The boring bleurgh of academia

It’s not what you think.  It’s the unhinged ones on the loose.  The hypercritical egotistical snake-headed spitters. The manically incisive flickers.  Dismissers.  Sweeping away work and thought and care with damning remarks.

I have written about it before.  I know academia is critical.  There is a lot about this that is good.  And, the shadow-monster in the critical house is that it feeds some individuals who are pretty inhuman.  In the sense of forgetting that the work is done by humans.

I am aware that I may be particularly sensitive.  That I take responsibility for my own ego and its vulnerability.  I am also resilient, in the critical swamp, and in llife.

When other factors such as casualisation, student debt, and other challenges of having a body, hormones, wanting family, wanting to no longer be in the low income reality connect with putting years of effort into this study and research gig: it’s tough.  Dispiriting.

That’s the word, really.  Australia’s dominant reality is secular, particularly in academia.  Fair enough.  But the basic act of being a good person while still giving critique is where it’s at for me.  Seeing the person and the work and why the fuck we care about it at all.  

You could say that examiners, reviewers, supervisors, readers, editors are not there to care about the person. You could say that.  That they only respond to the work.  You could say this.

It’s pretty rare, though.  Because by being callous and hysterical (I would say that I have just encountered a furious response to my thesis), or frozen critique machines, they are affecting the person also.  

Like anywhere, I have found some great teachers and minds and people in the academic whirlpool.  Vivid ideas and fascinating ways of thinking.  I have loved listening and talking and questioning and reading and listening again and writing, editing even.  Polishing to feel something like a blade.

But this may be the clincher for me.  That there will always be these ones as my peers, at conferences and as peer reviewers, as the crazy subject co-ordinator no tutor wants to work for.  

Truly, mental illness happens.  I know.  I actually don’t judge.  Life can have so much struggle.  Pressure.  Things happen.  Biology, trauma, luck.  Some people live with the massive challenge of this.  I do love this as a part of humanity.  I don’t particularly think that I am above or different or normal.  I have paddled through depression and a horrible premenstrual disorder that means that I have added super-tension and suicidal thoughts, hypersensitivity, anger in cyclic regularity.  

Thankfully, I finally got some drugs and surgery to help this.  It also really helps when I am pregnant and just avoid the whole thing altogether.

But, you see.  I have arrived and tried to practice this principle: whatever I feel, however much the swampiness and poverty and going into debit and not having money for parking circles, each moment is an opportunity.  To be the most human I can with each person.  Each encounter.  

This may sound righteous.  It’s not.  It’s being all of it, feeling all of it: horrendous cramps and crazy migraine tension and listening to a supervisor’s critique and looking to understand them and hold my reaction and respond the best I can.  It’s checking the way that I judge a white male student in my class as privileged and thereby classifying his thoughts.  It’s being aware of all of the shit that many students go through: casual jobs, gloomy career outlook, heaps of assignments, and caring, and still placing a high bar in my expectations.

This is me.  Obviousy not everyone has this approach.

Loving support from friendly peeps says that I am compassionate and passionate.  I swear, almost every anonymous piece of student feedback that I have received says that I am ‘friendly and approachable’, and that this is a rare and very helpful quality as a teacher.

Truly: what’s the point of the whole endeavour?  You know, education.  Research.  Teaching.  Learning.  Writing. Reading.  Lecturing.  Marking.  Critiquing.  

Ideas, yes.  Research and exploration, yes.  But if there is not some attention to a human experience in there: count me out.


Casual Submission

I submitted my Phd thesis a few days ago.

It hasn’t really sunk in yet.  I have been doing a fair bit of casual work, and just sleeping, so I haven’t had much time to stop and reflect that it has Happened.  

Apparently so.  Surreal.  A trickling away of the tasks and to-do’s until I am just uploading a file. Glitches and snags on the way.  Sitting on my bed on a Sunday night with my partner.  Finally after needless glitches angst due to a lack of clear explanation about the uploading process, I couldn’t wait and watch it and see that the upload had failed one more time, so I left the job with my partner.  Then I hear: “Sucess!”

A little bit of tears that night, and the next day while working, probably from exhaustion.  Lots of people are happy for me.  I imagine that I will catch up to their happiness once I have grasped it.

Yet I think that, partly, the process doesn’t help, as there is very little concrete sense of a milestone, an event, a landmark.   Instead, a trickling of an uploading process, a dwindling of final tasks to do, and then a: that will do, I just need this to be gone because I have so much other work.

So that was it.

I have been trying to create my own lunches and coffees on the fly this week.  Like me, most people are busy and  it has felt a little haphazard, so I figure I will have a week or two of rolling catch-ups with people. Which, really, means that I am very lucky.

How strange that this thing, or not even a thing, an atmosphere, a weight, a factor that impacted my life, my other activities, partners, days and nights, a constant low level guilt, is finished with an upload button.  (I still have to finish uploading music files, which hopefully I can get to today).

Having said that, I am very lucky to have some kind and lovely people around me to congratulate me and be happy for me.  

I think the main sense of surreal dislocation is when people say that it is a tremendous achievement: it is, I guess, but the last five years have been a horrible awakening into how a PhD isn’t valued, how I am a job-seeker with the same casual shit prospects, how competitive and mangerialist and horrible much of academic life is, how little value most people place on a PhD, how cynical so many early career researchers are about academia, how little postgrads are valued by their faculties, (yet called on to fill teaching gaps when in panic mode), how little understanding a broader sense of the ‘public’ has of the value of Arts or critique, how the vices of perfectionism, procrastination and anxiety love to cluster in and around researchers who are only valued for their quanitified output, how toxic management of Universities truly is … all of this makes it hard to feel the ACHIEVEMENT.

However, as I read and edited and proofread the thesis itself, I did occasionally go: whoa, that’s right, I remember thinking through that, reading that, writing that … re-drafting that 26 times … and then I get a glimpse of the effort.

It’s done.  Whatever it is, it’s done.

(Until the revisions …)




One of those

Just having one of those days where you have to pay for parking because you got called into work which means paying for transport for the other days that you have to work is threatened.  Because you are a casual worker with not enough hours.  Even though you are willing.  But the pay doesn’t come through till next week to pay to get to the job.  And eat.  And all of the other freelance artist work and academic work always has the cheque in the mail.  Because the senior board members need to sign the cheques and they have been on holidays.  Because they get holidays.  Where you have to move your car at lunch to avoid paying for it.  Change the shoes to walk back from the car.  Where the system has a bug so it’s hard to get work done.  Where it’s hard to get the money to have the clothes for the dress code for the job.  All of which could be easier if there was at least part time permanent, or job sharing.  Where submitting the PhD is getting shunted around casual hours.  Where reporting to Centrleink about a missed appointment because of working is almost impossible because of phone reception and phone queues.  Where I finally get a call back but it takes most of my lunch hour to do this (while walking back from the car parked further away).  Where rescheduling the Centrelink appointment will also take time from the PhD submission because I can’t wait until next week to have it because I need to apply for an advance payment.  To pay bills and car expenses, to help my partner get to a job interview.  Where filling out the job hunting efforts for Centrelink is kinda stupid because I am working in multiple roles, and have much working coming up (so it seems, it’s always precarious though), and I am extremely highly qualified, but this is not recognised (and it’s so goddamn hard to get the thing submitted around this admin treadmill bullshit).


You know.  One of those.

Precarious Art Workers Unite

Aned, indeed, all of those art workers living with a few other kinds of precarity (hmmm, early career academic, casual tutor, casual administrator, freelance facilitator) …

Let’s GO.  And get real about how this freelancing ain’t so free, how

“Contemporary art, she argues, is ‘squarely placed in the neoliberal thick of things’”