What purpose internships?
Last weekend the Guardian ran an article about interns, which detailed examples of how they are exploited by companies and have only a tiny likelihood of their unpaid work leading to a job.
But whilst the focus was on the nasty attitudes of the companies, what struck me more was the mindset of some of the interns themselves.
At a political think tank:
[Another intern told me how] she’d emailed the boss with her finished work at midnight and had immediately been given more work to do, “so it’ll be ready for tomorrow”. She worked until 2am.
At a digital start-up:
When I arrived it quickly became clear that I was expected to stay as late as 10pm most days, and work overtime at weekends for no extra money, but I didn’t feel I could complain. Prior to landing the role I had been searching for a job for months, and the fear of going back to spending all day in my pyjamas meant that I was desperate enough to comply with mad demands.
So desperate were these graduates for some paid work as a result of their internship that they seemed not to have taken in that if they were offered a job, it would be in a profession with this kind of long hours, stressful culture. The girl who worked until 2am? Her boss was up until midnight, and this is the working future that she could expect.
But what alternative do these poor graduates see? All their hard work throughout their school education and university had pointed them solely in the direction of that golden prize, the career, without them ever having time to question the worth of that prized career job.
It is the value to life of these careers that needs to be downgraded in our expectations. And not just those in this article. We can pretend that they are just the exception – but if we look at our own careers and those of people around us, aren’t they often the norm? Maybe not to these extremes – but still stressful, unsatisfying and most of all not what we expected from work.
There is an alternative careers advice to graduates – just don’t worry about a traditional career. Build a self-made career instead: live cheaply, earn money in a job that you do not care about, care about work that really matters to you instead. That is the route to real satisfaction.
The second of the BBC’s Reith Lectures 2013 by the artist Grayson Perry, on the eternal subject of what does and doesn’t constitute art. Particularly liked this:
'I asked my friend, Charlie Gere, Professor of Media Theory and History at Lancaster University. I said, “Can you give me a definition when I would know that I was looking at a piece of web art and not just an interesting website?” And he came up with this. He said, “You know it might be art rather than just an interesting website when it has the grip of porn without the possibility of consummation or a happy ending.” In other words, it’s all about frustrating our urgent need to double click our way to satisfaction whether in the form of a joke, an opinion, a fact, a sale, or indeed an onanistic experience, and to detain and suspend us in a state of frustration and ambivalence and to make us pause and think rather than simply react.'
Some creations don’t detain us and make us stop and think, they are just entertainments. But the ones that are art, the ones that an artist is trying to make themselves, don’t have a satisfactory conclusion: the thinking on the part of the observer is the only conclusion.
We make art because we have had these experiences from the art of others, and our motive should be to bring about such experiences in our own audience.
I remember Rushmore first coming out, and being almost breaking down in tears because I was going to be on holiday in the opening week. I don’t really know how I knew it was going to be so good – but it was, and still is. Wes Anderson has come close to matching this brilliance, but for me Rushmore is still his best film. And this love letter to Rushmore by Matt Zoller Seitz captures almost all of the reasons why the film is so charming.
Now I’m off to watch the rest of the series.
The commencement speech as careers advice
One of the benefits of video streaming websites is the public availability of the commencement address (as it is known in the US): a lecture by a well-known artist or other famous person, offering advice to students at their graduation ceremony.
There’s something of the epic about commencement speeches – you get the feeling you are watching a summation of the entire knowledge of a successful person’s life. Most of the speeches turn out to be a form of careers advice, but from the perspective of someone who never followed traditional careers advice.
Here’s 3 of my favourites: the first two, by comedian Tim Minchin and writer Neil Gaiman both stress the importance of doing work that you decide for yourself, and that you have one advantage over everyone else: no one else knows what it is like to be you. The third, perhaps my favourite of those that I’ve seen, by writer David Foster Wallace, is no less than an explanation of the difficulties of living in the world.
You don’t even know what the word ‘vacation’ means because what you’re doing is what you want to do and a vacation FROM that is anything BUT a vacation.
Geoff Dyer writes just what he wants to write. I must do the same.
It’s difficult for me to overstate just how much I love Geoff Dyer. Not just because I am delighted by his writing, which makes me laugh and think in equal measure, but mainly because in his life as an author he has distilled what he does to some pure essence of writing. By which I mean that in each of his books he appears to have gone ahead and written just exactly what he wanted to write about at the time.
This may not sound like much of an achievement – surely all writers write exactly what they want to write at the time, don’t they? But I don’t think they, or I, do. We write on subjects that we think other people will want to read, and imitate the styles of other authors. Or we write what we think might sell, or that which we hope an agent will think will sell.
But Geoff Dyer does not appear to do this. He doesn’t write fiction, or non-fiction: he writes either fiction or non-fiction, depending upon which fits the current subject about which he wants to write. Often he does not even seem to write what he set out to write: he starts out thinking he’s writing a book about D.H. Lawrence, and then halfway through realises he cannot or no longer wants to write a book about D.H. Lawrence, and so writes Out of Sheer Rage, a book about not being able, or not being bothered to write a book about D.H. Lawrence. (A book that turns out to tell you quite a lot about D.H. Lawrence.) And instead produces writing which is one of the most insightful I have ever read on the subject of why anyone might decide to be a writer.
The reason why the Geoff Dyer mode of writing is for me the pure essence of writing is that ‘writing exactly what you want to write’ feels like the clearest instruction for producing good writing. Not write what you know, but write about what is most important for you at the time. ‘Identify your obsessions, and be faithful to them,’ was how J.G. Ballard put it.
Which is why Geoff Dyer has built a career writing about his love of jazz (But Beautiful) or his life in his twenties (the fictional Paris Trance) or a film he loves (Zona). And why I am about to read Zona, a book about a film I have not seen by a director whose other films I have not enjoyed. And I know there’s a good chance I’ll enjoy it, because it’s a Geoff Dyer book, and he’s writing about what he loves.
If a situation has caught your attention […] it has meaning for you, and if you find out what that meaning is you have the basis for a story.
What do I want from great sci-fi? Accelerando by Charles Stross
If I have a gripe with many sci-fi books, it is that whilst they may be full of good ideas, these often come and the expense of plotting and style. And with whole new worlds to describe there is the additional problem of too much exposition, and the result is a clunky story.
But in Accelerando, Charles Stross seems to have avoid all of this. How he has managed to is almost unimaginable, given that the story covers the next eight decades of human history, with each new decade signifying some quantum leap in technological development. (The last sci-fi I read which maintained such a consistent expansion of ideas was Alfred Bester’s 1960’s classic The Stars My Destination.) In Accelerando humans become post-human and resurrect the dead; lobsters upload their minds and fight for their rights as legal entities; a defaulting corporate financial instrument masquerades as a 2 metre slug; brain-enhanced teenagers run a colony responsible for the mining of Jupiter’s moons.
And somehow Stross manages to drip-feed all the information the reader needs without the story ever feeling clunky – and for me achieves the aim of all great sci-fi, to implant an idea in the reader’s mind of how the world could be, with just enough information that the reader imagines the possible futures for themselves. Ideas ping past that are enough material for a whole novel, but Stross is not content to wring each idea boringly dry, he’s too busy moving on to the next one.
At times I had the unusual sensation that whilst I did not understand the meaning of n invented word or concept, I understood enough to not lose the thread of the story. And this was a greater pleasure, that of being comfortably lost. (I like the idea of comfortably lost on long walks.)
I’d like to say I look forward to the sci-fi that Charles Stross writes next – but now that he has covered the future of human history in such an epic manner I’m not sure what he has left to write about.
Self-imposed Rules for Internet-Rationing #5
Don’t remain ambiently connected to email.
Close the email tab, only check in twice a day. Same for Facebook, etc. (via thefrailestthing.com).
My advice to anyone in any field is to be faithful to your obsessions. Identify them and be faithful to them, let them guide you like a sleepwalker.