Yesterday I was at a career fair. I didn’t go looking for a career, I’m currently looking for a will to live, and I don’t want to be looking for too many things at once. I was actually hired to help hopeful job hunters with their CVs. Everyone needs help with their CV because no one knows how to do this mysterious genre properly. Except me, obviously.
At the venue, I got a name tag and a booth of my own. I brought along a book and was hoping to spend the day pleasantly occupied reading my book, wandering around the premises and taking selfies. Unfortunately, people were so keen on having a CV consultation that I only had time for one bathroom break, one coffee break and several smoke breaks, which I masqueraded as pee breaks.
When I had a minute of peace, I couldn’t get my peace either because a camera person jumped on me and informed me that I was going to tell him on the camera what I was doing here and what it was good for. I meekly protested, saying I’d prefer not to discuss metaphysical questions. Also, I’m not even here, and if I am here, then it’s to crush people’s spirits and get paid for it.
The cameraman insisted. Serve him right. Because I still have some residual sense, I knew better than to express my private opinions publicly. So, accompanied with the man’s encouraging nodding, I weaved a tale on the spot on how exciting it is to participate at this unique occasion and get to lend young talented people a hand with getting the career they deserve. A load of shit. But I’ll be a TV star.
Today’s challenge relies on a sound concept—using a tweet as inspiration—but to an unsound effect—the sampling of tweets provided does inspire me, but inspires me to undirected anger, hopeless frustration and profound sadness. I’m not sure why, you tell me.
Suggested reasons: chronic depression, overwork, stress [insert further psychiatric diagnoses here as applicable], also, sense of failure, purposelessness, hopelessness [feel free to insert more words from your thesaurus].
Or you can just tell me to shut the fuck up and deal with it because if I can afford to blog, it’s clear I’m privileged enough and have no right to rant about my supposedly miserable life. Your choice.
How Does the Universe Relate to Me?
In our universe a star explodes and dies every single second and there's you, worrying about work tomorrow.
It seems to be fashionable to be global rather than local. Perhaps being global is necessary for fulfilling your civil responsibility. My shocking opinion is that our foremost duty is to ourselves. It sounds even more alarming when you put it in the first person: my foremost duty is to myself. This is either simply an unpopular and uncivilised thing to think, or it’s what many people think but are scared to say. My reasoning is that if you’re a mess, you’re not likely to be of any use to anyone else. Fix yourself first and then look around to see where you can help.
Circling back to the tweet, my work is a more immediate, real and relevant threat than a star dying in the universe. I suspect if people looked to the stars less and minded their own business more, the world might have been a less horrendous living experience. I have no means of preventing a star from dying, provided that it would even be a desirable result, and as long as the star doesn’t decide to die by dropping on my head, it doesn’t concern me at present. What does concern me at present are bills to pay.
There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Education
You study, study, study, and at the end, you are lucky enough to discover the greatest gift of education: that you know nothing at all.
Besides its plagiarising Socrates, I have no particular grudge against this tweet. Since it’s a tweet, it’s naturally simplified. What I lack in the tweet—and what I lack in general—is an acknowledgement that education doesn’t necessarily equal a better job and that there is such a thing as too much education. Speaking from my own experience, obviously.
I have a hypothesis which might be wild (or not, I wouldn’t know, but maybe you do?) but I can’t help suspecting that the more educated, the more unhappy you are. Education usually brings about awareness (I assume that’s the point of education anyway), and already George Orwell (and surely many before him) knew that Ignorance is bliss. Therefore, I reason that the less education and awareness you have, the more ignorant and the more happy you are.
As to the falsity of the education = good job equation, I wish young people were more often and more strongly cautioned against pursuing education without a plan. I chose to study what I loved, which was a terrible idea. So, while I certainly give the impression that I only care about myself, I’d be pleased if other young people took my experience as an example of how not to do it. I’m aware that you can’t convince the young that you know better, but perhaps if they knew your story, they would take it into account just a bit.
I wholeheartedly encourage you to disagree with me and show me that you have more sense (which I’m inclined to believe). Along with you, I hope that tomorrow’s prompt will inspire me to something lighthearted and funny.
I was being mean as hell today. And the worst part? I was enjoying myself while at it.
First of all, I lied shamelessly. I felt so exhausted that I was literally falling asleep in my chair. I couldn’t envision staying awake for several more hours, waiting for my English student to arrive for his lesson. So I called him, inventing an excuse why I need to cancel our class today. Miraculously, the moment I put the phone down, I felt refreshed and not sleepy at all. To see the scheme through though, I did take a nap, and it was probably the most expensive nap I ever had. Because I obviously lost some money by cancelling the private lesson. In terms of expense, today’s nap is closely followed by the nap I once took on the train, which resulted in my missing my stop and having to return by quite complicated manoeuvres.
Even worse, I rejoiced at other people’s misfortune when I woke up from my refreshing nap and was still feeling evil. I got a call from my former thesis supervisor, doctor Emma, who asked me to convert her .odt file into a .pdf file. Doctor Emma is a classic academic who can use the computer on a level akin to using a typewriter. That’s normal in academia. The department’s secretary, who is by far the most tech savvy, still produces class timetables in Word because Excel scares the shit out of her. While converting Emma’s file with one click, I listened to the news from my former department that Emma had to share. Apparently, two academics are being sacked. WTF? Academics are never ever sacked. It’s a weird world, once you get in, you stay at your post until your death (not even until you retire because academics don’t retire).
This causes the awkward condition that while new academics are still being trained, there are no jobs for them. No one tells them, of course, and some of the more naive ones find out only after they graduate with a PhD. Like me. I never quite got over the fact that though I’m excellent at what I do, my department preferred to keep their current and far less competent employees instead of hiring me. It’s a huge source of bitterness and anger for me, as it sort of ruined my life as I knew it. I ended up being an overqualified freelancer struggling and failing to earn her living. So, on hearing the news of not one but two of the least competent academics at my ex-department being let go, I was genuinely delighted. I consider it cosmic justice. God’s millgrinds slow, but sure, one would say, but since I don’t believe in God, I call it cosmic justice. The universe is giving me a friendly nod. I nod back with a mean smile.
Whenever I don’t know what to blog about, I blog about Trainspotting. It’s my favourite childhood film (sic) and one of my favourite books. The book is better than the movie, but the movie is good enough to have achieved a cult status in my book (see what I did here?).
Trainspotting still matters. A sequel to the film is currently being shot, which is bound to fall short of the original, yet I’m so much of a fan that I’d be actually willing to see it in the cinema.
While I don’t teach either literature or film, I managed to sneak the showing of the Trainspottingtrailer in one of my classes after I found that my students were completely oblivious of this masterpiece. Of course they would be, they were not even born when it was made.
I imagined the trailer would be a largely useless though interesting experience with no relevance to my English class, but there was a funny follow-up. For the final test, there was a listening exercise I lifted from one of the teachers’ books I use, and the tape contained a dialogue concerning the trainspotting hobby.
It was in fact an excruciatingly artificial mock radio programme featuring an agony aunt tackling teenagers’ dramas. A kid complained that his friends laughed at him because he was a trainspotter. The good soul advised to the kid that he might try to find fellow trainspotter friends. Problem solved.
I had a hard time trying not to crack up while playing the tape to the students (I know, I have a weird sense of humour). I was however pleased that my trainspotting lesson proved to have a practical use, provided that test writing is practical. After all, it turns out that nothing is irrelevant. (Which is an alternative to the equally valid opposite claim that everything is irrelevant.)
My last day at work (for the moment, not forever) started early and poorly. The night before, my Wi-Fi had died in my arms and despite the tender loving care it promptly received, it failed to revive. I went to bed immediately after that since I had no clue what to do without Wi-Fi. (Feel free to judge.) I spent the whole night tossing, turning, having Wi-Fi-less nightmares and worrying about the patient, whom I left intubated and comatose. I woke up at 5 am, an hour before the alarm, and went to check the intense care unit straight away. There was no change.
I rebooted everything, again, and, in depths of despair, opened the Control Panel to run the network troubleshooting feature. I have my doubts about this one because whenever I can’t connect to the Internet, it asks me whether I wish to search for solution on the Internet. (Well, I’d love to, but you know, I can’t connect to the Internet.) During this resuscitation operation, the cat was chewing on my nightie and on wires spilling all over the place. Exactly at the point when I gave up, the modem’s yellow eye blinked and Wi-Fi went live.
My Wi-Fi proceeded to be significantly more alive than me, which I partly appreciated and partly hated. Since I had the time, I selected a thirty-minute yoga video to whose accompaniment to perform my usual morning torture. I reasoned it couldn’t possibly make me feel more exhausted than I already was, but I was proven wrong. On a more pleasant note, I allowed whole twenty minutes for painting a full face on my head and another twenty minutes to blow my hair completely dry, front and back. I normally don’t have the time, so I leave the back wet (if I can’t see it, it doesn’t bother me).
As it was my last day, I was carrying a heap of books, a pile of tests and other teaching resources to return to the teacher whom I was substituting. At the same time, I was supposed to hold oral exams that day. Now, the first task was calling for hiking boots and a backpack, while the second one required a smart dress and heels. I compromised, put on jeans and ballet flats but a nice blouse and blazer and took my two largest bags, dragging half my weight in them.
I arrived at the bus stop twenty minutes before the bus departure. I was semi-conscious by then, as I don’t see the need to be wide awake during routine tasks. I lit a cigarette, obviously, to balance out my previous rigorous yoga practice. A nice girl aged fifteen tops approached me and asked, very politely, for a cigarette. That woke me up and I suffered an acute fit of laughter. I countered the kid with a staccato series of questions and answers, including, Don’t say! Why? I don’t think this is going to work out. Buy your own packet for god’s sake. The girl just stared, having lost her speech capacity, and then walked away.
I seated myself and my oversized bags on a bench. A bus which wasn’t mine pulled up and belched out a dozen small screaming kids and their teacher. I clutched the metal grille which formed the bench I was sitting on and did my best to fend off the kid attack. It was worse than a zombie apocalypse. By the time they were done with me, I was painfully awake and traumatised. My bus was delayed, as it only leaves on time when I miss it, and when it did show up, an alien stewardess, who surely wasn’t even employed at the company, emerged from the door.
My distress, however I didn’t think it possible, further deepened. This was supposed to be the last day of my regular routine, I didn’t sign up for begging teenagers, murderous kids or Martian stewardesses. The stewardess’s name tag said Jane Charlotte Something. I knew she was an alien. I told you so. No one in my country has two given names (unless they are pretentious pseudo-celebrities) and no one in my country is called Charlotte (if you wish to name a Czech girl Charlotte, you name her Šarlota, which is a fully legitimate Czech variant that all your fellow countrymen will be able to spell and pronounce).
Charlotte introduced herself as Charlotte into the bus mic, further confirming her extra-terrestrial status by using her exotic second name as if she didn’t have a perfectly normal first name. She sounded like she hated her job. See, I knew she wasn’t a regular employee, as the company takes pride in employing only stewards who can maintain a fake smile throughout the whole day. Customers everywhere are not only entitled but outright expected to vent their frustrations on the staff, so when it was time for complimentary hot drinks, I asked for coffee, no milk, no sugar. I knew Charlotte would mess up. I was sorry for her by the time she returned to ask me what it was I wanted again.
The rest of my day didn’t suck (that much). A manageable number of students arrived for the oral exam and none of them forced me by the sheer power of their incompetence to abuse make a rightful use of my competence to fail them. A special thanks goes to the students who gave up and didn’t show up for the exam at all (you saved me work and saved my day, guys, kudos). My usual coffee shop, where I waited for my bus back, played nice chill-out music and my usual latte came with a complimentary choccie. It only does so on good days. When I discovered that the choccie contained hazelnuts, my happiness (if I had the capacity to experience such a thing) was complete. All came to a full zen circle when the return bus came staffed with Patricia, a stewardess so good at her job that I often wonder if her fake smile is real.
Invigilating students writing tests is arguably the most boring part of teaching. When I was a student myself, teachers would bring newspapers to amuse themselves with while sitting for hours on end in oppressive classrooms and wondering whether the students have unionised already and will stage a revolution to overthrow the tyranny of the teacher. It never happened during my student lifetime, which means it’s bound to occur now that I’m a teacher myself, so that I could get the full enjoyment out of being trampled to death by a horde of frustrated kids.
Like my teachers before me, I don’t take any interest in the students’ struggle. I’d like my efforts to be commensurate with my wages, but I already work considerably harder than what I’m paid for, therefore there arises no obligation for me to be committed any deeper. I can’t say that I bring newspapers to read while on my watch – I make use of current technology to pass away the time of torture for those sitting the test and time of dullness for me as the not-so vigilant overseer.
I’m gradually getting the hang of it – of trying to do something at least marginally productive during the time that is bound to be wasted – as illustrated by the following sample of activities I indulged in during my most recent babysitting, I mean studentsitting session.
I updated my Instagram with my latest rubbish phone snaps; reorganised (again) all app icons on all my phone’s screens; messaged a few colleagues who were at work and not currently invigilating anyone, therefore disinclined to entertain me; and set up a new email signature for my phone, saying, besides my name, Sent from my dumb mobile device. Then I grew bored with the phone and decided to take it a level up.
I switched on my hardware-keyboard-equipped tablet with the intention to blog a little. My tablet does not have its own SIM card with a data plan, so I proceeded to set up a hot spot to make my tablet receive my phone’s 4G data without the need for cables. (I don’t carry any cables to class because I would be in real danger of using them to strangle myself in frustration.) The hot spot I set up worked. It was my first time trying, so I was pretty pleased with myself.
The cheating students proved to be too distracting for me to do any blogging, so I warned them (again), Zip it up for gd’s sake, you’re disturbing me, on which they did zip it up (for a while), allowing me to surf the depths of tech net to see what I can do about the increasingly annoying Instagram adds evilly masquerading as regular posts. It turned out I can do next to nothing. Even if I were willing to pay to remove adds, such option does not exist. There is one way, which involves rooting your Android / jailbreaking you iOS, which I wisely decided to abstain from since I wouldn’t know what I’m doing.
That’s one thing I share with my students after all – we don’t know what we’re doing. There is one difference though: I know that I don’t know what I’m doing, therefore I avoid doing it, whereas the kids don’t know that they don’t know what they’re doing and erroneously think that they know what they’re doing. Are you following me? In any case, I have to excuse myself now, since I need to stand up and yell at the students present to put their bloody hands so I can see them and stop Googling the test answers. Or someone gets hurt.
Since I’ve been spending so much time recently poking fun at my students, it’s only fair to look at the whole teaching situation from their perspective—and poke fun at myself. I’m often mentally and physically out of touch with my surroundings and have issues performing simple tasks—because they are confusingly simple. Typically, I lose my papers at random locations in the classroom, I stumble on and crash into objects and I can’t make classroom equipment work. Naturally, students never warn or advise me and instead quietly observe as I make impact with chairs or struggle to open a tricky window.
Today I was allocated to a different classroom than usual. The room was so high-tech that it was impossible for me to use. To start with, I couldn’t find the light switch. This posed a bit of a problem because the classroom was windowless, hence pitch dark. I switched my phone’s flash light on and embarked on a search mission. I took the teacher’s desk apart and discovered hidden compartments and even a built-in PC, but no light switch. Ten excruciating minutes later, I gave in and called IT help. The man came, touched the touchscreen on the top of the desk and it was light. It didn’t occur to me that the touchscreen was activated by touch (because how logical is that?).
Once the lights went on by the workings of black magic, I thought I would close the door. I thought wrong. The door was protected from closing with some probably primitive mechanical trick, which I couldn’t crack. I didn’t feel like summoning the powerful technician-magician again, so I used force (not the force) and smooth talk. Neither helped. In depths of despair, I asked a fit-looking male student for assistance—he smugly moved something at the top of the door and it closed. Students never tell you anything.
Finally, before beginning the class, I attempted to retire to the restroom through the other door, which seemed to be closing and opening normally. I had the unfortunate idea of trying to back out of the door while informing the class that I’d be right back. I hit the door frame because, while the door appeared to be stable, it clearly had the ability to move around in space when nobody was looking. My ribs and my dignity suffered in this incident. The students seemed well satisfied with the result.
I cultivate a deadpan face at all times because I maintain that showing emotion makes one open to abuse. Unfortunately, my deadpan skills cause some confusion when dealing with people who are less dead inside out than me. It’s especially difficult to get my humour across with my straight face—though my sense of humour, which is often somewhat less digestible, might be to blame.
My students are incredibly credulous. Something in their education is apparently amiss since they take everything at face value. The other day when I distributed their final tests, I advised them to write their name on the paper and their student number. I added that should they fail to include their student number, I would award penalty points. There was deathly silence in response. I had to explain the joke, which made it somewhat less charming.
During oral exams, I made a point of looking encouraging, though anything that was still alive inside me was being slaughtered at the moment by the assault of incredibly bad English I was forced to sit through. This considerate approach turned out to be poorly thought through, in keeping with the law that each good deed shall be punished accordingly.
Several days after the oral exam, I received an email from a student who wanted me to explain why she got such a poor grade when I “looked content”. I doubt that I ever look content, but I can’t say, and I certainly have no recollection of this particular student—I examined about forty candidates within two days, plus I’m consciously working on suppressing this traumatic experience. I wrote a polite response suggesting that next time the student might want to raise questions on the spot.
On a more cheerful note, I learned a lot of interesting details about the students during the oral exam. One student intimated that he was looking forward to feeling the virginity of the forest in Romania, where he was going for holiday. I didn’t pry for details. Another student explained that while he thought domestic animals were sometimes abused, he couldn’t envision a cow living on its own and enjoying its freedom somewhere in the woods. I couldn’t envision it either. I managed to keep a serious face, though with utmost effort.
I read an intriguing article the other day which I forgot about and remembered today. It’s a touching life story with a happy ending. I automatically sneer at happy endings because I find them out of touch with reality, however, the story looks legit. Should you so desire, you can examine the original article, but you’ll need Google Translate to assist you with the Czech. (On a tech note, if you translate often, like me, you could make use of this nifty extension for Chrome.)
The article describes the downward spiral of a professor and faculty dean, who lost his job after his faculty was dissolved and proceeded to lose his wife and home, ending up a homeless alcoholic. This seems to be a rather typical academic career. What’s different here is that the man’s students found him, got mobilised and helped him back to a non-boozer life with a home and a job. The recovered man started running and finished a marathon this month.
This relates to me on a personal level and poses a few questions, such as whether any of my students would be so kind, for old times’ sake, as to throw me a coin when I end up on the street. I don’t think so really, which increases my wonder at the professor’s story. I didn’t imagine these things—someone helping someone else—could actually happen. Of course, I’m cynical and I have no imagination.
Another point is the heightened vulnerability of academic personnel, or anyone who has spent a prolonged period of time in the academic environment. Academia is a strictly closed system which does not operate on capitalist principles, hence the difficulty of academics to come to terms with functioning outside of their natural habitat. I’ve spent about a third of my life half-way in academia, mostly as a student, not as an employee, and I was marked for a lifetime. This shows in my confusion about how basic things work—especially the how-to-pay-your-bills kind of things.
While I have myself to blame, the academic system significantly contributed in conditioning me to a behaviour when I don’t expect to get paid for my work. Here is, in brief, what academics do:
We write articles/books for publication. An administrative fee for publication might be involved. Our university, when state-subsidised, gets points for our articles which then convert into money for the university budget. The author of the article is not paid and does not draw royalties.
We present at conferences. The conference fee, travel, accommodation and other costs might be fully or partially covered by our university, provided that there is a suitable grant project running to claim the expenses from. The presenter is not paid, unless it’s a top-ranking academic invited to give a plenary talk.
We teach classes, mark essays, provide consultations and do the rest of the workload proper for which we are paid, provided that we are employees, not doctoral students (the latter are free workforce). Salaries for academics are regulated and are somewhat above the wages for unqualified labour and slightly below the salaries of schoolteachers (who typically also have lower qualifications).
I don’t think there is another working environment where, in the extreme, people pay to work rather than to be paid for work.
Throughout the term, my students appeared thoroughly disinterested in their studies. It was all fun and games—and then there was the final test. This excited in my unexcitable students bouts of paranormal activity. This manifested itself in a previously unseen increase in questions, typically of the dumb kind: Will this be on the test? — What will be on the test? — Will you give us questions for the test? (Answers: Could be. — The content of this course. — That would negate the idea of the test, don’t you think?)
Besides nagging me in classes, the students discovered the joys of email spamming. One email from a visiting student from Spain was particularly interesting language-wise. It started with a reasonably regular question about how to sign up for the exam in the electronic system. I did my best to answer, on which the student got back to me, clearly thrilled that we had figured it out:
Ohhh! Now I get it, this exam registration is so so different from Spain hahaha : O
So, If I clicked on the 16.5.16 – 10:00 registration,
It means that my exam is tomorrow monday at 10 am, in the building C8 (The library) in the classroom 687, instead of C4 like any other class, right?
: P I just want to be sure and not get lost tomorrow hahaha.
I replied in the affirmative. In Standard English. I wonder if I got my message across. I should have probably written:
ikr, the System sucks!!
but you got it right lol
A series of less amusing emails followed after I published the first batch of test results. Ever since, I’ve been plagued by complaining students. I’m thinking of setting up an automated response along the lines:
Dear student, I’m sorry to see that you failed your exam. Unfortunately, I cannot arbitrarily change your result so that you pass. Best luck for your retake!
This should be followed by a translation into current speak:
Heya, whatsup, suck it up for fck’s sake and gimme a break. K?
The final K would be read by the student as OK because they wouldn’t get the allusion to the protagonist of Kafka’s The Trial. The whole thing is so Kafkaesque.