My Thesis (lol)

Did you know that, in addition to having assorted feelings on the internet, I have also been going to college for the past four years? Well, the one true motivation behind my education was to be on lolmythesis.com. I can leave now.

lolmy

Screenshoted from here!

Actual thesis here.

Academia: a Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a princess who lived in a shiny white tower which stretched above a big forest called The Real World. She had entered the tower when she was young so that she could escape from the scary market forces and tax monsters in forest.

 

Of course not everyone could get into the tower. To get through the gates, she had answer a very long set of riddles sent from voices higher up.

Every so often, she would have the opportunity to climb one story higher in the tower if she followed the rules. And she did. She would answer more long sets of riddles. She would do a special kind of magic, turning very small ideas into very big books. She would create perfect illusions, appearing to know everything when she didn’t. She would learn to speak in peculiar tongues so that no one below her could understand. And of course, she would worship the voices above her. And so, over the years, she steadily rose higher and higher.

Each story of the tower was narrower and narrower, and fewer and fewer people would rise each time. Sometimes, people wouldn’t pass the tests, or the magic drained all their energy. And some would choose to leave. Either way, they would be sent tumbling down, scraping their skin as they brushed the thorny treetops of The Real World and bruising their bones as they found themselves at the very bottom.

But those who rose had their eyes on the tower’s tiny top floor. If you made it to that level, the prize was that you got to stay there forever and never leave.

The towers had windows where the princess could look down upon the people in The Real World. With each level she rose, the people became smaller and more distant. The higher voices said that the further away you were from people, the better you could understand them. This seemed true enough: she could see wider and farther than ever, noticing their numbers and patterns in ways she never did before. But most of all, she could see how small and faceless these people were, and feel bigger herself.

columbia princess

But one day, as she looked out the window, she could no longer see people, only a mass of tiny dots. She thought about the floors above her with fewer people around and tinier people below. She was starting to miss seeing faces.

She began to sit on the windowsill, thinking about what it might be like to live outside. One of the voices above warned her: “When you’re down there, you’ll be just as small as all those people. They won’t care about your crown or your magic tricks, and they won’t listen to your funny words. But if you stay here and keep climbing, I think you can make it all the way to the top.”

But as she imagined getting higher, lonelier, and further from the ground, she wondered if she should make the jump before it got too far.

Epilogue:

She hit the bottom and it hurt. The market forces blew away her crown and the tax monsters chased after her. She started crying “Take me back to my ivory tower!”



Yeah, I guess I’m feeling kind of cynical right now. 

The End of Productivity Worship

Have you had a productive day? Congratulations. You’ve channeled through the mucous procrastination barrier, grit your teeth, and powered through another unpleasant item on your to do list, simultaneously aiming for maximum time efficiency and counting down the minutes until a snack break would be justifiable. You worked “smart,” putting no more effort than necessary into the task, though you had to strain every muscle to keep yourself from turning away. You didn’t let your curiosity get snagged on little pointed details which could keep you off course. Nobody got time for that. Keep at it.

Until you realize that you’re spending your life deriving more happiness from having done than from doing. Until you get kind of sick of being a martyr in the worship of productivity, constantly flung back and forth between guilt-ridden pleasure and self-righteous misery. Or until you just crack, no longer able to breathe within the narrow walls of serious, efficient work, falling out into a field of undirected diversions and not particularly motivated to step back in.

For me, I started realizing something was off at the end of last year when I found myself procrastinating on my “work” by doing the same types of things that the work involved. I was putting off studying about the hippocampus by reading an article about hippocampus damage cases. I was putting off writing a personal essay for class by blogging similar essays. I was putting off researching gender theory by reading about gender theory.

I noticed the contrast between the momentum and ease with which I fell into my “indulgent” procrastinatory wanderings and the strain with which I plugged through my “worthy” work. I noticed how I was praising myself for “productivity” and punishing myself for “procrastination” despite the fact that the same exact learning was going on.

At that point, the whole work/play dichotomy was starting to seem arbitrary and not very…well…productive.

Realistically, I don’t think our drive to produce and complete is going to disappear any time soon, nor should we force it to. We live in a world which puts a premium on time, space, and energy. We all have deadlines and schedules and a whole lot of stuff to do. I’m certainly not about to start ignoring that. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t relieved to finish my work this weekend or that I wasn’t pretty unhappy about doing some of it.

But what if we found a little breathing room in the vast space between work and play? With practice, could we learn to gently steer our desires, curiosities, and inclinations towards our goals, instead of forcefully manhandling them down a fixed (and unsustainable) path?

What if we woke up and asked ourselves: What am I in the mood to learn? What thoughts am I itching to write first? How does my body feel like moving? The more I pay attention to my desires, the more I find that my “to-do” list and my “want-to-do” list have some intersections–or at least some points where they come reasonably close to meeting–and this shared space can be a good starting point for directing my energy.

Like a lot of people, I’m expecting to have a busy semester, filled with a lot to do and probably a little bit of strain in making it all happen. But for when I find the time, I’m adding these items to my to-do list:

  • Invest a little more in the value of your desires.
  • Work just a little stupider.
  • Wander just a little off course.

In the end, you just might end up going a little farther.