Yesterday I was at a career fair. I didn’t go looking for a career, I’m currently looking for a will to live, and I don’t want to be looking for too many things at once. I was actually hired to help hopeful job hunters with their CVs. Everyone needs help with their CV because no one knows how to do this mysterious genre properly. Except me, obviously.
At the venue, I got a name tag and a booth of my own. I brought along a book and was hoping to spend the day pleasantly occupied reading my book, wandering around the premises and taking selfies. Unfortunately, people were so keen on having a CV consultation that I only had time for one bathroom break, one coffee break and several smoke breaks, which I masqueraded as pee breaks.
When I had a minute of peace, I couldn’t get my peace either because a camera person jumped on me and informed me that I was going to tell him on the camera what I was doing here and what it was good for. I meekly protested, saying I’d prefer not to discuss metaphysical questions. Also, I’m not even here, and if I am here, then it’s to crush people’s spirits and get paid for it.
The cameraman insisted. Serve him right. Because I still have some residual sense, I knew better than to express my private opinions publicly. So, accompanied with the man’s encouraging nodding, I weaved a tale on the spot on how exciting it is to participate at this unique occasion and get to lend young talented people a hand with getting the career they deserve. A load of shit. But I’ll be a TV star.
Today’s (un)inspiring task inspires the worst in me. I’m kidding only in part. That is, in part one of the statement: I do in fact appreciate the prompts, inspiring or not. Part two of the claim is no kidding. Expect the worst from me.
Today’s task is to preface your post with an epigraph in the form of a block quote. Inadvertently, I’ve been doing the very same a lot in my recent posts. Quotes are nice and all that, but I favour the bleakest kind of them. So, when I’m asked to elaborate on a quote of my choice, what can possibly go wrong? Everything.
Let’s get the shitstorm started. If you pardon my language. I promise I won’t choose any more quotes that contain heavy slang and four-letter words. Such as the four-letter word word, for example. Also, my promise only extends to this particular post. I’ll start niceish.
Literature: Transcendence, Epiphanies and Poor Choices
If literature matters today, it is chiefly because it seems to many conventional critics one of the few remaining places where, in a divided, fragmented world, a sense of universal value may still be incarnate; and where, in a sordidly material world, a rare glimpse of transcendence can still be attained.
Terry Eagleton, a foremost literary critic, is often quoted but this quote of his isn’t drawn attention to too often. It’s a shame because it attempts to answer the ultimate question of literature: What is it even good for? I hand-picked this quotation directly from one of Eagleton’s books I’ve read and enjoyed.
I’ve had transcendental experiences with literature of my own. I even had an epiphany. Ages ago, I was sitting on a bench somewhere in Edinburgh, during my literature summer school, and it was manifested to me that what I wanted to do in life was Scottish literature. True story.
Cute, right? I did go on to get a doctorate in ScotLit—in case I don’t mention it often enough, but you know, bragging rights. And then I had another epiphany. It was manifested to me that I needed to do something for a living. So, cheers, literature, RIP.
WYWI(N)WYG: What You Want Is (Not) What You Get
What each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no one willed.
My last triumphant achievement in the literature field was smuggling Marx and Engels into my dissertation and getting away with it. So, be not surprised that I seamlessly integrated randomly threw in some Engels in here too, for a good measure.
I happen to be a theoretical socialist. It means I think the idea of economic equality is cool, but it quickly becomes a mess when someone tries to apply it in real life. And why, no, I don’t have a better suggestion; if I had, I’d have written The Capital Revis(it)ed.
Freud: That’s What Everything Boils Down To
When one doesn’t have what one wants, one must want what one has.
Engels and Freud implicitly agree on that you’re not going to get what you want. I also agree, though no one is quoting me on it—you can be the first. Freud is my favourite and I find him extremely fascinating. That’s not hugely surprising, given that I’m a psychiatric patient, hence I have the unique opportunity to test Freud’s psychiatric hypotheses on myself.
This quote by Freud, you must admit, is however very sensible and universally acceptable. He might have been the first positive psychologist with this positive affirmation—they are conventionally called positive affirmations, aren’t they, because I just noticed that this naming is a prime example of tautology. That’s probably the idea.
I was being mean as hell today. And the worst part? I was enjoying myself while at it.
First of all, I lied shamelessly. I felt so exhausted that I was literally falling asleep in my chair. I couldn’t envision staying awake for several more hours, waiting for my English student to arrive for his lesson. So I called him, inventing an excuse why I need to cancel our class today. Miraculously, the moment I put the phone down, I felt refreshed and not sleepy at all. To see the scheme through though, I did take a nap, and it was probably the most expensive nap I ever had. Because I obviously lost some money by cancelling the private lesson. In terms of expense, today’s nap is closely followed by the nap I once took on the train, which resulted in my missing my stop and having to return by quite complicated manoeuvres.
Even worse, I rejoiced at other people’s misfortune when I woke up from my refreshing nap and was still feeling evil. I got a call from my former thesis supervisor, doctor Emma, who asked me to convert her .odt file into a .pdf file. Doctor Emma is a classic academic who can use the computer on a level akin to using a typewriter. That’s normal in academia. The department’s secretary, who is by far the most tech savvy, still produces class timetables in Word because Excel scares the shit out of her. While converting Emma’s file with one click, I listened to the news from my former department that Emma had to share. Apparently, two academics are being sacked. WTF? Academics are never ever sacked. It’s a weird world, once you get in, you stay at your post until your death (not even until you retire because academics don’t retire).
This causes the awkward condition that while new academics are still being trained, there are no jobs for them. No one tells them, of course, and some of the more naive ones find out only after they graduate with a PhD. Like me. I never quite got over the fact that though I’m excellent at what I do, my department preferred to keep their current and far less competent employees instead of hiring me. It’s a huge source of bitterness and anger for me, as it sort of ruined my life as I knew it. I ended up being an overqualified freelancer struggling and failing to earn her living. So, on hearing the news of not one but two of the least competent academics at my ex-department being let go, I was genuinely delighted. I consider it cosmic justice. God’s millgrinds slow, but sure, one would say, but since I don’t believe in God, I call it cosmic justice. The universe is giving me a friendly nod. I nod back with a mean smile.
I’ve been to a local academic conference today. I was supposed to present an original paper. I didn’t have the strength to write one, so I read a chapter from my completed dissertation. No one cared, obviously. I was shocked to receive one informed question on the subject of my presentation – it’s not typical that my obscure papers on highly unsavoury topics inspire anyone to ask anything. I also received a lot of questions as to what an “independent researcher” is. It’s a nice term for an unemployed academic. Means that not only you earn nothing for your work, but you pay to be able to work.
The purpose of my attendance at the conference was mostly meant to be therapeutic. A change of routine. There were also some sentimental reasons, a throwback to the period a while ago when I was actually excited about the academic world. In the light of later developments – including that jobs in academia aren’t distributed based on merit and that academics earn about as much as supermarket cashiers – I can’t say I feel quite the same level of excitement anymore. Finally, I went to the conference to flaunt my new “design”, as a colleague aptly put it. I’m obviously extremely conceited and concerned with appearances. I admit to this shameful quality shamelessly.
As I’ve been feeling like I’m dying recently, I thought I might just as well start working my way down my bucket list. Starting with a tattoo (pictured, because I’m conceited) and going on with me having half my head shaved (not pictured, sorry). I was pleased to earn some raised eyebrows and a number of comments on my (lack of) hair. If you’re considering having half your head shaved off, you should know what nobody tells you – half your head will be freezing off. Other than that, I recommend it. I’ll probably shave off the rest soon, so I can sell my hairdryer, save on hair products and save the time it takes to style half my head.
I have a health insurance card. That in itself isn’t particularly surprising, as where I live, health insurance is obligatory. My card is special though because I made it so – I had my academic titles added on it because I could. Where I live, academic titles are a decorative property – it won’t earn you a living, but it will earn you a better approach from people. I’d almost venture to say that my PhD secures me a humane treatment, but I don’t want to push my luck too far.
Since you present your insurance card to staff before you are granted any treatment at all, the staff that will attend to you will know that you’re a fellow doctor. It’s seriously working wonders. Some of the doctors and nurses I dealt with were not only polite, they were positively friendly. I know this to be not the default behaviour. As all of them took vivid interest in my titles and inquired how to enter them in the correct order in my medical files, I’m sure that it was a smart move to adorn my insurance card with the little extras that make people treat me nicer.
I met my favourite professor in town today. Academic encounters tend to be highly humorous because academia means social awkwardness. A high degree of it.
I recognised the professor straight away though he was pacing—not very steadily, as he was juggling his deep thoughts while walking—some distance in front of me. I sped up, caught up with him, said Hello, professor and introduced myself, in case he didn’t remember he spent the last n years collaborating with me. He did remember. He also acknowledged that it wouldn’t have been odd if he hadn’t recognised me because he had broken his glasses. (Damn it, I’m probably not getting this tense shift right and I need a tense even more in the past than past perfect. Yet, such a tense does not exist in English grammar.)
In lieu of a conversation, the professor and I exchanged our individual mutually unrelated streams of consciousness. In a rare moment when we actually actively interacted, the professor inquired whether I was still unemployed. I said I was, however, I now officially called it being self-employed. It’s the same, minus the social security benefits, plus the self-employment expenses on taxes and insurances. The professor complained about his low salary. I didn’t tell him that he should be glad he can earn enough to pay his bills, even if just enough. I also didn’t ask how much he earned.
The professor expressed some concerns about his four-year-old son, who, surprise, is a prodigy, reads in two languages and, surprise again, no one in the kindergarten likes him. No one likes smartass people. I advised the professor (because in academia, no one expects you to behave adequately, which allows me to dispense with advice to my professor) that as long as he discourages his offspring to follow a career in the humanities, everyone will be just fine. I didn’t recommend a career in IT, which I do recommend.
Owing to the lack of his glasses, the professor was more disoriented than usual. When I inquired which tram he was waiting for, he gave a me a bus number. While waiting at a tram stop. After a metaphysical discussion concerning trams and buses and the meaning of life, the professor decided for tram number seven. I made sure to wait with him and put him on the tram. He really looked lost. The encounter cheered me up. It’s refreshing to see someone who is more lost than yourself.
*The following contains no explicit material, but sexual implications are involved.*
Have you ever wondered, hypothetically, how you could jerk off the audience of a full lecture hall within a ten-minute presentation? Neither have I. Until I watched what is so far my most favourite episode of the Silicon Valley TV series. It’s a geek/tech comedy which is as funny as smart—not all of the time, but sufficiently so to make it worth a try. You’re likely to like it especially if you prefer entertainment that exposes popular clichés as being just that—meaningless rhetoric.
Besides Making the world a better place and Putting people first and Making a difference (I feel ridiculous only typing this nonsense), the show features a start-up at a competition where they have ten minutes to present their app, impress the judges and entertain the audience. That’s what happening in the following video, which considers the optimal efficiency for male audience stimulation. Based on this scene, a perfectly legit looking research article on the subject has been produced under the names of the show’s characters.
I spent the last few days doing what existentialists who aren’t nihilists (yet) do: persisting in so-called meaningful activities which they know to be meaningless. In other words, I’ve been pursuing my academic pursuits. (Or, oops, I did it again.) In a matter of four or five days, I churned out two abstracts (as in conference presentation proposals) and two full-length papers (as in literature analyses for publication).
As a result of these pointless accomplishments I feel pointless and accomplished. I’m perversely proud of myself for having met the deadlines and completed what I set out to complete. I’m also plagued by a sense of purposelessness now that I’ve done my purposeless task, which was nevertheless successfully distracting me from getting depressed. (Oh, of course, I’m also depressed.)
Doesn’t this post read as though I’ve recently spent a prolonged period of time writing something literary and academic? It does, doesn’t it. Apart from the contractions. (Not contractions as in labour, though labouring is indeed involved, but contractions as in contracted forms—like I’m). Academics don’t contract their papers—because word count. Also, apart from the sentence fragments (← like this one).
The fragmented feel of this post is however deliberate. So is the monotonous style. And the play on words. This is to draw attention to the language. My field of research, literature, reduces to language. My work, by extension, also reduces to language. (Guess what this post reduces to.) I should probably go write something normal for a change. Like a shopping list.
Update: Today’s Daily Post prompt just popped up in my Reader, offering the keyword purpose—which is what I accidentally blogged about above. That illustrates that I’m not only mental, I’m also psychic.
Whenever I don’t know what to blog about, I blog about Trainspotting. It’s my favourite childhood film (sic) and one of my favourite books. The book is better than the movie, but the movie is good enough to have achieved a cult status in my book (see what I did here?).
Trainspotting still matters. A sequel to the film is currently being shot, which is bound to fall short of the original, yet I’m so much of a fan that I’d be actually willing to see it in the cinema.
While I don’t teach either literature or film, I managed to sneak the showing of the Trainspottingtrailer in one of my classes after I found that my students were completely oblivious of this masterpiece. Of course they would be, they were not even born when it was made.
I imagined the trailer would be a largely useless though interesting experience with no relevance to my English class, but there was a funny follow-up. For the final test, there was a listening exercise I lifted from one of the teachers’ books I use, and the tape contained a dialogue concerning the trainspotting hobby.
It was in fact an excruciatingly artificial mock radio programme featuring an agony aunt tackling teenagers’ dramas. A kid complained that his friends laughed at him because he was a trainspotter. The good soul advised to the kid that he might try to find fellow trainspotter friends. Problem solved.
I had a hard time trying not to crack up while playing the tape to the students (I know, I have a weird sense of humour). I was however pleased that my trainspotting lesson proved to have a practical use, provided that test writing is practical. After all, it turns out that nothing is irrelevant. (Which is an alternative to the equally valid opposite claim that everything is irrelevant.)