Labor in Vain Road


I attended an information session yesterday aimed at incoming students – grad students – of whom I am now one. It was designed to illuminate the services available around Title IX and different protections. Now there is nothing wrong with that – in fact, there is a lot of good in telling young people that they can set boundaries and they will be supported. Boundaries whether they are personal, sexual, professional – whatever may come up during their academic career. If some of the presentations seemed to aim at an audience that was younger than the average graduate student, that was probably due to most of the these discussions being focused on incoming undergraduate students. And if some of it seemed strange to me, that’s because I’m not of this generation. So what can be learned from this, for anyone?

Yes, as TikTok and other meme generators note, once upon a time you just dealt with your issues and there wasn’t a name for everything. Now there is. Does that help? So many definitions. It definitely helps when it comes to setting personal boundaries. The things that women were supposed to just deal with, in retrospect, are extraordinary. However, ask any woman and she will tell you that right now, her ideas are repeated by men who then get the credit, that ageism and sexism are used to pass judgement on professional and intellectual ability. But thinking of these things is tiring, and while calling them out is useful, changing them is proving to be difficult. Look at the scandal in Spanish football. A man grabs a player on camera and kisses her, using his position of power to claim dominance over her and her success and her body. But then he claims she consented. It’s all on film – yet some people still believed him.

The pathways brains have been trained to take, and the desire to hold on to power and social dominance – those are tricky obstacles. I may be able to talk about trauma informed therapy and hypervigilance, but naming reactions to a sick society is only part of the battle.

So I admire the people who run the sessions when they talk about creating a community, helping each other, being there for people who need support. Creating community is something that generally America is terrible at. And I will be interested to see how my class goes. Will a group of competitive writers be able to workshop and create a place where they can freely air their attempts and listen to each other, or will it devolve into the usual scene of playing favorites and loudest voice wins and half the class silent?

Be positive, someone might say. Hell, I’m going to go to the class, right? That’s about as positive as it gets. If there are some lingering doubts and concerns, it’s not really surprising. I’m hoping to learn something. Some people have said – don’t you already have enough degrees? Not sure that’s the point of wanting to learn, although this degree could prove useful.

The thing is – can we learn from each other? Breaking down the bubbles that we all live in – expanding horizons – being open to shock and surprise. As mainstream everything drifts, some would say, careens, towards the right and towards a description of a reality that is unrecognizable to most, we need each other in order to fight back. Being gaslit everyday means that we disconnect. I need to look at the PowerPoint of different traumas and reactions for the words to use. Describing feelings shouldn’t necessarily need a dictionary, though.

You have to stand up for yourself, against the crowd if need be. Against your friends and family if need be. That’s hard. And while it’s nice to think that support and a cozy room are just streets away, it’s not always true.

So for everyone going through difficulties and feeling alone, I hope you find the words and the space that allow you to grow and heal. Trust yourself and your feelings. Don’t let the loud voices drown out the quiet voice inside yourself that you need to hear.

What matters is your journey. Don’t let them sell you a load of goods you don’t need. If they didn’t notice something important, that’s not your fault.

Ok. I’ll go to the first class. Then decide.