Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Take An Ungrateful Whiner To Work Day

Last week I read this really good novel called "Then We Came to the End" by a young guy, Joshua Ferris, who I'd never heard of. I just picked it up wandering around the bookstore.

I don't know for sure, but I think the "we" in the title may be meant to refer partly to the "we" we all were during the late 90's and early 00s. The best thing about the book, I think, is its feeling of immersion in that post dot-com, "downturn," time. Not an easy mood to capture, but definitely a funny one to contemplate.

The dumber blurbs on the book cover describe it as a book about "work," since it describes a bunch of co-workers at an ad agency. Naturally there are some reflections in the book about the nature of work, and about the strange absurdity of "creative" people who fancy themselves original working in an industry that is basically about getting people to become conformists.

Naturally, too, some of the characters decide to quit and do something else. I'm always interested to read about people quitting their careers to take up new ones because 1) I think about doing this all the time and 2) I have the kind of job people usually quit their careers for.

I mean, it's funny: I'm a philosophy professor. It's just the kind of job people fantasize about when they fantasize about quitting their meaningless jobs: I know, I'll quit this, go back to graduate school, and study philosophy! That'll be meaningful and interesting!

It's hard for me to compare since I've never had any other comparable job -- I just worked at stuff like "waitress" and "camp counselor" before I became an academic. So I don't know. But being a philosopher professor sure can be boring, and it sure can seem pointless.

Enough so that, as I said, I often day dream about changing jobs altogether. I know other philosophy professors who do too. So, what jobs do we daydream about?

Lawyer probably tops my own list. After a day of thinking hard and working on some paper that, like, no people will ever read, I crave the effectiveness of lawyering. I mean, lawyers get things done, actual things. Money moves around; custody assignments get made.

Then, too, restaurant and cafe worker are up there. When I am feeling anxiety about teaching, about being constantly evaluated and criticized, I sometimes gaze longingly behind the Starbucks counter. So, you make coffee! Chat with customers! Fun!! Maybe I could own a cafe?

It's not implausible to think there are lawyers and cafe owners daydreaming about becoming philosophy professors, too. There used to be a show on TV where people got to try out other jobs temporarily: I remember one where some finance guy wanted to become a cheese maker. Shocker! It was hard work!

But wouldn't this kind of show be improved if it were more like an actual swap? They could pair people up. You: make the espresso; and you: grade those papers. Like Wife Swap only better.

I realize switching work would be complicated, but you could have a kind of shadow concept. Sort of like "take your daughter to work" day, except it would be like "take an ungrateful whiner to work" day. Here's Joe: even though he has a nice comfy well-paying job, he fantasizes about doing lawn care! He's an ungrateful whiner. Watch as he learns the finer points of mowing, weed-whacking, and leaf blowing!


Captain Colossal said...

But it seems so dispiriting to learn that the alternate jobs you daydream about would be hard and annoying too.

Anonymous said...

I know people who are constantly longing for a different career; that is, until they come to realize that the day to day life of the alternate is just as dreary as what they hope to escape. This is especially true of academia. Academia is for the most part boring as hell, but would one really trade its high degree of freedom for a 40+/week job at which one is constantly told what to do, how to do it and where to do it? Or, a job at which customers are constantly complaining (even more than students do!) about this, that and the other? I think of leaving the academy all the time as well, until I realize that it's not a bad deal--or at least not bad enough to actually leave.

Noko Marie said...

Dispiriting, but maybe liberating, too. As anonymous says, the day to day life in other jobs is dreary too. At least this chain of thought might end in the thought that perhaps it's the non-work parts of life that need improvement rather than the work parts. . . A thought that can sometimes cheer me up for, like, five minutes at a time. But hey, it's something.