Quotation of the Week: Mark Athitakis

Sometime last week, Mark Athitakis posted a series of tweets concerning the popular Xtranormal videos that have been making their way around the Internet. You’ve probably seen at least one of these creations, examples of which are “Can You Help Me Get Published?”, “So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities?“, and  “So You Want to Be a Historian?”. (There are more, but let’s just say that between my own academic and professional training and the resulting group of friends and colleagues I’ve acquired along the way, these three really caught my attention.)

I’ll admit: These videos, with their focus on the trials and tribulations endured within certain professions, have made me laugh. Sometimes, they’ve made me laugh a lot.

But. Still. The animation, stilted “voices,” and exaggeration have something to do with that. In real life, I have to admit that I also agree with Athitakis, whose tweets suggested a certain impatience with the “So You Want to Be” clips.

One example: “‘People need to hear my insights about how the profession they aspire to is a grind.’ Oh, grow up. Every profession has its headaches.”

Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the privilege already embedded within these professions. I’m sure that my grandparents, for example, whose work histories were far less “professional,” could never have created this sort of video, in part because they were too busy working (typically with lengthy commutes attached) to do so.

But in a larger sense, Athitakis made resonant points. Maybe it was the timing of his tweets, which came just as many of the aforementioned friends and colleagues were sighing and complaining, virtually and persistently, about all the grading they had to do (primarily within relatively small writing courses and workshops–I exempt from my impatience anyone with a full/heavy course load, and/or classes that are way too large, but some of these folks are teaching two courses/sections, with at most 15 or 16 students each). About how, even in the happy days of “winter break,” it’s so difficult to work out five times a week. Or, among the freelance set, about all the caffeine they’ve had to ingest while sitting at home, toasty in their thermal knitwear, meeting freelance deadlines.

I have to say, reading all of the griping—early in the morning before heading outside to go to an office where I’m expected to show up by nine and not leave before five, five days each week, twelve months each year—can get annoying. Reading it during lunch or late in the day is no better.  (No, just because I work for a university does not mean that my office closes down for half of December or January, or even a week during that time, or for the summer.)

Yes, I’ve been in other shoes. I know that grading can be a drag (worse: fielding student complaints about those grades). I know that it takes discipline to exercise (but oh, how much easier it was to keep to a regime when one didn’t have to hike over to the gym in the dark, freezing dawn, or the dark, freezing evening). I know that freelancing has its frustrations.

But how amazing it is to me, how many people seem to be making the same complaints, round the clock, no matter what the season.

Especially when one stops to realize this: They’re all, in fact, quite lucky! Supposedly, they’re doing what they wanted to do! What they trained to do. And, let’s face it, these professions are not exactly back-breaking or (usually) dignity-wounding.

For my part, I try to keep the complaining to a minimum. Yes, I did vent a bit about an especially crazy day at my office early last week. Yes, if you get me started in a conversation, I’ll give you a million excuses why I am not exercising much these days (mainly, I hate exercising when it isn’t daylight, and except for weekends, daylight isn’t in the cards right now for someone with my schedule living where I live).

But I know how lucky I am to have a job, to be able to deploy skills and interests productively, and to be putting food on the table in my own home.

“Every profession has its headaches.” Writers and professors hold no monopoly. Indeed. Thank you for the reminder, Mark Athitakis.