There’s a word for finding no joy in things that used to excite you, and it is this. I got an assignment earlier this year to fill up a section of an encyclopedia with all my research on Philippine fashion, and that was fun for a while. By “a while” I mean for the time between getting the assignment and actually having to buckle down and write it. There were a few entries about artists thrown in, and I got those out of the way soon enough, but with the ones about fashion, I find myself face-to-face with the proverbial block–which makes very little sense, considering I’m paid to talk about this for a living, four times a week, two-three hours each session.
Anyone who’s tried talking for two hours straight would be familiar with how much it takes out of you; but it adds to you as well, and over the years, it has gotten easier. Much easier. In pinpointing the difficulty with actually writing about it, the easy answer is exhaustion. The other, less attractive possibility is depression. I’ll go with exhaustion because depression is, well, depressing.
I’ve been writing for six years, but only began taking long form assignments in 2010. When Jaton, Paolo, Marla, and I set up New Slang, I think I had the least experience when it came to writing, with Marla having done work for Status and Jaton being an Iowa alumnus.
But since then, I haven’t really done much else besides write and teach, and in four years I’ve gone from a silly piece about a Japanese band I sort of liked to a monograph about a nationalistic public art project. And now there’s this encyclopedia, which I boot up my computer to work on every morning, only to go to bed 14 hours later, after watching the cursor blink back at me for fourteen hours.
It’s not that bad. I have notes. Which is almost as good as having nothing, because no editor in their right mind would take these notes.
I don’t know what I’m worrying about though. Last I checked, both my editor and my potential thesis adviser were busy wrestling with their own demons, of the internal and external variety, so there is that comfort in knowing that everything else in the world is just humming along at its own pace. I can still give things time.
And that’s where 2013 went – to this deceptively mundane process of opening and closing assignments and word files and giving them time to simmer. This was the year I learned to double then quadruple the usual word counts and do legwork for assignments in a milieu that would might as well exist in a universe separate from the one I inhabit as a teacher.
One of the more bittersweet moments from this year came from an older colleague at my department. “I read your blog and I like how your mind works,” she said, the gist of what followed was “but you really have to step back and reflect on what you’re leaving behind. I’ve been in your position, but then I see my students, and I know I can’t get this kind of fulfillment doing anything else.”
Which is: of course. Of course. And there are so many cheap ways to use “of course”, so many ways to inscribe meaning or value and misconstrue it as universal. Instead, I’ll just say “Yes,” as in, “Yes, these are great kids.”
And, “Yes, this is a fulfilling job.” And it’s not easy. It was first offered as what sounded like a joke when I was still an undergraduate, talking about my thesis on visual culture, that no one from my department was keen on handling. I was complaining (as I always do, because I’m the complainer, the negatron) that the role of the visual was unfairly ignored, and that my department’s bland reception of my thesis was a striking example of that. To which my adviser answered, “Well, you can teach it.”
Less than a year later, I got my chance to do so. Four years later, I still feel like I’m doing so in the wrong department, and I have never felt this tired: the impossibility of cloning myself or splitting myself in half to do what is needed for grad school alongside what is needed for teaching only foregrounds the need to choose.
And I’ve made a choice. What I’ve been putting off though is actually putting that choice in writing. Through channels.
This is the thing about government appointments – wherein we do get to talk about nobility and politicking and corruption, but there’s very little in terms of that vast expanse of everyday activity in between, what Boltanski calls “the bureaucracy of everyday life”. It all seems so harmless until you let a blinking cursor countdown the seconds, then the hours; until the three months you were given to your deadline are up, followed by damage control: another cursor blinking out a letter saying you are sorry, but this is the choice you’ve made.
There’s a reason every attempt I’ve made to write about fashion has ended up sounding like this.
Really, I can’t wait for 2014.
On another note: Christmas!
Yay! Christmas!…What a great time to want absolutely nothing!
I began this entry with the original intention of drafting a wishlist, and came up with zilch. I have my rent set aside and had all my car repairs done. And while shopping for my parents, realized that adulthood is very boring but also very fun. It’s nice to have the resources to buy what you need, and whittle down the lists of things you like, down to things you want, and down to things you can fit in a studio apartment, until it finally adds up to nothing. I bought a couple of prints and paintings earlier this year, so my walls are just as full as my floors. And when that’s done, you’re left with what you can carry, and the inquiries from your inner pessimist that “this might be another symptom of the clinical D’s”.
But nope, it isn’t. Maybe what I want is a larger apartment so I can fit more crap on my walls and my floors and buy some true signifiers of maturity, like a cat-proof Noguchi coffee table. This also means I can have more cats (!!!)!!!
None of this makes sense at the end of the day–at the literal end of the literal day, when you have to clean up after yourself and your cats.