I was going
to subtitle this post ‘The Problem With Polymaths’, but it sounded rather too much like a Dr. Seuss book title. Not that I think that’s necessarily a bad thing, just perhaps not appropriate for the subject matter at hand. In other words, this is going to be one of my more introspective posts. So if you’re not partial to the casual ingestion of my inner monologue as it runs through the list of first-world problems I’m currently experiencing, feel free to pop off and have a look at what youtube has to offer. Here’s something you may enjoy. Hurr hurr.
A lot of things have been happening lately. Two new lives were brought into this world this week, first by two very good friends of mine, and then by my brother and his wife. The entire concept of babies is, to me, and thankfully to Louise also, quite a stressful concept. Given that I have yet to find out what the shitting hell I’m doing with my life, being responsible for the daily needs of a tiny human is something I find terrifying in the extreme*. And of course, besides the (gratifyingly far off) possibility that I might at some point during my life sire one of these squalling poop-machines, there’s also the reminders that such an event bring to bear. After all, if these people have been able to conceive, gestate, and deliver a genetically original life form, what the hell have I been doing?
These reminders are things such as the fact that it has been over a year** since I handed in my thesis for examination. That it has already been almost six months since I was officially granted the title of ‘Doctor’. That the last thing I had published was way back in December, after which my sum total creative output has been one single, relatively harmless short story. That I’ve gained about ten kilos in the past month and none of it muscle mass. That I’ve applied for over thirty five jobs and heard back from less than five percent of them.
And that’s just the numbers. Accompanying these facts is a feeling that some might call depression and which I call…well, I don’t call it anything really. I try and ignore it, and when that fails I try and find ways in which to distract my brain so that I won’t think about how incredibly helpless I feel. Thankfully we humans have had plenty of practise in determining effective ways to distract ourselves over the years, and they are available readily as sleek packages called things like ‘Television’ and also ‘The Internet’. Forget suicide hotlines, we should just give folks unlimited access to the ‘net and a list of interesting content generators and let the dopamine rush take care of everything.
Wow-wee was that last sentence distasteful. Ahem.
As you might have guessed, a huge portion of the thing-that-others-might-call-depression-but-I-don’t-because-la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you is my inability to find a job. I’ve noted before (in a post I can’t be bothered to find right now) that I am almost entirely a cliché of the insecure achiever: the kind of person who needs external validation because he never feels as though anything he does, no matter how great, is worth anything. So a lot of my personal worth is tied up in the feelings of others about me. I’ve never properly investigated this particular stupidity of mine, but if I had to give a quick self-diagnosis I’d guess that it is because I’ve never found something that I find personally rewarding for its own sake. I’ve come close a couple of times, but I always seem to taint it with my need for validation from others***. Having a singular passion for something, or at least the idea of singular passion as it exists in my head, is a state I have yet to achieve. Which isn’t to say I’m not good at things. I’m a good scientist. I’m a good writer. I’m a good communicator. And so on and so forth. But whether due to my history or my preoccupation with the future, I can’t seem to let go of the want for someone to tell me that I’ve done a good job. And when I don’t have a job, someone telling me that I’ve done a good one is literally impossible. And therein lies the rub.
Of course, that’s not even the whole of it. Thing is, there have been opportunities presented to me. The work I did to scout the pass for a partnership between my old university and a commercial client resulted in said client all but offering me a full-time position. So there’s a baby-boomer style commentary track in my head telling me that I should take what I have been given and learn to love it. But then there’s an equal part of me that is really sick and tired of just automatically steering down what seems like a right course of action. I did that when I went for studying nanotechnology in the first place: it was a double degree in physics in chemistry, and since I had no idea what I wanted to do, a catch-all science/maths bachelors seemed like a safe decision. I did it again when I was given the opportunity to undertake a Ph.D. ”Well, it can’t hurt, and a scholarship is a rare thing,” said I. To use a gaming analogy, it’s like I’ve been mashing start a lot to skip the dialogue and get to the action since I was about 12. Which has left me without very much of a context now that I’m facing a the-real-world-as-boss-battle: it’s as if I’m standing there, staring at my sword and shield and wondering how on Earth I got to where I am while he pounds on me with special attacks that leave me bewildered and confused.
So that’s what I’m up against: unemployment, and a sense (no matter how faint) of failure in almost every activity I engage in. This is not an exaggeration. It’s the reason why I jump between modes of expression so quickly and so often. A recently-made friend offered the observation that I could be considered a polymath due to my experience in both science and creative writing. According to a dictionary I read once and/or Googled, this means that I am either well educated, or excel in a wide variety of subjects. I think I’d like to offer a third definition:
poly·math noun \?pä-l?-?math\ — One who shifts between areas of activity and expression because they are confused, unsure of themselves, anxious, or all of the above.
* Thank goodness, then, that my brother and his wife, as well as my two good friends, seem eminently capable of performing the job of raising children.
**One year and twenty-eight days, to be precise.
***The irony of this post has not escaped me, i.e. I can’t even have feelings without the need to post them on the fucking Internet.