For the second year in a row, I find myself outside of the United States for the Thanksgiving holiday. Feeling that you should be celebrating something that doesn’t register to anyone around you is a strange experience. Here in Paris, today is just another Thursday. There is no scent of roasting turkey, nor aroma of cinnamonny pumpkin pie wafting through the halls of the building where I have rented a studio, and there is no run on cranberries at the grocer. I did not cook an elaborate meal. Apart from picking up my favorite food–potato chips–an extra large beer, and a dessert I have been eyeing for weeks at my corner patisserie, I hadn’t planned on marking the day in any special way. But, as I smoked a cigarette while gazing down at the busy Rue Bobillot last night, I realized I have a lot to be thankful for this year, and I wanted to take the time, absent a feast and holiday cocktails, to express that. Here goes.
“By changing the world and changing our lives we transform ourselves.” –Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels
While in Amsterdam in September I picked up a recent issue of the International Communist Current, which features a celebration of the 140th anniversary of the Paris Commune. Despite my affinity for Marx and his legacy, I knew nothing of this brief period when the working classes and political radicals of Paris ousted the ruling government from the city, and ruled with a grassroots model for a couple of months. A bit of research into the founding, short duration, and goals of the Commune revealed once again that despite how much things seem to change, they remain mostly the same, particularly where power is concerned. One hundred and forty years later, Occupy Wall Street, now a globally dispersed movement of assembly and resistance to wealth inequality, is premised on many of the same ideals of the Paris Commune, as have been most successful and attempted political revolutions that came before and after it.
Dust, dirt, and hair. This is what I saw as I stood over and looked into the bathtub in the flat I stayed in on the morning of my first full day in London. I did not have time to waste. I was scheduled to deliver a talk on my research later that afternoon, and was in haste to leave the flat for the day. But, there I stood, paralyzed by a collection of barely noticeable reminders of the human occupant of the flat. I wrinkled my nose and pursed my lips as I contemplated the situation.
On Thursday I visited Highgate Cemetery in London to spend some time reflecting on the philosophy of Karl Marx. The celebrated Prussian thinker is buried there; in fact, his is the most visited grave at the site, according to the cemetery guide. I arrived there seeking inspiration, and with the intent of writing about my own philosophy. However, as I stood at his grave, I was overcome with emotion, and with the undeniable urge to appeal to Marx for guidance. So, I did.
Up until about a year ago, I imagined that when I completed my doctorate in sociology I would become a professor. At that point, I had been in graduate school for six years at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and I was a year shy of finishing my dissertation, and attaining the degree. I had excelled in my program and fit the mold of a successful academic well. I had earned high honors on my Master’s thesis, had presented my research to enthusiastic audiences at conferences across the United States and beyond its borders, and had enjoyed the success of having my research published in an academic journal early in my career. I loved teaching and seemed good at it. My academic advisors encouraged and championed me. I had been groomed for the job.
But as this year wore on, and I wrote, revised, and completed my dissertation, I found myself straying from the well-worn path of the academic. The question, “Are you on the market?” (as in, the academic job market) made my stomach turn. Not because of nerves or fear of not finding a job, like many experience, but because I felt strongly that I did not want to be on the job market. In fact, I found myself repelled by the thought of it. When I tried to envision myself applying for full-time professor jobs, I just couldn’t see it. The thought of going to whatever institution would have me (this is the way, in academia), and settling into the routine of stable, rooted adulthood that one is supposed to strive for pushed me with visceral force out of this trajectory.