We Just Don’t Matter Anymore

Poverty hurts like hell.  I walk by people every day who beg for money, and hate myself that I can’t do much of anything for them.  But I least I can give witness, and say this:  In this country of infinite wealth, don’t the poor matter at all?  Anyone one of us can be poor – may be poor now – by no fault or action of our own.  One health issue, one accident – and our meager savings would disappear faster than a drop of water on a hot griddle.

None of us (except maybe the über-rich) can be so clueless to believe that it would never, could never, happen to us.  There but for the grace of God go any of us.  So even if you or I can’t give the poor what they need, we can at least let them (and everyone else) know that we know they matter.

Staked out my corner on a busy street
Asking folks to please give to the poor
But I’m just someone they don’t want to meet
I guess we just don’t matter anymore.

It’s not my fault that you don’t have a job
What is there that I have to answer for?
It’s no excuse for you to steal and rob
I’m sorry you don’t matter anymore.

The soup kitchen is full of hungry kids
They’re tired of sleeping on a dirty floor
Their moms and dads have really hit the skids
Looks like they just don’t matter anymore.

We’re sick and tired of “won’t you help us please?”
Your dirty filthy clothing we abhor
Now go to church and get down on your knees
We’re happy you don’t matter anymore.

There are some things that / We don’t conquer alone
Even warm and well-fed / We’re still empty inside
If the poor are blessed / It’s because they know
Everyone is hungry sometime

You see the poor and hungry every day
Mothers, sisters, brothers, many more
No one deserves to suffer in this way
Please don’t think we don’t matter anymore.

Can’t Teach = Can’t Sleep?

Seems like, on the weekends, I’m finding it more and more difficult to fall asleep.  Like today.  Tonight.  This morning.  I slept later in the day, from seven to ten in the evening, and now I’m wide awake at three in the morning.

And I suppose that’s enough of an explanation.  I don’t really exercise, so that can’t be good for the ol’ sleeping thing, either.  But, here we are.

The good news is I landed a logic course for the fall.  One section.  It’s been two years since I taught for the university.  I thought not teaching for a couple of years might have something to do with not sleeping, with—depression?  Is that here again?

I stopped by the department office to catch up with the admin secretary.  She mentioned how I had been scheduled for removal from the system, that from time to time folks just “stop teaching.”  That struck me odd, for a few reasons.  For one, I had contacted the dean every semester begging (okay, not begging, asking) to teach the following semester, only to be told that nothing was available.

For another reason, it seems to me most curious that anyone ever just “stops teaching.”  Maybe it’s only where I’m coming from, but anyone I’ve ever known who teaches does it for a living.  The better ones live to teach.  So, in order to make sense of the idea that someone “stops teaching,” I had to imagine why (in the weaker case) one gives up their livelihood or (in the stronger case) one gives up living.

Now I can imagine all kinds of reasons why one gives up on living, most of them more or less variations on the notion that one has no conceivable reason for getting out of bed in the morning.  Less surprisingly, tied as I am by the fear and loathing that have come to envelop me over the years from poverty and destitution, I find it much more difficult to imagine why anyone would give up their livelihood.  Put another way, when the administration tells their adjuncts that no teaching is available for them this semester, and they tell them this for four straight semesters, how do we think adjuncts react?  How do we think they should react?

A Bee and a Bus – Part One

Five mornings a week, I wait at a stop near my apartment building to catch the bus to my downtown job.  These are usually uneventful times—occasionally I will just miss a bus, the same occasions I really need to catch a bus so that I will not be late for work.  But most times, I am at the stop early enough to catch a bus well before needed, and I wait patiently with my fellow CTA travelers for our subsidized transport.

It was a mid-September morning, just as the Chicago weather was beginning to shift from a very pleasant Indian summer to an ever so slightly more brisk autumnal shade.  I was again waiting for the morning bus.  I had my headphones on, CD playing Elvis’s number one hits, when an overgrown bumblebee, made sluggish by the weather change, seemed to have decided that I should be his new best friend.  My brothers and sisters will tell you that I’ve never much cared to strike up any kind of relationship with insects that sting, and certainly not when they are as big as Kaiser rolls.

Without thinking I involuntarily swiped at the flying monster, not quite sure just what sort of bug wanted to snuggle up to me.  I regretted this almost the instant it occurred, for now as he flew right in my face, it became clear to me that I must have smacked him pretty good.  I was convinced he was now on a mission to end my very existence, even if he had to sacrifice his own to accomplish this.

Well, after running around the stop for a minute or so, with only one or two onlookers bemused by the event, salvation came in the form of an articulated bus.  Thankfully, the death bee had left me alone long enough so that I could board and put this miserable morning awakening behind me.  But of course, nothing occurs at random, all things happen for some reason.  [No philosopher ever escapes this assumption.]

One of Teaching’s Greatest Joys

It was the fall of 2008, and I was teaching logic for maybe, oh, the twelfth time in as many years.  In one class meeting, one of my twelve students was on the verge of tears – the homework wasn’t making any sense, she wasn’t getting it, she was afraid she wasn’t ever going to get it.  I was really lucky:  I was able to use the moment with the whole class, saying something like, “It’s okay:  everything you’re feeling right now, I’m willing to bet everyone in here is more or less feeling as well.  That’s good – we’re here to learn.  And I promise all of you, you’re going to learn this stuff – not right away, not all that easily, but it will happen.”  That seemed to calm her, as well as the other students.

One of the joys of teaching – maybe its greatest joy – is to be able to let a student know that you will respect them and protect them.  If your teachers aren’t doing that for you, they’re dicks, pure and simple.  I’m amazed (and humbled) by just how much people will trust you, once you are able to convince them that you want only what’s best for them, that you won’t take them for granted, that you’ll honor their confidence, that you won’t abuse their trust.  I take this part of the job very, very seriously.  I think it’s one of the best things one human being can ever do for another – and all the Nietzsche, Sartre and Heidegger expertise combined is no substitute.

Oh, occasionally you’ll have a sociopath who doesn’t get that, who can’t get that, who will try to take advantage of you.  You know they’re sociopaths because they see trust as a means for manipulating the love and compassion of others for their own interests.  If I even get a whiff of that nonsense, that person is dead to me.  I don’t really care about them, because I can’t care about them.  I’ve had to learn it’s not possible for them to ever be anything other than self-centered egomaniacs, and the best thing I can hope for is for them to die soon.

Dad Surprised Me

It was after Mom died, and before Dad died, that I was riding in the car with Dad, where to now I cannot remember.  But we were going over some old philosophical ground, I think, chatting a bit about the importance of reason and logic in our lives, in his life as an electrical engineer, in my life as a philosopher.  Of course we loved logic and reason—this was part of our great European heritage.  We agreed that it seemed to be a perfectly Germanic preoccupation to be entranced by the virtues of organization, structure, order.

But I went on to say that it seemed to me that Polish people weren’t all that much different, that they too seemed to have a special gift for logic and order as among life’s higher values.  And here Dad really surprised me.  With more enthusiasm than I remembered about him in a long time, he robustly said, “Poles are LOVERS!”  And we both laughed.  I was really glad to hear him say this.  I really wish he had done this a whole lot more.  Maybe we were both finally in a place where it was okay to present the idea of love in all its connotations (eros as well as agape).

We didn’t tease any more out of this particular moment, but a more significant moment I cannot find.  It signaled to me what I suspected about my Dad and my Mom all my life, that at bottom, they were both sensual, sexual beings, where the physical was only the beginning of love’s power in their lives, in their family’s life.  Maybe the Church (that is, their beliefs about their Church) didn’t let them talk about this in any way that would be both good and holy, so they let their actions speak instead of words.  Until, of course, Dad surprised me.