I just completed a year working for this newspaper while taking evening classes toward a degree. And boy are my arms tired. A year ago, I might have wondered why more people dont combine work and school. How hard could it be to do both?
Plenty. More than plenty. Im not just talking about the difficulties of scheduling the two together (of which there were plenty). Im not just talking about the unwavering amount of work to be done no matter that it is a day off or a weekend. Hell, Im not even just talking about the blinding despair of working all day on one intellectually rigorous project (i.e. this newspaper) and then facing the prospect of working until 2 a.m. to complete another intellectually rigorous project (i.e. my school work).
What Im talking about is the hard part: The mystifying cross-over between the worlds of academia and the punch-clock. When Im at school, I think about article deadlines, interviews to be done, and finding worthy news for next weeks issue. When I am at work, I think of the post-modern crises brought along by the NBA basketball team. Whatis Memphis anyway? Would the city have some basis on which to base the rest of its reality?
While thinking in two worlds isnt a bad thing, it certainly is exhausting. And its worse for the little time away from the two endeavors. I was paging through a childhood favorite entitled, Theres a Monster at the End of This Book. It stars Grover from Sesame Street. Its a tale of Grovers fear of meeting the monster at the end of the book and his attempts to stop the reader from turning the page that involves rope, wood and nails, and even bricks and mortar splayed everywhere. Of course, at the end of the book, Grover realizes that the only monster there is himself.
On the one hand, its a fun read. On the other... its perplexing that the narrator, in this case Grover, is so afraid of self-identifying with his indigenous group. That he goes as far as to literally leap off the page in a self-conscious gesture is telling. Also, notice the cognitive dissonance apparent at the end of the text when Grover decides he loves monsters instead of fears them. This internalization of Grovers inner-most fears is a prime construction of ... I think you get my point.
And then I hear an editors voice in my ear. Get a quote, he says. Ask Grover what he thinks about the NBA. Should state taxes be used for a new arena?
Regardless of the blue muppets feelings of self-worth or Memphis feelings about the NBA (though the two seem intertwined), my days are a dizzying experience of balancing two demanding and different worlds. The news desk and the school desk do share themes. But their respective forms are different.
In the news business, theres a pressure to get the story. Find the facts and look at them to find what no one else has. If that is not possible, then take the known facts and analyze them until something interesting shows. Dont worry, with a deadline, youll always find something to say.
In the academia of graduate level English, theres a fine interest in the process of getting to a truth. Discourse ranges from the structure of the novel to the progression of thought on a cultural level. If there is a lack of physical evidence, theres nothing like a good ol theory to keep you going through those dark hours of the night.
Has the combination of the two, every day for the past months been grueling? Yes, but also enlightening. Working at the newspaper has forced upon me a better appreciation for detail. With the schoolwork, I have a wider range of ideas which I can find details about. Its a nice balance.
In throwing the two unrelated but not alien worlds together, I find that one influences the other, coloring the way I do my work and certainly the way I write. Obviously, the meshing cannot be pronounced (who exactly cares if the possible NBA team links to post-modernist thought?). But it can make an angle sharper or at least different from the tried and true forms used a thousand times (read: as boring as a post-structuralist conversation between NBA commissioner David Stern and Grover).
The trick of course is to keep that balance after the school year ends and the summer begins. While I might lose a bit of the critical mass in my brain, now at least my day will end when I punch out of the office. Whether or not I will try to think at all for the rest of the evening is entirely (and deliciously) up to me.
And, needless to say, whether I am watching Sesame Street or a basketball game, Ill never look at either the same way again.
[Chris Przybyszewski, a graduate of Penn, is in graduate school at the University of Memphis.]