Friday, September 6, 2019

Peeping above the trench

How I Won the War Movie Review (1968) | Roger Ebert

I figure a year on, I'll keep my blog card raised tentatively. I've chosen for reasons of reticence and privacy to retreat from publicly proclaiming my every thought and opinion. Risks of generating "outrage" now imply this caution from many of us in less than secure employment (all those jobs created--nobody ever asks how many are side gigs, hustles or part-time work cobbled together or to supplement a precarious full-time position). Even if I had tenure somewhere, that does not guarantee safe passage across troubled SJW waters.

One of my most thoughtful charges observed the other day how 'we'd never have gotten to talk like this in a CalState class. We get to hear each other out, and while I suspect the prof's leanings, he never tilted us one way or the other. He always came up with a countering idea.'

This was praise indeed. That may be a perk of my predicament. Still, I proceed with caution. What used to be between four walls now has a recording angel or printer's devil, invisibly tuning in. The marvels of efficiency and increased productivity accrue, as do the human efforts assigned. Sure, I can teach from anywhere and so my students log in too in pajamas. But we still have only so many hours, and the days never expand to accommodate this pace.

More than one drudge I know in the muddy mire of academia at its basic level of labor rather than leisure as the primary mover has chosen survival tactics. The costs of censorship of ourselves presage Orwellian immanence when our mind is our only safe space. Not sure how long that long-baffling mystery within our membrane will survive jamming, hacking, and 'targeted' advertisement. As I write, A.I. cameras meant for, natch, warning the rest of us against the bad guys packing are touted, for the same device, to recognize big spenders.

As the faithful devoted to CasaMurphy know, my removal from engagement with the constant TDS-emitting transmissions upstairs from my lair lead to their own tangle of remarks, so this entry will be a politically-neutral or neutered zone, to defuse explosions. I feel the need to retreat, like perhaps John the smart sarcastic Beatle above, from the fray. My psychic wellness needs self-care as I guess a new ager might phrase it. I have enough social contact on my long commutes (and I thought I'd never have to suffer the 5 freeway again or cross the Orange County line) and my necessary attention to hundreds of people.

If you are reading this, thanks. I will likely never return to the frenetic every (or later other) day pace I reached years ago when I had more leisure for reflection, rambling, ranting, and reviewing. Amazon cut back any benefit to appearing in the firmament unless one acquired tons of material from them to be a 'verified' purchaser. Else, one's reviews sink down into the depths of the reviews, never to be seen except to the scuba divers among the few curious.

However, I reckon looking out from my increasingly keyboard tethered perch may not be so bad. I teach incessantly online more than in person, or combinations thereof, so my own life has been overtaken due to necessity with course commitments which demand my prompt, and seven-day attention. If I beg off a day, I have managerial queries emitting virtual steam, student appeals and plangent cries filling my message slot and e-mail inbox from multiple modalities. Education-speak for cameras that enable us to reach more of you than ever before. 'Scaling' comes with a prof as a thumbnail talking head, so hoodie or scantily-clad undergrads for all I know populate my invisible or rarely seen cohorts out there in cyberia.

This access also lowers costs. Not for those enrolled but for those overseeing at the rarified levels of capital human or otherwise who dictate our fates, at least as living paycheck to paycheck. Courses may double or triple in size, without in certain cases any compensation added. The pace of eight-week terms, the rapid turnaround of grades and evaluations of written (not multiple-choice autograded) submissions by those coming to my curricula with little or no preparation for the humanities--understandably as I have no liberal arts majors--has challenged me for a long time, sure, but the former alternation I had between large online enrollments and intimate onsite courses has, thanks to the Webcam and PC recorder, vanished. Now, any class can be, well, as large as 'they' want it to be, and this shows no signs of reversal. Once the tech's in place, the hands assigned adapt to the Fordist assembly line.

I hear all around on the news the desperation of those hiring for hired hands. Not in my line of work. It's always been dismal, since I went 'on the market' but the STEM takeover of the undergraduate direction, the staggering loans, and the denigrated state of the pursuits befitting the 'free men of a privileged class' among the ancients attests to the fall from grace.

As to that elusive gift from above, I have been searching myself for meaning. I keep this to myself, additionally, on a need to know basis, as this inner and outer 'journey' (a word which has been appropriated for Life Itself) takes me in directions dark and unsettling as well as bright. The second half of our expected actuarially determined span turns many of us thus. It's an often caricatured and misunderstood quest. Yet some of you out there know it well. 

Therefore, I seek solace after dinner, when I switch off my connections to the work world, even if I confess my Kindle may turn on for bookish pursuits and my endless amassing of more books to read on my varied public library wishlists. I heard recently a younger professor whom I greatly admire is leaving a post that any humanist would do the proverbial die for. When younger, I'd regard this as nearly unfathomable, but even then I'd recall a fellow grad TA at UCLA recall his watching an older prof, one of those who sauntered postwar into a niche when even ABDs were snapped up by the desperate institutions flush with Cold War and Space Age funds, drink from a mug. My colleague thought it was coffee. Somehow he found out that the prof was sipping from a big lug of Maalox. Tenure track. 

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