Geoffrey Long
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I am Bennett Cerf.

I just keep thinking about Bennett Cerf.

There's this thing in our culture where if you're going to make it, you have to do so while you're young and handsome and hip. You've got to be one of the "Top Thirty Under Thirty". And to do that, you often have to do one thing to the exclusion of all else.

I'm having a hell of a time picking a grad school program because everyone always says, "If you're going to go to grad school, you have to be sure that's what you want to do."

And I'm looking at them, and I'm just thinking, Crap.

Because I don't want to do just one thing. The people that interest me the most are the Bennett Cerfs, the people who go out there and do a whole bunch of interesting stuff. The people who are the writers and the designers and the musicians and the personalisties and the people making new stuff and making life interesting. That's what I try to do every day. Play with something. Make something happen. Make something real that wasn't real before. You know? Tell a story, make up a song, keep it new and cool.

So many of the young hip media darlings are so one-dimensional. You know why I like Ethan Hawke? Because he published books. You know why I like Russell Crowe? Because of his band. These are people who are doing more than one thing. That's cool. That's what I want to do.

How many aspects of me would be helped by going to, say, the NYU Master's Program in Publishing? Some. A bunch, maybe. Design? Marketing? Storytelling? Business? Check, check, check, check. Sounds like fun.

Sorry, just thinking out loud.


You like Russell Crowe? Oh god, do we have issues...

All that soul-baring, and that's what you latch onto?

I've always thought that wanting to do lots of stuff has always held me back to a degree, in any number of respects. I've never wanted to specialize in any one area, and as a result, I've had a tough time focusing on any one particular avenue. Sure, I'm doing videography fairly consistently now, but it's taken me a long time to get here. I haven't gone to grad school because I haven't found an avenue I've wanted to concentrate on so exclusively.

Hell, I haven't even been able to specialize enough to give my weblog a singular focus. How the hell am I supposed to do so with my whole life?

And trust me, thirty's no "magic barrier."

Well you know how I feel about the rest... Don't feel obligated to go to grad school and don't feel obligated to move the world before you turn thirty. The most successful turns happen just when someone stops trying so hard and just lets the elements fall into place. The idea of continuing school is to become more selective about what you are studying.... Your life goals are to not become selective. They don't really balance. Perhaps a second bachelor in another field is a better answer?

First off, that Kate is one smart lady. I would listen to her very wise posting.

Secondly, for what it's worth, friend, I've gotten more done since I turned thirty in November then I did the last five years of my twenties. I feel more personally and professionally fulfilled, and I feel I'm making more of a contribution to my family, friends, and the world as a whole.

If you, like me, suffer from the double-pronged monster that is 1) interest in many things and 2) perfectionism that leaves you unsatisfied if you can't do something exactly right, moving past the "top 30 under 30" may be a breakthrough for you. No longer bound to a list, you can do whatever you want without the perfectionism. I think that may have been my breakthrough, but then again, age may just be a coincidence in my case.

My best friend here in grad school just turned 30. I asked him about his decision to get an MFA-film, and he told me that he applied to a ton of law schools and one art school, got into all of them, and went for the art school. He's sort of drifting, too, and has a strong interest in art and guitar, but so what? The older I get, the less I'm convinced that age actually matters. I'm studying to be a director, but I'm rediscovering what a good editor I am and how much I enjoy it. I plan on making films, editing, and also writing screenplays, plays, and poetry. My creative life hasn't locked irretrievably into one channel with my pursuit of an MFA. If anything, it's a creative spur, as I spend more time with highly creative people. The screenplay I'm working on is more ambitious and subtle than anything I've ever done before. And as for being stuck with your choice, another good friend is changing her MFA program- in a scene eerily reminiscent of the Graduate, she looked at me this morning and announced, "fibers". We've got all the time in the world, Geoff, to decide what we want to be when we grow up.

Well, you've certainly got company in this conundrum. I'm a couple years out of college now, and wondering how I'll ever do anything significant without deciding on a narrow focus and going back for more school. But to do that justice I'd have to give up on all sorts of disparate interests and pursuits, and I just can't bear to make myself... it'd be like excising integral parts of my identity. Perhaps the need to do something "significant" at all is what needs to be questioned, or at least the timescale for those expectations.

I'm starting to get past the "success by 30" thing, even though I had built up that expectation fairly solidly through years of being a precocious overachiever whiz-kid type. It's a vastly different landscape now than the one in which those expectations were formed though... different economy, different ideas of what adulthood and a career and perhaps even a normal working lifespan constitute, and so on and so forth.

So, for now I'm just pursuing all of those interests, going the autodidact route, trying to see if I can do it on my own terms and have it all. Still, it's a scary and at times lonely path to tread. You don't get the built in intellectual / cultural / social framework that a conventional grad education provides, so it starts to feel like a bit of an echo chamber, and your knowledge feels rickety and untested at times. Also, without the cred provided by a grad degree, I worry about whether I'll be able to find work that's really challenging and worthwhile. It's kinda pointless to accumulate all of this knowledge and not put it to any real use, and that's pretty much the case now, though I'm at least secure and comfortable enough, workwise. No answers here I guess... still muddling and reserving the right to change my mind if better opportunities arise. The only real worry is... what if the muddling is indefinite?

I didn't get my bachelor's degree until I was 38. There's no law that I know of that says you have to concentrate on just one subject. My boss has two master's degrees - I agree with Kate, think about a 2nd or even 3rd bachelor's or just go with the flow - why do you need a master's? Will it help you accomplish your goals? Or will it just provide you with another piece of paper you can hang on your wall?

Just don't end up like my cousin, who has, I think, 2 bachelors' and maybe a master's, in music and math & computers, and lives in his parents' basement and works at a library shelving books. School, for him, was just a good way of avoiding real life, and instead of graduating & facing it like we all eventually did, he retreated further. But I have no fears of you doing anything like that, Geoff- you already live in the real world :)

(this was the cousin who wrote the sexy Transformers fan fiction, btw.)

So, I wonder how many of us have this need for success and, perhaps, overachievement due to our status as gifted kids? I remember thinking a year or so ago that it used to be easy to impress people when I was 8, but then eventually your age catches up with your reading level, and you have to struggle to do great things. If I didn't force myself to see the humor in the situation, it might make me very depressed...

Actually, Shannon, I think you hit the nail on the head. There's a feeling of looking around the glossies at the twentysomethings who are publishing novels and making movies and doing great things already and seeing them as the Gifted Class.

Which is silly, since we're doing those things too, but still...

Jeez, so many great comments here, and not enough time to address 'em all. The obvious emergent picture here is that there's no one way to do it, and the only way to go is your own. Still, I want to go to grad school. Maybe the real answer is the multiple-masters route. Go get one degree in publishing from one school, another in writing (*sigh*), another in media... Or, you know, just one degree and the novels. On a serendipitous note, Neil Gaiman posted someething the other day in his weblog much along the same lines. He didn't bother with grad school because he pretty much knew what he wanted to do, and opted to make his mistakes on the job. Seems pretty reasonable to me. Also, he said that he didn't want to spend two years wanting to kill all the people who would tell him he should only bother writing the heavy literary stuff. Funny, that sounds exactly like my experience at Kenyon.

But, Hon, WHY do you want to go to grad school? What's the reason? In order to go you will HAVE TO give up most of your activities outside of your field of study. Do you really want to do that or will it just make you miserable?

Just some things to think about.

BTW, you're the only one holding yourself to these outrageous standards of success. Why don't you sit back and revel in the small successes you experience everyday? If I only lived for that Broadway Show or that TV show I want to direct, I wouldn't be able to enjoy my success at reworking a song the way I did today, or my ability to complete a triple pirouette. My point is, you need to take a break at looking at the Gigantic picture and truly bask in the points of color in your pointalism painting.

Hon, that was an amazing analogy!

And you're right, I do need to take some time and bask in these small successes. Like the projects I'm rolling out, or this one that's almost done after three bloody years. I'm looking at this thing right now, and feeling so proud of it. It's almost done. This albatross of a project, this thing I thought was almost quixotic for so long, is about to be real. That's amazing. And yesterday I sat down with one of my clients, an inventor, and held in my hands the thing we'd been making sketches of together a little over a month ago. That was incredible. Would I want to give that up completely? Probably not.

I think you're right about a lot of these grad programs. If I had to do only MBA type stuff for two years, I'd probably be miserable. Or if I had to do only creative writing stuff and no multimedia. (Already been there.) I'm looking at the Publishing program as the closest thing to what I do on an everyday basis. I look at the classes there and get all excited, and you know how dorky I can get that way. I geek out at the idea of putting books together, bringing designers together with writers and making these beautiful little objects, little sculptures of stories. Or movies, or websites, or whatever. That's what I'm doing right now, and a publishing degree seems pretty darn close to that. Of course, I could be wrong – which is just one more reason why I should do the summer program this summer, to see if I like it. I miss academia, I miss studying and learning new stuff with other people. I've been teaching myself for the last four years, and I'd like to go back to class. Maybe the summer program would be sufficient to get that out of my system for a while.

Right now, that looks like my best plan. Move to Chicago, spend six weeks in New York, head back to Chicago... Now I just need to make some mad cash to pay for it. Anybody out there currently need a freelance creative?

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