Thursday, November 12, 2009

gloom, despair, and agony on me

When I was younger, there was one day where, before work, I was sitting outside of the pizza place, smoking cigarettes and talking to my supervisor. I said something typically whiny, and after looking at me for a minute, my supervisor said, "You know, Mike, you sure like to complain."

I was could I know this man for a year and a half before he came to this startling revelation? Or maybe he just liked to point out the obvious.

Yes, I do like to complain. My dear Nanna used to be one of those "everything will work out in the end" type of people, and this always both befuddled and totally annoyed me...because I've always believed that moaning serves a real purpose. Things only work out in the end if someone sees what's wrong, what's holding them back, and does something about it. Plus, complaining is cathartic; my darling spousal unit realized that sometimes, I just want to moan. Whining has also become the hallmark of my there's no way I could stop now even if I was motivated to do so.

Today, though, I have reason. Moreover, it's one of the best reasons to complain: I have real evidence that the fates are aligned against me in two very tangible ways.

  1. A year or so back, I was starting to think through a paper on the tv show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. For those of you who didn't see it, it was a good, occasionally brilliant program...slower moving than the films, yet intellectual and intriguing (rather than the "shoot-em-up" style of the films). I really loved the way the probram talked about intelligence, and the paper, I felt, would really be something. Then the show got canceled, and my preliminary work on the program became essentially wasted time...because who cares about a canceled show? At least, I assuaged myself, I didn't write a paper that ends up being useless. I decided from then on that I would take special care to make sure my topics were viable.

    Flash-forward to this summer and "the paper that wouldn't die 2009 edition" (you can read all the gory details if you so wish). I had planned to spend the summer working on the book, but this damn paper on Dollhouse's renewal wouldn't get out of my head. It even had the potential to be "important." So I spent 2.5 months writing a paper which argued its renewal signified network television moving away from a ratings-based model, and this signified...a whole bunch of vital and noteworthy stuff.

    What happens? Dollhouse got canceled yesterday...which makes my whole paper a non-starter. My summer was pretty much wasted. Damnit.

  2. This year, my university has decided, in its infinite wisdom, to change our health care options. Of course, my insurer is the one undergoing major changes, so, an hour-long presentation, several confusing web pages, and a 58 slide power point later, I finally decide on a new provider.

    As with every single year, I have to provide my HR department with a form stating that my darling spousal unit does not get insurance where she works. No sweat, right? She gives it to her HR Tuesday, and all they literally have to do is sign and write their phone number. She calls them today. They might be able to get it signed tomorrow. She asks them if they realize that she has to have it turned in tomorrow or she cannot get insurance. They know this, they tell her, but there are only two people who can sign this form, and they are both in a meeting.

    So now, my spousal unit may not get insurance because it apparently takes someone more than four days to sign their name.

These are just two of the reasons I hate the world and most everyone in it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

money for nothing

In my dissertation (eventually to be my book), I write (amongst other subjects) about economic policy in the eighties. Reagan's economic philosophy was, on the whole, kind of weird. If we give rich people more money, the theory goes, they will spend more money, and the people who get that money will in turn spend, and so on, so forth. And the only thing that will prevent this spending is taxes, so we're going to lower tax rates for the rich only. Besides, the logic (?) goes, all this spending will generate more work, which we then can tax, which will pay for the runaway government spending which we hate but will do absolutely nothing to stop.

It's an interesting concept, but for it to work, one that has to assume no one rich will hoard money or no one poor will pay bills. When questioned about the logic of Reaganomics, White House budget director David Stockman (I think) said something to the effect of "if people believe in this, it will quit reporting bad news." Yes, this economic theory is based off giving people money and hoping everything works out perfectly. What bad could possibly result?

Fast forward to the present. Credit card debt levels are staggering. We've just gone through a lending crisis. Thanks to our last president (whose VP said "deficits don't matter"), our country's debt levels are record-breaking. Moreover, when our current president tried to use government money to fund projects, people refer to him as the communistical Marxist Commie Antichrist....the same people, it should be noted, who loved W simply mailing them checks.

We had an election yesterday, and my state in particular has lost its collective mind. In Ohio, our voters apparently decided that casinos, which push the "you can get rich without working" myth, are exactly what our state needs. They also decided that, rather than fund some programs to help veterans, we were just going to cut them a check. Apparently, free money is now the answer to everything. Sigh.

You see? Reagan is to blame for everything.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

stupidity...a hard lesson

It's something I don't really like to admit to myself, but I am largely, tremendously driven by ego...particularly by not wanting to feel useless and dumb. I tell myself that I, much like Annie Savoy, should be so strong that such things as "how smart I seem" cannot affect me. This is, however, a fiction that never really works.

This relentless need to not feel useless and dumb is not, I should point out, entirely bad. It is what caused me to leave my dead-end job as a salesman (of water, no less...that's right, I could convince people to pay money for something that came out of their taps, and I was actually pretty good at it). It has caused me to keep working on my scholarship in spite of a job that doesn't reward such work at all. It causes me to study, to learn, to read, to do any of the things that keep one a vital human.

But it leads to doubts...lots of them. Have I never been in a band that played out because I suck as much as many assume? Why, I ask myself, do I have do read this damn Zizek article five times to actually understand it? Is it because I'm as dense as I feel? Why don't I have that tenure-track job? Is it really the economy, or am I simply not good enough? Why does that article, which a part of me truly believes is really well-written and vital, keep getting rejected? On those rare occasions when I evaluate myself and find myself worthy, am I really just led by delusion? The doubt festers, like a...sigh. Even the damn metaphors escape me.

There have always been many things where I knew I lacked something. In spite of my best efforts, for instance, there is something about car repair that eludes me. But I always thought I could minimize the gap. For instance, I am fully aware that in the hierarchy of intelligence, I can think of about fifteen close friends who are definitively smarter than me. Yet I still think, I still study, I still try to stretch my mind (at least as far as my schedule allows) because I honestly believe I can make a difference somewhere...can't I?

The problem is that even when I feel I'm making progress in one area, life has a way of smacking me down in some other way.

Case in point: although I have never actually done any substantial writing in a Fall semester since graduating (I teach 16 credit hours, and that doesn't lend itself to doing much of anything), I signed up for a November academic conference. In order to force some scholarship, I even committed to a new topic. And in spite of beguiling students and a thousand commitments on my day, I am actually making headway. I think I have good, notable conclusions, and even though I am not sure I'll have an actual paper ready to go for my presentation this weekend, I feel confident in my ability to do something meaningful, tangible, something that will eventually become a publishable article (something I can really use).

Of course, something else crops up. "You hear that?" my internal Agent Jones, asks. "That is the sound of inevitability." And indeed, I heard inevitability scraping down my hallway. So what did it sound like?

One word: laundry.

In between doing a thousand other things this weekend, I spent some time doing laundry. As I was putting my final load into the dryer, however, the door refused to latch...and you really can't dry clothes with a dryer open to the world. I looked at the latch mechanism, poked it with some tools, but no dice. I tried a temporary fix with duct tape holding the door closed, but here I learned something: duct tape, when heated, stretches, thus requiring the launderer to reapply every ten minutes. Truly, this was not an ideal solution.

While I am no means a mechanical genius, I knew that this was probably not a complicated repair...pull out one part, put in another. However, I've got students clamoring for last minute topic approval, that conference in less than a week, a full week's worth of cooking to do, and the requisite 1,387,242 self-doubts to quell, so rather than locate the latch, drive around and buy it, and hammer the sucker in place myself, I decide to just call someone.

And that was where my stupidity reared back and smacked me in the face. The repair guy came today. As I suspected, he only had to pry out the old part and hammer in a new $6 latch. It took all of three minutes. My charge? Well, the service fee was $40. Then I had to pay $20 for this guy's three minutes of labor. My desire to save 30 minutes cost me $70 after tax. Sigh.

Once again, I realize that as much as I try to convince myself otherwise, I have not in fact escaped my own general stupidity, and that in this case (as in countless others), that stupidity comes partially on relying on others. I look forward to the day where I won't be quite so dumb, but right now, I really wonder if that day will ever come. Not today, it seems.