Sunday, January 27, 2013

Introductions, Aspirations

My favorite line so far in my online students’ self-introductions: “please ignore the bong” (in reference to one of the knick knacks in the attached self-portrait).

Less amusing: the two students so far who told me what team they’re on, but not what their majors are.  It’s an online class, so I don’t even need to know you’re on a team, because your practice/workout/game schedule won’t be interfering with your class work, right?  Right?!? 

Also, a significant percentage of my students explicitly describe their majors as a fallback path to a career, in case their band doesn’t hit the charts (and they use language I thought was really out of date, like charts, and record, and album. Is that retro-hip now?)  One woman’s statement that she’s majoring in (visual) art so she’ll have an alternative if her singing career doesn’t take off is particularly, um, interesting.  I feel like I should send them all over to Cal for fatherly advice about day jobs and night jobs and what to do when neither brings in all that much money.  Besides, have they looked out the window and noticed what the economy is doing?  (No, they’re all apparently in their basement studios making demo albums. Ah, well; more power to them; you only get to be 20 once.  I just hope they take a break now and then and do the work. Or drop before they’ve wasted all their tuition money, and driven me and the classmates who are supposed to be earning points by commenting on their nonexistent work crazy.)  


  1. I think the idea of a `day job' is a really good one, and it's a good thing they're aware they may need one. Now, somebody needs to tell your student that `visual arts' is not a day job, or she is facing many years of waiting tables. Maybe you can't do it on an individual basis, but if you have the kind of interaction with your students that includes `general advice' (I don't), discussing what really qualifies as a `day job' (brainless, nine to five, paying enough to cover the bills) is not a bad idea.

    1. I think part of the problem is that semi-decent-paying brainless, nine to five jobs are getting fewer and further between. Look what's happened to the post office. Public school teaching doesn't qualify anymore (if it ever did). And one college friend who's a semi-professional actor and a full-time municipal employee in that cheese-loving state that has become known for busting public employees' unions recently is finding that, although he'll probably have a job until he retires, it may not be as well-paid or as interesting as he had anticipated (that's partly his own fault for being smart and wanting to do whatever he does well, which means the job to which he has been promoted over time is no longer in the "brainless" category, and he is now caught in the same "do more with less" juggernaut that we're facing in higher ed.) Everybody wants you to work as a just-part-time-enough-not-to-get-benefits employee or independent contractor or whatever on whatever schedule they need you, and to compete like mad with all the other eager, unemployed youngsters for a shitty, insecure job (or even an unpaid internship). Even jobs like janitor (held by the comic-strip singer-songwriter Frazz) are increasingly likely to be subcontracted and marginal rather than secure, unionized, etc., etc. (I and my students are in a right-to-work state anyway, so unionized wasn't a likely option to start with). Starbucks is a good job because they offer benefits, but the hours you need to be available probably don't mesh with (or, rather, separate from) the hours one needs to be available to play gigs. I've been watching a friend's conservatory-trained classical musician daughter try to work this out, and the best option she's found is teaching like mad all day Saturday and Sunday (and getting an M.A., also in performance; the real reckoning with the working world is yet to come).

      And with the advent of the web (and the increasing dominance of other forms of graphics-based communication), "visual arts" (which translates, or can translate, to a fairly practical emphasis on graphic design at my school) may not be quite as impractical as it sounds (but there, too, freelance web designers abound). Still, after reading the fourth post from a student whose "plan A" was to make it big in the music business, her post seemed to me like the epitome of the impracticality I was seeing.

      But honestly, when I'm feeling more sympathetic to my students (and contemplating my own options should my present job go "poof"), I think that part of the problem with the economy right now is the disappearance of precisely the sort of reasonably secure, reasonably paid job that anyone with a decent work ethic and some basic skills could once count on finding. Everybody -- including many of us who, by temperament, would happily trade prestige/excitement/higher pay for security and predictability -- is basically finding themselves living, like it or not, in a gig-based economy. And while having a day job and doing gigs on the side can work pretty well, trying to support oneself solely by juggling gigs can get pretty nerve-wracking after a while.

    2. All very good points; it doesn't do them justice to look at this from the experience of 30 yrs ago, when this kind of job was way more plentiful. See, just another reason why we need bigger government (= more sinecures) and universal health care.

      So the skill set needed for nine-to-five has moved up. For the not quantitatively impaired, I wonder if accountant, actuary or tax adviser fit the bill. I had a student last year with clearly below-average aptitude for math tell me he wanted to be a math major because he had heard actuaries made good money. Mathematics itself holds no interest to him. It gave me pause, but he got a passing grade.

  2. Now you know why I gave up self-introductions years ago: it was too damn depressing. Name, class, and major are all I need to know, thank you very much!

  3. I wish my online students would stop introducing themselves by telling me how they've never much liked my subject.