Thursday, September 1, 2011

paper scraps and paper chase

Being Peonage of the Towering Slab of Ivory, I hear a lot of people talk about their degrees, the degrees they want, the degrees that someone else has or doesn't, and there is some degree of cultural capital in certain circles where you're validated by how many letters are after your name or where you went to school, what you studied, and how far you went, where you got published, what conference you presented at, who you know.

And then there is the vicious cycle of a cramped job market, where everyone has the same credentials but possibly more experience or better connections, where you don't get called back because you don't have some piece of paper, or if you have too many pieces. I only got my gig of relative underemployment due to not graduating in time and learning the hard way after not getting called back for looking too overqualified or for having the right credentials but not the 20 years of experience that belonged to others. In Proverbs, it's said to be wise is to ask God for neither poverty nor riches and that's what I did, and that's what I got. While the interpersonals can get complicated, it's truly everywhere.

My peers defer adulthood and keep taking out more loans, to find out that they've screwed themselves over because that golden ticket never did materialize. Most of my fellow grad-schoolers pursued other dreams instead or held out for that Really Good Job because they considered themselves too good to do what I do. I've got free tuition and really good health insurance and a couple good coworker homies, which makes up for the lack of pay most of the time, but to think that one is entitled based on having such and such a degree or two, when there's little work ethic and even less decency towards others, starts seeming absurd.

Self-perpetuation of those already entrenched, ageism of the you're too old or you're so young, the stress of maintaining image and lifestyle, of making a good impression and paying the mortgage while the domestic life disintegrates. Maybe this is why people like Jonathan Franzen novels and Desperate Housewives. At least someone's suburban misery is worse.

Suburban desperation has long been a cultural trope and one I've found ridiculous and overwrought, but I've never existed in the world of the super-suburbs, just the working-class one where the people in my life who went to college ended up being truck drivers or stay-at-home moms who used their brains to help us use ours, so I've never truly understood this, and living in the city means that I see less of it, so when I do, it stands out intensely.

And as education becomes more to do with becoming good little cogs with culturally appropriate opinions, and higher education a lucrative enterprise that's bought into with the expectation of economic payoff, of higher wages and greater prestige, more people have bought in and it's gotten more cramped, and I watch more and more people reduced tears and bitterness because the system they paid so much into is not producing the returns that were expected.

And then the people who do have the qualifications who got where they were more or less by accident of birth, of getting in while the getting was good back when there were times of relative economic prosperity, when degrees and diplomas meant more, look down on everyone else who is not so lucky.

These are things that I don't deal with as much, only observe. I hover in social limbo between suburbanites and those that have little to nothing. I can't say that I've dropped out of this system, but I've left the rat racing to others, but I see it all around me and sometimes I wish I was doing a little bit better so maybe I could travel somewhere outside the United States just once, or maybe not live upstairs from someone, and realize that there's still residue of these American dreams that have fueled all sorts of bad things. We've all got our struggles, and those of us who preferred learning for the sake of learning and art for the sake of art are the ones living paycheck to paycheck, but I still feel like I made the better trade.


Randal Graves said...

Of course you'd say you made the better trade. All unwashed mass losers with no prospects of Success say that.

-- Rembrandt Q. Einstein, III, PhD, JD, Esq.

Anonymous said...

it's the making and owning of a conscious choice that matters, freedom thru commitments and not from as it were. keep asking the questions

thatgirl said...

This is what I get for non-monetized bloggery on the Internets instead of the Success Journal. Word verification: menalo because unlike Thomas Edison, I'm so not Winning the Future.

At least for all the questions, I feel like I get answers some of the time, so it's not a waste...

Anonymous said...!

Anonymous said...

my friend bobjah for your next drum along practice session:

PPLIC said...

Nice article. very interesting, thanks for sharing.