The creativity-killing pressure of the academic market

This post is loosely based on a old post I wrote in 2006. My life now is very different from that intense moment of my life then, but some things are deeply similar.bird

I was struggling to meet my advisor’s deadline to submit most of my dissertation. I was also very pregnant, and under pressure to eat healthy and exercise (which, given the time crunch of the dissertation writing, was highly unlikely). I really did almost nothing but sit on my rear end and type. I ate whatever I could get, ate more because of the stress, and ate more cream puffs and chocolates and ice cream. Consequently, at my OB visit, the nurse told me I’d gained 8lbs in 2.5 weeks, and I know I did no exercise except walk to the bathroom now and then.

The day before I wrote this old blog post was a high, high-stress day, because I had to turn Chapter 6 in right away. I woke up and got to work, and worked till 3:30pm.

When I was done, I was ravenous, and wanted to weep loudly because a) I’d just been under so much stress and b) I’d just finished the stress-inducing task–and now what?

I was lost.

So I felt a bit like the day after Ramadan. I barely knew what to do with myself.

I wondered, when I emerge from my dissertation and my defense, what will remain of me?

Something about graduate school kills the creative impulse. And then the ensuing/continuing pressure to finish and then be productive forever kills all liberty to just get up and run out spontaneously and have fun. To write for fun. To write adventurously. To do anything that comes from within.

The anomie and alienation of the academic profession today threatens to disconnect academic writers from the very source of their intellectual and spiritual inspiration.

Where work should allow us to flourish, academic labor under capitalism alienates us from our work.

Sometimes when I decide, like once or twice a year, that we should really “do something,” I come up empty. I don’t want to do anything anymore. I just want to be still and be nothing. I don’t know what I want. I am a domestic mule for academic work and the endlessness of the work is devastating to the creative impulse. I’ve lost some of that inner child. No, not that inner child that I had in my womb. My own inner child.

At that time, I thought: When I come out of my defense and they tell me I’m Dr. Mir, I wonder how I’ll feel. When they grant me liberty from this task, and instruct me to go forth in triumph, I bet I’ll have an impulse to break into song, loudly and soulfully:

آشیاں جل گیا، گلستاں لٹ گیا
هم قفس سے نکل کر کدهر جایئں گے
اتنے مانوس صیاد سے هو گئے
اب رهائ ملے گی تو مر جایئں گے

My nest has been burned, the garden has been plundered
When they let me out of my cage, where shall I go?

So intimate I have become with my captor
If I were to be granted freedom, I will surely die 

(Raaz Allahabadi)

Today, years hence, I find that I am in the same position as many others. Our cage is wrought of the job market, cannibalistic employers, and the hordes of un/der-employed academics. The ropes of the broader economy tense and chafe against our skin, never allowing the freedom to listen fully to the free mind/heart.

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