It is four:something in the morning yet again and I am up and foggy and uncomfortable. It has been a number of days since I’ve slept well.
I remember reading a few different somewheres that the years of middle age are the hardest years of life—highest stress, highest levels of dissatisfaction, highest levels of personal risk in every dimension of life.
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When I arrived at graduate school the first time and was busy exploring “advanced” and esoteric concepts in my subject area, as all new graduate students tend to do, I came across a subfield calling itself “precarity studies” and I had trouble wrapping my head around it.
“Precarity? In what?”
The subfield seemed to encompass a whole bunch of disparate issues and kept framing them in terms of “precarity.” I thought of it as a silly field then. I remember sitting in The Pub and making fun of it with someone as “the study of problems in general, oh no!”
I was in my mid-twenties then.
Now that I’m past forty, I get it. Precarity is a kind of aggregate value. It comes from many disparate sources, yes, but despite this diversity and disparity, it accumulates toward a kind of transcendental threshold of risk. It becomes an overriding concern in life, the level of precarity that you are confronting. Increments in precarity combine to magnify one another, to compound risk. Put them together in the right combinations at the right times, and the increase can be exponential. Because high risk demands risk-aversion in future action, a kind of conservatism in productivity, initiative, and investment results, which may then feed precarity further (another risk).
Of course, when precarity does give way to catastrophe, there are also significant social costs with knock-on effects for other proximal actors or for future generations.
A part of me that is now interested in precarity studies, retroactively, and finds simple calculators like this one to be fascinating:
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I work in marketing but I struggle to turn that marketing skill around and apply it to myself. I am and/or should be highly marketable. I am and/or should easily possess the skills to market myself.
The problem is a cognitive one and a cultural one; I was socialized from a very young age in a region and in a class that felt it was untoward to “sell” or even to merely “compliment” oneself. These are things that mature people allow others to do for them. And despite the fact that others may happen to have nice somethings to say about you, you never solicit such a statements, and in fact deny them once made as a matter of modesty. It’s polite, see.
Giving myself permission to be successful despite the lowly station of my birth remains something of a mental block that I have to overcome, if I am to live well over the next decade or two. Absolutely essential.
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I’ve been up for an hour now and it’s time to try to get some sleep once again.
I don’t want the night to end. These days, I never want nights to end, despite their recent unslept-ness.