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Saturday, November 29, 2003
Timeline of Doom
Chris over at Crooked Timber added to the conversation about the negative interaction between academic and familial responsibilities in "More on Tenure and Toddlers." Given that I have no toddlers, and have given up any attempt to find employment that may lead to tenure, I wasn't expecting to find too much of direct relevance, albeit of interest.
However, his post included what I am thinking of as the Timeline of Doom -- because it fits so well with my own life and raises the same worrying implications I've been fretting over off and on:
Take first degree (BA, say in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford) graduating at age 21.
Take a one or two year postgraduate degree (now insisted upon by funding bodies as a condition of admission to PhD programmes, finishing at age 23.
The PhD has now become essential to those wanting an academic career, so enter a PhD programme for a minimum of three, but up to five years. Finish at age 26�8.
Spend three years in temporary teaching positions and, at the same time, try to get enough published so hiring committees will even look at you. (Age 29�31)
If you are very lucky, get hired to a permanent position (but perhaps with a three year probationary period).*
Now, I'm not one of those crazy ladies running around screaming "I hear it ticking!" in regards to her biological clock, but I'm pretty sure that I would like children of my own some day.
What frosts my gourd the most at this point is that I am feeling rushed (crushed?) by biology as a result of poor career planning and ill-luck. (Ask me about the "Oh, god, am I going into early menopause?" scare some time.) Other people can begin thinking about whether or not to have children far earlier than academics in grad school (at least if they are not married to a non-academic spouse) and get enough of a financial base to make it feasible when the clock begins to be audible. Perhaps, too, they have the "leisure" of thinking about the changes a child would introduce to their lives without worrying about having to make such a decision in haste.
Need I say that I, who doesn't make enough to even support myself, is feeling a tad resentful and envious of those not facing the two dilemma's horns of biology and finances?
*The American version for historians is even worse: Undergraduate degree, 4 years, out at age 22. PhD. in history, 7 years, out at age 29. Part-time and visiting positions, ending with no renewals and no new offers, 4 years, out at age 33. Living the joyous life of poverty, duration unknown. Then add in the timeline of an academic partner 4 years behind you...
It was good to see my parents over the holiday, even though I worry about my mom's posture and my dad's driving and I live alone so much of the time that I felt overwhelmed by their attention. It is soothing to be around people who care for you, and to be surrounded by beings that are safe to touch and be touched by. You might assume, solitary as my life tends to be, that this is because I don't like being around people. If you saw me flinching from the touch of a stranger, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that I don't like being touched. Both are wrong; I love being surrounded by doting kin and cuddles and hugs and tickles and all that sort of thing -- but I have to trust those surrounding me and touching me.
So it was good to be among people I trust and love; not that I do not have such people where I live here, but I don't live with them, hear them breathing in the next room, feel the warmth on a chair where they sat, and so on. It's all so distant and formal, even among good friends. I don't believe in taking people for granted, but it's nice to believe that one could if one wished.
It was interesting being back in the Pacific Northwest. It's easy to forget the pervasiveness of wet, the omnipresence of moisture, the ever-present squelch of damp and soggy and puddled. It creeps into your very marrow, chilling you along the spine and lower back, in a way that cold dry air somehow does not. To a child who grew up in the arid West, the essence of water remains foreign and mysterious. Yet it is soothing too; the smell of damp leaves, the sound of dripping water, the feel of moisture on your skin complement the soft greyness of the air to make you aware of your range of senses. In such an environment, the slow gathering of leaves by hand becomes a moving meditation, a journey through the world of the small and groundlevel, a scent symphony of wet earth and plants punctuated by the visual burst of green leaf against dark soil.
Returning to the southland with my senses heightened, I revel in the softness of the late fall afternoon, the golden air gentle as a flannel sheet on a cold dark morning. I pet the neighbor's cat, toast some bread and look forward to a long walk as dusk settles in and mourning doves croon an evening lullaby. Instant nostalgia, I sometimes call it, this feeling of time suspended in amber, drifting, glowing, warm.
If you take a look off to the right, you'll see that my blog roster has been -- at long, long last -- brought more or less up to date. Like sweeping the porch, it's a never-done job, but it's better than it was.
If you see an error in my link for your blog, please let me know, and I will do my best to correct it in a timely fashion.
I posted these comments over at Cassandra Pages but felt they were important enough to have here too. I recommend going to see the original post and follow-up comments that inspired this.
(Finding my way here via Field Notes)
Dang, I should have been talking with you folks while wrestling with my research on these topics!
This question of whether there is any "there" there when we talk about amorphous things like "nature" is something that has been preoccupying me for several years. On the one hand, as a scholar I feel profoundly uncomfortable with the often careless and unrigorous ways writers in environmental ethics and environmental history use "nature" as an analytical category. For one thing, it is a changing category whose meanings shift across culture and across time -- so there is always the ever present danger of assuming that, say, Thoreau's nature is the same concept as the one bearing the label "nature" today. For another, it is terribly fuzzy -- where are the lines? What makes a tree "nature" in one context, but "unnatural" in another (as with GMOs, for example)? So the scholar in me wants something better, and in some ways is attracted to the notion of social constructionism -- the idea that when we speak of "nature" we really mean the concept, not the reality to which the concept is applied.
However, another side of me is made even more uncomfortable by the notion that the world is nothing but a mass of human constructions. A tree matters, I believe at a gut level, even if we disagree on what a tree "is" or (more contentiously) what it "means" or "is worth."
So how do we reconcile the two? How do we reject or reform "nature" without tossing out trees and mountains and bees and grasshoppers and slime molds too?
On a professional level I've come up with an alternate concept; it's one I develop in my book -- but I can't talk about too much yet (it's still in the review process by my future publisher). Instead, I will say a word about my personal approach to resolving this dilemma (at least, I see it as a dilemma). Dale's comment -- "The concept of "Nature" has been losing ground in my psyche, but the concept of "Tendrel," or "Interconnectedness", seems more than able to take up the slack." -- sent echoes along my psyche.
In an effort more conscious than not at this point (unlearning years of acculturation takes time!) I try to think of myself as one being among many, as one part of being and existing in a larger sense, and thus to maintain a sense of humility towards other creatures and the larger world we all inhabit. This also means paying attention to that world, and kindred beings -- and not floating along in a selfish bubble of oblivion.
I have a LONG way to go with all this -- I am far far from perfect -- but that's where I'm headed. So, back to the question of finding a "home" -- I think "home" is a human construct, not an essential quality of the wider world (or even of friendlier pockets of it) but I see less harm in thinking of shared ecosystems as home than in treating them as if we were spoiled guests who could leave when the party was over.
Too tired to post much (plus tonight is SnarkTV night, aka Survivor + CSI).
Just a quick meditation on how strange the movements of luck are. Since I quit, the number of possible job leads has jumped: first the temp job back at Adult College, then a couple of strong hints from them that they might be amenable to hiring me full time, then a good new contact on the writing front, and now a possible research stint.
While none really appeal, except the ephemeral possibility of writing work, it is nice to think that perhaps the tide has changed. Now it is up to me to ride it, hopefully in the direction I want to go.
Although I am obliged to sit in a chair in an office most of the day, my mind is not. Hopefully this will translate into a longer blog entry (or even several) in future; I have several vaguely related themes and am trying to think about how to bring them together in a coherent fashion. Keep your eyes open!
I tend not to pray -- my sense of God is not such that I think there is a sufficiently coherent "self" to address in a prayer, and even if I did, I doubt that such a being would have the time to pay attention to the worries of such a small organism who's better off than many other strugglers -- but Dale gives a good, different reason to consider including it in one's life.
A warm bowl of "Scottish" oatmeal this morning, with raisins and brown sugar and milk. I'd wanted steel cut "Irish" oats, but these were pretty good, nonetheless.
A walk with D. in the local neighborhood, looking at all sorts of lovely houses and petting an occasional cat along the way.
Combing llama wool in preparation for "worsted"-style spinning (short explanation -- worsted yarn features fibers in parallel, while woolen yarn tends to have a more random arrangement). Remember combing doll hair, or a favorite pet, or a child? It's rather like that. I have an old wooden comb that smells of rose oil for the task, and it is very soothing to watch the carefully smoothed tufts line up in my tub, waiting to be spun into yarn for a lacey shawl. Mmm.
Revising my internship application essay -- it brings order out of chaos, and helps me clarify just why I want to work in a museum. It also feels productive!
Reading Yoga Journal. It is oddly soothing, just in itself, to read about stress and struggle and the gentle persistence of yogis who find ways to maintain compassion and balance in the midst of chaos. I breathe more slowly and sit up straighter afterwards -- both good things.
Having the neighbor's cat sit outside my door meowing to come in, followed by her twining about my ankles and purring with pleasure when I accede to her demands.
While there are a few slightly irksome things about returning to the first place I began temping (such as discovering that some of the projects I worked on are still not done!) I am so much happier here than my last place at the Job From Hell.
For one thing, I was requested by name -- they even said that if I wasn't available, they weren't interested in hiring another temp.
For another, every time I do something well, or think of some way to make things clearer or easier, I am praised -- what a concept!
I also have an office to myself (albeit one that really needs an incandescent light -- I may bring one in with me Monday) with a computer and an internet connection -- such luxury. It being next to The Big Boss (usually not in), the Nice Man and away from The Burrower is an additional bonus.
Funny how I found this job so annoying at the beginning; now it seems like a dream come true (well, almost. *wink*)
Add in getting paid, receiving my copy of Yoga Journal and D. coming over tonight with homemade chocolate pudding, and my day has turned out to be quite delightful.
I'm in a much better mood today, after a day spent recovering and working on internship applications, and a morning of yoga. (My GOD, I am stiff!)
Today I have a "new" job -- I'm to work a few days for the college where I filled in as registrar. I'm not sure if that's what I'll be doing, but I do know that it will be quiet, and clean, and involve no heavy lifting.
Amanda has just posted a really good piece at Household Opera in which she begins with observations about grocery bagging and ends with a nice analogy to the current problems besetting academia. (I'm not doing it justice.)
Note to Amanda: I share your annoyance with the bagging situation. In fact, I am obsessive enough to arrange my stuff on the conveyor belt in an order that will hopefully result in good bagging. Of course, I also line up all the bar codes towards the scanner, but that's more an aftereffect of doing the same in libraries.)
The job was hard enough without adding in depression and lack of sleep. Even those could have been managed, at least for a while longer, if there had been any gratitude for my efforts, or even simple acknowledgement of the hard work I have put in. Instead, when I came in today, there was a note in my filing area. It told me to file the files from yesterday before sorting more.
On the surface, this seems innocuous. Realize, though, that I have always finished any task not done at the end of the day the next morning. Realize too that the containers holding the files were full, so it was physically impossible to sort more files unless the others were filed first. Translation: my supervisor believes me to be irresponsible, incompetent and stupid.
Yes, that seems a lot to read into a single note. What it did was make me realize though was that this was part of a larger pattern of not noticing me or listening to me or taking my concerns about the job seriously, and only talking to me to either order me to do something (usually something I was already doing or just about to do) or to point out a mistake. Indeed, as I turned in my final timesheet, she did not even say thank you. Bitch.
I do not feel happy, or even relieved. I feel tired, and depressed, and poor. Quitting has perhaps saved my sanity and my health, but at the cost of two weeks' pay. I have no back-up job, and the rent is due all too soon. It is not a time for celebrating, but recovering, so I can keep struggling.
I am going to eat, and sleep, and return to the struggle tomorrow. Today, it would be too much.
When I don't get enough sleep, I find it very easy to slide into depression.
Unfortunately, when I'm depressed, it's often the case that trying to sleep means lying in the dark thinking about things that make me more depressed -- and the only solution, alas, is to stay up until I am so exhausted that I just collapse into unconsciousness when I finally go to bed.
This weekend my friends had a sifting bee at the remains of their houses; the idea was to combine a barbecue lunch with digging around in the rubble in the hopes of finding something intact.
Surprisingly, we did indeed find a number of things that had survived the inferno. High-fire ceramics seemed to have fared the best, if they were not crushed by something else. Terra cotta also did well. Glass did not; when it was not melted into interesting shapes, it liquified and acted as a glue binding nearby objects together. Paper -- especially books -- transformed into incredibly fragile piles of ash; one breath and they dissolved. Metal either became bent and fragile or puddled into strange little blobs. Wood charred and turned to black chunks, if not instantly incinerated. One of the odder "finds" I discovered was a box of pencils; all that remained were the leads and the metal rings that had held the erasers.
(When I returned home that night, I found myself looking around my apartment with eyes that gauged which possesions would survive intact, which would vaporize, and which would be strangely transformed.)
The event was surprisingly joyous; it turned into a bit of a competition to find the most intact things, and it was a happy thing to see my friends beam at the sight of some small treasure resurrected from the debris.
But there lingered an air of poignancy, even as the faintly sour smell of ashes remained on our clothing for hours afterward. The saddest and most awkward thing was briefly trying to help their former tenant sift through his rubble; he had no insurance and the joy was not there. Instead, D. and I felt creepy and weird looking at the remains of his possessions, and soon returned to the boisterous crowd of amateur archaeologists with no small amount of relief.
Friday I went to two gatherings of graduate students (D's colleagues and one or two of my own from when I went there). It was bittersweet; I enjoyed talking about things in a knowledgeable way and actually having people care what I thought, but a low level of annoyance with their blithe acceptance of academic posing kept me from fully enjoying myself.
There was also one somewhat funny (and somewhat not) moment when a friend of mine asked me about the job market and my intentions. I said that I wasn't on it this year and that I am, in fact, in the process of leaving academia entirely. He said -- and this is very nearly a direct quote -- "Well, whatever decision you make, I want you to know that we'll [he and his girlfriend] support you in any case."
As D. remarked afterward, both the words and the tone in which they were said had their closest analogy in the comments of well-meaning friends after someone comes out of the closet.
Work was quiet today, which meant I had plenty of time for brooding. I'm not going to spell out what I was brooding about, as I don't want to sink deeper into my depression. Let's just say that work, and life more generally, and the future direction of both, were the themes.
Yesterday I read a post over at Ms. Frizzle about the "Broken Window Theory." (She was writing about it in relation to school.) In a nutshell, the theory explains that broken windows in a neighborhood are a sign of decline not because they are directly connected to crime but because they indicate that people living in the neighborhood have ceased to care.
This is a good way of describing my current workspace. It is chaotic, and messy, and no one wants to fix either condition. Well, a few people do, in small ways (like me trying to organize one of "my" drawers) but the overall effect of such efforts is negligible.
We will see what things are like tomorrow; when I left today, a guy from the physical plant was dismantling my work area with the intention of making space for more file cabinets. This could be a good thing, if there is a larger plan behind this -- but I seriously doubt it. My suspicion is that it will simply rearrange the chaos, perhaps for the worst.
I really, really wish that I had a space that was under my control at this place. It would make the whole ordeal more bearable to have one little area that was "mine."
Hmm. That doesn't have the impact I was hoping for -- something parallel to "going postal" was what I wanted. "Going clerical," perhaps?
Anyway, today was a long, slow simmer of resentment. Partly it was because I haven't had enough sleep and am suffering today with an earache. Largely it was because the filing system is getting to me. It is so awful, and yet people seem more willing to adapt to it than to fix it. They complain regularly about how it is not easy to use, yet practices that make it worse are widespread. It is incredibly annoying, especially since I could easily point out a number of fixes for the major problems. (Step one: buy new file cabinets.) However, there is no way to do this since (a) it is not what I was hired to do, (b) they are not interested in my opinions, and (c) the people who have the power to fix it are both unwilling and unable to do so. They have adapted to the flawed system and somehow find it easier to just keep shrugging off the difficulties as being inherent in the system rather than being due to the failure to enforce the system.
Case in point, today: I was scolded for *gasp* actually trying to keep the hanging file folders up to date. Given that new files are added every day -- literally hundreds a week -- you'd think that trying to ensure that misfilings at the new end are kept to a minimum would be a good thing. In my enthusiasm, I did accidently duplicate a few folder labels at the end while files were out being worked on. I will admit that this was not good, and am now trying to develop a system to prevent this in future. (I am doing this because they do not actually have such a system. There is literally no way to know what the end of the file is on any given day -- partly because new files are added, largely because no one has bothered to think of one.) Keep in mind that I have prevented literally hundreds of files from being misfiled through my labeling efforts (over 1000 files were processed yesterday). This one duplication -- which "confused" the person putting the files back in the drawer -- is what received the attention, not the work I did to make things function as they actually should. Way to encourage efficiency, guys!
I guess all they want is an unthinking drone who is willing to hunt and dig around for files while hundreds pile up, or who will follow the strategy apparently preferred by my "helpers" yesterday -- that is, sticking a file in the vicinity of its proper location.
Add in my on-going frustration with my work area -- it's not dedicated to the task of filing, though it clearly needs to be, the lighting is bad, there's not enough space, people keep moving my things around and taking my tools away, etc. -- and it's a miracle I don't run amok with the giant rubber bands and sharpened file folder supports. Taste my wrath and die, evil filing system!
I'm sorry I haven't been posting more often. Between being out of my apartment more often than not (my dad is in town to help out our friends and he's staying at my place, which is really too small for two) and fighting a losing battle with Netscape, I'm not online as much as I'd like to be.
Speaking of which, can anyone recommend a Mac-compatible browser (not Explorer!) that is (1) not a memory hog (I think this is why Netscape 6 keeps crashing) and (2) will work with Blogger? If anyone could also recommend an email program (not Eudora!) that would read old Netscape 4.7 email files and run on little memory, that would be great too! (Oh, and don't tell me about the wonders of Safari, unless they've developed a patch that would let me run it on OS 9; see gripe below for further explanation.)
(One of my on-going pet peeves is that a lot of people on the web are in a rush to upgrade their sites so that they will be able to run "cool" things like Flash, but, by so doing, make it impossible for those of us who can't upgrade to read them. This really pisses me off, and strikes me as lazy programming; at least leave a simple version for those of us who can't afford the upgrades! (And don't tell me about the free program downloads. In order to run "the latest versions" I'd need to special order a bunch of RAM, which I am not about to do. Food is more important.))
My friends are getting used to being burned out and starting to think about the future. As the poem previously posted suggests, they are getting lots of help! I went by the burn site this weekend with vague ideas of helping with something but there was really nothing for me to do. I don't have any special skills to offer -- just helping hands -- and they've lots of official and unofficial help already. Wandering around looking at the weird effects of intense heat on various objects was sort of interesting, at first, but by the end of the day I was feeling quite useless. I couldn't even work up any enthusiasm about photographing the debris, which several people have been doing; I noted several interesting shots, but couldn't get over the feeling that it would be inappropriate to indulge my hobby and the sense that enough photos have been taken by others. I doubt I'll go back out there for a good while; what would be the point?
I had a preliminary interview today for a freelance proofreading job at the local weekly. (Fingers crossed!) It went well, as best as I could tell -- it was mostly a proofreading test and filling out an application. I have a vague worry that I screwed up on it some way; it's the sort of thing you want to be perfect on, and I'm doubtful of my ability to achieve perfection! (Suddenly, words you've spelled correctly and used unthinkingly for years look strange and ungrammatical.)
There is a cute kitten in our neighborhood, or at least there was on Halloween and yesterday. If it comes back, I'd love to be able to keep it, but doubt I should. Sigh. I've been desirous of a kitten for years now, but there's always something in the way -- money, moving around, no pets policies... It's hard to plan to take care of something for ten-plus years! (And so I remain cat-free and unhappy about it. *sigh*)
What do you do when
You try to give a friend the shirt off your back
And it doesn't fit?
And what's needed is pants you don't have?
My friends now have a million socks;
They don't need any more.
Food, shelter, clothing -- all taken care of, by others.
So what does one do,
When all you can offer
Are things that are not needed?
You rejoice that someone donated a shirt that fits,
Are happy that your friends are being taken care of,
Accept that this is not about you,
And keep offering the shirt off your back
To those who might need it
Some other time,
And some other place.