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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Month One  §

Month one of “daddy stays at home with daughter” is almost over. Time is racing past.

Even that formulation loses some of the sense of desperation that I feel at missing my own life as it happens. It’s also almost a month since the first set of “final classes” for the courses I taught during the spring semester.

I have finally, tonight, finished grading and sending out comments on things like final papers. Yes, I had previously submitted grades, because the universities of today give absolutely ridiculous deadlines that must nonetheless be met, but the long, arduous process of actually commenting on students’ work in red ink (whether material or virtual) carries on for some time afterward.

And so it is that I have finally dispatched, after weeks of work and excluding a few predictable grading disputes that remain to be handled, with spring semester—and left myself just about a month before I have to ramp up again for summer, and then, for fall (I don’t get a break between the two).

— § —

This is when I get to spend time with my daughter.

— § —

This is also, unfortunately, the one month that I have to do all of those things that ought to have been done for months, but that have been aging on a waiting list since before the academic year, and my daughter’s life, began. Things like a dissertation work that is over a year behind schedule, preparing for a language exam that I must pass, maintaining the non-academic sources of income that really allow us to make ends meet but that are sadly neglected throughout the academic year, so much so that I begin to fear for our ability to make ends meet…

It is also the one month during which I am to do all of the academic reading and Ph.D. research I am to do for a year, during which I am to do all non-paid professional things like maintaining a website and trying to complete and submit publications that are sitting around rotting, as well as do to all of the personal things that you have on those lists. You know the ones: take up martial arts, learn to surf, read more fiction, read more nonfiction, buy a blank canvas and do your first painting in two decades, install XCode and write your first software in ten years, and so on.

And of course (and most troublingly) it is also the one month during which I am to do all of my necessary preparation for summer and fall semesters—things like syllabus development and daily teaching outlines and presentations, not to mention textbook selection, which requires the reading of multiple textbooks.

In short, my life is ridiculous.

But no more ridiculous, I suppose, than many others.

Still, there’s no way this stuff is getting done.

— § —

Of course, I make it sound like a lot of bad juju, but the fact is that for at least one more month I will spend every weekday from welcome-to-wakey-wakey-world to around 2:30 in the afternoon with my daughter. My wife would be willing to go to serious and probably illegal lengths to return to the “all day with daughter” life, even if just for a month.

So in a way, I am the lucky one.

— § —

But with summer (which is a month or so for me) and all of the things I need to get done comes also the period otherwise known as “very-little-income” in these parts, a period of stress and grimaces and tough decisions and existential angst and worry about the future, followed by a late summer and fall semester of “try-to-recover-from-the-financial-hit.”

These things call for decisions every year that I’d rather not make.

— § —

So there it is: Memorial Day marks the beginning of my summer. The house is a mess (usually I have a little more time to contribute to it than I did this fabulously productive weekend), my mental gears are already cranking so hard that there is absolutely no prospect of rest and relaxation, and it’s damned hot in New York.

Another academic year has (finally) come and gone, my inevitable teaching burnout is another academic year closer, my daughter has come, has conquered, and is already well on her way to growing up, every facet of my life is running behind schedule, and I am sitting by a window fan in front of a Macbook Pro at midnight typing a blog entry on a half-developed platform.

— § —

It’s easy to be confident and nonchalant when it’s just you and you’re not too married to any one thing over another and you’re pretty good at everything that you try. There is literally no way to fail.

It’s a lot tougher to be confident and nonchalant (or even awake) when life has to look one particular way at the end of the day (and week, and month, and year, and decade) and you really, really, really care that it works out exactly that way.

I’m still confident. But in no way am I nonchalant.

— § —

After the “daddy at home with daughter” period of the summer comes the abrupt change to “daddy is gone all day every day during summer semester.” It is already breaking my heart to think about it—rather selfishly, I suppose, given how many working parents out there have to do that all the time as a matter of course.

But then again, they don’t have my daughter. They’re not missing the same thing at all.

— § —

Memorial Day? We’re busy.

For us, the watchword of the year is: NOBBQ4U.

My Ph.D.  §

My Ph.D. doesn’t exist yet, but it consumes time that I wish I could give to my family.

My Ph.D. is my career, the only career I’ve ever managed to assemble.

My Ph.D. is the only identity that I have, after a lifetime of losing identities and grappling with overdependence on others and on circumstances for identity.

My Ph.D. is the single biggest source of insecurity in my life.

My Ph.D. is the largest, longest project I’ve ever attempted.

My Ph.D. is that which carries me ever farther away from my friends and family.

My Ph.D. is that which pays the bills so that I can have a family.

My Ph.D. is the thing I would most like to be rid of in the universe.

My Ph.D. cannot be discarded without also discarding family, security, identity, my daughter, my wife, and everything else.

My Ph.D. marks a potential failure much more than it does a potential success.

My Ph.D. is that at which I absolutely must succeed; failure is not an option.

My Ph.D. is evidence of the bankruptcy of capitalism, the essential failure of America, and the decline of the welfare state.

My Ph.D. is evidence of my own hypocrisy.

My Ph.D. is an elitist exercise in imperial aggression and oppression.

My Ph.D. is part of a scam currently stealing from much of America’s middle class.

My Ph.D. is part of the grand tradition of the enlightenment, which also gave us medicine, electricity, technology, and the concepts of ethics and human rights.

My Ph.D. costs way too much money.

My Ph.D. offsets that cost by giving me a bigger income by a significant margin than any other income I’ve ever managed to earn.

My Ph.D. is evidence of my maturity and age.

My Ph.D. is evidence of my immaturity and being a “professional student.”

My Ph.D. is an anachronism in a changing marketplace.

My Ph.D. is needed by the world now more than ever before.

My Ph.D. will someday make my daughter hate me.

My Ph.D. will someday show my daughter what is possible for her.

My Ph.D. takes too much of my life and energy.

My Ph.D. doesn’t get nearly enough of my life and energy.

My Ph.D. is me.

My Ph.D. does not nearly begin to account for all that is me.

The Part About the Excess  §

Okay, here’s my Saturday-in-Spring morning rant. Ready?

— § —

I am a Ph.D. student. Not that I think this makes me more important than everybody else, but it does make me more busy, and there is a certain amount of cash invested in me (and by me) in this project. It is a perfectly good Saturday and my wife is watching the little one since it’s a weekend. I’d like to get some work done. You’d think that in a big city like, oh, say, NEW YORK this might be possible.

So I go downtown to the university library/libraries (theoretically I have several, since they’re all in a consortium). No luck. The NYU Bobst library is shut. A dozen floors of perfectly good major university library on a nice, sunny day that’s not a holiday and it’s shut. So I think I’ll work in Washington Square park. Only there’s mayhem in the neighborhood because “Danceparade” is today. (To see photos of this important and illustrious event, just go to Google Images and Google it.) So both the Park and all of the shops along University Avenue are out.

I make my way through the mayhem eight blocks north to the New School library. OOPS, SHUT. And of course all of the surrounding streets, thanks to my school’s own spring street festival. I guess having graduate students able to do their work is less important than playing drinking games with orange juice and spray paint on 13th streeth in large, rag-tag crowds of late teens and early twentysomethings.

Fine, I’ll hit a coffee shop on sixth avenue. NO, WAIT, the sixth avenue street festival is going on—yes, it’s ANOTHER street festival butting up against the New School street festival butting up against the Danceparade crowd butting up against a closed NYU campus!

Okay, I’ll go over to Union Square. There’s space there and a Starbucks nearby if worst comes to worst. UH-OH, the farmer’s market is on and enjoying the multiplication effect from all of these crowds butting up against one another in the neighborhood. Everything is standing room only!

How is it possible that two expensive, private universities and their neighborhoods in the heart of New York City with big graduate research programs are, on an average Saturday in the spring, completely anathema to any prospect of study or work of any kind at all?

Yet there it is.

— § —

And while the lazy hedonists of New York are busy hamming it up, our red state friends are busy once again trying to legislate cooperation and generosity out of existence. You know that thing called “society?” It’s really just another word for S-O-C-I-A-L-I-S-M BOOGA BOOGA which is wearing a turban, has dark skin, carries a Kalashikov, and is sex-mad. SEX, SEX, SEX. FOUNDING FATHERS! FLAG! FLAG! AMERICA!

Yet another extension of the famous “parking meter” incident in which the man in a certain red state from which I hail that shall remain nameless was cited for plugging other peoples’ parking meters when they were about to expire.

What kind of ideologically bankrupt society believes cooperation, generosity, and hard work to be human ills, but commercial exploitation of the lazy masses to be the greatest good? A Randite Utopia, that’s what kind.

— § —

I’m fairly sure this post will come back to haunt me someday. Given the incredible intellectual bankruptcy of the American academy these days, I’m not sure it matters.

Hell, let’s just call it the moral-intellectual bankruptcy of the American system.

— § —

Whatever. On this particular Saturday in New York City, only one person in the entire metro was working. Me.

“If an economy rises in the city but nobody’s around to work it, does it make any dollars?”


Online Presence?  §

As part of their final exam week work, I gave students in two of my classes the assignment to create a “professional online presence” of some kind, presumably a website, at which to house themselves virtually—their work and/or career selves, that is. The results were graded according to a rubric that I often use that involves qualitative, quantitative, clarity, and creativity scores.

After spending the last several days visiting each of these in turn in order to evaluate them, I am struck by several things:

  1. How impressive many students are
  2. How naive at the same time
  3. How very free they feel today
  4. How very unfree many of them will feel tomorrow

These last two points, for me, are the startling ones, really, though they shouldn’t be.

— § —

The fact is that work—any kind of work—absolutely crushes individuality and creativity. Whatever one’s industry, the higher one climbs, the more one adopts and internalizes the collective norms of said industry, until one becomes the archetype of the “veteran of the field,” at once “impressive” and utterly, utterly unoriginal.

In academics, this increasingly means what we’ve found to be the case at Deliberately Considered—that truly “big names” hesitate very much to open their mouths at all unless they are positive that they will impress. This is the nature of status, the nature of authority, of course; to have it and keep it are to exercise it without fail. To attempt to exercise it and to fail—well, that is, quite simply, to lose it.

There is a strong disincentive to be anything other than tremendously conservative the farther one goes in career life.

This has, of course, the paradoxical effect of threatening one’s career by causing it to become increasingly ossified, by causing oneself to become increasingly ossified. Even as one watches young hotshots with nothing to lose blast past, one struggles to try to find space in which to press advantage and innovate without putting at risk what authority and unassailability one has managed, through hard-scrabble work over long years, to assemble.

This state of affairs becomes multiplied exponentially as one adds multiple industries to one’s CV. Each industry becomes a little patch of turf to defend, each little patch of turf becoming, in turn, a kind of anchor—one can’t venture beyond it for fear of losing it, unless one is really positive of all of the metrics involved: victory, the amount of time one will leave said little patch undefended, the distances involved, the precise path and strategy one will adopt on the path to victory, and so on.

— § —

To put this another way, in comparison to my students I increasingly feel:

  • Hesitant to say anything in public that I haven’t researched and become an expert in already
  • Hesitant to reveal anything that might reveal me to be anything other than a sociology-bot, instructor-bot, or corporate-bot
  • Tremendously aware of the vagaries of liability and its semiotics at all times
  • Increasingly exhausted by the demands of the maintenance of face and line
  • As though I romanticize of guitar-twirling stonerhood on the banks of some southern river
  • Even as I work harder, in greater obscurity (by virtue of the above) than ever before

There are some people that break out of this tremendously demoralizing trajectory, but in order for them to do this, they have to continually risk it all. They become The Ballsy Ones, or the Old Man That’s Like A Young Buck, or the people with Tremendous Energy And Drive and so on.

In short, they are the people with nothing to lose—the ones that move around, sleep around, are unattached, are uncompromising and unempathetic, etc. Those of us with wives, children, fondnesses, ethics…grow ever more vanilla-flavored as time wears on, so as to mitigate risk.

Even if this isn’t our initial impulse, a few near-misses are enough to cause one to don the khakis and tell students “I can’t accept the cookies you’ve baked me; someone else might misconstrue them as a bribe.”

— § —

“Alienation,” said Karl, “sucks the big one.”

This blog, too, is done.  §

Leapdragon § Academe had a very brief life—in terms of content, at the very least, though not necessarily in the temporal sense—and was closed.

Things are now happening at Leapdragon 2012.

Risks and Indulgences  §

It is a dangerous thing to let one’s guard down in a moment of victory, because at such moments the temptation to engage in celebration or to “reward” oneself for a job well-done is overpowering.

These are common tropes in our society—the success-party, the good-behavior-reward—and they are completely and utterly toxic to life. They threaten to immediately destroy all of the hard work that one has just done by spending the dollars one has just worked to save, disrupting the routine that one has just worked to establish, interrupting the momentum that one has just worked so hard to achieve.

A celebration is a break in the program, a descent from the “mind flows like water” state of true progress; furthermore, like an earthquake demands aftershocks, celebrations and rewards tend to demand afterparties and so on.

Better never to stop in the first place. Life and progress are meant to be the celebrations of life and progress; they are their own rewards. Never stop. Never stop.

Start going and never stop.

(Have to learn this lesson. Have to learn it over and over again, in fact. Hopefully that won’t always be the case.)

— § —

Apropos of all of this, in a way, is the small revelation that despite the simplicity of the questions I asked myself in my previous post—those world-shattering, head-in-the-clouds, world-is-your-oyster questions that are a so thrilling to think about and diverting and fulfilling to answer despite requiring very little time investment in the process—I have not managed to answer any of them.

I had forgotten I asked them of myself again until re-reading my post tonight. Two things, in response:

(1) See above (first section) in this post.

(2) This is what blogging is good for. Blogs are your superhuman memory, for superhuman achievements. Use them.

— § —

Auntie, who had been here since month three as a babysitter (basically for the spring semester) has now officially gone. She flew from NYC tonight at 9:00 PM or so.

And so we are, once again, three. And so it is that we are reminded once again of how remarkably quickly time flies. Auntie came, she survived the awkward houseguest stage, increasingly found herself to be a member of the household, developed routines, became comfortable, stayed for more than half of my daughter’s life—and now has gone again. And all of that happened after grandma came before her and did the same thing; after our daughter’s first Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year.

The kid has gone through two long-term babysitters, a long awaited (and too soon over) stint of “just baby and daddy at home during the day,” has gone from being an infant to crawling around the house and barking demands like a little general with the world’s prettiest face.

She is growing up before our eyes, goes the saying, and there is something to it. More sadly, she is also often growing up when we aren’t quite looking—as we regretfully admit to ourselves that we can’t keep her in complete focus all of the time, that there is some amount of “going through the motions” involved in life with children because in advanced industrial capitalist society, life with children comes behind “real life,” which is life with the company, life with your work, life with career, life in a profession…if you want your children to be able to eat at all.

— § —

The truism that life is a “journey not a destination,” or that it is a kind of “becoming rather than being,” or that “what happens to you while you are busy making other plans” doesn’t really convey an appropriate sense of the loss that one feels at the impossibility of ever being able to stop long enough to really enjoy things without killing things off to such an extent (again, see the first section above) that there is nothing left to enjoy.

You can look at it, try to enjoy it, and have nothing worth enjoying, or you can work on it and at it, build precisely that which is  most laudable and enjoyable—but in doing so eliminate any emotional, temporal, or cognitive space in which to enjoy it.

You can have a life worth enjoying but not enjoy it, or you can stop to try and enjoy life and in so doing ruin any chance you had of building a life that might have been enjoyable.

— § —

Or maybe there’s a way around this silly paradox that puts the lie to this indulgence of a post. Perhaps this is where I refer to the first part of this post once again.

Roller Coaster Descent, Ascent  §

So I’m sitting in the second lower level of Bobst Library waiting for the very last class of Spring 2011 on the NYU campus, which starts at 3:30 in the afternoon. After that, summer officially begins. Sure, I have one more week at the New School, but the week will be different. Rather than four days of teaching, I will have two; rather than nine lecture hours, I will have four; instead of seven class meetings, three—and after those two, four, and three next week at the New School, it is summer.

Summer 2011.

Just a moment ago, I was steeling myself for the arrival of fall, which would bring with it the arrival of a daughter and the two most intense working and teaching semesters of my life, spent juggling fatherhood, husbandhood, teaching, my freelance work, and my own academic research and projects, including several research assistantships. Amidst that there would be holidays, complications (silly things like getting the car inspected that can strike terror into the hearts of the truly busy), trips to London, guest speaking engagements, and the uncertainty of a radical transition in my data life (from Linux to Mac OS) that was, at the beginning of last fall, just a twinkle in my eye.

Now it’s almost all over.

Even though there is still one class left to go today, I can already feel the roller coaster car sliding increasingly rapidly down the precariously high track, gaining speed exponentially as it falls out of the sky.

I am struggling to stay awake. I feel strangely as though I am sitting on the beach, not in a chair in a library basement next to walls and walls of lockers.

I am meant to be working right now on things like dissertation proposals and the remaining grading and teaching that I have to do, but I simply can’t do it. I am having a transcendental moment.

It’s one of those moments at which a threshold that has been gradually materializing in the depths of consciousness suddenly comes into focused existence just as you cross it. For the first time ever, I feel—I have time to feel—like a father and a proper academic, both at once, and it is strange and exhilarating. I feel breathless and weightless and find myself indulgently reflecting on pasts and futures that were and that weren’t, to be and not to be, a kind of almost-maudlin trance.

I hear windchimes and breezes blowing nowhere in particular. My knees are shaking even though I’m sitting down. I expect to ascend the stairs in two hours and find not New York but some other place, some greener place made entirely of fragments of springtime, to be waiting the for me.

I have to snap out of this; I can’t be like this all weekend. I have to get work done! Maybe the subway ride home will help.

Probably not. In just over a week I will suddenly have well over a month of empty days, just time for myself and my daughter and my wife and my own, my own academic work.

The ecstasy is wild, uncompromising, and all-encompassing.

— § —

Things that need attention over the summer:

  • My daughter
  • My wife
  • Our friends, both locally and in faraway places
  • My research (dissertation)
  • My research (the other smaller papers I’ve been working on and meaning to finish and/or submit)
  • My online life (website and blog)
  • My freelance work (About.com and also the photography, which is like a great untapped reservoir of wealth right now)
  • Our car (which has never properly been subject to the post-used-car-purchase process)
  • Our dog (who hasn’t had a chance to run in the park in far too long)
  • My imagination (which is beginning to stagnate and disappear)
  • My creative writing (which was never more than dabbling but has always meant a great deal to me)
  • Our junk (much of which needs to be eBayed off)
  • Our apartment (which needs a nice, deep cleaning and a certain amount of maintenance)
  • The sky and the trees and the grass and the air

It would also be nice to get to see a film or two.

— § —

I don’t know if it will really be possible to see to all of these things in a substantive way, or even to see to most of them in a substantive way. But at the very least, it is a wonderful thing, for a brief moment, to allow oneself to dream—to feel the tickle of breathless possibility in drifting across my skin again, to sense the goosebumps rising.

— § —

The person that I am now bears almost no relation to the people that I have been throughout the years. Marrying and becoming a father and becoming a teacher, as I have done over the last half decade, are the sorts of things that radically transform a person. I will never be that older Aron again, a person without a particularly strong identity (other than that of The Loyal Opposition) and a lot of gigs. Instead, I have accumulated several identities and they are stronger than am I, if there ever was any essential ‘I’ in the first place. I suspect (as is the general consensus in the social sciences) that there wasn’t.

— § —

A few old questions need to be asked once again. I’ve had to ask them before, usually in the aftermath of serious breakups, moves, or unwanted life changes. This time all of the changes were wanted, and indeed have been the best things to have ever happened to me, but the questions that emerge are the same:

  • How do I imagine myself?
  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What would I like my life to look like ten years from now?
  • Who is out there that I value but that I have neglected?
  • What do I need to do to be myself, enjoy my life, bring about the ten-year-imaginary, show the forgotten that I value them?
  • When can I start and what are my first steps?

It will be an exciting May.

— § —

Despite the ending of the NYU classes for the semester (and academic year), next week’s schedule will be identical to this one and all the weeks that have gone before it.

I have simply replaced all of the time that I would have spent in class with study room reservations at the NYU Bobst Library. I’m going to put all of the same hours in, only this time they will be directed toward the things that matter but that have been ignored since the world began again on the day that my daughter was born.

— § —

When the next teaching engagement at NYU begins with the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year:

  • My daughter will be nearly a year old.
  • I will have empty road ahead to spring toward the completion of my Ph.D.
  • I will be weeks away from beginning my professional job search.
  • I will be entering my fifth year as a university instructor.
  • I will be entering my second half-decade as a Ph.D. student/candidate.
  • I will be entering my second half-decade as a resident of New York, and approaching a full decade since leaving Utah behind.
  • I will be looking forward to the football season, fall, winter, and the holidays in a way that I never have before.

Sometimes life is simply spectacular.

— § —

There is nothing so rewarding as hard work, even if you feel as though you never get enough of it done and will never run out of more to do.

Semester End Spring 2011  §

The next eleven or so days will be very intense as the semester winds down, the “tie it all together” class sessions have to be held, grading is going to occur (with the usual short timeframes and deadlines that inevitably seem to accompany final grading) and then our longtime babysitter (auntie) flies out of New York leaving my wife and I as sole caregivers for the first time since December.

Despite the density, I am also determined to chuck out some serious dissertation work during this time, and I’ve carved up the days beforehand in a fairly intense way that will require rationality and discipline but that will hopefully produce very good results.

It’s about time I got some serious work time in which to… do serious work.

Let’s see if we can make this happen. After the sixteenth there will be ample time to rest—for nearly two months, in fact. In the meantime, it’s time to pull socks up and finally make something happen. Time’s a wasting.

— § —

When I was much (much) younger, my mother read a couple of books that led her to believe it was a good idea to write personal and family “mission statements” encapsulating values and goals. I gave the suggestions and sound mocking at the time (this would have been during the late 1980’s) and basically refused to participate.

Now, decades later, I find myself toying with the same ideas.

It’s not that they were bad ideas after all, just presented to the wrong audience. A high school student is really not sufficiently ethically or motivationally developed to know what his or her “mission” in life is. Or, rather, a high school student’s “mission” is to try to avoid unnecessary work, stay off parents’ and administrators’ radar, garner the interest of the opposite sex+gender, and spend/consume as much as possible (despite the fact that not much of this is usually possible, due to the lack of any serious career and/or resulting income).

But now, in my mid-30’s the calculation has changed. It seems to me that it would now be tremendously helpful to have a motto, personal value, or three hung up somewhere very visible so that it’s not so easy for me to forget, in the incredible density of everyday life, just why I am doing all of the things that I am doing and (and this is the important bit) how to adjudicate most usefully between competing demands for my time and attention.

That’s what’s lacking in my life right now—a clear and ongoing understanding, as circumstances evolve, of which fires I ought to just let burn, which bridges I really don’t need (because I never again plan to cross them, based on what I want out of life and where I am), and so on.

Right now the reasons for doing things tend to disappear behind the things themselves, and one begins to have incoming tasks appearing at such an alarming rate that they are uncritically accepted and simply tossed on the top of the pile, even as I work frantically from its bottom, not having the time to think critically or reflectively about things like prioritization, etc.

I need to throw some stuff away, and I need to learn to do this on an ongoing basis. I need to develop a filter or set of filters for myself.

But I need help from myself, as this “ongoing basis” of life happens, in determining what criteria are at work in the decision(s) about what is to go and what is to stay.

I suspect that sometime over the next week or so, busy and dense as it is already scheduled to be, I will set about the task of coming up with some kind of “mission statement” that I can use as a lens for seeing life and its decisions.

Academics and Instruction  §

I’ve just been having a conversation with my wife about teaching and about the sorts of exams I give. As often happens between she and I when we discuss matters intellectual, it got very intense and quickly became clear that we were talking past each other, even if we were doing it without any particular sense of irritation or agitation.

Now over, the conversation continues to haunt me. The first time I taught a discussion section as a teaching assistant I was terrified—I was a rather new Ph.D. student that had literally no teaching experience and that wasn’t particularly confident about my disciplinary knowledge. I got very good course evaluations, while the lead faculty member giving the lecture sections didn’t. The first time I had a class of my own with a syllabus I’d developed myself I had the same emotional experience—fear and uncertainty, followed by a kind of rhythm lasting approximately a semester, followed by some of the most flattering course evaluations I’ve yet received.

As semesters stretched into years of teaching, I’ve calmed down. I now know that I tend to do well. My students like me and they like my classes, as a general rule.

Some of this is about respect. I haven’t forgotten what it was like to be them, nor do I think I’m better than they are. I haven’t forgotten that I was them not so long ago, nor am I ignorant of the fact that many of them do and have done very productive work outside of the world of classes, while many academics do nothing productive at all. I think highly of my students and of their potential and I enjoy interacting with them.

I think, however, that some of my success also has to do with my understanding (an understanding that is regrettably increasingly absent from the world of academic production) that Big Thoughts are not merely beautiful constructs to be produced and considered for their own sake. Or rather, that there is value in them beyond their utility as charms on the intellectual bracelets of the socioeconomic elite.

For me, naively or not, Big Thoughts have always been a series of tools meant to be used—so long as you are aware of this potential use—to make Real Life better. Yes, at the end of the day, I am one of those few remaining idealists that soundly believe that practice is the hidden ethos of theory and vice-versa. I suppose you could say that I actually believe that the purpose of academic work—even if nearly everyone else disagrees—is progress, however progress is defined (and this definition is, in fact, one critical dimension of academic practice).

In everyday terms this means that I try to ensure that students know how and why the topics we study are useful. I try to give them knowledge of why they came into existence as topics of study in their own right, who uses them and for what purposes, and to what ends society at large, private funders and trusts, and even their parents are willing to send dollars to these institutions to fill them with all of this jargon, intellectual history, theory, and method.

In short, I try not just to make sure that my classes aren’t a waste of time, but to show my students why they’re not a waste of time—this latter being at least as important as the former. After all, if the students believe that the class has been a waste of time, then it has been—because the chance that they will know what to do with what they have learned is approximately zero. It will sit in their cognitive “intellectualism box” to be brought out for drunken arguments and trivia chats on first dates, eventually to fade over time into nothingness behind the much more prominent illumination provided by daily life.

At the end of the day, I think students like my classes because I teach the Big Thoughts, I don’t apologize for teaching the Big Thoughts, but I also know that the Big Thoughts are really Cool and Practical Tools for Achieving Stuff that People Care About and I remember to show my students how this is so and how to use them.

The fact that more instructors aren’t doing this (and based on my own college experiences at multiple institutions, it is my belief that most aren’t) is something of an intellectual crime, a bellwether for the decline of this rational-instrumental, enlightenment-centric project that we call Society, and the reason for the increasing proliferation of the term “egghead” along with the parallel growth in disrespect for academics and for the arts and letters in general.

After all, if the intelligentsia can’t explain or give an account of their own purpose and goals to themselves, much less to others, how can it possibly be rational to expect the non-intelligentsia to have an implicit understanding of such things in their stead?

Parenting and Broccoli  §

Being a parent is gradually turning me into a hippie.

By this I don’t mean that I begin to believe that I should only ever feed my child raw vegetables and never meat because broccoli has consciousness (so long as it hasn’t been cooked) and its “conscious spirit” is governed by a genetic code that, when ingested, will mingle with its host’s, contributing to a Genetic Memory of the Peace of the Vegetables that—if we all only lived this way for a few years—would make us genetically incapable any longer of making war, or something like that. Nor am I about to start eating fried hash omelets four times a day as “a prayer to the earth and her children,” nor do I want to move to the suburbs of Los Angeles and open a vegan restaurant.

I guess what I’m talking about is more along the lines of a newfound essentialism of human being—an incredulity, for example, that anyone would think it’s a good idea to “train” babies for “independence” and “individuality” by trying to have them sleep alone in another room at just a few months old and letting them “cry themselves back to sleep” if they wake up. People give this sort of advice as though it’s self evident that the best thing for an infant a few months old is self-reliance, just in case mommy and daddy should get caught in an unexpected series of cubicle accidents and baby should have to network, get a job, and find a roach-free apartment and a non-crazy roommate in the city to live with for the several years it might take to get adopted. Really, it comes off sounding as though these advice-givers have already Got Gotten by the Big Capitalist Ideological Consumerist Conspiracy that in previous circumstances had sounded overstated and a tad ridiculous to me.

I’m also talking about things like encouraging a child this age to regularly watch television and movies, or even moreso, using television and movies as everyday babysitting tactics. We’ve been told by some to start showing the Disney films in clusters because at six or seven or eight months the narcotic effect of television kicks in and we can sit them there in front of the Congition and Consciousness Structuring Machine, enrapt, while we…(insert something here, presumably something selfish and individualistic and self-reliant)…because the effect on them is so strong and complete as to render them silent and needless for hours. As the parent of a loud, socially engaged daughter, imagining her silent and without needs sounds horrifying and transcendentally empty, like a total and tragic loss of personhood.

And, of course, I’m talking about things like seeing two- or three-month-old babies in strollers on the town that face away from their parents, as though they’re already ready at that age to confront the dense, loud, kaleidoscopic space of the city on their own, without visual cues or guidance from anyone that they can conceive of being present with them, and as though their parents have ceded the responsibility for keeping an eye on these tiny, as of yet largely helpless and uncoordinated bodies. Let them fend for themselves! God knows it’s a tough world out there! How are you going to avoid getting fired by “The Don” if you don’t learn to hack it young—say, at four to six months old!

As I grow into parenthood and look at what others do and at what we are doing that is not what most others do, I more and more imagine that it’s no wonder American children grow up to universally shoot, bomb, or suck the life from other people, peoples, and the world in general as a matter of thoughtless, quotidian habit. This is exactly how we raise them—selfish, soulless, amoral, and deeply, radically alone.

It’s tragic and it makes me sad. And, of course, using a sentence like that makes me feel like a hippie.

But no, as I was saying as I started out, I still don’t think the broccoli in the grocery store has a spirit (much less the Universal Genetic Spirit of the Absence of War), or that marijuana is actually the miracle cure for obesity, hair loss, impotence, cancer, and depression, made marginal by a conspiracy between the monotheists and big tobacco that have cooked the scientific research “at the highest levels” to “convince us that the man is not the man” and that “weed is not the total enlightenment of a far-out nirvana” or anything like that. I’ve become a parent-hippie, not a brain-dead couch cushion that plays the guitar and sings badly in a Joni Mitchell voice.