The Wasted Year

Tomorrow, I’m going to Montreal for the first time in eleven years. It seems that the staff of the International Space University were sufficiently impressed by my work last year in Strasbourg that they are inviting me back, with food, accommodations, and a stipend, to help edit their documents this year. I’m glad that they noticed my work, and I look forward to the trip.

However, there is one moment that I am dreading, and that is the moment at which I meet up with some of my old peers and they start asking me awkward questions. Questions such as: “What have you been doing for the last year?” And I confess, I have painfully little to tell them in reply.

The truth is that I have mostly been fumbling around unsuccessfully looking for employment while living in my parents’ house, working odd-jobs that are frankly far below my actual skill level, and taking courses in first year statistics so that I don’t have to start paying my student loans. There have been a few highlights, to be sure: getting published was certainly one of them, giving a talk at a physics symposium another.  But by and large, I find myself in the same, “temporary” place that I have been since I left Strasbourg. I haven’t even unpacked my boxes from Grad School, out of hopeless optimism that it wouldn’t be too long before I could get a  grown-up job* and win back my independence.

What the hell happened? When I came back last time, I felt sure of myself like never before. I was going to earn some money for a year and then enter into grad school to earn my PhD! But then finding a job, temporary or otherwise, proved more difficult than I ever anticipated, and I couldn’t find the right PhD program until about two weeks after it became too late to register. So here I am adrift in limbo.

But not for much longer.

Because there comes a point (and mine is the one year mark) where you just have to say “fuck it, this isn’t working,” and try taking a some ridiculous, stupid chance. So here’s the plan:

I’m going to go to Montreal. I’m going to impress the pants off of everyone, once again. I’ll leverage my contacts, and if I can score a job while I’m there–even if it necessitates my relocation to the USA or Europe–I will take it. If not, then no matter: I’m still not going to spend another year living in a state of perpetual teenagerhood. You see, I have registered for courses at the University where I obtained my Master’s Degree: a combination of things that I’ve always wanted to take, and things which are liable to bolster my employability. I am going to live off of student loans, freelancing, tutoring, and a TA position if I can get one, while I continue to look for work. The University in question is a lot closer to several major urban centres with high-tech industry than my present living situation, so frankly I think that my prospects will be much better. And then I will file grad school application on time for next year, and get back to the business of living my life.

_________________________________________________

*There have been a few times that I’ve been maddeningly near.

 

Posted in Academics, Employment, Personal Stuff | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Competitive Global Market Place

Nothing in this world does more to boost my ego than rejecting a job offer that I consider to be insulting.

As you know: I have, for the last several months, been eking out a meagre existence editing scientific papers on a freelance basis. Right now, I’m only freelancing for one agency but, with a view towards expanding my income base and getting more regular hours, I have been applying to freelance with other companies–the hope being that if I get enough of these contracts, I can cobble them together into something resembling a full-time job*.

Now, for those who have never applied for such work, the standard practice is this: you find these companies, make reasonably sure that they’re not scams, e-mail them your résumé, and then wait a few days for them to get back to you with an editing test that they will use to evaluate your skill level and decide whether they want to offer you a contract. So it was with this particular company.

These tests generally consist of a page of instruction, followed by one or more samples of badly-written academic text for you  to correct. What stood out about this company’s test was that the instructions themselves were rife with basic grammar and syntax errors, to the extent that I considered correcting them as well in my finished document, before deciding that that would be too cheeky for a work application. Anyways, I sent this test in, and thought very little about it for the next month and a half or so, until last week they got back to me with an evaluation of my test. Their committee graded my editing skills as 8.5/10 which, in practical terms, meant that:

Your editing is close to good, but you have missed at least one minor grammatical error, and left out some text needing style improvement. You will join us as trainee and you can improve considering our feedbacks[sic].

This, I will remind you, was a communiqué from professional, English language academic editing company. They concluded the e-mail by informing me that they needed a few days to consider whether to offer me a contract. Already, I could feel my heart soar at the prospect of considering their feedbacks so as to bring my editing ever closer to good!

This very morning, my prayers were answered! The company sent me a fresh e-mail, offering me a contract by which I would substantively edit scientific manuscripts, and for which I would be paid…some compensation amounting to appreciably less than the minimum wage in my province. “We realize this may sound low,” they said, “but it is what is necessary to compete in this globally competitive industry.” Which, frankly, I would have been a lot more likely to believe if their direct competitor (operating out of the same city, no less) wasn’t already paying four times this amount for the same service.

So I very politely told them to go to hell. It feels good to know that I’m not that desperate.

In my mind’s eye, I can imagine this company’s Human Resources staff sitting around scratching their heads, saying “but that’s the tenth graduate degree holder to turn down our offer in the last month; I don’t understand it!”

The moral of the story is that you get what you pay for.

__________________________________________________

*At least until I find a real full-time job.

 

Posted in Employment | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Things to Repress about Grad School

One of the most unfortunate things about my current living situation is how few of my old friends still live in this city, so as you might imagine, I was absolutely delighted when my best friend from High School returned for a visit. Now, I’ve mentioned this friend in passing a few times on this blog, but there is one salient point that you need to understand about his character, and this is the fact that he is the smartest person that I have ever met. It will therefore come as no surprise to you to learn that when last he and I spoke, he was in the process of getting a PhD from a rather prestigious University that I shall not name here.

Yesterday, I met him for lunch. When I asked him how his degree was going, he confessed that it was not; that he had left his program for the same slew of reasons that are all-too-common amongst graduate students, namely extreme stress giving rise to mental health issues. Longtime readers may recall my own adventures with anxiety a few years ago.

I must confess, this really bugged me. Not because I fault my friend, mind you, but because of just how bloody normal such a story is in Grad School. I can’t speak for my friend’s chosen discipline, of course, but when I was doing my physics degree, nervous breakdowns were looked at practically as a rite of passage. I can’t even tell you the number of times that I ended up collapsing into a pathetic, sobbing heap at four in the morning after a night of obsessive, feverish studying, wishing that I was dead so that I wouldn’t have to keep going. And of course, there’s a certain stigma to mental health issues too, so for a long time, I thought that I was the only one suffering in that manner as well. Gradually though, I came to hear similar confessions from more and more of my peers until, by the time of my graduation, I had gotten into the habit of assuming that pretty much every graduate student was suffering from at least one mental illness of some kind. It’s something that I have been without for long enough that I have almost forgotten what it felt like, but this of course was one of the main reasons why I stopped after my Master’s rather than carrying on.

And for what? Why is this cycle allowed to continue? I can only assume that a lot of professors and administrators must look at this stress as a means of separating the wheat from the chaff, but it doesn’t. It’s not a meritocratic system; you’re not necessarily a better, smarter, or even more dedicated person if you can make it all of the way through the gauntlet. The ability to withstand stress is an ability to withstand stress: nothing more, nothing less. And the idea that there is something heroic about willingly enduring such pointless suffering, or that each generation of students should have to do this because of some warped sense of “tradition” needs to die.

Posted in Academics, Personal Stuff | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

(The Day After) Canada Day

I’m afraid I couldn’t bring myself to produce a new Canada Day post this year. My feelings on the subject are pretty much the same as they have been for the past two years. I’m running out of novel ways to express my discontent with the direction in which this country is headed…which, I suspect, is actually part of Harper’s overall strategy, but I digress*.

___________________________________________

*I was actually feeling a slight modicum of patriotism this morning until I gave his speech.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How Pure Cynicism Made Me Into An Idealist

Those who know me are of the impression that I am a very cynical person. My own grandmother, as a matter of fact, when I was only nine years old, labelled me as being “the single most naturally cynical person that [she had] ever met.” And it is true that I have a history of being distrustful of other people’s stated motivations,  and that I have a habit of ruthlessly picking things apart in my mind to find their (often very unfortunate) ramifications. Some people* have claimed that this is a character flaw on my part, but on the other hand, I feel that it has, to some extent at least, shielded me from the bitter extremes of jingoism, nationalism, and hucksterism.

And, in many ways, I was born in the right age for it. During my lifetime, I have encountered very little penalty, in terms of social currency, for being unrelentingly negative. This is almost always the case: standing up and stating what you believe in will leave you vulnerable to attack**; you can come away looking very silly. But to attack what everybody else believes–if you can do it cleverly enough, and with enough wit and humour–you can come away looking like a genius without ever needing to worry about putting something of itself out into the open. But in this day and age, cynicism has become an end of itself, particularly if you, like me, consider yourself to be an “intellectual.” We’re very good at pointing out the many flaws in the existing status quo, but when it comes to imagining a coherent, appealing alternative, we seem to be dealing, at best, in very vague ideas. Even in popular culture, cynicism reigns supreme: mine was the generation which came of age on Dilbert*** and Dead Baby Comedies in which no good deed ever went unpunished. As adults, we enjoy shows about morally ambiguous, or even villainous protagonists who explore the dark realities of Human Nature. Even science fiction–that great laboratory for alternative social models–has been effectively neutered****; today we either project existing social trends into the future, or forecast the sort of collapse which we have come to regard as inevitable. The dominant idea seems to be that Humans are hardwired to be corrupt, stupid, and evil, and that these are fundamental, essential, and intrinsic aspects of our existence from which there is no escape.

And that, right there, is how I became an idealist. Because, as I have said, to be truly cynical is to always pick things apart. To consider full ramifications. And, above all, to examine, with a jaundiced eye, the motivations behind people who tell you what it is that you ought to be believing. So when the dominant cultural message becomes one of cynicism, and you know for a fact that culture does not exist independently of power, then the only reasonable question that you should be asking is: Who Benefits? Who benefits from an ideology which regards moral turpitude as being irreducible from Human Nature? Who benefits from an ideology which regards ecological catastrophe and therefore the collapse of civilization as being inevitable–and therefore, not worth countering? Who benefits from grim dystopian fantasies which paint the world today as the best that we are ever going to get?

Don’t misread me; I don’t want to overstate the influence that any one ideology can have on cultural trends. But it is nevertheless a demonstrable fact that the very cynicism which we adopt to shield ourselves from manipulation has itself been used to manipulate people in a manner which can only be described as “cynical.” And thus, I have been left with no other choice but to become an idealist, for the very simple reason that I have become cynical about cynicism.

___________________________________________________________

*Almost universally people who would stand to benefit from my not being so cynical.

**Unless you happen to have a totalitarian state or cult backing you up.

***Dilbert manages to be very funny, because, of course, good comedy is supposed to cynically poke holes in things.

****I was going to include a discussion in this post, but it’s important enough that I would rather do a separate entry.

Posted in Fiction, Personal Stuff, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Prediction

One reason for which I love the new Cosmos series is that it really doesn’t pussyfoot around those issues upon which the science is “settled” but the politics are really not. Already, this has led to criticisms of the series from creationists and others. Unfortunately, much though I would like to believe that Cosmos could be the almighty blow which lays low the public relations campaigns of such well-heeled denialists, I know that this is not, realistically, the case, and that in the present political climate, such a challenge cannot go unanswered. So I would like to make the following prediction:

Within the next few years, some conservative group will produce a “response” to the new Cosmos series, which will consist of a glossy, high production-value compilation of the most insultingly incoherent, right-wing pseudoscience ever assembled. Creationism, climate denial, environmental conspiracy theories, race and IQ, overblown claims about the “innate differences” between men and women (which will be hypocritically premised on evo-psych), grossly inaccurate claims about abortion and childbirth, arguments for reparative therapy… it will all be there.

Remember: you heard it here first.

Posted in Politics, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Public Evisceration

I have thus far stayed-out of the controversy in the trans-sphere over allegedly-notable drag queen RuPaul’s constant use of transmisogynistic slurs. The truth is that I have never much cared about reality television, drag culture has always bored me, and if I started reacting every time some d-list celebrity said something transmisogynistic, I would never get anything done*. But this particular controversy has been notable only in that it has exposed the fault lines that have long existed between the LGB and T parts of the LGBT community.

The latest article along these lines was written in Slate by J. Bryan Lowder. The whole thing is, basically, an irredeemable sack of offal, but the gist of it is that trans women who object to being called “tranny” and “shemale” on international television by gay men are inherently conservative, because… I don’t know… binary trans people are all inherently conservative, except for the ones who like being derided in public by gay men. And somehow, being conservative makes them politically correct.

Or something.

Anyways, here’s the money quote:

As a non-trans gay man, I don’t feel it’s my place to declare either side of this debate “right” or “wrong,” because tranny is not an identity I would claim for myself, I am not a part of the drag community beyond fandom, and I am sensitive to the fact that too many ignorant gay men throw the word around in ways that are not welcome nor totally benign. That said, I think at least one helpful thing to emerge from this uproar is a reminder that it is possible to be physically queer and culturally conservative. Indeed, it does not seem inaccurate to me to interpret some transgender people’s insistence on transitioning seamlessly from one gender to the other—to reinforce the gender binary, in effect, by eschewing the conceptual friction that third-way terms liketranny and even she-male engender—as a conservative impulse.

O, Mr. Lowder! If only you had stopped at the part about how it’s not your place to declare either side of this debate right or wrong. You could have just written a single sentence: “I don’t know shit about trans women,” and it would have been a much stronger article that this! But alas. Instead, you dust off the old canard about trans women reifying the gender binary**.

Now, of course, it’s pretty obvious that if you’re going to attack trans women for ‘reifying the gender binary,’ then you’d better bloody well be prepared to attack every single binary-identified person on Earth, whether cis or trans, man or woman, for doing the same thing; otherwise, it just comes across a paper-thin ideological veneer that otherwise progressive folks put up so they don’t have to feel bad about being bigots***.  What’s original about this quote, though, is how the author thinks that we ought to be celebrating terms like “tranny” and “shemale” as if they were “third way” terms. Even if I were to accept the premise that these words are not slurs****, quite frankly, I have absolutely no interest in taking a “third way.” I am a woman, plain and simple, and I reject, in the strongest possible terms, the author’s attempts to shoehorn me into a “third gender” because my existence as a woman does too much violence to his ill-conceived and reactionary preconceptions about how the world works.

But of course, he doesn’t stop there: Lowder decides to pretend as if this whole matter is actually a controversy between those mean, privileged, passing trans women and those of us who do not:

Bond seems to recognize this as conservatism in disguise and has little patience for it:

If you don’t wish to own [tranny] or any other word used to describe you other than “male” or “female” then I hope you are privileged enough to have been born with an appearance that will allow you to disappear into the passing world or that you or your generous, supportive family are able to afford the procedures which will make it possible for you to pass within the gender binary system you are catering your demands to. If you’re capable of doing that then GO ON AND DISAPPEAR INTO THE PASSING WORLD!

While it’s entirely possible that a person could “pass” for their chosen gender and remain queer in their approach to the concept of gender in general, I can’t help but find much of the anti-tranny rhetoric to be supported by a curiously conservative set of assumptions. That does not necessarily invalidate the anti-tranny point of view, of course, but I do think that many taking up the cause might reconsider whether they are standing as close to the cutting edge of queer civil rights as they might have imagined—dismissing the deeply felt identities, histories, and understandings of others as “offensive” somehow doesn’t exactly feel progressive.

While it’s certainly nice of Mr. Lowder to allow for the existence of passing trans women who “remain queer in their approach,” I do wish that he had taken the time to cut out some space for those of us, such as yours truly, who are decidedly non-passing trans women and who still think that he and RuPaul are completely full of shit.

Frankly, this whole line of argument is not only insulting, it is plainly illogical. As a non-passing trans woman, I am regularly taunted in the streets with the exact same slurs that the author clearly loves so well. So, having been frequently harassed in this manner, the author now expects that I should celebrate the normalization of these dehumanizing slurs in the media, and, indeed embrace them as a “third-way” because I am, in his estimation, not a real woman anyways?  Sorry, Mr. Lowder; I think not.

Finally, I would argue that there is something positively perverse in claiming that an oppressed minority, whose very Human Rights are regularly ground into dust by conservative politicians, are themselves inherently conservative because they insist upon the right to exist as the women that they are without being dehumanized every day by their so-called “allies.”

It is clear that this article is garbage of the rankest sort, and it is insulting not only to trans women, but to the intelligence of any thinking Human Being. In summary and in conclusion: Fuck you, J. Bryan Lowder.

_______________________________________________

*One day soon, transphobic humour will no longer be considered “socially acceptable,” and so comedians will spontaneously go from openly making jokes at the expense of trans women to “ironically” making jokes at the expense of the trans women. What a glorious day that will be!

**A theory most famously laid out by Janice Raymond in a book appropriately subtitled “The Making of the She-Male.” Oh, but I’m sure that she was using that slur “playfully” as well.

***This, of course, being exactly what it is.

****I do not.

Posted in Personal Stuff, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment