a culture crisis

for the depraved

Category: Graduate Life

Meaninglessness in Work

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I return to A Culture Crisis, having always known it’s been there, having always felt its presence somewhere in the back of my mind since I’ve been away, because I find myself in a state of quasi-nostalgia with regard to the time in which I was still in school. It has been a little under a year since I graduated from my MA program in English. As I tend to tell people who ask, my MA was the most brutally exhausting and mentally taxing experience of my life. It was, quite possibly, the most difficult thing I have ever had to simultaneously endure and push through.

Now, I have a full time job as a business manager for a local business. I have a staff of roughly 10 people. I am in the process of developing new ideas and creating new projects almost everyday. I can choose my own hours and take vacations whenever I please. I am completely responsible for every decision taken in the workplace. I am in a position of leadership.

Sounds like a perfect fresh-out-of-school job. I should be very grateful that I have this job. Appreciative that I am not struggling in the way that some of my friends are who were not so fortunate as I to have a job lined up out of school. I should be, and yet I’m not.

I’m not satisfied with my work. Yes, there are many perks to this particular job. That’s all very lovely. But I’m not satisfied. I am severely underpaid for the job I do, and it’s not helpful that I perform the tasks of at least three people. Business manager, marketing manager, operations manager… I have no help, no assistance. Just me. Learning too many things everyday in order to keep this business successful in an age where so many small businesses are drowning. I have learned to photoshop, to optimize text/photos for the internet,  social media management, marketing, budgeting, accounting, human resource necessities, and much more, and all entirely on my own.

I don’t know many people who are willing to do that. My staff certainly isn’t. God forbid they do a little research at home about the products they sell. But I continue to do so, to research and learn. Thinking, perhaps, that if I acquire all this knowledge, and put it all to good use, surely I can make something meaningful of this job. Surely I can derive some sense of purpose if I grow the business, take care of its people, guide everyone involved to success. Surely, I tell myself, if I can do all of this, I’ll be happy.

 

It’s not working.

 

Work aside, I’ve had to move back home from having lived on my own for over 5 years in order to save up some money. Public transit doesn’t pass by my area (I’d have to walk 45 minutes to an hour to reach the nearest bus stop). I don’t have a car, and so my mobility is completely contingent upon the schedules of my family members. There are now expectations regarding my behaviour (if my parents have guests over, I must come out of my room and say hello. I should have dinner with my family, not when it suits me, can’t come and go as I please…). My life has changed from having total independence to having virtually none. It sucks.

The thing is, even though my MA was often incredibly overwhelming and drove me half insane, I nonetheless felt that I was really doing something of value. I felt that my work had purpose, and that I had meaning about me. I slaved over my papers and often disregarded sleep and food (which is another problem altogether, but it calls for a separate entry), but in the end of the day, when it was time to turn in my papers, or present my seminars, I felt that what I had created was meaningful, and it gave meaning to both those who engaged in my work, and to myself, who created it. Sometimes I will reread my papers, and I nearly forget that I was capable of that level of thought, or that capacity for clear and engaging writing.

I miss that.

And I think that’s what is missing from work today for lots of people like me. Lots of overqualified, high functioning critical thinkers who are capable of very demanding, challenging, tiresome, and excruciatingly stressful tasks. But, in school, these were tasks that, at the end of it all, yielded a feeling of true purpose in the world. There was no confusion about what you were doing, no question of its value in wider culture. It was something you knew, and something you felt. And you weren’t even paid to do it.

Now, in the workforce, the work can still be demanding, challenging, tiresome, and stressful, and being that we are overqualified, high functioning critical thinkers, we can certainly do the work. But because there is no value in the work, because there is no meaning, any sense of purpose one could possibly feel in that labour is lost.

And when that sense of purpose is lost, it can too often feel as though all is lost. Something very dangerous happens. Hope, positivity, creativity, the very will to keep going, they all seem to disappear, like rings around a drop of water in a sea, moving farther and farther away until you forget what they looked or felt like in the first instance.

I have been very afraid for some months now that I would become so severely depressed that I would never come out of it. And the anxiety of it all has a way of making things much much worse. Sadly, too many people know this feeling. And I can’t say with certainty that all will be well – after all, I was compelled to write this piece due to these darker feelings. But I do try. I’ve taken up yoga rather seriously to bring back positivity in my life, to bring back focus on something other than work. To bring focus back to me, really. To who I am outside and beyond the superficial aspects of my existence. I hope that its influence will extend beyond the hour of practice. And I’m trying to write again. I’ve mentioned on this blog that I’ve been working on a novel of sorts. I’m trying to remember that, to come back to that side of me. The one who writes, and reads, and thinks.

Anyway, if you’ve stuck with me this long, thank you. I was worried this would turn into some sort of Dear Diary post. I’m not quite sure that it hasn’t, but thank you all the same. And if you ever need to share something, I’m always here, somewhere across the internet.

 

All my best,

 

J

 

The World Just Got Dumber: A Vindication of the Arts

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Hello again,

If you follow A Culture Crisis – you know, on the off chance that you have nothing, nothing, better to do with your life than to read random shit I post on the internet – you’ll know I have been on a miserable essay hiatus this summer. Why? Because I failed to complete my graduate term work in the winter semester and have thus been forced to finish my remaining final papers throughout the summer. I am quite the go-getter, indeed.

As it stands, I have one paper left to complete in two days (woohoo!!). Since I have been on an essay hiatus (the purpose being that I would stay off WordPress so as to complete said essays), the intention was not to post until I finished all my work and thus would not feel ashamed of wasting time that could have been dedicated to pounding out essays. However, the internet has insulted me and my ilk – my ilk being anyone not in business and/or science (otherwise known as the employable assholes (just kidding… maybe not)) – and I am determined to say something about it, albeit to my limited readership.

Dear world, kindly stop undervaluing the arts and social sciences. All you prove when you do so is that you are an ignorant dick with no cultural awareness whatsoever. “But it’s true,” you might say. “You liberal arts kids are just plain unemployable in today’s world. Like, all you do is read books and stuff. You know, the world doesn’t go round because you read a book. You need to do something valuable, like becoming a capitalist scumbag. You know, that may be unethical and, as it turns out, counterproductive to creating an economically stable world, but at least you would be able to buy expensive cheese,” you might also say.

To that, I offer you the warm sentiment of my middle finger.

Why am I compelled into such an act of underwhelming aggression?

Because, lest you be in a liberal arts/social sciences program, you would not (most likely, in any case – there are some lovely cultural enthusiasts in every field) know just how incredibly valuable such programs are. I won’t tout the IQ comparisons, EQ comparisons, and other such tests for a few reasons. First, because I don’t feel like it. Second, because business majors would be shocked at the answers, and I don’t want to be the one to ruin your day, week, month… Third, because this is not a post about trashing the other. This is a post about mutual appreciation. There is value (and pay, believe it or not) in all practices, in all fields.

The next time you want to question the value of the arts, just remember, the arts are everything you look forward to in life. While people may love the work they do, it’s pretty much accepted that most people want to come home because, after all, work is usually rather tiring. What do you do when you come home? Turn on the TV and watch a movie – ART. Read a book – ART. Go visit an exhibition at your local gallery, outdoor expo, etc – ART. Plan a trip to Spain, or Italy, or France, where you can appreciate the beautiful architecture – ART, or the badass museums – ART. Going out to watch a play – ART. Head to a concert – ART. The list goes on and on. What do people not look forward to doing when they get home? Accounting and other math related things. People don’t come home hoping to analyze cells under a microscope, they don’t come home hoping to sit back and relax with some Turing codes. Not that Turing wasn’t awesome. But let’s be honest, you most likely don’t want to kick back with this after a long day of work (code buffs excepted):

No, you want to watch the Batman Trilogy, or maybe some Dexter. You want to read Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, or maybe catch up on Martin’s Game of Thrones. Recall that people usually say things like “that movie was so good,” or “that book was amazing!” People do not usually say things like, “calculating the taxes was so much fun! Can’t wait to do it again!”

All in all, keep that in mind the next time you’re off telling us liberal arts kids that we’re basically useless in the world. Instead, thank us for the entertainment and cultural validity we bring to a world that, without the us, would be monotonous and robotic drudgery.

You’re fucking welcome.

 

Read the offending article here

Apologies and Attempts at Redemption

Map with literal names

(source)

So, it’s certainly no secret that I have been relatively M.I.A., for which I deeply apologize to you all. All in all, it has been a hectic few months of pounding out essays, seminars, and the like, meeting deadlines  and god knows what else for my summer course. Grad school is not for those who wish to remain (or hope to become!) sane. No, no. Grad school is for the perpetually anxiety-ridden, insomniac, and mildly – or not so mildly – alcoholic person. Didn’t you know?

In any case, now that I seem to be back, although that claim should remain indefinite until September (that is, when I will finally be done graduate work for the year),  I offer this brief but awesome post by Chris Kirk of Slate.com as an attempt at redemption for being away these past few weeks.

It’s a map designed by cartographers Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust that translates the names of places in the world into their literal meanings. The results are pretty awesome, and, as Kirk quite rightly points out, could be pulled right out of a Lord of the Rings of Game of Thrones-like epic. Example: Mediterranean Sea = Sea of Middle Earth! Badass, indeed.

Enjoy searching the map! Hopefully it will distract you from the fact that I have been god-knows-where doing god-knows-what in order to graduate.

Jessica

Generation Jobless: An Institutional Problem

Generation Jobless: A Documentary – CBC – Doc Zone – Episode – Generation Jobless.

First off, watch this documentary. Or rather, watch it if you are one or more of the following:

1. 20-30 years old with a university education and are sh*t out of luck trying to find a job in your field

2. A soon-to-be university graduate in utter fear of being the above

3. An info-junkie who is simply interested in things that probably don’t concern them

4. Annoyed with the world and in the mood to blame things on the institutions and, of course, capitalism, the creator of all our problems. (Also, this happens to be me sometimes… or most of the time lately – don’t judge).

5. Bored and chilling in your room with your cat (No, I am not a cat person. That would be you — yes, you there, hanging out with your cat as if that’s a lovely thing. (If you can’t tell, I am not a huge cat person – more on this later)).

Cue the Comments:

This video has recently been on my “recommend to friends” list. Perhaps because its contents directly relate to my life and the life of many of my friends as soon to be graduates from a graduate program in the humanities (See: Thesis Hatement – Slate Magazine). While the video comments on many aspects contributing to the generation of, not just unemployed, but underemployed graduates, there is one particular bit that frustrates me most.

The fact is, this lack of communication — or rather, actively ignorant communication– between institutions, not to mention the immensurately unconscionable greed of capitalist industrialists (they are everywhere these days – literally polluting the population with their ideological reifications), has created an economic landscape that reproduces the conditions that subject us to its power, and what’s worse is that we partake in the reproduction. We propagate a discourse of autonomy and individual responsibility, tell ourselves that it is up to us (and only up to us) to ensure that we secure a position that will sustain and support our lives, blah, blah. And if we don’t manage to do this, we are the only ones to blame. We didn’t send out enough resumes, we didn’t work hard enough in school (what’s an A- worth these days), we didn’t volunteer and intern enough (as if interning is a viable and feasible option – see video). All to say, if we aren’t succeeding, then we aren’t trying hard enough.

But let’s briefly take a moment to shake ourselves out of this hideous lie.

Go ahead, shake yourself out of it, spirit fingers and all.

Now that you’re somewhat more alive then you were some seconds ago, let’s chat about a few problems surrounding such a discourse of individual responsibility. It is made up, or “fictitious,” as Pheobe from Friends would have it (season 3!). By whom, you ask? By your resident  capitalist shirker, who, to be fair, comes in all shapes and sizes, but in this particular case is probably your university president, potential employers (though they aren’t quite that, since next to no one is in fact (ethically) employing) and, of course, your faculty dean. Your president and your dean can accept as many students as they can muster into your program, jut out as many graduates as possible, all in the name of higher enrolment and higher funds. Your potential employer can then go on to outsource jobs, offer jobs to less qualified people (they don’t cost as much because, of course, people are commodities), or they can offer the position to your mom or dad or aunt or uncle (what up, baby boomers?!), or they can offer you a position and seriously underpay you …

Insert oozing sarcasm here: But sweetheart, if you don’t get that job, it’s your fault.

Recall, capitalism is only maintained through its capability to produce commodities, but it must also reproduce the social relations governing production that subtend the material relations of the system even as they are products of that system through the internalization of ideology. Translation – Universities produce commodities, those being the university graduates. But they must equally produce the rhetoric that the to-be-graduates internalize in order to buy into the institution in the first instance. And once we buy in, graduate, as commodity, is consequently reproduced. Ah, the circle of life capitalism.

I recently attended a conference in which a friend of mine presented on the problematics of the institution’s appropriation of therapeutic discourse in order to manipulate students into internalizing the construction of individual responsibility to achieve economic success. This might be the worst part of this whole jobless nightmare. The purpose of therapy is to help you deal with your life, to help you through stress, to make you feel better (we can chat about this in more detail later). How perverse is it, then, when capitalist institutions manipulate a discourse meant to help alleviate the very real burdens of stress, both mental and physical, in order to trick you into buying into a system that will in fact reproduce and propagate this stress?

I won’t name which university website this came from, but note the problematic, singularizing language inherent in its discourse:

And ironically, nearly every North American university mental health centre is seriously lacking.

In the end, economic success is not something that is attained by the individual. If there exists the individual, and the individual only, then there is no economy. The space of economy is fundamentally and necessarily communal. Without community, there is no economy. We exist in a condition whereby the act of the one inflects the life of the other – this is the nature of society. And considering that our institutions are a part of our communities and thus partake in the economic exchange — for better or for worse — ask yourself: is it really all your fault?

P.S. I think this video is only viewable in Canada, but I’m sure it’s posted somewhere else on the web, if you are now oh so compelled to see it!

Graduate School or Game of Thrones?

Image(source: http://www.phdcomics.com)

If you are a fan of the Game of Thrones series, you will find this funny — even exceptionally funny.

If you are a fan of the Game of Thrones series and also a PhD candidate, you laugh because it is, of course, funny.

For about a minute.

And then, something really shitty happens.

As the reality of this comic hits you, very much like a cast-iron pan to the side of your face, you wallow in misery as you see your life compared to the gruesome (but ever so entertaining) war for the throne of Westeros. We fight for the nearly-extinct tenure track position, dreading the day we decided to apply for graduate school, as though that was a clever idea. “Yes,” we thought, “I will get my PhD and become a professor! I’ll teach for 5 hours a week, and have my summers off, and research things I’m interested in, and read all of the books ever! And life will be fantastic!”

Until someone tells you, “Um, no. You fool, a PhD is the worst thing you could ever do to yourself. Run away now! Do it! Run like Forrest and don’t come back! Get a real job, one that won’t break you into teeny pieces until you are shattered and broken and there is nothing left of you to be found!”

That lovely piece of advice came to me in this Slate Magazine article: http://slate.me/ZDw2Ol

Ah, the misery of disillusionment.

Enjoy (or don’t!), but at least now you know!

And happy Game of Thrones Sunday!