I am here at school for the first time in some time in order to actually work on something academic. Nevermind that I am having trouble making myself focus. There is a small headache going on, and the room is cold, and it is not a particularly friendly work area. I had to come to the building at 55 West 13th Street because the building at 65 Fifth Avenue is being retired and wireless is therefore not working there anymore.
This building has its own odd properties. I am sitting, for example, in an abandoned and rather freezing cold kitchen full of echoes. Set down a pen on the steel for-eating tabletop and the sound will reverberate through the area. Nobody else is here because it’s summer break and the school empties out during the summer—in large part, I suspect, because it is in general full of difficult environments.
That’s the trouble with the New School—great people, but always confused, always in a state of waywardness. An entire university with virtually no quiet study spaces. The two or three that exist are unwired and devoid of furniture, or are (like this one) equipped with empty counter refrigerators and unmanned soda fountains and dining equipment, rather than being quiet and warm with study desks. The one on the lower floor of 79 Fifth Avenue looks like something out of a movie—like a lounge on a spaceship. The walls glow orange and yellow and everything is antiseptic white and the furniture is sculpted and shiny and uncomfortable and nobody ever goes there.
The New School seems always to manage to dispense with whatever its occupants manage to cobble together that actually works in the interest precisely of replacing such things with whatever happens to be new, even if “new” represents an undefined quantity of dubious utility.
I really couldn’t say whether all of this just “goes with the territory” of being “The New School,” but the permanent state of crisis here is legendary and as I sit in a cold, empty kitchen that is being forced to double as a “study area” today because it is the best place on campus in which to actually work, I can’t help but wonder.
Getting back to the inability to focus, I am losing my habitual academic practices. The reading of books, the writing of papers, the familiarity with highlighters and thinking and the extraction of quotes and the chase for references… These are things that need to be practiced if they are to be brought to bear at a moments’ notice and I have not been practicing them.
My life is a bit too unfocused these days and really has been since I returned last summer. In part, this goes along with “being done with coursework.” It’s one thing to enjoy a state of affairs in which the entire world is giving you a pass because you are a “student attending class,” but once class is over everyone seems to want you to be able to justify yourself in terms of overall productivity (i.e. “contributing to society”) from the start, despite the fact that there is a several year period after courses but before earning a Ph.D. during which you really need to have time to develop your abilities and bring them to bear on your own projects so that you can successfully launch an academic career and make good on the investment(s) that society has made in you.
In my case, I am struggling to make this last part happen on a reasonable timeline and at a reasonable level of quality. We’ll see.