so at various points throughout my liberal arts education – always scrambling to read a million pages in this book, meet with that group for a presentation or complete that paper- i would often think of a life not bogged down with the rigors of classes. in my mind it was sort of like summer break but longer. and it would be time in which i could read and think on my own. i would read all of those social science books that looked interesting but i never had time for, a real almost sort of renaissance experience. most of the time at school it felt like i was holding down a nine to five job (four days a week) with the lovely addition of assignments when i got done. in my mind there was an equation that went something like this, working nine to five would keep the same hours of class but eliminate the homework. so more time would be mine.
recently i’ve spent a lot of time thinking about a graduation speech by david foster wallace at kenyon college. [which was originally published in here] there are a lot of things i like about the speech but this is the part i’ve been thinking about the most.
“And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration.
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.“
it’s true. of course i realize now, two months into a boring dead end nine to five job i took for no other reason than making money to pay bills – i had it backwards all along. thinking all day long as your job breeds more thought. while doing mindless tasks all day breeds a sort of banal mindlessness you have to spend your time fighting.
and that equation? part of it is true – and it’s the part i like and makes the other part worthwhile – is that the time not between the hours of nine and five is my time. completely and utterly. nothing from this office comes home with me ever. that means i have a lot of fun, doing what i always wanted to do – living in a cultural capital. to date i’ve gone to readings, shows and a hodgepodge of other events. i get to read what i want, so for the first time i am gorging myself on fiction of my own choosing. fiction which while in school seemed like too much of a luxury can now fill those long subway ride commutes.
of course there is a boring day in and day out quality to a lot of these days. sometimes i feel like i am home for two minutes before i need to go to bed, get up and do it again the next day. fitting time in during the week to run errands, especially as it gets darker earlier is not fun. which means going on the weekends, when the place is packed with parents and children doing the exact same thing. attempting to get cable / internet set up for example, is a huge undertaking of scheduling.
the subject of this post refers to the sondheim song of the same name, every day there is a little death, which i had never factored into my mental equation. i also now see my movies like office space get made and are so well received. it’s also not a good sign when parts of “the office” no longer seem like irony and seem instead to hit a little close to home. turns out you’ve got to think or the death side will slowly win and you will find yourself a living dilbert cartoon. truly a fate worse than death.