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Broke/n (Meditation 1)

broken

We are broke.
We are broken.
So began another daily meditation.
Right before I started playing music again.
August.

This past August.

A year after the battle lines were set at my last college.

It’d been a while since I thought about that month-from-hell.

Yet.

The kohn found me fast.
Swimming this time.
It used to hit me, these words, while driving hundreds of miles.
Back in the belly of the adjunct beast.
Trying to teach.
Tying to learn.
Trying to support my family.
Trying to stay sane.

Refrain:
We are broke.
We are broken.
Another day in the life.

Go there.
Ask the questions.

Why did I stay for so long?
Why did I seek so much help to remain a teacher?
Why did I move so many times?
Why did I harm my body with such bad food?

Because I didn’t know any better.
And now I do.

I stayed for so long because I invested so much in becoming a professor.
I stayed for so long because I loved getting students from point A to point B.

I stayed for so long.

I stayed because I was asked to hold on, hold out, this war will end.
The petty fights will end — they didn’t.
The better angels will swoop down — they were missing in action.
Killed in action.
Massacred by institutional stupidity and individual choices.

I stayed because I like what I do and once upon a time America needed me.
This moment was predicated by Bill Cook at Dartmouth, the moment when the humanities and liberal arts and philosophy in general–all that I know and love–will be called upon to rebuild our stressed, strapped, and struggling colleges and universities.
The time is now; the struggle continues — August Wilson meant this, knew this, fought for this in everything he did and taught me.

I sought help because I paid for the help.

I invested in the help.

It wasn’t always this way for my family.

We were gainfully employed for the longest time.

Our taxes went to support health care, food, fuel, and other assistance.

It seemed impossible that we would find ourselves nearly homeless, bankrupt, and broken.

But, that’s what happened.

And part of what kept me going was looking at what happened as a chance to really “get” the point of all my philosophical studies, all my work as a teacher — to apply everything to every moment of my life in ways I didn’t fully comprehend.

Why?

Why do this to myself?

Because I had no choice. Moving costs money. Relocating to a better “market” actually increases the likelihood I will find less market. Health care is considered a universal right in Vermont. It made sense to stay.

What remains a case study in self-destruction isn’t my desire to teach or support my family as an academic; the better subject for this investigation remains the colleges and universities that did not pay me for my work. All of it. Prep. Meetings. Curriculum. Teaching. Office hours. Emails. Phone calls.

The second colleges and universities treat their most important labor force (70% adjuncts, we’re the majority now!) with professional respect that includes regular contracts that can be negotiated more than a day or less before a term starts — this problem is solved. Students will receive the best education they pay for, we all pay for with our taxes. The banks and other lending institutions will see less defaults. With more prosperity and abundance, the misguided (and downright wrong) embrace of austerity and privatization (e.g., more outsourcing, more instability, and more profits for bond holders than faculty or students) will finally be buried deep in the hole of bad ideas.

We’ve been able to live in the same home for four years now. We still rent. We still struggle. We still wish we could have the time and money back from all the restarts, reboots, and revisions of a plan that seemed so clear, so amazing, and so important back in the 1990s. Because of Migrant Intellectual, the Adjunct Project, and the upcoming FoxNews profile, I have been able to revisit those experiences and finally learn from them, face them, look into this abyss and finally see myself.

So, what do I see?

I see you, my friends.

I see everyone who knows they hold in their hearts and minds the solutions to the various problems we’ve experienced as teachers and academics.

Stand together.

I see everyone who sat with me for eighteen months openly discussing our struggles.

I remember especially those who returned again and again to voice their concerns, to speak the minds of loyal FoxNews watchers.

I’ll never forget them.

But, I also see the memories of people I expected to know better, the college administrators and the Academic Affairs executives and their councils, the Chancellors and the Presidents who failed to listen to opposing voices and now find themselves stressed and broken down by budget battles. (Instant karma is still a very real moment for some; for others, it’s viewed as bad luck.)

Yet, these administrators still believe they are different, somehow untouched, somehow uninvolved and, of course, never to blame for any of their actions leading us to this very real fiscal cliff. My dear friends, I’m talking specifically to the people I worked with for eight years — there are only so many places to hide when the enemy is at the gates. The enemies of education fear our power, fear our intelligence, fear our entrepreneurial spirit, fear our fearlessness — yet, somehow, adjuncts and activists are always first to be described as “attacking” the colleges and universities. We were friends; we were colleagues. We were, most of us, teachers who cared about students first and everything second. How did this happen? How could we let this happen?

thin red line

We were a family. How’d it break up and come apart, so that now we’re turned against each other? Each standing in the other’s light. How’d we lose that good that was given us? Let it slip away. Scattered it, careless. What’s keepin’ us from reaching out, touching the glory? (Jim’s meditation in The Thin Red Line)

Funny–I always thought we took our stance as a defensive measure against aggression. Not paying me for my work is an aggressive decision. Period.

I have my health back. I was always in charge of that; I made the bad choices. Food became a reward, something to excite me and my family at the end of the day, especially when travelling long distances. At least I could afford to bring home a pizza. At least we could sit together and have a rotisserie chicken, potatoes, and veg for an affordable price. But, I was unable to provide a nutritious and regular meal for them; my wife and I were always racing around in the house or passing each other shopping attempting to create a stability we never achieved until we simply stopped. We stopped. We started to breathe differently. We started to talk more about the reality of our situation. And somehow–yes through hard work; yes with state assistance; yes with loans from friends, family, and colleagues; yes, with the attendant sense of confusion and anxiety that oftentimes registers as shame. Yes. All of this. But, we were talking, planning, creating a mindful space in our lives that was no longer dependent on bad administration or territorial colleagues or the gross negligence of bureaucracies that could always seem to pay the roofers on time but not the adjuncts.

It was so shocking to us to see this so clearly so suddenly–the answer was always right before our eyes. Always. But, we were clouded. We were caught up in “maintaining a CV” or “jockeying the next contract.” We didn’t see that we were willfully participating in this oppressive/repressive situation we didn’t cause and finally for the first time in maybe a decade we said, almost simultaneously — stop.

Just stop.
A cleansing breath in meditative discourse.
Stop.
Look around.
Walk closer to the abyss.
And jump.
Jump in together.
See yourself.
See each other.
Right here.
Right now.
No rationalizations.
No excuses.
No shame.
No pride.

Nothing but nothing.
And it was there the book was born.
We were able to be more careful with our very very limited income.
We were able to organize our lives as I went out and helped organize adjuncts.

candlelight

With my adjunct union work, I was able to apply a lesson my wife tried to teach me back when the Iraq Invasion (2003) was about to go down. Yes, I opposed it. I still oppose all militarty intervention with the exception of pursuing the actual criminals who tried to kill my friends and family in New York and Washington, DC on 9/11. (I’m an Eagle Scout who respects the 2nd Amendment and believes Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich were absolutely correct to oppose all interventions.)

While packing the minivan with protest signs and loading in some warmer clothes, I noticed Michelle standing on the porch with a Kermit-like smirk. “What?” I said, walking past her into the apartment. As I exited with my backpack, she said: “It’s just funny.”

What’s funny? I said.
You.
What do you mean?
Nothing.
No it’s okay. What do you mean?
A few moments passed as the rain worsened.
She said: You’re going to protest a war yet we can’t seem to get our act together.
And?
Well, how can you be a voice of peace and justice when we’re barely able to do any of that at home?

Once again, the poet spoke more clearly to the situation than the philosopher.
That day, that event, back in 2002, announced the central struggle of my 30s and early 40s.
To put into action my deepest held convictions and speak from within my own personal and professional struggles.
Together.
Without hesitation.
On a regular basis.

This moment changed me, shifted my understanding of what I do as a philosopher, a teacher, a writer, a father, a husband, a son. All of it. At once. I wish I trusted it earlier: 2003-2011 could have been less painful had I embraced that first draft, first insight with more courage and sustained attention. I would’ve still been broke; but I may not have suffered so at the hands of people who simply didn’t give a second thought to stealing my income by way of presumtuous, and illegal, expectations of what amounted to forced donations and volunteerism the likes of which not even the most outspoken libertarian colleague could accept. (You can thank them later, but the New Hampshire Libertarians and old school Paul Wellstone [R.I.P.] progressives won the adjunct union in New Hampshire just as both supported the strongest third party candidates in our nation this last election cycle: Ron Paul from the Libertarian Right/Independent, Jill Stein from the Left/Independent, Rocky Anderson from the Left/Center/Independent, and Gary Johnson from the Libertarian Right/Center/Independent.)

What I am doing now is absolutely no different — this M.I, project (Mission Imposible, Migrant Intellectual); and the push toward mass media is also part of a larger mourning, a longer conversation about how to heal, how to prosper again: with others, adversaries and supporters, in a way that uses the truth of this moment right now to activate and sustain any and all efforts to improve the lives of students and faculty. In turn, administrators and trusted trustees and people who’ve opted for austerity rather than choosing to grow colleges and universities as an opportunity to increase revenue and revolutionize the classroom–together we will solve this problem.

Suffering is real.
But, it’s not a permant state.
Only ignorance of suffering can cause permanent damage.
I no longer stand in the rain.
Thinking/thanking.
Always.

The time is now; the struggle continues (August Wilson, 1945-2005)

-M.I.

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About Dean RCB

Dean of Academics Lebanon College Philosophy and Integrated Liberal Arts Writer & Producer (theatre, television, film) Composer & Producer RCB lives in the Upper Valley with his wife and four boys.

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