Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain

The rain it raineth every day in northwest Oregon this time of year. And when it’s not raining, there is no sun. All is gray and ominous, dim enough that you need the lights on in the house to make a cup of tea or read a book or navigate the hallway. Out of doors lichen sheathes the branches and beards the rocks. Moss conquers sidewalks, the lawn, the front steps, chimneys, and rooftops. In the little seam that runs around my car’s windows moss grows too.

If I’m not posting often these days that’s because my boss has left the company and now I’m doing more work than I care to. I have made it clear to my boss’s boss, however, that I am not angling for a promotion. God help me, no. I enjoy my work and am grateful for my job, but I have no ambitions in that direction. Or, really, in any direction – though I do sometimes think I’d like to learn how to bake bread.

If I could do it all over again – education and career, I mean – I would skip the bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. My professors believed in Western civilization and the canon, for which I’m grateful, but academic instruction in the humanities can’t take you anywhere worth going that reading on your own can’t also take you. The future of the traditional humanities must belong to the amateurs, or to no one at all.

No, I would join the Navy, I think. Then, after a few years, I would go to school to study biology (ornithology or entomology), or perhaps forestry. I’d work, if I could land a job, for the US Forest Service or the National Parks Department. That would be a life. But I don’t really regret anything. Life is what it is, and then you die. The really important stuff is there, all around you, regardless. And good books are for everyone, and not hard to find.

So let it come down.

7 thoughts on “Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain

  1. “The future of the traditional humanities must belong to the amateurs, or to no one at all.” I’m always glad to hear my opinions validated.

    I only dabbled in community college for a few years while attempting to be a musician, so I’ve had to accumulate a humanities education in mismatched pieces acquired here and there. Sometimes I allow myself to imagine life in an an alternative universe where I became a teaching professor at a small liberal-arts college somewhere, but I can’t really have any complaints about an autodidact’s life. Most of my English-major friends seem unhappy with how things have turned out. They imagined themselves writing important novels, and they find themselves working menial jobs, or churning out press releases or ad copy. Between two friends of mine, there are at least six abandoned blogs floating around out there like ghost ships, mysteriously abandoned shortly after launch with no signs of struggle. Both of them are officially well-educated and driven to be serious writers. Both of them struggle to write regularly and frequently seem despondent over what they do produce, as well as the lack of any foreseeable future for it in the marketplace. The identity of being a writer-with-a-capital-W seems to be a heavy burden on their shoulders; the glass always seems half-empty. I, on the other hand, had no pretensions or expectations at all, and I still enjoy the sort of lower-case-w writing I do. It’s almost enough to give a fellow survivor’s guilt.

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    1. “Churning out press releases…” Wow, yes, that’s me. I used to agonize over being a “writer” in my twenties and early thirties, but I really don’t care any more. And I’m happier for not caring. Two of my college friends went on to be English professors (one published a series of fantasy novels). A few more became high school teachers (I nearly did too). But I’m dismayed at how little most of them manage to read. One of the most hyper-literary of us told me in confidence that she hadn’t read a single book in ten years.

      Much as I love the humanities, most academic instruction in the humanities is a crock. And, frankly, this was true even before the post-modernist/progressive nonsense came along. People cry about the falling numbers of English majors these days, but I do not. Love books, by all means, but study something else for God’s sake. My kids, for example, are voracious readers – and they have good taste in books. But I would never encourage them to pursue a humanities “discipline” in college. I would strongly discourage it.

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    2. Addendum to my previous reply…

      For that matter, if my kids found a path for themselves that didn’t involve going to college at all, well, more power to them. Maybe they’d preserve some sanity and common sense that way. For most people, higher education is a racket. It encourages hubris and groupthink, feeds inflation, and contributes to the despicable over-professionalization of work in general. Rather than proposing that everyone get a free college education, our politicians should be out there preaching that fewer people should go to college in the first place, and that we should re-learn as a society to value the trades.

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  2. Arts & Letters Daily and Micah Mattix both linked to this piece in The Point this morning. I haven’t had a chance yet to read the whole thing, but it seems to be germane here. I don’t remember the precise quotation, or which of his books it was in, but Eric Hoffer wrote about how much social upheaval had been caused by the higher-education explosion in response to Sputnik. Too many over-educated nobodies felt entitled to become somebodies and ended up being embittered busybodies. The Internet has so many struggling and/or failed writers standing around forlornly at the end of every URL off-ramp that it’s no wonder so many of them are attracted to writing-as-airing-of-grievances. Sites like LitHub, the Rumpus, and the Millions are almost unreadable to me with that whole narcissistic, social-justice, MFA-graduate house style they have.

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    1. Hoffer was a wise man. I’d never heard about Sputnik being a spur to greater enrollment in higher education, but I suppose I see how that could be so. And, yes, I flagged that article too but haven’t read it yet.

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  3. Found it. It was in Before the Sabbath:

    “To begin with, the 1960s did not begin in 1960. They started in 1957. A bell rings in my mind every time I hear the date 1957 mentioned. On October 4, 1957, the Russians placed a medicine-ball-sized satellite in orbit. It needs an effort to remember how stunned we were when we discovered that the clodhopping Russians were technologically ahead of us, and that we would have to catch up with them. We reacted hysterically. We set out to produce scientists and technologists wholesale by shoveling billions into the universities. And where the billions went there went also millions of persons who were not primarily interested in learning but wanted a piece of the action. Thus Khrushchev’s Sputnik toy brought about a change in the tilt of America’s social landscape from the marketplace to the universities. After October 1957, many young people who would normally have gone into business ended up climbing academic ladders and throwing their weight around in literary and artistic cliques from Manhattan to Berkeley, California. It was to be expected that the potential business tycoons would feel ill at ease on the campus. Where was the action? The universities seemed to them a bloated, sluggish giant cut off from the stream of life. They were going to wake up the academic world and turn the university into an instrument of power. They were going to make history, which is an acceptable substitute for making and losing millions. It was these misplaced tycoons who set the tone and shaped events in the 1960s.”

    In The Ordeal of Change, he also had this quip:

    “Nothing is so unsettling to a social order as the presence of a mass of scribes without suitable employment and an acknowledged status.”

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