I like my job so much because we all take our work seriously, but most of us don’t take ourselves seriously. I love my colleagues for their collective sense of humour. I had my second performance appraisal recently, which went well because I’m happy to smile and laugh my way through it. When asked to name what I was proud of in the last year, I named the cat and dog calendars I made, raising over $2,100 for charity. I was given a listserv for my totally SFW dad jokes (“welcome to 1999,” my highschool pal Victor said, correctly) though that technically happened in 2020.
At the same time, I drove some pioneering work in Canada, took part in making some meaningful improvements for trans folks on campus, and was invited by my professional hero to be on a panel of archivists and librarians at my first academic conference in a long-ass time. When asked what my professional development goals were, I asked my manager if she remembered that scene from The Simpsons, in which Homer tells his new boss about his aspirations:
I think I want to go to engineering school.
I have been in some form of postsecondary education for eighteen years or so. A good number of those were not successful. I took one year of highschool physics in 1998 and got a 67. I was really proud of the A I got in calculus and now I can’t explain what calculus is.
I grew up in the shadow of the Montreal Massacre. It feels different now that I work at a STEM school.
I spent a long time in a radical department and never felt right among my peers whose grasps of theory and nimble use of the correct language I lacked. I couldn’t speak full sentences in the classroom or in academic conversation due to the anxiety of immediate failure but I could laugh with you at the bar for hours. Upon reflection I recognize my reactions in context and have forgiven myself for that time. I realized that as crappy as I felt on the spot, I felt that oral fluency at work, in the library, where I dealt with data and technology all day.
And infrastructure. The most interesting things I have been lucky to work on include:
- the creation of a Los Angeles transit map ca. 1922, from scratch;
- georeferencing nearly every fire insurance plan in the city of Toronto;
- visiting a longshore hiring hall for a shapeup;
- writing a thesis about the 401;
- a lit review of the history of freight regulation and deregulation in America;
- mapping cyclist GPS traces;
- troubleshooting a university’s worth of GIS tech support issues
My brain dealt with that so much better than the gonzo anxiety of the emotional mindfuck of my graduate program that left me lying listless on the couch.
I spend my evenings watching Well There’s Your Problem and donoteat01 and they make me feel like my inclinations towards political geography, best articulated through technological discussions and expressed through incredibly serious lulzy humour, are meaningful. I heard a rumour that I have not looked into: while I probably couldn’t get into a civil engineering 101-ish program, I might be able to get into a graduate program with a non-engineering background, and I imagine I might need to learn some things about physics and structures. Before I left the office, I emailed a civil engineering professor, a senior administrator whose love of ugh, the Red Sox occasionally has us razzing each other about baseball. I asked if someone like me might have a future gently nudging the structures of civil engineering.
I am a glutton for punishment.
In the end, Homer didn’t get the Dallas Cowboys, but the Denver Broncos.