you that you don't know poverty like they do, because they went to a third-world country for a short time to "teach" (teach what? what can you possibly do in a single year-- let alone a month or a week-- that has any real impact on those students' lives?) or something. Of course, their teaching or clinic work or whatever was squeezed in between checking out the beaches/ safari/ whatever. But they can talk your ear off about how touched they were by the poor unwashed school children that have to walk ten miles to class every morning-- while wearing clothes that cost an annual salary in that country.

I think I feel so sensitive about this kind of crap because I feel like I'm one of a very few that are trying to cross class barriers nowadays. Well, I sort of am. I've been stuck, with the upper-crust education and the working-class salary, trying to get off the proverbial fence. I grew up surrounded by good old American poverty, gaining a much deeper insight into the causes and effects on an individual and from one generation to the next. And yet that's somehow less noble, less impressive than spending a fortune to observe poverty overseas, as if those people were animals in the wild to be studied. It's so goddamn patronizing, to be told about poverty by someone who's only experienced it as if it were some sort of adventure to break up the ennui of their privileged lives.


With that said, I feel like I should make the obligatory plug to donate to help Haitians to a well-researched charity. I myself would prefer that you donate to an organization like Brother's Brother or Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders, as they're somewhat better organized and certainly better-run than the painfully wasteful Red Cross. But I think that my handful of readers are already aware of the situation, so you don't need to be reminded.

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