Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Am Ironing A Kitten: Play For That F*ckin' Money

It’s that most wonderful time of the year, the leaves are turned, the jack-o’-lanterns are rotting, Starbucks has redressed itself in festive Christmas red and school is arching into a murderous crescendo.

While I am too educated to ascribe facetious causal explanations, I do find a correlation between my motivation to post to my blog and the intensity of assignment deadlines. I was faced this morning with the choice to either write something for this space or to catch up on email with an out of town dear friend—the reasoning being I had time for neither so had to choose just one. You get it, don’t you? In the time honoured spirit of self-plagiarism, I realized I could borrow portions from my message to generate a post, thereby maximizing the efficiency of my procrastination!

One of my best methods of procrastination is imagining justifiable procrastinations. I briefly entertained a fantasy that friends would rent a car to go to the Montreal Small Press Fair this weekend and call me to come along and I would be forced to abandon my homework for the greater cause of vital socializing and cosmopolitanism. I stared hard at the phone and willed it to happen, the same way I have applied my will to Carleton University’s union to make their negotiations break down so they would make good their threat to strike. The spineless fuckers just keep sitting at the table while getting whittled at.

I just can’t catch a break.

Seriously though, I’m so frazzled. It’s reaching beyond peak frenzy. I have a paper due on Monday in my population class and it has my colon in a knot.

Background: I got the best mark I have ever received, on the midterm in this class, and have week after week engaged the Prof in debate in class and on the class website. Last week, argument started to become a euphemism, during a vigourous discussion(euphemism) on China’s one child policy (I wasn’t defending it or condemning it; I was defending the notion of seeing it from China’s point of view—i.e. having 1.4 billion people and being a nation whose philosophy favours the collective over the individual).

My Prof stormed up and down the aisle blaring about dead baby girls and an empiricist world that wants to solve its problems by telling Africans(?) they can’t have babies. He was mostly being bombastic and playing agent provocateur—and despite my promise to myself to not keep falling for it, I too was sputtering red faced. I was really out of control. My logic and focus was actually a cut above its normal level(at least in my vaseline-lensed perceptions anyway), but I was hollering and interrupting both the Prof and students. I revved up and started yelling directed questions at the class, nearly Socrates style, minus the stylish cool. Seriously all mental. A very uncivilized ape.

At one point, I thought I had gained an ally, but it turned out that we had awakened a nazi-styled element in the class, who chimed in that international institutions should “get in there” to “stop them from having more babies” so china "wouldn’t wreck the planet”.  So thereafter I had to fight my Prof on the one hand, who professes to believe that everyone should have lotza babies and that growth produced human ingenuity will save us, and on the other hand, fight the pseudo nazi sounding fellow behind me who felt some good old fashioned genocide was in order to make the world safe for North Americans. The only thing more antithetical to university dogma than neomalthusianism is colonialism, so I was saved from being the troll, but just barely.

All that to say I feel like I have to produce a ringer of a term paper for this class. Due on Monday and I haven’t written a real word yet. I shouldn’t be writing this. It is stealing energy from my essay.

And my head is broken. I started out with a theme examining the refugee wave of Somalis in Ottawa in 1993 following the Somalian civil war, and accumulated a wealth of data (it seems every Master’s thesis at Carleton from ’95-’97 was on this topic). I started to drown in data, and couldn’t find the right tone—I was thinking about the nightmare of being forced from a rural, subsistence, oral culture to an urban capitalist bureaucratic culture, and I was thinking of the naked piercing hate that was the response of Ottawa’s citizenry.

From there I trekked over to a more general theme, examining the population composition of Ottawa. I collected a cornucopia of demographic data on Ottawa’s immigrants with the thesis that today’s Ottawa immigrants are more successful than immigrants anywhere, anywhen ever(in contrast to the media’s constant bleet that Multiculturism is failing). And then I started to flounder in lack of focus.

In a completely random mind belch I moved on to global food production and arable land.

From there I caffeinated my way to global population and the apocalyptic nature of growth. I couldn’t find any supportive data there. In scholarly circles there is a perceived crisis in the notion that the global population may start retracting sometime in the next century. Of course this is the same scholarly milieu that feels a reduction in global carbon emissions is also a crisis as it would impact food production (via the C02, not a reduction in petro farm inputs). I calm myself with the Jay Hanson quote that “magical thinking is still taught in universities”.

I saw another scholarly article from an economics journal stating that human populations are proportional to information storage and that to be sustainable and accommodate growth, the world needs to focus on information technology. Aaaaaaaaagggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

At this point, I took a break and wandered aimlessly around the internet. I found this captioned photo that I pasted on the inside of my forehead as relief humour to remedy frustration:

Fortified, I dove back into the fray. I started digging into China’s one child policy and the unintended consequences it is beginning to reap—an aging population and a more aggravated than usual imbalance in gender, both very serious issues that a society can wrangle with if it isn’t busy coping with mass famine and the kind of feral warfare that crashes that sort of party. I found lots of articles furiously furrowing brows at these coming Chinese crises, though little analysis of the benefits of a greatly reduced fertility rate.

So, that’s where I am now. The paper is due at 6pm tomorrow and I have 18 papers on the topic that are ideal sources for a paper criticizing China’s efforts to stem population growth.

And I still feel like an atomic ADHD sketchmonkey.

And I don’t want to write this paper. I don’t want to write anything. I want to go to a cottage on a river and watch the leaves floating by. I want to bring a bunch of books and sprawl on a sofa in front of a pot-bellied stove warm with aromatic wood burning inside.

I’m also halfway thru a paper on the Huron Indians of 17th century Ontario for my anthropology class. My thesis is on the historical evidence for settled agricultural egalitarian societies. I chose the anthropologist I am studying, the late Bruce Trigger from McGill University, based on the weediest intuition that his study demonstrated this idea. It turns out that he was a Marxist with global impact on archaeology and anthropology and was furiously concerned with applied anthropology influencing the “real world”. In popular scholasticism civilization is synonymous with hierarchy and class. Accordingly, settlement and agriculture lead inevitably such “progress”, the same way over-consumption, waste and throughput (instead of cycled) economies are part of progress. Trigger spent his career challenging not just this idea but how we formulate ideas(i.e. theoretical work). Incredibly fascinating stuff. I would like to spend a year studying his work and the work he was influenced by. This paper too is a towering overwhelming nightmare of too much curiosity and not enough precision. I don’t want to keep working on it either. The whole thing is moot: soon this paper will be handed in and I will, circuit training fashion, jog on to the next station. Sigh.

I want to watch 70’s era Saturday morning cartoons and ponder the semiotics of my televised upbringing while slurping ice-cream. I want to spend the day rambling Conroy or Bruce Pitt Park and pet dogs. I pretty much would accept going to the dentist or boning up on tax law over my assignments.

I lost 8 days of work(and much more in data) due to the fact that my computer melted down on Halloween. I attribute this entirely to the trickster gods who mind me. I attempted some magick that day, purposed to jar me from a rut. Coyote laughed his ass off and punctually stomped my computer into oblivion(seriously, within an hour of the ritual), which did indeed have the appropriate, if not desired, effect. Never let it be said that I am above tempting the gods.

Through magicks I was able to replace my existential angst surrounding school with frantic panicked measures to actually get the work done. I also had to reach out, ironically enough, to my neglected personal networks in order to re-descend into the digitally connected world. The cherry on top was that I was unable to sit in the narcotic-like fog of the internet (which for me includes all my television and music habits) and instead read many books and worked on fall yard cleanup(screw you Green Man, I hate leaves!).

For 8 days, I didn’t stay on top of weather updates, ugly world news, or hourly micro reports on the movie industry. For 8 days I didn’t trawl for books I can’t afford, didn’t troll comment areas in right wing publications and didn’t truant school for the almighty click. For 8 days, there were no LOL cats, spam or online gaming site pop-ups.

With this sabbatical to the tangible world I felt wholly renewed and experienced a transcendent moment of an angelic Freddy Mercury singing about new times.

The dangers of real world, real space, real time utopia were eventually overcome and I am comfortably sedated back in cyberspace.

I am putting off finishing this post because then it means I have to go back to schoolwork and I just can’t bear it. I can’t find any way to rationalize not working on my essay, but I am trying really hard.

There have been so many assignments that there is never a full day to sit back, breathe easy and say “I am on schedule and today is a day off”. Matters are aggravated by the idea that I will likely not be given the opportunity to use this degree in a professional capacity. More slowly and more troublingly, I am circling around the idea that I don’t think I want to use this degree in the given professions it is intended for. I can imagine being an environmental activist, or working on a farm in a small town, or even working in a bookstore and writing freelance. But I can’t imagine being a planner in a society that thinks of megacities as inevitable and insists on the nihilistic masturbation that is “sustainable growth”. I can’t imagine working for Stats Can when we can only compile reports that support dominant paradigms, or going on to graduate studies for the same reasons. I think working for Natural Resources would be equally maddening-we control 80% of earth’s mining and just quashed a bill that made gentle non-mandatory gestures toward international social and environmental accountability. Canada—a nation of malevolent dwarves.

I’m putting off ending this post because what I really need is to commune, to ‘hang out’, to span some time with people, with friends. The last thing I need is to continue pouring over articles with a highlighter, composing arguments that I don’t believe but that support the data. I noticed, researching, that when an indexed article doesn’t fit a given dominant paradigm it often hasn’t been uploaded to an online database. Makes you wonder what isn’t even indexed? Maybe I am paranoid, but its spookily common.

More and more often I find, if I use the language and frameworks that I am taught in school, and I use the data sources that are sanctioned, I am unable to say what I want and need to say. Often I can only say the polar opposite of what I mean. Eat your fucking heart out George Orwell. When I am trying to write my papers for the marks, and feeling acid burn in my tummy, I think of a line one of the characters in the TV show Treme was always saying: a horn player, scraping by from gig to gig, rarely playing what he wants to play; he always looks over slyly at a bandmate and says “play for that fuckin’ money”. He doesn’t say it bitterly or ironically, it’s just a bemused rally.

I seem to be running low on energy to play for that fuckin’ money. And I don’t get money, I pay for the privilege.

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