Race to the Bottom 11/20/21

Depression with Richard Bleil

Depression is something like the waves on a beach.  It ebbs, and it flows.  Today, it’s clearly flowing.

I’ve been thinking about my life and wondering what is really wrong with me.  I have many friends who are so highly successful, and I feel completely unaccomplished.  I’ve had short bursts of success, while they’ve created long term careers and accomplished incredible heights in so doing.  And here I am, alone, with my cat. 

If I were to say that I feel satisfied having been run out of my career as an educator, I would be a liar.  I do feel as if academia is changing, and maybe I am just too old and set in my ways, but the way I was “retired” still hurts, and it hurts a lot.  I’ve had some pretty cool titles in my day, but they didn’t last.  Was I over ambitious?  Was I too arrogant to think I could have succeeded in them? 

Yesterday (as of writing this so it was actually about a week ago by the time this posts), my friend sent me a series of video chats wherein she basically gave a tour of her home.  It was amazing.  Art was painted on the walls (including a quote from an Elton John song), and crafts filled the entire house.  As I look at the bare walls of my house, I feel as if I live in a barracks.  Her common-law boyfriend is clearly talented and had made a few very nice pieces for the house out of wood, displaying the kind of talent I wish I had, and maybe I do, but I find it difficult to motivate to actually do it.

It looked like my career was rocketing to the top, but man did I run out of fuel.  And now I’m nothing, barely contributing to society and wondering what went wrong.  I can’t help but wonder if things would have been different if I could have met somebody with whom to share my life.  I’ve never really felt “tied” to anyplace in particular.  Was it wanderlust that kept me moving, or just the lack of any real reason to just stay put?

I’m guessing that everybody has bad days.  As an example, where I was tenured, as the institution tried to require all students to have laptops (a little late in the delivery since the society was inevitably already moving in that direction), the administration made statements saying that they were not required for all students including a publicly advertised ability to “opt out”, but then forced the faculty to put statements in our syllabi saying that they were.  The university was trying to make money by leasing these computers to students but didn’t want to look like the “bad guys” for their decision, instead making the faculty look like it was our decision. 

With a wife, I’m sure she would have sat me down to have a talk with me, to let me vent, and help me to calm down.  Unfortunately, without that, the injustice was just overwhelming.  I put their statement in my syllabus as required, along with a statement of my own about how the administration encroached on my academic freedom and forced me to include that paragraph.  I understood that we were in a transition state and embraced the change.  I developed a plan to handle a situation where there would be a few students who would want to take the “opt out” option in my course, but never had the chance to implement it.  I was the first (and quite probably still the only) faculty on that campus to write my own lab manuals so students could use it on their tablet, and lab report forms designed specifically for the tablet while the other science courses still used outdated lab notebooks, complete with carbon paper which was outdated even when I used them as an undergraduate. 

Of course, I would stand up to such atrocities.  If you don’t want students to opt out, don’t offer it, but don’t make the faculty look bad just because you don’t like your own initiatives.  What did I have to lose?  Of course I stood up and pushed back.  What else could I do?  But, without a wife, I had nobody to worry about but myself.  With a spouse and family, maybe I would not have.  After all, there are things that are more important than honor, even from an administration without it.  So, I sacrificed.  For my own sense of honor and for the faculty made to look bad, I stood up.  And in so doing, for this and for other injustices, my race to the bottom was highly accelerated. 

I look at what my friend created with her partner.  It’s astounding.  And I’m here with a warm spot on my lap created by my cat’s butt as she is keeping me company, but the only human voices I hear are from the Blues Brothers as they play on my old computer.  Don’t ask me if it was worth it.  You might not like the answer.


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