Burnout

These highlights and notes are taken from Josh  Cohen’s article in The Economist, “Minds Turned to Ash”. I was moved by the piece.  I want you to read the piece. This is probably 80% stolen, but it’s 100% translated.

What I am trying to do is translate this into a poem, to do some emotional summing up that does justice to the undertow of feeling that characterizes ‘burnout’.

Do not mistake me for the character in the poem. I have felt ‘burnouty’ at times but have always avoided becoming a noun. The original essay made me feel.  It was in an unexpected place, The Economist.  It caught me off guard.  The work is derivative but also original.  Go out and rip off an article. Make it yours by making it a poem.  It feels very real to me.  A translation into a reality I have not fully owned. I feel like I do now.

Burnout

1.

In my dream

I was a shambling

listless

only child

of a quarrelsome marriage

and fated from the gitgo

to be slotted into a rolehole 

on autopilot

sunk in strange reveries

yearning to go home 

and sleep.

The 5.30am alarm went off.

 

I looked down. 

My shirt was drenched in sweat.

I switched it off

and lay there, 

staring at the wall, 

certain only that I

wouldn’t 

be going 

to work.

 

2. 

Flashforward.

Three months.

 

I am an inertial heap

doing nothing, 

seeing noone,

glassy-eyed

on the sofa

at the end of a long

urge to shut down

tugged by the edge

of ever longer to-do lists,

unread messages,

missed calls,

and sullen inertial plateaus

radiating a repulsive force

mishaptically vibrating 

Will I have to do anything ever again?

Why,

I plead

Why? 

I have to do this?

I have to burn out?

I  find myself a zombie

taken over by this internal protest against all,

assailing and assailed,

exhausted,

yearning 

for

completion,

tormented by

that thing which cannot be attained.

I have “come to the end of desire”

and endured

this state of weary indifference,

this wish for the world to disappear,

sans any feelings,

knowing the world’s demands are awaiting me, 

knowing the world will wait me out. 

I have exhausted all my inner resources

and cannot free myself.

Life won’t stop bothering me.

Life. Leave me the fuck alone. 

3.

Symptoms:

Just nervous compulsion left,

an irritable stasis,

that bloody nothing same-itude is all that’s left, 

a teen tortured by infinite Snapchat,

a child burnt by curriculum unto death,

a women spent by having it all.

Me. This.No time for anyone.

Melancholia. 

World-weariness.

Ecclesiastical ‘vanity’. 

Acedia.

Neurasthenia

Fin-de-siècle

exhaustion and innervation 

converging

with chronic overwork.

Insomnia. 

Alcoholism. 

An eating disorder.

No respite from the job.

No walk in the country.

No week on the beach.

No sense of relief.

“Stalked” by that job

as work insinuates itself,

burrows into every corner

of every spare hour stolen to read a novel

or walk the dog 

or eat with my family.

Work contaminating every stray thought with looming deadlines.

Even during sleep.

No relent.

Even being mindful 

is just another task 

just another 

chummy

backslapping

bantering and 

paintballing away of the days

of breakout rooms and bouncy castles

where the lines between work and leisure,

are simply blurred. 

And so much worse. 

My job wants it all 

with no physical or mental metes or bounds, 

the workplace chained tight to me,

Prometheus, bound by dueling dominatrices of email and Facebook.

 

4.

 I am in the psychitrist’s anteroom, a pre-Hell,

where my self is defined  by

an unremiittent wail of 

alerts

apps

likes, 

retweets, 

uploads, 

subscribes

and buys.

It’s a culture without an off switch

driven not by guilt and obedience, 

no,

driven by what we want,

cursed by what we want 

even if what we want is a more proscriptive world, 

one which screams at us that we can’t have everything

because where the hell would you put it?

Choose to be a chimney sweep and you can’t be a concert pianist.  

Instead

In this inner circle of attainment society, 

we get to decide 

between 22 nearly identical brands of yoghurt. 

Fuck that.

Now I don’t even have that false dichotomy. 

“Have. It. All.” 

as you know, 

is no choice at all. 

 

5. 

A sudden, unexpected feeling, like a cloud shadow, 

sweeps over me

The life I live isn’t the life for me.

That old life is oddly inert

a paradox

of lifeless slotting-in

and a genuine force of habit,

an inertia which will not make a fresh choice,

never bothering to question what I’m been told.

I want to get up tomorrow, 

get back in the gym, 

find a new job, 

see people again.

I don’t want to be a loser.

And even as I say I’m gonna do all this, 

some voice in me says, 

‘No I’m not, no way am I doing that.”

Not depressed. Not relieved. 

And that leaves me… crazy.

My own desire is like a wasting muscle

My only job is to nurture it 

to train it to entertain simple choices

yet the longer I wait for this magical event

the more I’m not living my life,

that sad, “only one I’ve got” life

that exhausted,

emptied,

retreated into,

hydra-headed, 

compulsive

filled with chronic insomnia, 

yearning for the opposite,

going home and sleeping, 

waking only for stretches of blissfully catatonic inactivity over uninterrupted, featureless weeks,

frozen by the suspicion there was always something else to choose,

shackled by the incapacity to choose at all,

burnout life

 

6.

 Burnout is not just a symptom of working too hard.

It is a soul crying out

for a space freed 

from the incessant expectations

of targets to be met 

and achievements to be crossed off.

It is a soul crying out 

for a space 

where it can

find

its 

own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epiphany: C. Wright Mills Sociological Imagination Is Also a Pedagogical One

In my title I suggest that Mills’ appeal might also be part of the pedagogical imagination as well.  More and more I feel like an anthropologist in my classroom.

For example, having read 54 summaries over a very challenging article by Jonathan Haidt, I had one extremely powerful insight.  And I only had that insight because I had a set of 30 minute conferences as well.

I am so lacking in sociological and pedagogical imagination that it only became clear to me after the dust settled that students ignore what they don’t understand.  It is gobsmackingly obvious now.  Let me elaborate.

One of the essential concepts Haidt discusses in his article is the “culture of victimhood”.  None of my students made the leap of understanding that connected this concept with an earlier one from the article, “concept creep”.  Part of the problem is that Haidt’s explanation of the connection is unclear, perhaps an expert’s failure to be aware of who his audience is, but for whatever reason my students didn’t get it.

So what did they do? Either they slided over it quickly or they ignored it.  Most ignored it.  To be clear: if his argument is a door, the idea of a culture of victimhood is the hinge.

Ignored it.  I need to keep Mills’ guidelines close at hand and I need a notebook where I contemplate them on a daily basis.  I need to exercise my pedagogical imagination so that I can be active in unearthing the blindspots in my teaching practice.

All texts are problematic.  For some of my students much more than others.  If I know this before I assign the reading and if I use my imagination and anticipate (perhaps hypothesize is a better word) these cognitive choke points, then I can prepare for them.  I know this will be imperfect, but at least I stand a better chance of knowing the ‘why’ of my students’ learning struggles.

The late New Zealand researcher Graham Nuthall pinned this problem down with clarity AND imagination:

There is a potential problem with ideas and models about how to teach. In most cases there is a description of what to do and how to do it, but no description of why it might work. There is no explanation of the underlying learning principles on which the methods or resources have been constructed. The result is that teachers are constantly being encouraged to try out new ideas or new methods without understand how they might be affecting student learning. It’s like being told how to drive a car without being given any understanding of how the car and its engine work.  This is fine until some emergency occurs–the engine makes a strange noise, the car won’t start, or the driving conditions become dangerous.  Unless you have a good understanding of how the technique is supposed to effect student learning, your adaptations can only be trial and error. (Nuthall 14)

I have to acknowledge that while I understand that there is research on the power of summary writing in learning, I am uncertain how that skill is supposed to effect my students’ learning.  The little discovery about how students ignore what they don’t understand is a small opening into that black box of learning.

Pumping Up the Text with Moves and Music

I wanted to read this text closely and interact some, too, because it is seems so slickly abstract, so smooth. Credos and manifestos should not be so cool.

This lacks heat:

Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing

This is a little warmer:

And this is warmest of all (with a little tweak of the nose on the last slide):

And this makes it interactive:

And here is a hypothes.is link where it can also be interactive.

I have been reading about an idea called “cognitive accessibility”. Alastair Somerville has been doing workshops on this and has a couple of fascinating articles here and here.

I am just floundering around here in the shallow seas of my understanding here, but I was hoping that my own efforts to “warm up” the text might be a way to make this very dry credo more accessible. I know it is very frail, but it is my own and I am trying. Maybe you would like to consider, too, making all your text a bit more cognitively accessible.