Academia May Be Pointless. But Is It More Pointless Than Other Things?

Hey remember how this blog was supposed to be about volunteering? I have a vague memory of this! Yet, somehow I have stumbled into writing more generally about Stuff That Interests Me. How did that happen?

The good news is that I will get back to blogging about volunteering (which is thrilling, I am sure, to the Nobody who reads this blog) because an exciting thing has happened! Mary, from the Brooklyn social service agency where I volunteered over the summer, called me. I thought she had forgotten about me after her interns left. (Mary’s the one who, when she learned I have a PhD, was equal parts awe-struck and bewildered. Awestruck because she said, “Oh, you must be smart!” And bewildered because she said, “Don’t you have, like, a job?”) No and Sort of. Sigh.

Anyway, she called to see if I was still interested in conducting some “job readiness” workshops for her clients. I was pretty happy to hear from her because, hey, maybe my life won’t be pointless after all! I can help low-income, unemployed folks “ready” themselves for jobs that don’t exist. Hooray!

So I met with Mary and we planned out how we’re going to change the world and such. We’re going to conduct a series of workshops on stuff like job searching, interviewing, and resumé writing. The first sessions will just be orientations where we serve refreshments (very important) and introduce people to the program. I am working on a flyer. Mary told me that the flyer should say, “All sessions will be led by an experienced English Professor at [suchandsuch] college.” I said, “Are you sure because I’m not really a professor there. I’m only an adjunct.” But Mary insisted that including this info would make the sessions seem “serious.” So I am misrepresenting myself, which I do feel bad about, but I suppose it’s for a good cause. It’s funny that I get to either be Dr. [suchandsuch] or Prof. [suchandsuch]. These are the two choices; and they both seem inadequate somehow.  Or mildly odious.

Stay tuned for more on this exciting development!

Couple more things, though, before I disappear into College Football Saturday World.

1) Considering that this volunteering stuff is actually happening, do I want to stay in academia or not? I think the answer to this question is No. I feel in my bones that it may even be a resounding No. But I can’t bring myself to actually do the things that would lead to an exit. Or, I should say, I can’t bring myself to NOT do the things I should NOT do so that I can leave with dignity. For example: the job market. Deadlines are coming up, so if I am going to apply I have to start applying. I can’t bring myself to do this. Or NOT do it. I just don’t do anything, which I realize is the same as NOT applying for jobs. But that’s not me. I either DO things or I DON’T do them. I usually do not just wait until the chance to do something passes and call that a decision. But this is what I find myself doing. Or not. I am a broken human being. Or, more accurately, I’m a hyphenated human being. I am post (hyphen) academic. I am a punctuation mark.

The question about whether I will at least sort of go through the motions to stay in academia became very concrete today. I received an email from a former colleague/boss. She’s the director of a writing program where I used to work before I left to finish my diss. Let’s call her Donna. I like her. We have stayed in touch, and last year I actually worked with her to collect some research data for a project the point of which I am unclear about. (See, last year I was thinking that I needed to keep researching in the field and stay on the general disciplinary radar; now, I am not so sure I care enough.) So Donna wants to know if I am still interested in working with her this year to collect data for the project the point of which I am unsure about.

Am I? Should I be?

The answer is I am not really that interested. As I said, I am not even sure what the point of the project is. And, basically, I’m not sure I care enough to find out. I know I sound like a nihilist who doesn’t care about anything. I do care about things; I just don’t care about this.

Why am I so reluctant to tell Donna that I no longer want to collect data for the project the point of which I am unclear about? Even though I don’t think I want to do this work, I think maybe I SHOULD want to, or I fear that I will WISH that I did it later after it’s too late. And these complicated feelings are causing me to question what I really want. Or, rather, what I do not want.

I have to email her. I have to send her an answer. My ambivalence will have to take on the character of a decision. Soon.

2) Did you know that we are supposed to VOTE this year? That’s right. Apparently, voting is something that matters that we are supposed to do (if we care about what happens in America.) I will probably vote, but I admit that I am one of these disaffected people the democrats are so concerned about right now. My level of disaffection increased when I read an article in The Nation magazine this week about the economy by Robert Pollin from UMass Amherst.

He writes that “the official unemployment rate is 9.6 percent, but a more accurate measure would be close to 20 percent. Also, a high proportion of workers who have been rehired after having been laid off during the recession are taking big pay cuts.” He also offers up some truly sad numbers about growing income inequality. The rich are doing great right now! The not-rich? Not so much.

Pollin notes that inequality has risen dramatically over the last forty years or so no matter who was in charge of the White House and Congress. Jimmy Carter’s administration promoted deregulation. Bill Clinton smashed Glass-Steagall. Obama talks a good game about creating jobs and giving more power to workers, but so far it’s business as usual over there. Rather than focus on electing democrats, then, Pollin argues, we must “supplant the continued dominance of neoliberalism in setting the economic policy agenda with an up-to-date variant on the New Deal program.” It’s not the party, see–it’s the policies. And democrats, historically, have not done any better than republicans. So, basically, we’re doomed.

So will these “job readiness” workshops do any good? Or should I just go hang my head in academia and call it good enough? What good would that do?

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