|Working over coffee a couple of days ago, I unavoidably heard a conversation between a guy in his mid-20s and, presumably, his mother. He was physically a Subway Jared type, somewhere between "before" and "after" -- not morbidly obese, but enough that he'd likely be constantly accompanied by an awareness of how it affected people's reaction to him. (I've known this firsthand for a long time, though it's been lessened by the fact that I dropped some weight about 3 years back, disgusted after a particularly indolent Chicago winter.) The conversation centered around his apparent plan to enroll in some college classes (community, maybe), I think for the sake of finding a better job. He was extremely agitated and defensive, insisting "I hate school, the only reason I'm doing this is [inaudible], I only want to take 101 classes," and then, flipping through a course catalog, "Look at this -- 'The Italian Response to the Holocaust," "Greek Myth in Song and Story" -- it's nonsense!" From there he went on to variants on "I know I'm not an intelligent," "I'm a miserable person," "I don't want to do anything important," concluding, "I like office work -- my little dream is just to have an office, and type things, and not do anything for anybody or to anybody." (I couldn't make out anything his mom said in response, and I made an effort to tune out after this, as I felt passively invasive.) I guess I'm just noting down how sad all this made me, and how recognizable it felt: No one protests this way unless s/he does have some intelligence and ambition s/he somehow believes some combination of perceived personal weakness and external obstacles will never allow them to realize. How does anyone fix that?|
As for me I find myself in a strange position: I've decided semi-voluntarily not to pursue more teaching work immediately and, in essence, be a freelance writer/musician (I like the phrase "without portfolio," but it's not quite accurate) for the time being. (What does "semi-voluntarily" mean? Well, in the past I've turned down one tenure-track job, and last fall willingly allowed love, location, and unwillingness to take another good but explicitly temporary gig to constrain my job search. Frankly, the predictable result has been Plan A for a while; both locating and landing a genuinely suitable position would have been more surprising at present.) That's all fine: I expect I'll teach philosophy again, and I'm grateful to have the time to think though some aspects of what I've been doing since the Ph.D. that I won't go into here. But the fact is that the other way I've earned money over the last 12 years or so has been journalistic criticism, out of which the bottom has been dropping -- the slow shrinkage of word counts and available inches has been a constant since I've been publishing, but the wave of film critic firings and the closure of newspaper book sections is a new wrinkle. (Of course, it may be that some of these phenomena will have an upside for freelancers, just as current trends in academic labor make it feasible to land a class here and there, but harder than it once might have been to find security. And sure, maybe some of the action is going online, and that's fine, but as for monetizing a blog or being "entrepreneurial" in some way, well, I'm squeamish, for what I think are probably self-regarding reasons. Similar problems about making money from music, which is roulette anyway.) In any case, most of the writing projects I give a fig for (writing a musical-theater biography, say) strike me as more appropriate to a gentlemanly "independent scholar" than to someone who'd like to make a living. The point, by the way, is not complain: for various reasons (no debt, luckily modest baseline living expenses, some savings, no interest in yachting, have medical insurance), I don't expect to be chewing off my hands in the next 6 months or even, honestly, 2-3 years. It's just kind of interesting to realize that, even though, as I've said, my current situation is mostly of my own choosing, aspects of the present economic downturn/final crisis of capitalism are not without their practical implications for members of whatever class fragment I might be said to belong to.
One tires of always writing (and seeing others write) from a place of confidence. Or is this not the done thing? Back to our regularly scheduled judgments presently.