I’m tired tonight. I was tired last night, too, and when someone came by my room and asked me how I was, I told him, “I’m tired.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
It’s probably the most common dialogue we have on campus. When our paths intersect on the way from one classroom to the next, we trade some few small words, some moments of verbal grooming, always marked, it seems, with admissions of exhaustion. Our complaints about our workload sometimes take on a strangely competitive tone, as if I get something out of having had two hours of sleep to your three, having 12 pages to write to your 10.
Sometimes it can get to feeling pretty damn crushing. That’s about where I was earlier this week, feeling like a heavily loaded van in the mud, spinning those wheels, wearing out that engine but not going much of anywhere. Sometimes it’s really, really bad. Sometimes my email accounts feel like shackles, an especially frightening sensation when community organizing work, normally my place of joy, becomes just another set of emails to answer.
Luckily, some dear friends were having a get-together in the Finger Lakes National Forest, and I was able to join them briefly over the weekend. Forests are good for the head. Right now, I’m feeling pretty firm in my determination to make it through this semester. Then we’ll see.
Because right now I’m having a really hard time getting invested in this whole academia thing. All of my classes are in topics I’m really interested in and are taught by really talented professors, yet somehow they always end up feeling like chores.
I write about these feelings in part because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who experiences them around this time in the semester, and because I believe in storytelling as its own end. Usually, though, this is the part in the opinion column where I start turning my personal experiences into broad universal claims, in some noble journalistic attempt to present an internally coherent and defensible viewpoint on a matter of great public interest.
And yeah, I could do that. I could turn this into a critique of the elitism of academia, or try to demonstrate how America’s neoliberal insanity ultimately turns a liberal arts education into a doomed anachronism, or problematize the way in which the University incentivizes problematization, thus cultivating cynicism and murdering joy. Something like that. Some tidily constructed miniature thesis to be derided and scorned by the commenters on The Sun website (Handjob Steve, I’m looking at you, you brutal bastard).
I’m just so damned tired of rigor, of covering my defenses, of never letting my intellectual guard down. All this rigor is supposed to make us critical thinkers, but I can’t shake this sneaking suspicion that what it makes us is crazy people. Because there is some fundamental insanity at work here. I just can’t quite articulate it right now, because I’m too . . . damned … TIRED.
We read and we write for classes we, ourselves, chose, but we complain about the reading and writing whenever we get the chance. We lose ourselves in Facebook while the leading scholars in our fields lecture at the front of the room. We stay up all night consuming our wide and creative variety of crutches, then wander into each other on the Arts Quad and sigh listlessly about how tired we are.
This is the part where the column is supposed to take an uplifting turn, and I’m supposed to advise the reader to, I don’t know, spend more time in nature or to find a better balance between work and play. If a column isn’t rigorous, at the very least it should be moralistic, and give the reader little nuggets of wisdom and experience to mull over as they put down the paper and get on with the day.
But I don’t feel wise, or rigorous, or even particularly coherent tonight. I feel tired. I feel a deep rebellion, rising up from my gut, against the careful world, against this form where everything needs a robust and constructive conclusion.
I write to you tonight in a simple confession of exhaustion, the same confession you likely hear every day from your fellow academics as they stagger from one argument to the next. I wish I could offer a solution, or even a more rigorous description of the problem. But I’m too tired for that shit.
Tom Moore is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at email@example.com. What Even Is All This? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.