September 18, 2007

Of academics, privilege, and the practical world - what next?

The play "Third" is currently showing at the Denver Center for Performing Arts. We saw it last night - it was pretty accurate in its portrayal of a hackneyed, aging, liberal academic. The acting was particularly good - evocative of the real thing. It conjured for me my naive undergraduate self, and things I thought would be true about me and my year-2007-world. These things never materialized.

When I was an undergraduate I spent a lot of time pursuing comfort in the form of English Literature. I took Virginia Woolf's advice: “by hook or by crook" I found "money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.”

It sure was a good time.

I thought my life in 2007 would contain more of the same: I would become some sort of professional but my employment experience would continue to challenge my mind and give me plenty of opportunities for cerebral 'play.' The world of academia seemed to hold out the promise that if I read everything in the canon I would be a complete person, worthy of respect and a paycheck.


The reality is, well . . . not like that. I got up this morning, saw my man off to work, bathed, watered the lawn, returned some library books, went to the grocery store, put away laundry, and now I'm sitting down to work. The rest of my day will be spent like this: do some maintenance on my daytimer, make birthday brownies, make phone calls to various court clerks and clients, continue work on an article intended to equip lawyers to pursue or defend corporate veil-piercing claims, write a letter to a client's bank begging for mercy and/or attempting to restructure some (in my view) unconscionable loans, drive up to the law library in Boulder to return books on tax-exempt entities and pick up a book on criminal procedure, meet with the partner at my firm to pick up a client's file, then rush back to Denver in time to share birthday dinner with a friend. Then, if there's time before I sleep, read a bit of the very practical, non-literary, practitioner-type books that move through my life: "Getting Things Done;" "Tongue-Fu, How to Deflect, Disarm, and Defuse a Verbal Conflict;" and "The Criminal Trial from Start to Finish in Colorado."

But I want to read the letters of Jane Austen! I want to read "Gravity's Rainbow!" I want to make a cozy space in a comfortable chair and read for 14 hours straight without stopping! I want "to travel and to idle!" I want to write and paint and read and rub my hands against the textures of this amazing sparkly opera all around me! But I've chosen to do something else. Virginia Woolf's advice is great for young women who've been kept in the dark about the world: she seems to be telling them to get 'selfish' if that's what it takes to pursue the privilege of education.

But Virginia Woolf's advice isn't relevant for young professional women. Once the privilege of education has been achieved, what next?


Woman with a Hatchet said...

Sure it is! It's just not time for you to be idle and roaming the planet. That will happen (again).

It's just a matter of being patient and building up the time to carve out free time for fun.

Even we old parental types get to have play time now and again.

Red Flashlight said...

Okay, but I think there might be something akin to Woolf's advice, but geared towards people who need to feel empowered about going to work, rather than going to school. I mean, Virginia Woolf became a writer and a wife - in a way she never quit going to school.