At a university campus near you.
Circa 2000 – The present day.
Hope, in reality, is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man – Friedrich Nietzsche.
I work as a lecturer. I work hard, too hard. Yet I don’t work hard enough.
Or smart enough.
Or maybe I’m wrong on all counts. I’m sure this is not making sense.
I recognise this place. I’ve been here before. And I’m angry at my continued inability to see, and see through, a system that repeatedly fails me and everyone within it. It’s hopeless. Yet I continue to subscribe to hope.
Twelve months ago I took on a two-day-a-week academic post that had previously been a three-day-a-week job in the hands of my predecessor. More from less.
I am working at the same academic level that I did six years ago, but for substantially less money. More from less, again.
I dig my heels in, I work hard, I work harder, I get burnt. I stumble and flounder, fueled by an aching sense of underachievement. Accomplish more. Accomplish nothing.
A colleague pulls me aside and inquires, “Are you all right?”. I run into a friend who lazily asks me how I am. Before I can speak, my facial expression shouts a silent answer. “Ooooohhhhhh,” she says, and looks concerned.
My sleep is shattered and my appetite shrinks. Things improve when I exercise, but only marginally. The three definers of burnout; cynicism, exhaustion and low self-efficacy, start to define me. And just like they give Prozac to elephants caged in the zoo, I’m taking tablets to help my mood.
Some sort of musical comfort accosted me a couple of months ago in the form of a song that kicks off with the line; I’m so sick of / (fill in the blank). It goes on. Accomplish more / accomplish nothing.
This song goes off like a nail bomb. It carries, not an earworm, but an ear leech, that latches on and will not be silenced. It sang itself to me, over and over, for weeks, alternately massaging and pounding my fatigued forehead.
The song’s key is the barbed chorus that in its own beautifully mixed up way sums up the perfect confusion of a sick individual repeatedly head-butting a sick system.
Vocalist Will Toledo sings a sort of argument, a competing internal duo-logue that goes:
You have no right to be depressed
You haven’t tried hard enough to like it
Haven’t seen enough of this world yet
But it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts
Well stop your whining, try again
No one wants to cause you pain
They’re just trying to let some air in
But you hold your breath…
It’s snide, insidious, scary…and it is spot on. It echoes the spirit of Australia’s vicious, grinding, neo-liberal, lifters-not-leaners, smashed-avo, workplace ethos that defines the conditions of employment for the majority of workers in this country.
As the singer sings he blames and soothes, accuses and cajoles, fights and collapses. Tries to defend against reality. Behind him, a mighty band called Car Seat Headrest has his back. They’re a thunderously empathic crew of staccato noise merchants, flailing, kicking, punching well above their weight and landing more hits than a juiced up cage fighter. A glorious riot.
There was a time when academics had the space to sit, read, consider, reflect, read some more, discuss, research, brainstorm, imagine and plan. Now all of that, all of that has gone. It has been replaced by a cartoonish efficiency and an airheaded accountability. Academia is now a hollow occupation.
Pedagogically, I have so many things I want to do, so many ideas, and I’m sure some of them are very good. But I’ve grown tired of repeatedly attempting to have these ideas heard within a system that doesn’t give a flying fuck about the humanity that needs to be central to a successful learning process.
I want to stay. I want to leave.
Accomplish more. Accomplish nothing.
Like a tyre with a slow leak in the valve, it doesn’t seem to matter how much I pump it up…by the end of the day it’s flat. I’m flat. I’m comforted by Car Seat Headrest’s musical mayhem. It helps me fight another day, to stop my whining and try again.
I have no idea if this is a good thing.
Stephen Andrew, 2018.