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January 29, 2020

QUE | The Stability of an Annual Dental Membership

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“…Much remains for me to learn, and I hope to continue to grow with fellow artists and scholars at [insert school].” Upload. Review. Submit. Pay the unreasonably high application fee. Viola, another grad school application done.

Around early December last year, out of the all-too-familiar fear of the unknown and my more pertinent concern of obtaining a visa after graduation, I thought I’d start applying to grad schools. I called my advisor — who was on sabbatical at the time — and asked if I should go into Ph.D. programs in comparative literature or film studies and she was absolutely appalled at my indecision. “Ruby,” she said, trying her best to contain her disbelief on the phone, “you can’t start a five-year — and that’s the minimum, usually it goes for longer — program without knowing exactly what you are into and just hope for the best.”

I supposed she was right, so I opted for MFA programs instead. I should have two years to spare even if all goes terribly wrong? But still there were choices to be made — art practice or filmmaking? And if filmmaking — producing, directing or editing? What is this new discipline called art therapy? In any case, by the time the first round of deadlines rolled around, I had to make some premature decisions. I assembled a rough personal narrative of who I am as an artist, had two friends read it and told myself that there’s not much else I could do but “hope for the best.” Buried in the heavy workload as finals were approaching, I had little time to think about anything anyways. I even missed the deadline of a school because of conflicting obligations, yet it didn’t  really feel significant at the time.

Over break, I started to realize why I barely felt invested in this entire process. The thing about graduate school is that it is purely a choice; when I was a high school senior, I was sure that I was going to college next. All my friends were doing the same, and my family would probably see me as a disgrace if I didn’t. But at this point in our lives, things are not so certain anymore. People I know have gone off to pursue vastly different careers and passions. And honestly, they all seem to be doing quite well, whether in Cupertino working for some tech monstrocity or in Lisbon writing poems. (But then again, observing others’ lives via their carefully curated instagram profiles might be illusory.)

I’ve thrown some “imaginative” options at my advisor as she puts it: Should I become a masseuse in New York’s Chinatown, sell my soul to a Hollywood production company or go make unprofitable films about the ruins of Prague? A friend even suggested that I look into Teach for America. I learned I am not eligible because you have to be American to teach for America (apparently!), but I’ll include it for someone out there as confused as I am.

Coming into this semester I’m confronted even more frequently with the dreaded question of “what’s next?” I don’t know! There are a few less unrealistic options, but it can’t be too bad to take some time off to figure my shit out before the next step, whatever that might be?

The day before school started this year I had to get a root canal in New York City. The lady at the front desk tried to lure me into getting an annual membership at the clinic, because it would make the procedure “so much cheaper,” plus I get an exam and two cleanings “for free” each year. In turn, I tried to explain that I have no clue what will happen with my life after May; in fact, I can’t even guarantee I will still be in this country, let alone New York City. But that didn’t make a difference for her. With the strong Cantonese accent that reminded me of a childhood neighbor, she somehow convinced me that getting this dental membership is my first step of adulting and establishing a new life after graduation — very effective rhetoric, I must admit — and before I realized what I was doing, I was already handing her my credit card. Let’s hope she’s right — that in four months when my life is in complete disarray, I can anchor myself with at least this one thing, and that will be my annual membership at Sunny Dental Care, 101 Lafayette Street.

Ruby Que is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Escape runs alternate Thursdays this semester. She can be reached at rque@cornellsun.com.