In the five weeks since classes began, my cohort (that's the fancy word we use in grad school for "year," or "class") and the cohort one year ahead of us have gotten together for a social gathering every Friday night. The first four of these were parties at people's houses/apartments - I actually hosted the second. This past week, the dreaded Week Four of the quarter hit, with its sudden exponential increase of reading, writing, prepping for teaching for some of my colleagues, and general school-related stress. Added to the rainy weather we've been having this week (as a NorCal girl, I've been un-bothered by it, but all the locals keep expressing their astonishment), this left all of us grad students in a rather bleary mood, and no-one volunteered to host a get-together last night. Not all of us surrendered to the reading and the gloom, however. One of my colleagues (the only man in my cohort) sent out a message to the party-list, and several of us met up at a bar in Isla Vista (the community directly off campus primarily populated by undergraduates) for a few pitchers of beer, and great conviviality was enjoyed.
As we all enjoyed ourselves, it occurred to me that, for the most part, English grad students party in a (not so) slightly different way than other people in my age range might. Let me give you one example: At the bar last night, one of my friends rejoined the group after buying herself a beer. "I think I have to turn off the English major sometimes," she said. "I just almost corrected the bartender's grammar." We all laughed as she recounted overhearing the bartender talking to a friend about how "Me and Sarah are going to the party," and each winced and sucked in a breath before muttering, "Sarah and I" under our breath. Later, I was bemoaning some piece of overblown rhetoric I'd overheard in my French class (a topic for another post, if not several), a friend commiserated with me for having to tolerate "such pompous sophistry." I could be wrong, but I don't think the undergraduate frat brothers next to us who were whistling for the bartender while chugging their beers were having conversations exactly like ours. At our social get-togethers, I have heard my colleagues discuss their research, the readings for the classes they have in common, their preparation for their qualifying exams (source of all my future nightmares), and their current favorite (or least favorite) theorists. I have heard the words and names postmodernism, affect theory, Foucault, Derrida, and post-colonialism all used in so-called "small talk" at these parties, and never does it have a whiff of pretentiousness - our lives are as focused on literature and its ins and outs that our daily vocabulary is as full of its "isms" as my parents' (both lawyers) attorney friends are full of lively political, legal discussions at their social events.
Not that I would want anyone to think that the only things we do while consuming our wine, micro-brewed beers, and cheese and crackers is talk shop. Along with the fancier-sounding names and ideas, I have heard (or participated with) my carousing colleagues discussing Lady Gaga, pie recipes, hot beverages-related accidents, and unicorns. (Although one of my friends would argue that the last is quite possibly a totally legitimate topic of scholarly discussion.) So yes, we English grad students can "turn it off." We just don't always want to.