When I Grow Up
If I were to ever grow up, what would I want to be?
Sometimes I think a civil engineer. Infrastructure is the greatest contribution man has made to his own social well-being in a densely populated world. Not only is infrastructure useful, but it can be beautiful (suspension bridges) and mysterious (the layers and webs of pipes, wires and tunnels that exist beyond our awareness yet sustain our daily life). It would be an honor to contribute to this.
But then I think in practical terms. Contemporary infrastructure is a pale shadow of the glories from the first half of this century. Most engineers are either merely working maintenance for past glories, or toiling in the digisphere. To be sure, there are probably more exciting new infrastructure projects in other countries. But it is still largely an office job, with office drudgery, administration and office politics. And engineers aren’t known for being the most creative people around.
I used to think I’d like to be a movie director. But only in the abstract. The reality of organizational and personal skills, technical details, the need for charisma and big money have always put me off. And it turns out that I’m not much of a storyteller. And I’ve learned over time that I don’t really like taking pictures. I like looking and experiencing directly instead. Although, the idea of Werner Herzog is stil very tempting. . . .
The fact is, I don’t want a career. I became a history professor because I thought it might be a way to avoid taking up some occupational role as my identity. I thought it would be a way to avoid the commute and leave options open while still receiving a salary and some social (and self-) respect. But I find even this role to be claustrophobic—with expectations that I have no desire to fill.
But back to Werner Herzog. He didn’t just inhabit some predefined role and become a director. He makes film submit to his life and vision. That’s the way to do it: really grow, not just grow into a role.