Wednesday, January 18, 2023

So I dunno

 The other day, while hunting around on YouTube, I ran across this:

This is a Carly Simon song; it was apparently the theme song of "Working Girl."

The song is subtitled "A Hymn to New York" (which I admit makes me, a lifelong "Reform Protestant," uncomfortable, given that it's a hymn to an Earthly thing)

But the other thing that is odd to me: the tone of the song, for what I thought of (never having seen the movie in question) as the Ur Rom-Com movie. It's very....triumphalist? "Come, the New Jerusalem"? Uh?

And okay, I admit it - I have a discomfort in, and dislike of, very large cities. 

But when I hear the song now, I also feel a weird sense of loss. Because when I was like 20, and living in Ann Arbor, I think I could have been all about that song - sort of the "heck yes, I am taking on the world, and I am CHANGING it and I am MAKING IT BETTER and I am also going to do big things that I will be REMEMBERED for!" That sort of idealistic excitement.

I felt it when I was first teaching here; I remember walking home from one of the summer graduations (still wearing my robe, because that was easier than taking it off and carrying it) and feeling intensely that I was where I belonged and was doing what I was meant to do.

But that's changed over time, sadly. I think I pinpoint the start of it to the budget failure and other unpleasantness in early 2016 - realizing then that my keeping my job might actually wind up some day being contingent on the whims of the state legislature or the finances of my state, rather than my own performance as a teacher. And it intensified during the pandemic, when we were all so disconnected - and now, when the most recent evaluations I got for the intro class I teach were more negative than in the past ("She doesn't teach how I learn" "this material is boring" "can't she do fun things in class") and while maybe some of that can be chalked up to "two years of virtual high school changed how these students relate to material" there's also a loss of connection - and of some of the joy I once felt in teaching.

But also, I don't feel that sense that I'm making things BETTER any more like I once felt. I've lost that. I don't  know if it's just the past two years and being tired, or if maybe I always was wrong about being able to make things better, or what. But it does more and more feel like "the main reason I am doing this is to keep my own body and soul together, and perhaps in some ways it's a better way of doing it than others I could find" but it doesn't feel like a calling any more, and that's sad. 

Maybe I'm just burned out? Maybe I've been doing this too long and should have quit? 

I mean, in my other classes the evaluations are about the same as they've always been, so I don't think I'm teaching markedly WORSE. But I don't know. 

I also admit I feel like I've seen through a few things I used to believe and trust about teaching and higher education - there really is a lot of it that's kind of a rigged game that's easier to "win" at if you're a certain person (certain complexion, certain gender presentation, etc.). And also, to throw in a Simpsons' metaphor - well, it's like that "rocket to Earth II" where the limited seats on it were given to people who really had something unique to offer (Lisa got on because "New Earth will need a proofreader") but now I look at myself and realize there's nothing that unique about me; there's nothing that would earn me a seat on that rocket, so I'd be left here to die. (At least I don't think they'd put me on the rocket being fired into the sun). But I don't feel special any more.I feel like when I was told as a kid that I had promise, I was either lied to, or I spectacularly failed to live up to it.

I don't know. I have to think on it. I don't want to apply for other jobs; if I leave this gig it will either be leaving academia altogether (but to do what? I don't know) or for retirement. 

I do wish I felt more like something I was doing was having some kind of good impact but a lot of days it's really hard to see that - and I can no longer take it on faith that I do, I've just lost that ability. 

Another thing that makes me sad is when I periodically hear a love song these days (some of 'em, at least). They come across my pandora stream a lot when I work out. One that struck me: "God Only Knows." It makes me sad because I realize at this point of my life no one will ever feel that way about me.

Or maybe? Maybe no one ever really feels like that about their loved-one and I am just over-romanticizing things again? I've never really been in love (well, I thought I was a couple times, but I am alone at this particular moment, so I was probably wrong about it being love). But it would be nice to be that important to someone. (Okay, granted, the whole subtext of "if you ever left me my life would be over even though I'd still breathe and my heart would still beat" is kind of creepy and coercive, but....)

Is this aging? Realizing that a lot of the things you believed in as a younger person were silly over-romanticizations and reality is a lot less nice than what you imagined? And what do you replace those things with when you don't feel them any more? I feel like I need something to replace at least the feeling that my work is making a positive impact, if I can't have something to replace the "maybe someone will love me exactly that much, some day" feeling. 

I suppose part of this is that it's midwinter (though not cold here, which is weird and makes me worry that we're reaching that climate tipping point alarmingly fast) and it's been gray and overcast most days these past few weeks, and I'm still worrying about whether I can actually pull off Systematic Botany or if I'm going to fail at it, and also worrying about getting my summer research planned out while AT THE SAME TIME resenting that I have relatively little time to myself these days. Part of it may just be looking at the pandemic as forever now, and realizing that socialization for me is forever broken now, and that I'm going to have to devote at least a few of the little gray cells to "how bad are case counts where I am right now" as a factor in what I do and do not do. Part of it may be just reaching a point of fed-up-ness with all the extra we were asked to do and the weak "we appreciate you" (not even like the "clap for carers" thing) we heard for it, and that now we're still exhorted to care for student mental health, with little recognition that ours might be suffering as well.

Maybe I'll get better? I hope. If not? Well, I can stick out the job for six more years, when I can then retire with full benefits and then just.....well, I don't know what. Or maybe things will get better? But I also feel like "things getting better' might be over-romanticizing again.

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