I’m procrastinating from job applications *and* from marking. They’re both pressing. Both have deadlines, although the latter’s are softer than the former’s. I was wondering why I procrastinate from writing the job letter, when I am actually excited by the prospect of these two jobs I’m applying for this week, whose deadline is next week (they require mailed applications, so that effectively means the deadline is this week!). And it hit me: it’s exactly because of this excitement that I have trouble bringing myself to write the job letter. You see, until the moment I’ve committed myself in writing, the possibilities are still open, and my imagination can fly through the streets of the wonderful cities the universities inhabit, and I can wander along with it on the walk of my dreams, to the permanent place of work, where I can finally settle into my exciting new research project, and my teaching gig.
And that’s exactly where that cruelty lies: in the hopes and imaginings and exuberances preceding the writing of the letter, but constitutive of the conditions of possibility for its emergence. I simply have to be excited for a job that I apply for, not only for the mercenary reason of conveying it in a letter, but for the reality of having to move my family to a new location. I have to be able to imagine my kids growing up in that place, and I have to love it for this possibility. This is the reason why I cannot apply for jobs in the States: I just cannot see myself fighting the swelling tide of conservatism there. It’s not where I’d like my kids to grow up.
So, I’m stealing time to write this post instead of writing the letter. Because talking to you about the possibilities allows me to prolong the dream, the fantasy, the desire, all intact. It’s not that they fade once I write myself down. On the contrary, they increase. Especially after I’ve mailed the application, I find myself day-dreaming even more about what it would be like to live there, to work there, to walk into that library with my laptop for a full day of research without the burden of job applications. Yes, I know other responsibilities ensue once one has attained the dream of a permanent position. I’ve held permanent job situations before, and their demands were exciting, not excruciating. No job one likes can compare to a limited-time situation or the job-market precariousness.
“A relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing. It might involve food, or a kind of love; it might be a *fantasy of the good life*, or a political project” (1), Lauren Berlant writes in her latest book , Cruel Optimism. She goes on to explain
Whatever the experience of optimism is in particular, then, the affective structure of an optimistic attachement involves a sustaining inclination to return to the scene of fantasy that enables you to expect that this time, nearness to this thing will help you or a world to become different in just the right way.
Yes, it’s this return that I want to keep open, so my optimism doesn’t die. In procrastinating, my attachment grows, my desire lingers, and my fantasy flourishes without being checked by the cruelty of the fact these applications are eating away at me, as they are at everyone who’s unfortunate enough to be on the job market. Any kind of job market. The question is, is my desired outcome, my fantasy of good life–the academic job–an instance of cruel optimism in itself? Or should I start looking for something else, something less cruel, less demoralizing in its process of attainment, less soul-crushing? My own answer: I’m giving it this year. That’s all I can take and still remain the human being that I want to be, the human being that I want my kids to see.
I’d love to hear your answers.