a culture crisis

for the depraved

Category: Musings

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

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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

FAIL BETTER

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Just a shirt that reminds me of Beckett’s famous quote:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

 

I very much appreciate that counterintuitive claim – that is, to fail better. An inspirational message from a true modernist.

In any case, it’s good advice for a writer, especially for a writer who can’t make up her mind regarding how and what she should write. So many questions: How to write this blog? What do I even want to post on this blog (because, let’s be honest, it’s a bit of a clusterfuck)? What do I want for my novel(la)? When the hell am I going to write it/finish it? These are merely my concerns, but I can imagine that such a quote can inspire just about anyone in any field to reevaluate their work, try again, and fail better.

How Not To Be Productive: A Guide for Supreme Distraction and Laziness

Hello internet folk. Allow me to share with you my incomparable guide to achieving and maintaining impressive quantities of laziness and new levels of sheer distraction for distraction’s sake. Whether you are a do-gooder who is always motivated and whose work is always turned in on time and you’re looking for a way out of that hell hole, or whether you are simply looking to refresh your skills in I-don’t-give-a-fuck, I’m certain you’ll find this post particularly insightful. Whatever your (lack of) motivations may be, I’m just glad to help a brother/sister out.

The Guide:

1. Think of some task you have to do. Do you have a 30 page paper due relatively soon? Do you have a project analysis to hand in? Do you have to grade your students’ more than shitty assignments? Whatever it is that you have to do, I want you to think of it, and create a mental picture of yourself performing this task. Well done. Now tell that mental image to kindly fuck off because it has no business involving itself on our journey to absolute laziness.

2. Meet your new best friends: your bed; your couch; your laptop, iPad, or technological haven of choice; pillows (trust me, you need your  pillows); and everybody’s favourite, sweatpants. As an English student, I feel as though I should suggest a book, but let’s face it, that shit’s just too much work.

3. Acquaint yourself with Savasana, the most awesome yoga pose ever. Otherwise known as Relaxation Pose or Corpse Pose (a little morbidity never hurt anyone, right?), Savasana involves lying down on your back with your limbs outstretched, and hanging out that way for 5 to 30 minutes. A word to the wise: always choose 30 minutes.

4. Take a tip from Joey and Chandler and never get out of your super awesome and comfy chair for anything. Even if Rachel tells you she’s taking her top off, use a spoon as a makeshift rearview mirror to ensure that she isn’t lying prior to exerting any effort by turning around.

5. Takeout, takeout, takeout. On the day of supreme laze (yes, it’s a word), one does not cook. One uses their technology of choice (see #2) to order food instead. I have no meme for this, so enjoy a somewhat relevant photo of a yummy bowl of spaghetti. This could be yours if you simply call and order, b.

6. Whilst laying in bed, or praciticing some Savasana yogi-style, play some Enya. Know that Enya is appropriate in any of the following situations: relaxation mode, facial and body treatments at the spa, Stellan Skarsgard pulling a torture scene in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Lord of the Rings themed party, etc.

7. Form a laziness encouragement and support group. This involves getting your friends together for collective napping and pantry-grazing.

8. On that note, embrace nap time. You always have time to nap. Just like you always have room for dessert. Or how you always have time for one more episode…

9. Speaking of episodes, start watching a new television series, preferably one that is old enough so that it has enough seasons to sustain your laze and graze mood for an extended period of time, but not so old that it’s irrelevant, because then it doesn’t matter, and if you’re going to be lazy, at the very least, make it count. My recommendations: Community, Arrested Development (it’s back on Netflix!!), Lost (utter disappointment, but addicting for an impressive amount of time), Dexter, True Blood (straight up ho-dunk camp), Game of Thrones (seriously, get on this boat), Mad Men, etc. Also, you could learn a thing or two regarding the mastery of exerting the least amount of effort possible from Jeff Winger.

10. When you eventually come to tire of your newfound TV show addiction (which will sadly happen once you realize that it’s been 4 days and you haven’t showered and that thing you smell is you), fear not, for there is still hope for you. You don’t need to ditch the TV entirely, just switch it up a little. By that I mean m0vie marathons (i.e. awesomeness). Suggestions: Marvel’s Avengers series, James Bond films, Jane Austen films (don’t hate), Harry Potter series (seriously, don’t hate), Pixar films, American Pie, etc.

11. Go to bed. Ignore alarm. Sleep in. Just remember, if there is in fact some task you need to attend to:

8 Things More People Should Be Doing

1. Use your “inside voice” whether you are in fact inside or outside. It doesn’t matter, home slice, just keep it down.

2. Whilst at Starbucks, kindly order a reasonable drink that, at the very least, the barista can get on his or her second-and-a-half try. You might, instead, consider what your venti-extra-hot-non-fat-half-sweet-light-whip-five-shot-espresso-frappuccino says about you as a person. No joke, I met a lady in line at Starbucks last week who was “a little tired” and actually ordered this drink. That’s 5 espressos… and a pleasant amount of sugar… let’s leave that there.

3. Recyle, recycle, recycle. Especially when it’s more than convenient. I get that while it might be less enticing to recycle your plastic bottle when their is no recycling bin in sight, nor relatively near by, it strikes me as just plain foolish to throw your bottle in the trash when there is a recycling bin immediately to its left (or right). Really, though, it’s right there.

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4. Read the news. Not CNN, though, because let’s be honest, that doesn’t count.

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5. Be critical! Not judgmental. Those words don’t mean the same thing. What I mean is: use your brain power. Analyze things. Don’t intake a bunch of bullshit passively because you have no will to think. Instead, do yourself, your community, and the world a favour and use your brain. It is in there for a reason. Think through things that are hard to think about (politics, religion, theory, news, beauty, music, philosophy, literature, etc.) and come to your own conclusions. I can only hope those conclusions won’t be bat-shit-cray.

6. If you aren’t already, start watching Mad Men. Firstly, it’s a brilliant series that is exceptionally well-written (thank you Matthew Weiner & co) and brilliantly acted. Secondly, as a quick Wikipedia search will show you, it has won 15 Emmys and 4 Golden Globes. That means that someone obviously agrees with my first postulation. Thirdly, the show’s aesthetics are spot-on, and the colours are very captivating (I’m particular about colour, as it turns out).

7. Read. Novels. Poetry. Philosophy. Novels again! Don’t let literature die! I’ll post a solid to-read list soon if you need ideas. But seriously, in the words of Nike, “Just Do It.” Though, don’t be like Hipster Ariel because, let’s face it, she’s annoying and a bit of an asshole.

8. Like my blog if you’re feeling generous. Shameless plug, I know. Don’t judge me.

A Consideration on Hyper-Irritability

When the sound of chirping birds and crashing waves might as well be nails scratching a chalkboard.

Caffeine jolts that race the heart and make the heart race, and anxiety is born and borne.

The bass speakers at the local coffee shop where you (try to) study are in fact speakers at a death metal concert (didn’t you know?).

Your computer LED light reflects that particular bright white of insane asylums.

Even sunlight is too much. It’s too strong, too forceful, and you can either run or faint.

The sound of your voice becomes increasingly like that of Janice from Friends. You need to shut up now.

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!

Words: A New Page

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I’ve recently added a new page. “Words” is what I hope will remain a continually evolving, continually growing page, filled with words that have shaped me, developed me in some capacity. Because, after all, words do that. They make us grow, they make us regress, they flatter us, the hurt us, they render us sad, they spur passion within us, etc. I could go on, but, let’s be honest, the list can never end. Words have such weight, such power, and yet these qualities often go unnoticed, unrecognized.

This page, then, is a tribute to the words in my life, for better or for worse. They are not always good words, not always happy nor inspirational. To be fair, though, I am not always good, nor happy, nor inspirational! Such is life, though. But nonetheless, they have come to mean something to me; they have helped mould whatever it is that I have become, whatever it is that I am today.

I’ve started the page with a series of quotes from some literature and authors that I really admire. Eventually, though, I hope to add some words from philosophy, from politics, from critical thinkers. If I am brave (and I hope that I am), I will also contribute words that I have encountered in my personal life. That is not to say that I don’t consider literature or philosophy a personal encounter, but rather that I want to contribute words that I have said or that have been said to me, even if they have been difficult to bear. Bearing them, though, is why I am my own self today, right now.  Words that troubled me have had equal influence (if not more) in shaping me, challenging me to determine who and what I would become.

What do I want for my life? Who will I surround myself with? How do I choose to cope with anxiety? How will I remain healthy? What kind of person do I want to be? What are those things, those qualities, that I value most?

While such questions are seemingly generic, something you’d perhaps find on a silly “discover yourself” questionnaire, if answered as honestly, faithfully, and bravely as possible, they somehow becomes exceptionally revealing. I recently interviewed for a position in a research firm (more on that later), and my interviewer told me that I seemed to be very self-aware. I told her that it was one of the things I was most proud of in myself, because I worked very hard to achieve this state (more on this later as well).

All to say, though, that words are extremely influential. Pay attention to them.

To the Five Followers of A Culture Crisis

and to all of you who’ve liked my posts, thank you. So much.

As it turns out, five (and change) is quite the number. It’s the third prime number.
According to a quick Wikipedia search, a “Perfect fifth is the most consonant harmony, and is the basis for most western tuning systems.”
Of course, Chanel N.5 is the perfect perfume.

But of course, that’s not the point. The point is that, even though I would write for the sheer sake of writing, that you acknowledge the words I produce, that you are there to hear me is, perhaps, one of the most meaningful thing to have happened to me in the past little while. And for that, dear followers, I would like to thank you.

So here is a song to cap off the night – something of a gift at 4:43 am. It’s beautiful and hopeful with the perfect amount of heart.

Kindly enjoy, and good night.

J.