Actually, there are no adventures. It’s boring as fuck. But I find the boredom interesting. As Jet noted in her comment on my last post, academics are trained to critique everything. It’s what we do. That is why stultifying boredom can seem noteworthy, at first. So this is the world of work I tried to avoid for ten years by going to grad school! How fascinating!
I know the interestingness won’t last. (In my next post, I will explore the exciting topic of taking bundles of papers from one stack and putting them in another stack for hours on end.) Eventually, temping will become a soul-sucking crash course in how everything I am doing now is eerily similar to the last thing I did, which was adjuncting, which itself felt eerily similar to what I did before that, which was . . . I don’t remember, but whatever it was, it sucked.
James, the Sell Out Your Soul blogger, wrote today that “our parents went to university to escape the factory.” I know mine did. I went to university to avoid, as James continues, “the reality of minimum wage, dirty apartments, and a life of conscious bad mistakes.” I was waiting tables when I took the GRE. I was in my twenties, my back hurt all the time (I still have a sore knee from those days), I was incredibly bored, and I couldn’t see a future for myself.
Now, as a temp, my back hurts, I’m incredibly bored, and I don’t see a future for myself. The only real difference? I have a PhD in English. And a boatload of debt, which I probably owe to the same financiers whose phones I have been answering all week.
This leads me to add something to James’s assessment: universities are factories too, as the Edu-factory collective has stated, and as every adjunct knows. Frankly, working as a temp-secretary does not feel very different from working as a manual laborer. We don’t run the place. We just work here, churning out some product for someone else’s profit, even if we don’t know what it is. And we rarely do.
So, yes, our parents did go to university to escape the factory, but what they didn’t know is that, for the vast majority, there is no escaping the factory because everywhere is the factory. Since there are a variety of factories, it’s hard to recognize them from afar, and even more difficult from within.
What else did I get for my PhD, a degree that I am occasionally proud to hold for some incomprehensible reason, even though no one gives a shit? I’m not sure. Perhaps, as Jet hinted, I have gained the ability, for better or worse, to see my plight in a certain way.
Today, my fellow secretary, the one who is lucky (?) enough to have a real, full-time gig, told me she has been working at Fancy Wall Street Firm for fourteen years. Everyday in and out, making the coffee, filing the financial statements, looking forward to the lunch “perk,” for fourteen motherfucking years. It must seem to her like eons have gone by, or maybe just a few minutes. Who knows? Perhaps it’s grad school, the PhD, or just plain adulthood, but it’s clear that I have no right to pity her or judge her. I wanted to escape the factory, but there is no outside the factory. She knew that all along, and I am just figuring it out.