Damn! I am aggravated. I don’t need aggravation. It wears me out. And I am aggravated by one of those things—I should by now have developed a tougher hide—that makes me aggravated to be aggravated about.
But I am walking from the parking lot to the the computer room to run some stuff off for my classes that start in a couple of days, and I bump into this guy I have known for years. Most all of our socializing has been of the parking lot walk and talk variety with few varaitions. But he’s ok and I like him to the extent that I know him. So I ask him how many years has he been coming out to the university to get ready for the first day of classes—because clearly that’s what he is doing too—and he says 36. And you, he asks. 26, I say.
And then he goes on to talk about how much better he has had it than me, what with his being a tenured faculty person who gets to teach literature and pretty much whatever literature he wants, and he wonders how I have stood teaching one thing—writing and being told on top of that what kind of writing to teach—for 26 years.
And the guy does have it better. He’s about five years older than I and wasn’t apparently bothered by the draft and finished his PhD in 1968. Those were the glory days. Even thought he graduated from nowhere U, his advisor wrote letters for him to three places. And all three wanted him. Back then you were a shoe in. And he got tenure and teaches four classes a year while I teach 8, and gets sabbaticals which I don’t and never will get, and makes at least twice as much as I do, probably 20 thousand more than that.
So I go run off the stuff I was going to run off, and driving home realize that I am aggravated by my talk with this guy. And it’s hard too because I know he was trying in his own way to show some sympathy for my “plight.” So why am I aggravated? It’s the tenure thing I guess. He got it and I didn’t and as far as I can see he is and was no more qualified to get it than I was or am.
He got it and I didn’t because of timing. That’s all and the fact that it is makes the whole thing seem accidental and contingent. What’s that old song, “Born to late for you to notice me…” . And then there’s the fact of tenure itself—that it exists and functions as a sort of invisible wall or divide between those of us who have it those who don’t. He can just sort of assume that I have had it hard because I have been a teacher of writing and he gets to teach literature and he loves doing that, of course.
And assumes I would love it too and must feel terrible that I don’t. When if the facts be known, I don’t know how people who teach literature these days can justify their existences. They really aren’t doing diddly—though I am honest enough to admit that I might have preferred the diddly that they are doing to the diddly I am doing. It’s a more prestigious form of diddly.
So I am aggravated and as usual not about one simple thing but about a whole complex of aggravation.