first, thank you for asking this, and i hope it’s okay that i’m answering publicly in case this is useful for anyone else. second, i want to express solidarity with you and others who can’t “afford” grad school, in whatever variation that might take. the majority of what i know has not been learned in graduate school or any school at all, unless you count the tactics i’ll be listing below, which i do. for the past four years my method was this: i stole food from work, put in exactly the hours it took to make rent, and spent the rest of my money on books, travel, and luxury because they sustained me. most days i consider it a miracle i am who i am today, and it is only due to a few people who recognized me — who fought to remain alive and responsive in this world — and to my own obsession and desperation. this blog is that hardship’s archive. autodidactic learning is about following a trail, so begin with one beloved book and use the bibliography as a bridge to the next. this tracing and tracking is what will propel you through para-academic learning. organize your time, develop and refine a ritual, and say yes to the restrictions that free your energy for thinking. in avital ronnell’s words: be monomaniacal.
here are a few other ways.
sneak into conferences. sign up for the listservs of academic departments and collectives. attend campus lectures — you are a student, you are studying. visit your city’s archives and collections. join a reading group, or find a few people whose ideas you respect and make your own. don’t be afraid to contact people online or collaborate with people you’ve never met. don’t waste time on non-responsive intellectuals, superstars, or figures. don’t idolize people for whom the internet or public presence is merely a platform for receiving attention and never giving it. give of yourself what you have to offer. don’t overestimate academics, but do acknowledge that a person’s backlog of knowledge is not always visible and allow yourself to be humbled. scavenge the passwords to online databases, especially from a friend who can keep you up to date on frequently changing keys and passwords. remember public libraries. stay awake to free and discounted days at museums. join/teach at a public school, or make your own. regardless, and this is the second most important thing, you must be in dialogue with people, and this must include physically sharing space with other bodies and voices. you can learn all you want but you’ll realize that you are not all there is to it.
additionally, i know that there are elusive, emotional, and historical costs to which you might be referring. but to touch on the purely financial aspect of “affording” it, do not pay for graduate school — make them pay you. most phd programs offer a full ride and occasionally so do MAs. you do not have to afford graduate school in this way.
lastly, you can show them the limits of official belonging. by this i don’t mean being impressive or seeking (the other kind of) recognition, but that “academic freedom incurs a cost” (fred moten). you can serve as a living reminder of what is possible when you are not economically accountable or beholden to an institution. you can demonstrate the fruits of disloyalty. this is another way of being loyal.
for a list of resources,
brilliant, useful, humane; this is the type of tone of voice that just reading it makes you feel less lonely in the world. i love the author.