Thursday, March 26, 2015

Oh, Really?

Trust is a funny thing.  It can be blind, based on faith and hope and optimism, or it can be based on some actual facts.  Like a relationship, a contract, or what economists like to call repeated iterations.
But let's be honest, shall we?  It's always about hope.  Because in life there are no guarantees.  ( I am noticing a trend in the last few posts...but I'll leave that for someone else to discern.)
So just because someone promises or hasn't betrayed you before, there is still an element of hope and faith in any trust.  Trust definitionally defies an absolute guarantee.

I started a career in academia years ago specifically because I sought a certain type of lifestyle I'd seen modeled.  I saw my step dad, a English professor then approaching retirement, living a fairly luxurious lifestyle.  He went to the movies and out to dinner several times a week, spent time reading for pleasure and bought a nice car every few years.  Bills were paid on time and college was assumed.  That was the life I wanted to have for myself and my family.

Fast forward almost ten years from when I first started studying for the GRE and prepping for grad school applications, and the academic job market is tight, competitive, and a little wasteful.  Many great teachers hobble along on adjunct pay for years, bobbing around the poverty line.  Grad school faculty are self interested brats, fattened on the teat of the previously luxe system and drive by narcissism to abuse student collaborators at the drop of a poorly funded hat.  Increased specialization and increased competition, and  there is less money out there in terms of loans, grants, fellowships, etc.  My perception of a supportive yet challenging system of education that would push me to my limits and then reward my hard work has been tainted by the reality that connections still, even at this level, matter more than talent, intelligence, or effort.
And in the event that you do gain the opportunity to be on a project you care about with some funding, I've found things can easily degrade to middle school lunchroom tactics, and my trusted professor/mentor can steal my work without giving me any credit, pay, or recognition.

I type these words with fire in my blood; there is nothing more enraging than seeing the words you wrote on a paper submitted by your 'trusted' professor with four other peoples' names on it.

Pit of god damn snakes.
Trust, even within the confines of the so-called ivory tower of academia, with people who have sympathetically told you they want to help you, is really just ill-informed hope.

And, my sweet darlings, hope does not pay the bills.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

...And Taxes

Nothing in life is certain.  Nothing but death, and death is the thing we expend so many of our precious resources trying to tame.  With little to no result.  We put the collective and several resources of all of our greatest sciences to the task of cheating death, staying it's hand, understanding it's motivations and lessening the unfathomable maw that is its inevitability.
We wear seat belts and take multivitamins and go to church and pay our mortgages and get annual physicals and eat blueberries to keep our fragile fleshy physicalities healthy, striving to keep death at bay.
Because we know it can be around any corner.  You can slip and fall in the bathroom and be dead tomorrow, or live to be 100, cursing all those weekends at the gym for ruining your precious joints.

Which is to say that even the only sure thing in life is still infinitely unknowable. 

And yet.  We bash our thick skulls against the wall that is uncertainty, begging it to be other than what it is.  Uncertainty is uncomplicated, plain and undeniable, and yet we beg it to alter itself, to give us a hint, to show us its hand before we have to play the game.  We human beings, with all of our biology and chemistry and philosophy and sociology are always trying to bend uncertainty to our will, to make it its opposite, to make it certain.
It will not be certain,  nothing will.  Not even in death will the certainty we strive for wash over us like a cooling balm.

There is a Talking Heads song in this vein:
Heaven, Heaven is a place; A place where nothing, Nothing ever happens
The song goes on to describe common situations repeating themselves endlessly for all eternity in heaven.  This song generally makes me cry, because I can understand the appeal of imagining a heaven where nothing ever changes, where nothing happens.  The sweet embrace of absolute certainty.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

What do you want to do?

I keep thinking about what someone recently said, about the biological motivations of creatures in comfort and creatures in discomfort: creatures in discomfort seek infamy and I immortality, creatures in comfort reproduce.  I no longer seek immortality or infamy; it is time for me to find a comfortable spot to settle in.  It is time for me to finally answer the question of what it is I want to do with my one wild and precious life. 
Who do I want to be?
Pressing up against that question is uncomfortable.  It makes me want to run and fill my mind with nothings.  I don’t want to work very hard…I want to live simply and happily.  That has always been my answer, and I thought I was moving towards it, but now I am not so sure.    
If I have to chose, career or family, which do I want?  All of this must be decided, of course, within the new context that nothing in sure, nothing is secure.  There are no guarantees in life, and I have seen that every step.  Marriages end, loved ones die, friends fade away or stop speaking.  Nothing in life is certain but it’s own ending, and even that is bathed in rich uncertainty. 
I used to say I wanted to be the chair of the Federal Reserve, but now I know that was never true.  I never really truly wanted infamy, I don’t think.  I just saw it as a short cut to love I didn’t trust myself to find on my own, be worthy of on my own.  So I sought stages, platforms, used my mouth as a bullhorn.  All in the pursuit of the love I didn’t feel worthy of. 
But that’s changing, and I do believe I am capable and worthy of a great, safe love.  I dearly, truly, whole-heartedly hope it is right in front of me, and that all I have to do is move forward into it.  And so again I dive in head first, head finally cleared of the concussion I earned from my last dive.  Fingers crossed, I make the next series of life-changing, future altering choices that push and pull and tear at the fragile fabric of normalcy, reminding me that it is only a thin veneer covering the chaos and turbulence of real life, of living actively and with awareness. 
What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
I want to live it with only a little fear, I want to push at the seams and the boundaries and find territories others were not willing to visit.  But I want to find them within myself.  There is no great exploration to be had outside of me.  The world is replete with the footprints of the explorers who’ve already come through.  What wilderness is left exists within my own mind, within whatever makes up a soul.  That is where my infamy can live.