Dem Horny Beaches and The Decline and Fall of Work

Or, How not to give a graduation speech


Raoul Vaneigem, The Decline and Fall of Work, also here

We’re not going to talk about anything remotely horny or even beach-like. First of all, I do not have abs and will not go near anything that requires me to bare anything below my collarbone. And I’m sorry, now you will have to unsee any mental images that were formed alongside the reading of that sentence. We really have to be more stringent about who gets to enjoy what, like how beaches should be for people who have abs and making babies should be for people who can read good.

Instead, we will talk about graduation. In my career as a teacher, I’ve been to three graduation ceremonies – marshaled at two, stage managed one (kind of). None among these three ceremonies was my own. Maybe one of these days, I’ll demand that my name be chucked into some hastily prepared powerpoint presentation, just so I can have the privilege of climbing onto a stage and shaking hands with my college’s dean and my professors, to show my parents that I’m capable of accomplishing important things – like college. The truth is I was barely there for my college life – which is a bleak admission to make, especially for someone who teaches at the very same college.

This isn’t one of those smug laments about feeling I was above going to school or working hard or whatever, call it what you will. I really wanted to go to UP, and when it came to the course I finished, I really did not have any other options – at least none that I could afford and would allow me to stay in Manila. I wanted to go to fashion school not because I liked fashion, but I wanted to understand how a concept like fashion could even thrive in the Philippines. It also helped that my grandmother taught me to sew when I was 8, and by the time I was 18, I’d become *pretty good* at it. At least good enough to not have to try too hard.

I don’t know about trying too hard. I don’t even know about trying. I felt let down and spent most of the time just showing up (or not at all) without really committing to the task at hand, which is something I have trouble reconciling with my feelings about my own students sometimes not showing up for the classes I’m now teaching.

The rest of the time, I worked; not at school, but at other things. I figured if school was going to be a place where I just dicked around, I’d might as well keep up with this illusion of being very, very challenged by the years I would spend in its hallowed halls. I made myself very, very tired by taking classes I didn’t need and saying yes to jobs because I wanted the money. I knew what I would do with it, so the only thing left to do was figure out how to make it.

I took a lot of shitty jobs, but they were jobs. I learned to get along with people I would have otherwise not wanted anything to do with, until it became clear a year after graduation that I didn’t have to do this. I split my earnings and spent half on plane ticket using my mom’s employee discount, then put up an ad on Global Freeloaders for a place to stay. I wanted to travel. (I also wanted to go back to school and really learn something; but until I figured out this problem of not knowing what to do with my life after giving up on work and finishing school, I just had to get as far away from it as possible.)

Years later, a boy would put an arm around my waist and I would jump and punch him in the face. “You’d sleep at a stranger’s house, but you wouldn’t let me touch you?” was his reply, and I didn’t say anything because this was the same guy who said he had “priorities,” meaning a daughter who was in preschool and a car that needed repairs. Touch, in that sense, was a linear arc leading up to the very same priorities. Of course he deserved to get punched in the face.

Graduation is about those priorities, about the opportunity to confront the pressing matters surrounding what the hell you’re going to do with your life after college–given that you even got to go to college, in which case, lucky you. You had access to the best libraries in the country and chances to sit in on the lectures of very smart human beings, but unless you knew then what all that meant, it’s just an entry in your resume. This assumes is we know what college is for, and every graduation speech paints it as if it’s a step towards changing the world. What we don’t talk about is how any college, no matter where you are in the world, is bound to produce maybe 1 success story among 100 different stories of failure. Or mediocrity. Same deal, I guess. The statistics are not so far off.

How on earth do you reconcile that with the idea of college as a beacon? Or as anything less than a golden ticket? If the truth is college is just resume filler until you figure out what comes after, then what the hell are you even doing at the finish line? At every job I applied for, I asked if there would be travel. I should have asked if there would be writing, because that was all I was doing on top of what I had to do for school. Now I’m writing about something that’s just veered so far off from what I’m teaching, that I’d might as well be two separate people. And I’m tired. Not tired of it, I love my job. Just tired, period.

I wouldn’t have it any other way, though.

I’m proud of having gone to UP. It’s a community I’m still happy to be a part of, but this is something I’ve had to reconcile with the fact that I skipped my last semester without anyone really noticing after I answered a call to work as a trade analyst, filling out data for textile shipments to Indonesia (where I’m going right now, coincidentally). This may have been a distraction from what had, by then, devolved into my futile pursuit of nothing: because of it, I only worked on my thesis at night (I chose to do a thesis on storefronts for this reason); met up with my adviser only when she’d realize I’d all but gone missing, and took advantage of the fact that for the only class I had to show up for, my professor would be abroad. I texted one of my profs about the details the morning before, and she asked if I already had the invitations and the program. Oops.

And I sincerely felt bad about it. But at the same time, had no idea what to do with myself through that kind of ceremony. I didn’t know what was next. I was getting drunk by spiking my coffee WHILE AT work. I didn’t even have a dress. The only graduation I saw any appeal in was my eventual resignation from that trade analyst route, because that job was fucking awful. I wanted another job, or another way out at least. So instead, I spent the day at the pier, with my dad. Instead of a dress, I bought a sewing machine.

So what is it, then. Do we stop telling graduates that the hope of the world is in their hands? It’s such a lovely and inspiring message, but there is the possibility of being misguided by inspiration. I should know. I went to design school.

Advertisements

Author: alicesarmiento

San Juan, Metro Manila

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s