Wandering the Tower – An Academic Romance, Part 2

(Link to Part 1)

Today is grey and rainy. I’m up early and listening to Pandora.com’s David Sylvian radio station (thanks to John for the recommendation of Sylvian’s work) and wondering where I should start this next entry regarding my romance with academia and grad schools. Throughout the week, I’ve started and discarded a number of openings. I planned on writing this while at work because I had next to nothing to do at my temp job and spent most of each day trying to keep myself from banging my head against the desk just to break the boredom. I found, however, that I couldn’t really concentrate enough in that environment to be productive, so I spent each day compulsively reading the rss feeds from sites like Daily Kos, Pandagon, Feministing, IO9, BoingBoing and about a dozen other, checking my mail every few minutes to see if someone, anyone had written, and contemplating just what the hell was I doing in a corporate office answering phones and making copies.

So I sit here, a cup of tea, the quiet sound of rain and still I wonder how best to talk about my complex feelings toward grad school and I keep coming back to a larger issue that, perhaps, has some bearing on the issue at hand: desire.

Desire may be experienced in the present, but it is always for something outside of the moment. Something from the past or the future. Once the object of desire is possessed, then desire ceases (at least for that particular object). Desire can be a healthy and productive driving force in a persons life. Without desire (for the mother’s breast, for love, for sex, for pleasure, for justice, etc.), there’s not much point to the whole human experiment. Yet, in religion after religion, philosophy after philosophy, pop psychology book after pop psychology book, we come face to face with the recognition that too much desire can be, like too much Rick Astley, a bad thing. Hell, if you are even vaguely Freudian (and who isn’t), our Id desires and our super-ego is there to say, “no.” So we struggle, day in and day out, trying to balance desire against either getting lost in the wild woods of our desiring or placing our very souls into the objects of desire and thereby hollowing ourselves. It is this hollowing out that helps feed our materialism these days. We put our souls into HDTVs or Bose speakers, or iPods, or Macbook Pros (damn those new models are sexy!!), or a million other things. We then hope, when we get those things in our life, that we will recognize ourselves and that the hollow feeling will go away.

Sometimes we invest ourselves in drugs or religions or political parties or other people, setting forth a continual cycle of desire and pursuit that never truly satisfies.1 Desire is like, to switch metaphors, oxygen. Too little and we can’t truly live. Too much and the air explodes around us, the flames burning us down to blackened bones. Which brings me to Star Wars (through Uncle Owen & Aunt Beru’s burned skeletons), to Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back when he said of Luke that:

All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.” (Link)

And so I circle back to myself and the instant recognition I felt upon hearing Yoda’s pronouncement. I knew, even at eleven years old, that Yoda was talking about me. Writer, Actor, Director, College Professor, Writer (once more), Corporate Consultant, Academic (possibly?): all various careers/goals/plans/futures that I have held in my mind at one point or another. The problem lies not in any of these particular goals, but rather that I have been so busy looking to the horizon that I keep stumbling around the various pot-holes and broken sidewalks of my life. It’s rather difficult to make a long journey if you keep tripping every couple of steps because you refuse to look away from the distance—from your desire—to see what’s around you here and now. Most of my life I have squandered2 considerable emotional and intellectual resources just trying to keep my balance because I refused to look more often and more closely at my present surroundings; to invest myself in the now.

No wonder that I struggled with grad school! No wonder that every time I gained some distance from school I wanted to go back. By leaving the tower, I was able to stop tripping over myself in my pursuit of the faraway horizon of desire and could see just what it was that brought me into that ivory tower in the first place: the fact that I love to learn and read and think and write and teach. Because of my “eyes-on-the-horizon” perspective, however, I kept forgetting just how much joy I ought to take in my surroundings. I forgot to recognize the privilege of being in an environment that supports many of the activities that I love; an environment that encourages and challenges me to do them better and better. I saw all of the various challenges of grad school as obstacles because each one raised a bulky shape in front of my vision and broke my view of the horizon; obscured my view of that distant goal, that desired place of “I’m a Tenured Professor Now.”

So, what are you saying, that you should go back to school? Come on, how many times have you gone back and how many times have you left and what’s to say this time will be any different. (That’s an example of the super-ego right there!)

I’m saying, simply, that I need to find a more balanced viewpoint. I’m saying that I want to work on learning how to appreciate the now and to use the horizon more as a reference point rather than an end goal. If pressed, I would say that being in a university setting suits me in ways that other environments don’t and that the tower of academia gives me a sense of community that I haven’t found in other arenas. What last week’s conference reinforced was just how much I enjoyed being around the people who make up academic and university life. Even if I never became a student again in my life, I think it’s important for me to understand why I’ve had such a contentious relationship with an institution that, for all its faults, offers me a great deal of opportunity and joy and community.

On this day..

  1. None of these observations are particularly new, having been made countless times over the course of our history. It seems that each of us must find our own way into this particular territory and just hope that our particular route may provide a few hints and tips for others. []
  2. Squandered is probably too strong a word if I am going to be fair to myself, but I can’t help feeling that I’ve misspent some of my youth. []

One thought on “Wandering the Tower – An Academic Romance, Part 2

  1. Pingback: Living the Liminal » Blog Archive » Wandering the Towers - An Academic Romance, Part 1

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