Sunday, September 02, 2007

Year of No, Part II

There seems to have been relatively little fall out from instituting the Year of No; I got a surprisingly neutral response about dropping off a committee from the chair, and while I haven't yet heard from the person who asked me for a letter, I'm hoping that she's just not the responding type. In my more optimistic moments, I imagine that this is how real people roll---how they manage to protect their time, and thus they engineer rational responses. My inner Eeyore, however, keeps expecting the other shoe to drop any minute.

All of this "no-ing" has made me think about the other things that we assent to in this job, perhaps without conscious thought. I had a beer with a former student this week, because he's interested in going to graduate school. In my head, I often call him "Sideshow Bob," because during a large part of his tenure at Ascesis, he sported an enormous 'fro:
The thing is, I never would have picked SB as one for graduate school. He's very bright, and, although I realize it's a cliche, he's what I would call "intellectually curious." He read all sorts of books and poems on his own, would come to my office to chat about them. Despite all of this, however, he never really liked to do things on other people's terms. I find this to be an admirable quality in people in general, but I worry about how it suits one for graduate study. What really got me was the moment he told me: "I want your job." "No," I said. "You really don't." Because when he said that, all I could think of were the various arenas in which I'm told that I'm wrong, or that what I think doesn't matter, or that I need to show my work to someone to make sure that it's right. "Sometimes in this job, and in preparation for this job," I told him, "you have to be able to eat shit. Do you think you can do that?" Talk about an unfair question.

But it really got me thinking about meetings and procedures and interactions in the professorial life that I engage in, yet think that they are unjust, debilitating, unethical. Sadly, I can't really say no to these in the way that I'd like, despite my fantasies of walking out, screaming "BULLSHIT" at the top of my lungs, throwing things. But surely, if the Year of No is in effect, there have to be other ways to register negation? How do you say no to manipulation, passive-aggression, power-trips, infantilization, narcissism, and your other run-of-the-mill academic interactions?

In a bizarre twist, I think it might mean saying no to no, both for myself and for others.
  • "You can't do that because...": Well, actually, I think I can, and here's why.
  • "We've been doing it this way forever.": That's super, but here's why change is necessary.
  • "Isn't his insistence on this practice funny? [institute round of sniggers.]": No, it's admirable.
  • "You're bringing about the downfall of [choose one: the English language, the university as we know it, the rigors of our discipline, the educational project, human life as we know it]": in actuality [choose one: already done, began happening a long time ago, what rigor?, see current research, maybe it's only life as you know it, etc.]

What's that old adage about two negatives making a positive? Who would have thought that you could work for a Molly-Bloom like "yes" via "no"? Not me. And yet it feels like a necessary part of the Year of No. I say no to myself and others being negated. No. And perhaps, when I'm feeling particularly fiesty, "No, bitch." [I might have to work myself to that one.]

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3 Comments:

Blogger Sisyphus said...

Here's to No when No means, Yes, I have worth!

It's difficult, 'cause you have to learn how to play by their rules in grad school or else you never make it past the hurdles and gatekeeping. But they hope you internalize all that "shit-eating" and then will not cause trouble but rather sit there and take it once you do get into a position of more power.

And I totally get on my students' cases when they write papers about "they" like that --- it's almost as bad as "society." But this is a blog comment, so neener neener on them.

Sunday, September 02, 2007 1:25:00 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I think a lot of people think being a professor means you have it easy and just get to focus on the field of study you most love. They never consider the politics of a college/university, or the drudgery of committee meetings, or the long hours grading and preparing for class.

Can you tell my best friend is a college professor?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007 4:51:00 PM  
Blogger kfluff said...

S--Well put. And I think there's a certain amount of internalization, no matter what. Maybe I'll send Sideshow Bob over to your blog...

B--Ah, sweet music to my ears! This explains how you're able to listen to all of my whining!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007 8:35:00 AM  

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