We are arrant knaves, all; believe none of us.

 

No one hates higher education more than I do.

Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh combined have fewer nasty things to say about the academic establishment, academic elitism, and academics.

Well, okay.  Maybe that’s a stretch.

But I’ve existed in academia, as either/both a student and an administrative employee, for a total of about 10 years.  If I go to graduate school and teach while I’m there, I’ll have been a student, a student worker, a high-access cog in the liberal arts funds development machine, and an instructor.  I’ll have done nearly everything important there is to do at a major University:  Learned, taught, suffered financial hardship, and gone begging for outrageous sums of money.  All I’ll have to do is write a couple of books, and I’ll be dean of something.

And I hate this place.

Potentially, no one is more preened, primed, and perfect for a doctorate and a long, tenured career in academia–likely with administrative outcomes–than I am.

Potentially no one loves that idea more than I do.

Academics, as far as I’m concerned, are functionally retarded.  And invaluable.

My sentiment is not unique.  All but uniformly, academics despise their institutions, each other, and less admittedly, probably, themselves.

Whether from guilt & self-loathing or from the ironic reality that often only academic people are experientially well-equipped, articulate, and interested enough to talk about everything that’s wrong with the academy, a HUGE portion of credible criticism of academia comes from people who are either near-academic in their devotion to intellectualism or who are academics proper, by occupation.

That is, even criticisms of academic and intellectual elitism somehow manage to conform to academia’s and intellectualism’s stereotypically insular and elitist reputations.  Generally, academia rejects any criticisms of itself that come from outside of academia, and certainly all that come from outside of the intelligentsia.    They are rejected for being ignorant, ill-informed, naive, or hostile.  In other words, Philistine.

That is, of course, unless academics are slumming, a pastime they’re prone to when new ideas (or more appropriately new twists on old ideas) are in short supply.  This is when the academic elite descend from the tower to mine the Volk and their various plights for inspiration, gather it into notebooks, movements, and activist tomes, then haul it all back to the tower where they huddle over it, clucking and opining and publishing-to-stave-off-perishing, for the next 10-20 years.

Inevitably, though, only experts, the expert conclusion ends up being, are qualified to point out how very much is wrong with experts being the only ones allowed to point things out.

Because they are academics, they cannot help be aware of this unfortunate feedback loop, an awareness that is able to do nothing more than shove the cognitive train along on its circular track.

What can one even do with a group of people like that?  Besides ignore them completely?

 

In my case, the answer appears to be, increasingly, “join them.”

 

It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that my usefulness to the world has very little to do with application.  Though I’m practical, I almost never have a practical solution to anything more complicated than mundane daily organization and logistics.  Or if I do have one, it is simply one among many, none of which I’m willing to marry.

But I have worked the 9-5 job.  I have worked in government & politics.  I have knocked doors and sold vacuums and attended staff meetings and generally made a good try of Doing, in both the private and public sectors.

Doing is not for me.

I don’t want to make decisions for people.  I don’t want to get paid to spend my life facing and trying to convince others they must face ultimatums and false dichotomies.  “Buy this or that.”  “You’re either with us or against us.”  “Deal or no deal?”  I don’t want to touch or be touched or put my “hands-on” anything.

 

If I’m being honest, what I want is to think for people.

I’d settle for just being able to think.

 

Much lip service is paid to academia’s role in teaching people how to think as opposed to what to think, but this is only half the story.  What one thinks is largely determined by how they go about it, and besides that, most college kids will forget how to think by their 2nd or 3rd year post-grad, provided real, non-scholarly life takes hold as one would expect.

But academic scholarship–especially, oddly enough, theoretical scholarship–has a way of worming its way into the public discourse, consciousness, and overall zeitgeist.  It is sneaky.  It happens via unassuming pop-science and human interest stories, self-help books, pedagogy, literary fads, and other realms in which the interests of the intelligentsia and the hoi polloi tend to cross paths, even if only superficially.

That is, after all, what academia’s mission is alleged to be:  Not to declare truth, but to affect the world through production of knowledge in a pursuit of truth that has no terminus.

 

The answer to “what should we Do” is always changing; picking one seems like a goose chase, and when people are fearful to admit the answer is always changing, that there may be a goose chase on, they tend to make hard and fast examples of themselves–make bold displays of ideological entrenchment and in doing so, contribute (though Doingly!) to en mass creative & intellectual wasting.

So it’s not that I don’t care.  I don’t like injustice or the demise of species or teen pregnancy or AIDS.  They should go away. I am definitely in the “anti-bad shit-and-pro-good shit” camp.

But if you were to ask me what, precisely, it means to be in that camp or what kind of daily activities such a camp should be engaged in, I’d be reluctant to give a straight–or even consistent–answer.  Because theory–the primary operating realm for many academics and committed intellectuals–is (or should be, theoretically) stubbornly resistant to final conclusions, ultimatums, and self-certainty. When it finds itself at a crossroads, it is liable to stand there, possibly indefinitely, contemplating and describing the crossroads from a glut of perspectives and declaring all the potential outcomes (or the impossibility of foreseeing all potential outcomes) of taking one road or another rather than actually taking one.

(And thus the native hue of resolution/Is sicklied o’er with pale cast of thought,/And enterprises of great pith and moment/with this regard their currents turn awry,/And lose the name of action.)

Some people find this behavior decadent and unhelpful, even sinister.  The generation and dissemination of knowledge, including obligatory guidance (or lack thereof) about what to do with said knowledge, has important, high-stakes moral and political implications.

Marxism, especially, is notoriously hostile towards academics for this very reason.  Academics, in their do-nothingness, are viewed as the unwitting and pathetic beige henchmen of the bourgeoisie.  The general characterization is that they lack the resolve, courage, and gumption to either be the bad guys or to stand up to the bad guys in a substantive way.  Their evil, it is figured, lies in their complicity and/or their complacency, neither of which is even a respectable, hands-on kind of evil.

This, indeed, has been the driving sentiment behind any number of academic persecutions (certainly not just among communists).

Like the extreme forms of government that act upon them, feelings of actionable resentment towards intellectuals and academics stem from ideological crises or desperation.  In times of frightening ideological and/or perceived moral or ethical ambiguity, in times of upheaval, shift, change, or general uncertainty about the future, people want to know what’s to be done, what will help, and where sure footing lies.  No one wants to hear that ambiguity or uncertainty or calamity is simply the nature of things–a nature for which there is no one cure, no guaranteed relief, no final, tidy answer.  No one wants to respect a perspective that prefers to incessantly describe the problem.

If we’re to be generous and stop short of accusing the human race of cowardice, we can at least say this habit frustrates the hell out of people in the same way anyone would be frustrated, no matter the circumstances, if he/she said, “There must be something we can do!!!”  and the answer returned was simply, “Maybe.  Maybe not.”

But certainty almost always (eventually) leads to hubris–or worse, zealotry–and someone, some contingent, must be willing to speak up for the humbling, humanizing powers of moral ambiguity, ethical relativism, waffling, question marks, and self-doubt.

In recent decades, the cost of college attendance has risen astronomically, and it has done so inversely to the off-campus value of the education said attendance (maybe?) provides.

In recent years, the reasons for going to college were reduced to one cynical, however honest, reason:  A B.A. won’t induce enlightenment, but if you can get a job, it will probably be better than the one you’d have had without the B.A.

Now even that–if employer sentiment is any indication–is sliding off the table.

Consider, please, as a relevant aside and if you have the time, this totally fascinating and utterly disturbing article from Malcolm Harris over at n+1: “Bad Education.

It being the case that both liberals and conservatives–in their own idioms, as they are wont to do–seem increasingly dismissive of academic thinking (though neither is above seizing upon the “experts” it creates, as it suits political purposes), and even the final, very last, practical reason for attending college is losing favor among the people and the pundits (and of course, academics), the most radical, contrarian, and patriotic thing I can think to do is to join one of the oldest and most traditional institutional pillars of the democratic (or any enlightened) establishment.

Sometimes it’s just hip to be square.

 

Wherever people are running out, that’s where I want to run in.  Unless it’s an actual burning building and not a metaphorical one.  I’m a contrarian, not a hero.

 

People will tell me to suit myself (but imply it’s a stupid, masturbatory pursuit, “no offense”).

They will tell me to suit myself in the same way they tell me to suit myself when I declare that I won’t buy a Kindle.

“Suit your(tedious, sanctimonious)self.”

 

Finally, after hearing for the hundredth time that I am a know-it-all and a non-committal, snobby person who is totally oblivious to her surroundings & reality, including the plights of other human people, I heard it for what it was.  I heard what the fates had been trying to grind into my absent mind for so many years.  It was a calling. A dare to take (in)action.

 

“Fine,” I said to myself, I said, “If I am holy, then let the Ivory Tower be my convent.  If acting superior is what I do, then let me do it. For money.”

 

In the wise words of some chick I saw on a YouTube video:

The greatest service anyone can do for the world is to do whatever they do best.

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BECKY PALAPALA is the author of many unpublished poems, diatribes, and terse letters, which she holds captive in a homely tote bag in her bedroom. The poems that escaped can be found in online publication at Strix Varia, Paper Darts, and in other nooks and crannies of the internet. In 2008-2009, she served as a poetry editor for Ivory Tower. After an iliadic battle with higher education, Becky graduated with a B.A. in English Literature in the spring of 2010. She currently lives with her husband, daughter, and dog on the outskirts of the Twin Cities, where she pines for her rivertown home and attempts to befriend the rabbit that lives in her yard.

92 responses to “To the Nunnery”

  1. Art Edwards says:

    It’s a fine choice, Becky. You will touch people, and in the end that’s all we can do.

    Give us hell, Palapala!

  2. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    As someone whose parents have long worked deep in the administration of a liberal arts college, I can safely say that there are few places with machinations more counter-productive to its goals and more riddled with loopy inside politics than a college. The only institution that’s worse in this regard is a church.

    But this describes frighteningly well what I’ve always hated about academia: “Inevitably, though, only experts, the expert conclusion ends up being, are qualified to point out how very much is wrong with experts being the only ones allowed to point things out.”

    And man, that article you linked to is amazing. A 900 percent increase in college tuition since ’78? Private universities must make Wall Street jealous.

    All that being said, I understand your impulse, maybe you can help right the course (not going for a pun there.)

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Oh, believe me. I know. Greater, more magnificent horrors may yet await me, but I already have the gist. My sister has begun teaching now, so I get to hear all about that perspective as well. I’m fortunate enough to have insight into the entirety of the unholy trinity of academic dysfunction: Administration, Student, Instructor.

      Part of me has just sort of chosen to embrace it. The gordian web of academic politics is not something to be challenged by mere mortals. Or at least not just one of them.

      So I don’t know that I’m going in there with an activist intent. 5 years ago, I would have said hell yes. “I’m gonna tear it down, man!” But now I mostly just kind of want to keep a low profile, though I admit it will be tough for me by simple virtue of who I am.

      All I know is that I can’t exist happily among the normals, and this (metaphorical) beard isn’t going to scratch itself.

      If you think private colleges are bad, though, you should see the horrors unfolding within public higher education. They’ve got the unholy trinity as mentioned above, plus bonus governmental pull-out. It’s truly a parade of the grotesque.

  3. dwoz says:

    Meta is bett’a.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      To borrow from a favorite TV show: It would appear I can’t do anything without shoving everything up its own ass.

      I’m thinking this would be a solid purpose statement for all academic applications–student, employment, or otherwise–from here on out.

  4. Palani Palapala says:

    No doubt!

  5. Gloria says:

    I like tidy answers just as much as the next frightened and desperate single mom guy, but I agree with this so much: I don’t want to get paid to spend my life facing and trying to convince others they must face ultimatums and false dichotomies.

    I don’t want that either. I tend to take the middle road on most things for this reason. Of course, it’s in the middle of the road that you’re most likely to get hit. I don’t have the brain or processing power that you have, but I do have a shit ton of life experience. And if life experience has taught me anything, it’s that as soon as I REALLY commit to something, so other thing come along and knocks me down. And then I feel like an idiot. (See: my years as a committed hippie.)

    You’re a shoe-in for academia, Becky. You’ll do great. I think we may even need you there. We being me and the rest of the hoi polloi.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      …it’s in the middle of the road that you’re most likely to get hit.

      There’s a lot of truth in this. I mean, it’s true in a number of different ways, but one of them is that at least if you’re pro or anti something, people can either love or hate you. And in turn, if you know whether they are pro or anti, you can predict which. People genuinely derive comfort from tribalism, and an inability to place others or to find a place for oneself is deeply upsetting, generally speaking.

      My personal feeling is that when it comes to commitment, it’s a fine line between dedication/integrity and a kind of morbid rigidity of perception.

      Just like it’s a fine line between love and codependency. The crossing of the line is a silent event, without fanfare. Shit just mysteriously starts going awry.

      Something like that.

      At any rate, I’m anxious to find a place that expects me to be–to some degree–absent-minded and ambivalent. My tribe!

      Thanks for the vote of confidence, G.

      • Gloria says:

        I don’t know. People find plenty of ways to hate you if you’re in the middle. I mean, you’re exactly mid-way between what any one person loves or hates, which means that you just as close to an enemy as an ally.

      • Gloria says:

        Also, you appear flaky. And it’s generally agreed upon that flakiness can be abhorred by all factions.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well, sure. They may very well hate you.

          Or they may very well like you.

          Or they may just take this opportunity to write off what you have to say altogether (your “flaky” observation).

          The last is the most intellectually disingenuous reaction of the three, in my opinion, but on the mean the problem is that as much as they may not know quite what to do with you, you won’t know what they’ll do.

          So, contrary to popular sentiment, taking an ideologically or morally ambiguous position is far from the safe-playing characterization some people would give it.

          I mean, you could be some kind of ideological double agent, in which case your stance proves not only offensive to one side or the other, but a flaunt in the face of the beliefs that underlie the necessity of taking up ANY pre-fabricated side in the first place.

          There’s no guaranteed friend in that scenario, not even from others with non-conventional takes, since they have already disowned any and all tribal obligations–though they’re at least more likely to be sympathetic.

        • Gloria says:

          All I know is that there are too many angles to consider on any issue. Any issue. There’s almost no black and white. I’ve also observed that once people anchor themselves firmly on one side of the issue, they become dogmatic, which makes me instantly doubt the objective truth in what they’re saying and it weakens their argument. I think because of this, I come across as a tried and true liberal in most things, since the key characteristic of such people is wishy-washy-ness.

          I’m not advocating that anyone else be this way. It’s actually really tough. Because people want you to commit goddammit!! and when you don’t, you hear a lot of, “Don’t you see??” which makes me see even less because I feel like I’m being bullied. Really, I think this inability to get out of the middle might be a character flaw, but there you have it.

          There are, of course, things I do commit to – and with ferocity – most of which has to do with my children and other super important interpersonal relationships.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well, and for me, the breaking point is melodrama and emotionality, which comes along with ideological entrenchment. (“Don’t you see???” is totally a form of melodrama.)

          People get emotional and melodramatic because they DO see it like a tribe and they’re invested in it as a matter of their own sense of self and identity. Thus a rejection of their stance is a rejection of them and blah blah blah. With good reason, to some degree, because to their official opponents, their foils, the “other guys” who also take it personally, it IS personal. And they talk to each other like that. Allegiance to a given ideology is treated like a personality trait (or a known concert of traits) all around.

          Once people start in with hyperbolic assertions about good and evil, or making overly-impassioned appeals to guilt or any other emotions, I just quit listening. Or I become very impatient, which usually means snarky and mean.

  6. Oh, oh, oh, there’s so much I could concur with here, but in the event that a future hiring committee mulling over my CV finds this comment I would like to state for the record that this Becky Palapala person is quite simply misinformed wink wink.

    How I love the idea of you as an academic. Love it. I imagine you shaking things up from the inside and thinking the shit out of things all day long. And all night long, perhaps, with a wedge of brie and boxed wine and some jackass reciting poetry. (I was that jackass!) Good luck!

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Meh. Let them see mine, I figure. They all hate each other and themselves, too.

      Dear hiring committee: Don’t shoot the messenger. Be honest about who and what you are, and then insist on being loved and appreciated not only despite but because of it. Group hug!

      Hahaha. PSYCH.

      There’s no hugging in academia.

      Thanks for the hearty encouragement. Thinking the shit out of things. Can you imagine? Better than getting paid to ROCK.

      Sounds like the job for me. I will still have to act unhappy and indignant, though, you understand. It’s in the job description.

  7. Richard Cox says:

    I love reading posts where the author posits and answers her own questions, because it leaves me with little to say, “You go, girl!” which is a bit like “Suit yourself” but without the negative modifiers.

    Also, I’m tired.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Oh Richard. I’m so happy to have been a pleasant surprise in the drudgery of your daily obligation to answer people’s questions.

      I know how it is, Man. I do.

      Have YOU considered a career in academia? 🙂

    • Gloria says:

      Oooh. That’s a great question, Richard. Have you considered a career in academia?

      Becky, I once suggested to him that he teach Science As A Second Language to non-native speakers (like moi), since he’s patient and non-condescending about it. I think there’s money in there somewhere.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        I’d go for that. I’m really annoyed that I got turned off science at school because it was hard and boring.

        Now I’m out of school science is awesome and fascinating. The same applies to a lot of subjects.

        Help us Richard. I need to know what a molecule is! (I always thought it was what rich people wore in their eye…)

      • Becky Palapala says:

        If he’s not condescending enough they might not let him in, but we could work on his snooty act, which he can put on just until he can get a job.

  8. James D. Irwin says:

    I might hate higher edication more than you.

    But I can’t express that hate as intelligently.

    And I’m trying to stop feeling hatred quite so much.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I know when I was an active student, when I was “in the shit,” as they say, the hatred was more pointed, focused, and generally came in impressive, infernal flares. Usually focused on one professor or assignment or author or class or bureaucratic hustle or another.

      It was more uncomfortable and generally upsetting for me then, since it was so…immediate. But in retrospect, it’s all the same hate; now, with my student days behind me, it’s just set to a near-boil.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        I was pretty bad at school and college. I came damn close to failing despite being intelligent. I was just never motivated to do the work or jump through the hoops you’re expected to jump through.

        I got by thanks to one or two teachers along the way who got me excited about various subjects.

        I love learning about history and science, but only now when I know I’m not going to be pressured into remembering as much as I can for a test.

        Also at school I always got the sense we weren’t really being educated but prepped for a memory tests. Exam scores were pretty much the end goal for every school, not well-rounded kids.

        I still feel that way, and I still hate being at university. But it gives me enough free time to watch history documentaries all morning and generally socialise with people my age…

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Cherish it, Irwin! Cherish it! If you listen to only one thing I say, heed this: DRINK (moderately) IN THE MORNING WHILE YOU STILL CAN.

          I don’t know that much–okay, anything–about contemporary English pedagogy, so I can’t really comment on what you’re being educated for, but I know here in the U.S., pedagogy varies widely from school to school and even, in many cases, from instructor to instructor.

          A student here where I work might have, in the same semester, one professor who gives a surprise test every week and another who gives none at all and has no lesson plan to speak of–you just show up and discuss…stuff.

          So sometimes it’s tough to tell whether you’re being educated at all, on how to take tests or anything else.

          I know this frustrated me a lot because, like a dog, I am only ever willing to take a calm, submissive attitude towards someone who I feel is in competent, firm control of themselves and every given situation s/he may encounter.

          I HATED grad student instructors and “Buddy Professors.” Any sign of weakness makes me anxious and unruly.

          I was never quite sure why I was in college, but I had a sense it wasn’t to make friends with a bunch of tenured, aging hippies or their favorite lapdogs.

        • pixy says:

          drinking in the morning?! they didn’t tell me that there was drinking in the morning!

          dude. i gotta get back to school full-time, stat!

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Our system here is we have SATS tests every couple of years throughout school leading up to GCSEs at the end of school aged 16. If you pass 5 of those with a compulsory 3 in science, maths, and english (which I take issue with as beyond basic science, maths, and english they’re fairly specialiazed areas) you go to college to take AS levels after a year, and A levels the year after. Three of those and you can go to university. Go to university and you automatically get a good job… or so they’d have you believe. Our government just voted to raise university tutition fees to £9,000 a year incidentally, which puts it beyond the reasonable means for pretty much everyone. I’m paying £3,000 a year, and I’m already in siginifcant debt.

          From the age of about 10 to 20 there are ‘major’ tests every almost every two-three years. Leading up to each of those you are learning specifically what the exams require of you to know and more often than not the heads of department make educated guess on what the specific question areas will be on and teach exclusively to that.

          My history teacher at college hated that, and went through the rise and fall of the Nazis, fascism in italy, Korea, and Vietnam in chronological order teaching us many things that have proved useless in exams. But I know a fuckload about those time periods and remain fascinated by them.

          Classes like maths and science where they taught us how to pass rather than how to do maths I ended up dropping off and generally ending up mathematically retarded.

          The first time I went to university the history lecturer simply read from textbooks.

          Now I do creative writing because it’s university without much academia and everything is more liberal and arty. Due to the nature of writing relationships with tutors are more friendly and involved in a way that would be a little disturbing if I was doing an academic subject.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Pixy— I don’t think they put the morning drinking bit in the prospectus. Doctors don’t encourage it either. I don’t to be honest. I don’t think I could drink before noon. Mayeb 11.30am if it was a sunny day…

        • pixy says:

          i could DEFINITELY drink before noon. but i also currently work in a profession that discreetly encourages cocaine usage at 5pm rather than a happy hour beer. used to be coke for breakfast though, so i’m not complaining.

          pretty much everyone at my office is dr. rockso, “c-c-c-cocAINE!”. the only variant is what horrible trait of their is highlighted by that fun stuff.

          being neither a heavy drinker nor a drug user makes me pretty popular ’round these parts.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Fuck, man. I hate me a cokehead. What is this? 1977?

          Where are the drunks??? What in God’s name is wrong with just being a good old-fashioned alcoholic?

          IS THERE NO END TO THE DEGRADATION?

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Haha. Drunks are easily the most fun.

          As long as they’re just drunk, and not alcoholics.

          I don’t mind being accused of being a drunk— which happens alot. But an alcoholic? No. They’re horrible.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Irwin, that sounds like a whole lot of tests.

          Standardized testing pretty much goes away after high school here. The only others you might take after that are optional, though you need them to get beyond a bachelor’s degree in most cases–the GRE for most graduate schools, LSAT for law school, and so on.

          I feel like we’ve been stuck on this issue of alcoholic breakfast beverages before. Doesn’t England have bloody marys? Screwdrivers? Sun-uppers? Mimosas?

          What do you people drink to cure a hangover on Sunday morning? Don’t say tea.

        • pixy says:

          i love me some alkies! why can’t there be more of them around? i like them because they’re slow.

          but NOOOO! i get the cokeheads and the hipster druggies who need to impress everyone else with their exotic usage… “dooood, this special k is the shiz!” or “my girlfriend totally gave me the hookup on this veterinarian grade heroin, you gotta try it!” or “this shark semen is making me see my dead grandma!”, you know, the usual.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          It is a lot of tests, and it sucks if you’re not very good in test situations. I’m okay depending on the subject…

          We have bloody mary’s and screwdrivers. I think I’ve heard of those other two but in movies and what have you.

          I’m sorry, I do drink tea after a night of drinking. Sometimes coffee. I can’t help it, it’s the law. At least, I think it is. Tea and a full English breakfast is the best option.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Ahhhhhhahahaha! Shark semen!!

          That is all.

          Irwin: Yeah. I mean, we have coffee and farmer’s breakfast, too. It sits there on the table next to the pitcher of water, the bloody mary, and the beer chaser.

          Sun-uppers are orange juice and brandy, I believe, and mimosas, a personal favorite (but really better for mornings when your stomach is not already compromised), are orange juice and champagne/sparkling wine.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          You know, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bloody mary. I should do really. What would be really good is if I had a silk smoking jacket and woke up after a night out, changed into that before heading to my own breakfast bar/mini bar and poured myself various mixed drinks.

          Sun-uppers sound dreadful, and although I’m not really one for champagne I could certainly get on board with drinking mimosas on the morning of a special occasion, or the morning after one for that matter…

          Am I right in thinking Stella Artois in your part of the world is a fancy imported beer?

        • pixy says:

          mmmm…. mimosas. becky, when you come to visit portland, i shall have to take you to gravy where they have HUGE breakfast portions, including huge mimosas. they don’t serve them in flutes, but in GOBLETS. and there’s one server dude there who has fantastic legs!

          i’ve also found that english breakfasts are fantastic for city festival days. as in, the BEST eating day that i’ve ever had at sxsw (and i’ve been to a few) started out with an english breakfast. and a guinness. brekky was at 8am and i didn’t have my daily hot dog until well after 3pm and about 6-10 miles of walking. awesome.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          This has given me a huge feeling of national pride, and also hunger.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well, Stella does have its own special glasses here, and it is generally expensive, just barely less than Guinness, so if that makes it fancy, then yes.

          In my head, it is mostly famous for being light in color, skunky, and having a high alcohol content. All characteristics I love in a beer. So I love Stella.

          But I wouldn’t even blink if you told me my taste in beer is appalling. I’m aware of this. Even Americans tell me that. I can’t stand anything with flavor, really. Unless that flavor is the flavor of a skunk’s ass. Then I’m all about it.

        • pixy says:

          nope, i’m on board with you – stella is the only light-colored beer i drink. i love it because it makes quick work of my sobriety. people here in portland snub me because i drink stella and guinness instead of some mircobrew that tastes like tree bark. whatevs.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          The sort of glasses that look kind of like short, wide wine glasses?

          Not at all. I suppose what I was really getting at is… I really like Stella Artois but in this country it’s really cheap and is almost synonymous with unemployed wife beaters and the homeless. They have a 4 x filtered version now which is unbelievably smooth.

          I do think proper beer is far superior, but it’s not as nice to drink in warmer weather or at home.

          I prefer spirits though.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          What I hate about beer snobbery is that beer snobs instantly dismiss most European beer ‘just lager’ despite the fact that lager is not just a type of beer, but the most widely drunk.

          The Germans are experts when it comes to beer. They have actual laws about how it has to be made and they make some lovely beers that piss all over a lot of ales where people have become confised between flavour and ‘bitterness.’

          Guinness is hardcore beer. I love the taste, but loads of people absolutely hate it or can’t handle more than a few pints. They’re the worst kind of people on St. Patrick’s day.

          I could really go for a Guinness right now. My mousemat is in the shape of a large pint of the stuff…

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I can’t stand Guinness.

          I mean, the flavor. Entirely too much flavor. I can sometimes drink a black & tan. Like, if I’m already buzzed on my trusty pee-beer and I’m trying to impress someone.

          “Behold! Not a mixed drink, a mixed BEER!!”

        • pixy says:

          guinness is delicious AND nutritous. i love it lots and lots. forget jagerbombs, give me an irish car bomb! it’s filling and tastes like alcoholic chocolate!

          and its so funny about the beer snobs – when i was in europe last year, i spent a lot of time with these 3 dutch girls who were convinced (because the rest of the netherlands were) that heineken was the WORST BEER EVER. this from the place where there are only 2 kinds of beer at any “bar” you go to: light and light plus water. geh.

          see how i brought the beer snobbiness from hater to maker? i know i have it in me too, i just don’t like stuff that tastes like tree bark.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          My mother’s doctor recommended drinking a pint of Guinness every now and then during her pregnancy. It is supposedly good for you, as many of the old adverts claimed.

          I’m not sure if what I did on st. patrick’s day last year was particularly healthy, but it was good fun.

          I love Heineken. Although Grolsch and Amstel are pretty great dutch beers too. When I was in Amsterdam I drank at a local bar near the Heineken brewery and it was one of the only beers avaialble.

          I recently had to change my mind about Carlsberg, the danish beer. It’s come to my attention that I’m probably the sort of person beer snobs hate… I like all beer… anyway, I hated Carlsberg for being weak foreign lager until I won two pitchers last week. It’s delightfully crisp and clean tasting. It tasted of victory.

          The Czechs brew amazing lager.

        • pixy says:

          see, i’m like that with whiskey: i like all whiskey. i have preferences, but if you put something in front of me that looks and smells and tastes like whiskey, i’ll probably like it.

          i helps very much that i don’t get a hangover from whiskey. it’s like having my cake and eating the frosting!

        • James D. Irwin says:

          There are a few whiskies I’ve had that I’d never drink again. One was a very cheap whiskey that barely counts as whiskey. I’m very sad that I don’t like Wild Turkey. Or Black label Jim Beam.

          Normal Jim Beam I love though, along with Jack Daniels. Jameson is always a favourite and with scotch most blended varieties above a certain price bracket taste the same.

          Expensive stuff though… Maker’s Mark, single malt scotch of almost any kind… you can taste the difference.

          I read that whiskey is mostly water and doesn’t use chemical colourants and therefore is less likely to induce a hangover. I drank a whole bottle in one night once and woke up fine fairly early. I spent all of this st. patrick’s day drinking whiskey and had a hell of a hangiver but I blame the odd guinness for that…

          It takes longer to get you drunk as well…

        • pixy says:

          and it’s the nectar of the gods. you forgot that part. nectar. of. the. gods.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’ll drink to that!

  9. pixy says:

    i feel this. so much. but in a different field than academia.

    i have this dream of what could be in my field of choice, but the practical application of it might not be so… practical.
    i have a feeling that i’m going to get through all my schooling, try my awesome idea out for a few years and be all ideological about it and then end up administering some non-profit for schools or something. ha!

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Well, keep in touch. Once this academia gig falls through or, worse, works out and I find myself in a stuffy office on the top floor of Pillsbury Hall correcting run-on sentences I vowed to give an automatic F to mere weeks before, I’ll be looking for something in non-profit development.

      I have experience!!!

      • pixy says:

        i totally will! you can be the ace in my back pocket for when i need to light a fire under someone’s butt!
        i’ll even be physically closer to you by that time. i’ll have to bring you to austin sometime for tea and whiskey once i get back there…

  10. Sarah says:

    I’m going back to Tufts to get my bachelor’s after 11 years starting this fall. I will get my degree in Psychology and it will have absolutely no practical application. I will get it just because I’m so damn close and, yes, for tens of thousands of dollars in loans, having that institution’s name on my diploma does mean that much to me. Maybe it shouldn’t but it does.

    I want to hurry up and get it over with – I only have 2 major classes to take plus stupid “culture” requirements and a smidge of espanol – so I can then get some real education that will really help me do anything. Like business management or hospital administration or something.

    But my dirty secret is I think I’d like to stay in the academia bubble. Talking about talking about stuff. Reading about what I just read. Opining my opinions. Thinking great thinkers’ thoughts.

    In deciding the courses I’ll take this fall I flipped through the course catalog like a kid looking at a Toys ‘R Us catalog right before Christmas. I wanted to take them all. I want to read the material and look at their syllabi and get giddy for next week’s lecture. Eleven years ago that was my only job – show up to class and read. Be present. Be a student. I was apparently more interested in being a fuck-up.

    In conclusion, enjoy being an academic. It’s like being a professional student. Sounds kind of cool to me.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      You’ve pinned it exactly.

      Every time I’d quit school for a while then start again, I was the same way. Whistling as I arranged my snappy new day planner (which I would probably never handle again) and pens and highlighters and post-it page markers neatly my backpack, fantasizing about the fascinating conversations I was going to have, all but FEELING my mind and horizons and mental encyclopedia broadening…

      Then by about the 2nd or 3rd semester every time, I was usually homocidal, wondering whatever in the hell possessed me to return to this godforsaken institution, where all my money and time and peace of mind and innocence had gone.

      This is the dance. It is what it is.

      Talking about talking about stuff. Reading about what I just read. Opining my opinions. Thinking great thinkers’ thoughts.

      The bottom line, for me, is that if I’m not able to exercise those impulses, I’m a miserable, miserable person. I become intellectually destructive. Generally destructive. Like, with extreme prejudice.

      Academia may make me miserable in its own way, but I’d rather be exasperated than bored to death.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      And congrats on the decision to go back. It ended up being a point of pride and self-worth for me. It definitely would have been easier and more economical to just give up and let it go.

      I’m glad I didn’t. I’m proud of my embossed piece of buttwipe.

      • Sarah says:

        Thanks. I’m trying to break the family chain of never finishing anything we start or having a general motto of, “Eh, good enough.” It’s on the family crest, I swear.

        I want my kids to know what an idiot I was and what it cost me in pride and ability to properly raise them comfortably without having to steal money out of X’s wallet periodically for gas.

        I’ve written before about the Just Say No campaign failing miserably by scaring kids the wrong way. Chances are they’re not going to live under a bridge giving hand jobs for crack, but they could be vastly overqualified for their shitty, menial, low-paying jobs taking orders from the vastly underqualified, over-paid morons who used to cheat off them in class all because they were too busy taking bong hits to go to class.

      • pixy says:

        i hope i feel that way too, prideful i mean. if nothing else, i’m confident that i will be single until i get my masters becasue i’ve decided that i’m not going to be any good to anyone until i’ve done this ONE THING (that will take me 4+ years) for myself.
        in the one class a week i take now (and have been taking for the past 3 quarters), i’ve been the oldest person in the class and have wanted to punch all the other people in the nuts/cooter. i took 2 writing classes and, while i do not consider myself a writer in ANY sense of the word, i became totally judgy and horrified at what these people called “writing” in a formal setting (like, i don’t know, SCHOOL?!), at what they felt was acceptable to turn in to an instructor for a GRADE.

        in the summer quarter i’m taking the last 4 classes i need to transfer, 3 of which are online. i’m scared because i need structure. and because, when i’m done with that, i won’t be able to do any more in community college. i’ll be forced into the “big kid” pool. eek!

        • Becky Palapala says:

          OH man. I so feel the age thing.

          There’s just nothing more I can say, I guess, except that unless you have some really great transfer schools in your area, you should be prepared to be a brave little soldier.

          Most major 4-year schools are NOT arranged for the convenience of older and non-conventional students. They sort of seem to forget they exist.

          If I had an administrative activism in my work, transfer students would be it. Because it’s generally older and other non-traditional students who are actually invested in their educations or have something to prove or believe (naively or not) in what they’re doing there. They deserve to be encouraged and fawned over and so on, but of course, 18 year-old chronic masturbators with braces and suitcases full of video games are the cash cows, so folks like you and I (I was a community college transfer student and 32 when I finally finished my B.A.) get pretty well left to fend for ourselves.

          There are some perks to being older, though, like that you don’t have to live on campus or get hit on by 18 year-old chronic masturbators.

          I have faith in you.

        • pixy says:

          nope, i still get hit on by 18 year-old chronic masturbators. there’s one in my philosophy class now that won’t leave me the fuck alone. DURING class.
          can you shut up please, i’d like to hear what the instructor is saying. unlike you, i care, IDIOT.

          i’m finding that looking only 24 of my 31 years is a hinderance, not a help. bleh.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          What?? Why didn’t they hit on me??? :-/

          This is terrible. Just terrible.

          I’m going to tell myself it was my wedding ring and not my rotten attitude.

        • pixy says:

          it’s totally the ring. because i’m an ASSHOLE to this dude and he still won’t leave me alone. i have had one like him every quarter.

          i think portland attracts gluttons for punishment. who else would stay with this weather?!

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Fear?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          NO I AM WARM AND APPROACHABLE.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’ll elaborate because that was vague to the point of sounding slightly offensive— although please don’t think I missed the joke.

          You’re one of the most fearsomely intelligent people I know, and not entirely unattractive (that’s how we English people attempt to get around the inexplicable awkwardness of complimenting someone).

          I can’t speak for everyone of my gender, but that to me is pretty intimidating. I find the idea of ‘hitting’ on a girl terrifying enough without the girl in question being obviously superior to me.

          Although Pixy appears to have met someone who has the opposite self-esteem problem. He sounds like the sort of guy who wears hats indoors.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Fearsomely, you say?

          Intelligent?

          Not every girl is so completely egomaniacal and insecure about her brain as I am, but should you find one you like who you think might be, I encourage you to use this one again.

          Just saying.

        • pixy says:

          this is the kind of guy who wears sunglasses inside. and not in the cool judd nelson way either.

          i dunno. they get it into their head that i’m something to “figure out” and they don’t leave me alone until they do. they make the mistake of telling me that at the outset though, so then i’m purposefully vague because, really? i’m a thing? that YOU can figure out?? we’ll see about that buddy.

          this particular dude is VERY young and is trying really hard to fake it until he makes it, but he doesn’t even know what “it” is. i don’t have time for that. swagger without substance = gross.

          becky, you are totally warm and approachable! i mean, you have a puppy, rapier-wit and awesomeness galore. what idiot WOULDN’T want to hang witchoo?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Experience is 90% perception, man.

          I happen to think you see very clearly. Especially now. Since you said this.

          My puppy is really a major selling point. Even I like me more now that I’ve got a puppy. Sadly, I cannot take credit for how awesome she is.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’m terrible at ‘hitting’ on girls, even ones who aren’t fearsomely intelligent. I’m terribly, awkwardly British like that. Like an unkempt Hugh Grant I suppose…

          Pixy— I so nearly went with sunglasses over hat, but I convinced myself that no-one outside of television is that much of an imbecile to wear them indoors.

          He sounds like an idiot. Girls aren’t things to be figured out, they’re objects to be objectified! (That’s a joke, of course).

          I despise young people. I’m only 21, but it’s not hypocritical because I also hate myself on a regular basis. Seriously though, there are section of my gender aged around 18-21 that act like utter twats but are convinced they’re somehow supercool because they wear vests and go to the gym alot. They take themselves very seriously. I don’t understand what girls like about those guys so much…

        • pixy says:

          james – it’s only because those girls who like those guys take themselves far too seriously as well. and they’re usually high-maintenance and grumpy all the time. leave those girls to those ed hardy wearing douchebags.
          and i’m glad you know what i mean by “young”. i’m all for young in spirit, but not young in mind or attitude.
          ps – “unkempt hugh grant” is pretty redundant. : ) and i like the terribly british. i lived there (staines… ali g territory for realz) for a little bit about 10 years ago and i yearn to go back. all. the. time.

          becky – you can TOTALLY take credit for your puppy’s awesomeness. i mean, you’re the mama dog, right? she wouldn’t be awesome without your guidance.

          • James D. Irwin says:

            I know, I know. There are few things more unattractive than a girl who takes herself very seriously. Shallow is very unattractive…

            I’ve always been mature for my age, although I still quite like watching cartoons and I’m highly prone to silliness. I’m terrible at the practicalities of being a grown up, but generally manage to act like one when necessary.

            I guess I’m thinking of the Hugh Grant of over a decade ago… For a long time I tried to distance myself from the awkward and clumsy middle class person I am, but as it’s much easier than trying to be cool. It does mean I should get a haircut though.

            Why on Earth did you live in Staines? I was born in Swindon, and Staines is one of the few towns we feel justified in looking down our noses at. My university here is in Winchester, which is the epitome of middle class Britain. Nowhere had more street parties for the Royal Wedding outside of London.

            • SAA says:

              When I first watched Ali G and he said he lived in Staines, I thought he made it up. Even more hilarious, Christopher Hitchens claims to have lived in a place called Crapstone. Just to be fair Pittsburgh, PA is (in)famous for having misspelled its own name.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          We have a lot of places with ridiculous names. Crapstone is definitely real. I think I was supposed to go camping not far from there.

          Staines is tragically all too real.

        • pixy says:

          i worked for a company that had their offices in the office blocks where the adp is and such. it was less than a half a mile for me to walk to work. the highlight of staines was the swan. i liked that it was under a bridge. nomnomnom.
          to be fair, i spent more than my fair share of time in upper-middle-class areas when i was there too. i stayed for a piece in fancy places that i can’t remember the names of now (all in surrey), only that i was with the brothers brunel-cohen. and when i stayed at my friend andy’s place, everyone kept asking me what it was like to stay at the castle in cobham. it wasn’t THAT big. but his dad was the VP of KPMG Europe at that time, so they had tons o’ dough. and i spent christmas in a teeny village called ardingly. it is still the best christmas i’ve spent to this day.

          i commend silliness as well. i mean, life isn’t worth living if you can’t laugh at it, right? as a matter of fact, my litmus test for friends/companions is “blazing saddles” (the best movie ever). if you get offended by or do not like that movie, we will probably not work out as friends as i will, undoubtedly, offend you and your delicate constitution at some point in time. probably sooner rather than later.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I lived in Surrey for a while. I’ve not been to Ardingly, but I can’t imagine Christmas getting better than a small village in Surrey. Christmas is one of the reasons I don’t think I could leave the country permanently as I used to want to do. After I left home my parents moved to a cottage in a village near Cambridge and the Christmas we spent there last year was my favourite in a number of years.

          I’m a big fan of Blazing Saddles. It’s not my favourite film, but I do like it a lot.

  11. Tawni Freeland says:

    You can think for me anytime, Becky. I am certain that would be a vast improvement over the job I’m currently doing of it.

    And now the comments above have made me crave Guinness beer. That’s not going to solve my brain problem, now, is it?

    This made me giggle:

    “‘Fine,’ I said to myself, I said, ‘If I am holy, then let the Ivory Tower be my convent. If acting superior is what I do, then let me do it. For money.'”

    Heh. Go get ’em, tiger.

    xoxo.

  12. Brian Eckert says:

    This was well written, Becky, and effective at explaining the plight of academics and those caught in their orbit.

    I find that I am sort of a bitter bitch about my college education. About halfway through I began to sober up a bit, physically and metaphorically, and realized that all of the chasing women and drinking and oh, yeah, class or something, was costing me a lot of money.

    The irony for me is that I don’t even really use my degree for my job…I write for a law firm. I say “don’t really” because the funny thing is, that whole “academic” language, the equivocal speak, is really the only thing my college degree brings to the table for the job. through this experience, and others, I’ve come to regard education as more or less a grooming school for the middle class where you lean to think, speak, and act in a particular way that one could call “white” in the Christian Lander sense, though of course I realize it can vary a lot depending on what school you go to, classes you take, etc. And I can’t really speak for any other degree, but if you’re a liberal arts major, you’re basically learning to master that middle of the road position where you’re just too damned rational and too much of a critical thinker to be able to commit seriously to anything except being the kind of person that many would call a “Debbie Downer.” So it is for me, at least.

    At the end of the day, I would never actively dissuade somebody from joining college, but I would at least urge a more balanced view of the actual aims and merits of a degree. As you point out, it’s not necessarily a ticket to anything these days…certainly not a great job or a middle class existence.

    And the ultimate irony is that the more highly educated a person is, the more generally useless they are.

    Is it better to be blindly married to ideas and useful or equally critical of them all and useless?

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Is it better to be blindly married to ideas and useful or equally critical of them all and useless?

      Well that’s just it.

      I guess what I’m saying is neither is any better than the other.

      But I would say that.

      Because I am an academically-inclined liberal arts person.

      It really changes (corrupts? sullies? transforms?) one’s habits of thinking more than I think you give it credit for. Or maybe that depends on how closely one pays attention. Once I committed to my education in my late 20s, I was rapt, and I probably absorbed more than the average apathetic, hungover 19 year-old.

      And the ultimate irony is that the more highly educated a person is, the more generally useless they are.

      This is sort of what I meant by saying they’re functionally retarded. That’s only in terms, though, of what the non-academic (and really, vast majority of people and therefore “normal”) demographic considers baseline functionality. Academia plays by a whole other set of rules, since its currency is–theoretically–knowledge: abstract, subjective, and intangible, but nevertheless critical. I suspect that a tendency to question or reject the importance of knowledge for knowledge’s sake might be a symptom of serious socio-cultural decrepitude. I have a feeling history would support this, but I have nothing in the way of proof beyond that hunch.

      I guess, I think, less circuitously, my argument is that there needs to be both kinds of people (among many other types), and I’m certainly not the former kind. Though I’m way ahead of most academics or would-be academics in that I can change my own tires and oil and have a blue collar trade to fall back on from my former incarnation as a land survey technician. Does this fall under the category of “usefulness,” or do I need to be willing to riot in the streets over legislation to count as a person who has beliefs and is therefore useful? Now I’m sitting here realizing that what one thinks is useful really depends entirely on what one thinks needs to be done.

      More of that liberal arts stuff.

      Everyone who wants to exercise their use-similitude (usey-ness?) is certainly free to proact to their heart’s content. I respect that someone has to. And they should likewise respect that someone’s got to look under the stones they’ll likely leave unturned in their blind charge to point B, whatever that may be.

  13. I work in a weird little university here in China. The students here are the worst in the world, absolutely terrible. But it’s a tough system. They came to this university because it’s the last chance saloon. It’s where you go when you fail the big exam at the end of high school and your parents can scrape together the cash required to stop you from being sent to the factory. Most of our students have problems that you’re just not allowed to have in China, and that’s why they ended up here, so it’s a challenge to drag them along and prepare them for whatever it is they do next.

    Anyway, I love my job. Absolutely love it. It is exhausting and thankless, but I love it.

    I also loved being pretentious little fucker back when I studied in Scotland. That was a different world, though. That was academia and this is bootcamp.

    Ah yeah, I forgot what I was going to say when I rambled into my own little story… About the politics and inner workings of a university… The West may be completely different in certain respects (see my description in the last few paragraphs) but behind the scenes it’s the same. Just the damn same.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Thanks for saying this, David. As aware and–I like to think–honest as I try to be about the daily realities of working as a teacher, a cog in a disinterested bureaucracy, shanking smaller, weaker departments for their funding and so on, it’s refreshing to hear that it is, indeed, still entirely possible to take some amount of satisfaction away from teaching, even if it’s nothing so melodramatic and noble as “molding minds” but simply the relief of having equipped someone to avoid menial labor or the entertainment one might derive from having the privilege of witnessing so many different types (or repeats of the same types) of people and brains and personalities and situations go by on a year-to-year basis.

      I imagine the academic environment is inimitable in this way.

      Like, even if my colleagues are a bunch of tedious dumb shits, maybe a few of my students won’t be.

  14. Joe Daly says:

    The way I handled college is one of my greatest regrets. From choosing the wrong major to electing to not study, I turned my back on my college experience with an arrogance that embarrasses me to this day. I only blame myself, although I wish I had made a more concerted effort to connect with the professors I admired- the ones who offered to share their passions and not their awards and accolades.

    Good luck and whip ass.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      The whip ass I can totally do. Thanks for the luck.

      I started out all wrong, too. I started out pulling 2 As and 2 Fs a semester going 3/4 time to community college. Just generally fucking around. My grades were determined, essentially, by my my interest in the topic and I was fine with that.

      I mean, how dare the college require me to take a class that I didn’t think was fascinating?

      The result was an abysmal GPA and a transcript speckled with moments of glory amidst a puke wash of total and complete degenerate apathy. Withdrawals, Ds, Fs.

      I went on like this, sometimes taking one class a semester, sometimes none, sometimes 4, for many years. Finally, after I got married, it occurred to me that life was catching up and it was do-or-do-not time.

      Over the last 7 or so years, I have managed to finish the last 2.5 years of my B.A: Threw myself into the life of the scholarly mind (often noisily, grumpily, and resentfully); I repaired my GPA by taking and acing just shittons of classes; I was then able to get into a 4-year school and miraculously, graduate.

      It has been a Herculean ordeal. Not because college is all that difficult, but because I am.

      But spending that much time in an academic setting has a sort of institutionalizing effect. Like prison. I’m finally out, and not knowing what else to do or how else to be, all I want is to get back in.

  15. Nanea says:

    Academia is lucky to get you. And all the reasons you listed for hating it are exactly the reasons you need to be in it. Someone’s gotta keep ’em honest. Good luck in the nunnery.

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