Last night I revisited one of my favorite live Chicago theater groups, The Neofuturists, for the longest-running show (that is ever-changing in content within a consistent format) in Chicago, “Too Much Light Makes the Baby go Blind.” This show has always been a special Chicago gem to me, and I know myself and my friends have mentioned that the show was on our traveling “To Do” list when visiting Chicago before we ever moved here. The show features real performers being themselves and telling stories based on events, reflections, and emotions they experience in their own lives, and it is inspiring to see such authenticity. Moreover, the show is interactive and features a range of performances from absurd and silly, profound, academic, metaphorical, and anecdotal. The show can be so intriguing to me that I get so immersed in each play and forget to yell the number of the next play on the “Curtain!” command.
This weekend featured a play about differing thoughts on graduate school. The wife of a husband-and-wife duo within the troupe talked about the ways in which she had intensely struggled with the challenges of competing and succeeding in graduate school. She had just finished her MFA in English (though, she reported that she did not really feel like she was really done since she still has to finish writing her thesis). She described an experience of going outside naked in the snow “to take a nap”, and likely also to feel something worse than the stress and anguish she was experiencing in the program. I remember my friend John reporting walking barefoot in the snow after an advanced physics exam to feel something worse than how he felt while taking the exam. Our ambitions, intellectually and academically, can cause self-defeat because the goals can seem insurmountable. Graduate school is a huge undertaking and challenge.
On the other end of the conversation, her husband talked about how he never went to graduate school but that he would consider his experiences working with the Neofuturists as a graduate school type of training. (Similarly, another performer in a separate play in the night’s performance suggested that he might try a “DIY graduate program” by reading European authors and books that his friends suggest for him.) He also mentioned enjoying the books on Critical Theory that his wife would take home to read. When fully immersed in it to the point of intellectual, emotional, and physical exhaustion (of the variety that rigorous graduate school work undoubtedly induces), it is difficult to leisurely enjoy something. The desirous effort to understand can be oppressing. On the other hand, graduate school allows for contact with enough similar people doing the same thing and caring about it just as much as you do, and that can permit an extremely strong motivational support system.
At the end of the Graduate School play, the husband says the following to the audience (paraphrased):
I think I will go back to graduate school someday. I had wanted to be a rockstar, but that didn’t work out. Graduate school seems the next-best thing. It is a place where people are doing exactly what they want to do and saying exactly what they want to say.
This line really struck a cord with me. I have been struggling with my own very vast graduate school ambitions and have been trying to learn to scale down and focus on one part of the whole puzzle. I think that this play made me realize how much I crave the intense, almost soul-crushing challenge of graduate school, and the idea that it might encourage letting go of the ego in order to continue being productive (without fearing the advances of competitors, for instance). I also do believe that graduate school is a place where people get to practice doing exactly what they want to do, and they can get to be “rockstars” by training at doing it.