Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Potentially Ephemeral

photo of the author's office in 2004 after he published the annual catalog
Tuesday morning we had an annual wrap breakfast meeting for the division in which I work at MRU, the major research university where I turn pirouettes in exchange for a sack of tutus delivered to my bank account twice monthly. Naturally there is a grim mood everywhere, and our division had its share of cuts and layoffs. But we soldier on ... I think I see a lot of that in higher education, soldiering on. Until that layoff actually knocks at your front door ... think grim reaper ... my job is to make the most of it, to rise to the challenge, to continue to shape my job.

Work is so utterly different now than it was when I first entered the work force in the 60s as a teenaged convenience store gnome. We all know that. Nowadays, very few jobs worth having are stable; there is constant change and pressure not just to grow and learn, but to move and re-orient, and most importantly to re-invent. Notwithstanding the stress and nerves, I really enjoy that part. I am not particularly adept at letting go, but I hold my breath and do it when necessary, and most often whenever I have let go of something at work, a week or a month later I can only wonder why I had an issue with it. You just have to roll, and when you don't feel like rolling, roll anyway and pretend its okay ... soon enough it will be okay.

The other aspect of modern work that drives us mad is that the workload constantly increases. It is like a giant snow-shoveling operation in which you keep pushing the stuff ahead of you. Yeah, I get a lot done, but I spend too much time managing the things I do not yet have time to do. Even that provides an opportunity ... the opportunity to play with new technology in search of better ways to stay ahead of the work that new technology produces.

A few weeks ago, facing the reality that even work that seems so solid is in fact potentially ephemeral ... I'll come back to that phrase ... I decided that a change is as good as a rest, and I resolved to ante-up the fashion statement. Since then, I have started to wear dress pants, dress shirts, and dress shoes. I always wear a tie to a meeting, which means a tie pretty much every day. Why? It just seemed like the right way to make a statement that I understand that I am committed to this work thing, notwithstanding that life as a gentleman farmer would be so much less stressful.

And, yes, I know that "potentially ephemeral" is an abomination of a phrase ... because the potential might only be exhausted long after the ephemeral had evaporated. But I wrote it, and blogging is about spitting it out, and I like it ... and it stays. Besides, work really is potentially ephemeral because once the ephemeral, the quotidien, is gone, so is the potential. That is how modern work differs ... before, jobs could go on and on relatively unchanged for decades. They were potentially immutable. Immutability dissolved into ephemerality at some point, and we hardly noticed. We were too busy flitting from one thing to another.

BTW, don't get me wrong. I love my job. It is the perfect job for me. I do really well. I do wish I had more power, I certainly wish I made more money. I wish I were 6 feet tall. But it is all pretty damn good. Certainly a hell of lot better than the alternative.

I guess that alternative would be the realized ephemeral, and that would be the grim reaper.

I meant to ramble on about something totally unconnected with what I have written ... but I'm going with this. I meant to think about stress and avoiding becoming an old scold. Oh well, there's another post in the closet ready to be dragged out when nothing else occurs to me.

photo of a sanstaone architectural detail at the university at which the author works
Top photo by my staff the day after I pulled an all-nighter to get the catalog to press in 2004. Bottom photo by Arod of an architectural detail from MRU, the major research university where I wander around with my digital camera taking pictures of architectural details.

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