April 5, 2010

Double Take: Life Goes On, We Suppose

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Andrew: Munier, it’s time I ask the million dollar question: What are you doing next year?

Munier: (Groans) With friends, family and even strangers, this has been the dominant conversation starter for months now. It’s gotten so bad, I’ve considered carrying around prerecorded messages. In short, grad school.

Andrew: That’s original.

Munier: Harsh! Yes, I know it’s not exactly risky business. But don’t be so quick to judge. I came into Cornell with an inkling for civil engineering (though applied physics was always stated on my application … sort of on a whim). As I graduate, I’m choosing between three astronomy programs, with a bent towards astrophysics/cosmology. Which has nothing to do with makeup. In short I’ve done the impossible: make an AEP degree useless.

Andrew: To tell you the truth, I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ll be leaving Cornell with a major in massage therapy and a minor in sarcasm, and this economy is really tough!

Munier: Massage therapy? I suppose it’s more mentally stimulating than communications. Though less lucrative. And fewer powerpoints.

Andrew: Even with all that stimulation and a no-powerpoint guarantee, I’m still having a tough time deciding what to do. Teach For America wants me to go to Baltimore and teach kids how to read and do others stuff good too, but I’ve recently heard the siren song of the App market. The reason it’s such a tough decision is that I feel like my sense of civic duty is pulling me towards teaching, but who doesn’t want to become an Internet millionaire, ’90s style, and then spend the rest of their days sailing and giving their money away?

Munier: Right. TFA admits and successful i-Phone apps. Both a selective group. Both fetishized by the New York Times.

Andrew: This may not be a full on moral dilemma in the sense that I fully expect my life to be a long one … long enough to both develop an iPhone App and teach. Some number of Cornellians out there may be facing something similar in deciding not what to do in life (people change careers a lot in the modern economy), but what to do first? Banking or NGO? Write a novel or write a grant?

Munier: Maybe not a moral dilemma, but an interesting one. I guess my strategy has always been: take risks when you’re young. If I’m lucky in any sense, some hot young thing will sweep me off my feet before I’m 28 (a.k.a. before I’m out of school). And as your budding family grows, the options become limited. Suddenly you need to worry about dual career moves and what school district you’ll be living in and whether or not your salary will support kids. I’m probably getting way ahead of myself, but this seems logical … maybe?

Andrew: I’m of a similar mind on taking risks while young, but something nags at me about that answer. What if Joe Cornell is successful trading bonds or writing the Great American Novel? Is there any reason to believe that he’ll be drawn back to public service or the career choice he once knew to be more meaningful and of greater value to his fellow man? The worry, then, becomes that the first career choice he makes sets a certain path — one that it is difficult to depart from.

Munier: Oh Andrew, your high minded ideals make me feel pathetic. Basically, my thoughts have been this: will I revolutionize astrophysics with some stellar new theory (pun intended)? Probably not. Will I ever gain a tenure track position? Also unlikely. But will I have fun fighting my way through courses, research, a thesis defense and a string of post docs in places like Antarctica and Hawaii? Sure. So why not? My career plans began around age five. They’ve ranged from being an astronaut to being Neil Patrick Harris. At least my current ambitions are interesting. I will learn a lot, hopefully contribute something of worth, and spend every day with my head in the clouds. This is going to be okay.

Andrew: So what you’re saying is don’t think so much? And I don’t mean this in a bad way at all. It may be that if Joe Cornell and I just ask ourselves the simpler question, “where do I want to be next year and what would I like to be doing there,” everything will turn out for the best.

Munier: Agreed. Now the problem is, that formula, when solved, does not have a unique solution. Depending on the time of day, temperature, pressure and pattern of the wallpaper in the room, I answer that question differently. Sometimes I see myself living in an adorable walk-up in Morningside heights, walking down the block to Central Park, to read some papers and sunbathe. Other times, I’m here in Ithaca, walking home through the A.D. White Garden on a summer evening, as the chimes toll 6:45. And sometimes, I’m in Austin, Texas, scarfing down a delicious breakfast taco, debugging my busted computer code. And so it goes…

Andrew: Yes! And after a late night brainstorming session with my partners I just want to design Apps, but when I wake up in the morning I remember the third grader from Baltimore who wrote me a letter the day I received my acceptance to TFA. He told me, “Mr. Daines, we need teachers like you. Teachers who persevere.” So we both have a case of indecision and we’d be better off deiciding sooner rather than later, right? I mean we’ve gathered all the facts and have been stewing over this for months now.

Munier: Yes. And I’ve even resorted to elaborate decision-making schemes. For instance, I told our darling sports editor, Alex Kuczynski-Brown ’12 (single and ready to mingle), that if Cornell Basketball made it to the Sweet 16, I’d choose Cornell. Well thanks a lot Jeff Foote, Louis Dale and Ryan Wittman! Thanks to you bitches, I had to stand down from that statement … But more on topic, let’s make ourselves feel better by degrading future I-bankers and making fun of the jobless BAs.

Andrew: Seeing as how my first or second choice of employment (depending on the time of day) also ranks among the most frivolous of all human enterprises, somewhere between Farmville and Chatroulette, I don’t think I’m in a position to trash anyone else’s prospects…

Munier: Fine, be like that. But I challenge you, Andrew, here and now, to commit to something. If you commit, I’ll commit. Deal?

Andrew: Deal. You go first.

Munier: Oh shit. I thought you’d be chicken. Okay, okay, okay… aaaahhhhhh…….. my final answer is…. D) Columbia.

(News room chatter)

Andrew: Wow! You actually did it. It must have been written. And without further ado……. iPhone. I’m going with iPhone.

Munier: Yay! Steve Jobs is smiling down on you right now. From his spherical, chrome satellite, furnished by Ikea.

Andrew: Munier, I don’t know about you, but I can’t take any more of this column.

Munier: Agreed. But before we go, I’ve got a message for the Class of 2010. Be brave people. Go for your dreams, whether they involve being a law student or an impoverished writer in a Parisian Cafe. And always wear sunscreen.

Andrew: Well said. See you in New York.

Double Take is an online feature appearing periodically this semester only at cornellsun.com. Andrew Daines can be reached at [email protected]. Munier Salem can be reached at [email protected].

Original Author: Andrew Daines