The Starbucks Experiment

Monday, February 06, 2006

Feeling LAX

Since people have been pestering me nonstop for news of the USC visit (in other words, i got emails from two people asking how it went), i will oblige the masses with a brief account (which, of course, i would have done anyway).

i had to get up ass early on friday to catch the train to BWI to get the plane to LAX. i took a cab to the USC campus and sat in the sun, marvelling at how bright yet hazy it was, and watched a special effects team put this sort of tepee made out of tall logs on fire (except it was a special effect, so the fire was v. controlled). all the special effects guys were pleased as punch, resembling 10-year-old boys with a new christmas present, while undergrads in skimpy clothing chatting on cell phones tried to walk across the lawn and got yelled at by disgruntled security guards. then i went up to the art history office and hung out in the grad school lounge, which is tiny, waiting for other people to show up, which they did shortly, and then after a while we went on a tour of the campus, which was given by a first year who didn't know what half the stuff was. and actually, that was incredibly charming, it was nice to see how you might as a first year settle into a place, what you would figure out first, etc. the campus is really nice. i had heard horror stories about barbed wire fences but it's just like Columbia, in that it's a collection of sort of non-descript modern buildings interspersed with a few architectural gems and green space, and plenty of it. i was impressed by how shady it was. the surrounding area is supposedly unsafe at night, but it never seemed scary to me. aparently they get frequent reports about kids getting held up at 3 in the morning, but no one ever gets hurt, and you have to figure that those are drunk frat boys who could get held up in des moines. then i checked into my hotel, which was v. hotely. i mean big and impersonal, but my room was huge, and had a nice view of the campus. at six i returned to campus for my interview: six members of the faculty (including the famous Nancy Troy) and at one end of the conference table and me at the other, rather intimidating. how did it go? we asked every prospective this as they came out and they all said "it was fine." and that's really all you can say. because i think i was interesting, certainly they seemed interested and responsive to what i was saying. but i also made an error (said one art historian's name when i meant another, oops), and i was pretty tired so who knows how i seemed. actually, it may have been better that i was tired because it makes a good excuse for not being on point. after that there was a short period of chaos with all the prospectives and lots of grad students and faculty in that tiny lounge, and then the students and prospectives went off to dinner. that was nice. i sat next to one of Nancy's students so i got to hear all about her as an advisor, and of course i got a better impression of what it's like to live in LA, but i'll talk about that later.

the next day i actually managed to sleep in (and read a lot of Phineas Redux, the exciting sequel to Phineas Finn), before we all went to the Getty. they showed us stuff from the special collections and then we tooled around on our own. if i had any doubts about the value of an education at USC, that special collections viewing sold me. they have scores and scores of incredibly important unpublished material that would make for hundreds of original dissertations. USC faculty teach classes at the Getty, so the grad students wind up spending half their time there. and it's really beautiful, all up on the cliff overlooking Santa Monica. actually it seemed to me like something straight out of star wars, like this futuristic very planned ideal city, with all those plazas and gardens. i half expected space ships to sort of swoop in and land and princess lea to come striding out. and i thought, "i could spend half my week here."

i suspected before arriving in LA that it was a city of a totally different type than i was used to, a much more futuristic city, wtih none of that quaint condensed neighborhoody, built on a river, traditional town grown into a city-ness. and i was absolutely right. it's not just a city out of star wars, it's like one of those planets from star wars that was entirely city (isn't it weird how planets in star wars are like all desert, or all forest, or all city?). i mean to get anywhere, literally anywhere, people have to get into their own personal bubble (their car), and change over to a mode of transportation of a totally different scale (the freeway), which is generally faster than normal travel (a v. slow light speed, if you will). but nevertheless it takes 30 minutes to get anywhere (does anyone else remember that line from clueless, anywhere in LA takes 20 minutes?). anyway, all this makes me feel like you're hopping from one part of a planet to another. except each hop is painfully long and slow.

so, after the Getty we went to Richard Meyer's house. he's one of the more famous faculty members, and he gave this party for all the faculty and prospectives, which was really nice. it gave me a chance to talk further with the people who interviewed me, but i'm not sure if i made myself sound more or less interesting. Nancy Troy, it seemed to me, was more interested in talking with other people, and all this makes me wonder if i'm actually going to get in. there were a lot of prospectives there, at least 25, whereas each class is only 7 or 8. they acknowledged that this year they had more high quality applications than normal, and therefore they invited more people than normal to interview, but they never said they would therefore admit more people, and I'm guessing they can't afford to.

but maybe it wouldn't be so bad if i didn't get in to USC (provided i get in somewhere else of course). i am now absolutely certain that USC would be the best place for furthering my career, but the sad truth is that i'm not entirely sure how much a career means to me. as my friends know, i would be a supremely excellent lady of leisure. and as much as i want to go to grad school, i don't want the next six years of my life to be entirely about art history. i know it's hard to have a life in grad school, and i got the feeling it would be even harder to do so in LA. everyone is so goddamn spread out that you can't be spontaneous, you have to block out an extra hour to get to where your going and back, people have to meet up from all different parts of the city, and evenings consist of going to one movie/opening/restaurant and then going home, rather than moving from one thing right to another (although perhaps that wandering nightlife only occurs in New York). and then living in LA would clearly entail extra expenses. I would absolutely need a car. and i would have to spend a comparatively huge amount to visit friends and family, since every place of interest is a plane ride away. on the other hand, if i do get in, it would seem irresponsible to chuck away my best chance at making something of myself. i mean, i may never fall in love or have kids, but a career is something you can more or less control. you can work hard at being a successful art historian, but you can't work hard at being a successful human being. people either are happy or they are not, and no matter how hard i try i just can't know what will make me happy.

i crashed as soon as i got back home. and despite hours of sleep, i've been exhausted ever since. as stressful as it was to apply to grad school, i think it may be far more stressful to actually accept one.


At 6:43 AM, Blogger Katharine (K) Lina said...

Am having serious doubts about this whole "people either are happy or they are not" idea. I do think people can affect their own happiness, by making the best of the situations in which they find themselves. But in my mind there is a clearer blueprint for professional success, whereas i have no idea how to set about acquiring those other marks of a successful life.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Karin said...

I'm glad you commented on the above; something about this particular portion of your posting left me unsettled as well . . .

But as for the rest of things--your trip sounds like it was amazing and totally whirlwind (as these things always are). I have never been to L.A., but I love love LOVE you comparing it to a Star Wars planet. I feel like I understand it that much better now.

The biggest thing I wanted to say right after I read this was that Nancy Troy seemingly being more interested in talking to other people may have had a lot less to do with them being more important/interesting than you than you might think . . . as we discovered this fall, it is the rare prospective grad student who actually seriously inquires about a program BEFORE or WHILST applying to it rather than just waiting until say, this stage of the game to really start talking to faculty. Your informational interview and occasional correspondence with Nancy Troy was probably more than sufficient to give her an idea of what she needs to know about you, and it was probably that kind of information that she was forced to seek out from other applicants at the party. At least, that's how I see it.

Also, it makes me really really happy to hear that the campus is lovely, because if you're going to have to live in a Star Wars city, you might as well at least have a haven there.

I am most intrigued by the following statement: "i am now absolutely certain that USC would be the best place for furthering my career." Does that mean your career as a fashion specialist or as an art historian in general?? I was under the impression that you weren't exactly married to fashion as much as design in general . . .

That's all for now; I'll let you know if I think of anything else.


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