An Anti-Networker’s Manifesto

Every year, I visit a conference organized by my professional association in Canada. Once, I met a colleague, let’s call her Claudia, who went out of her way to be nice to me and kept suggesting we hang out together and keep in touch afterwards. We did, and during the next year’s conference, Claudia was even nicer to me. The year after that, however, Claudia saw me at the conference again and pretended that I didn’t exist. Gone was her interest in my research and her liking for me. When I approached her, she looked bored and used the first possible pretext to run away.

“What’s happening?” I wondered. “Why is she behaving so strangely?”

And then I realized that Claudia had no interest in me any longer because, instead of a tag saying “Cornell University”, I now wore a tag with a much more modest name of my current state school. On the next day, when she saw me having drinks at the bar with the leaders of our association, however, Claudia’s affection for me skyrocketed yet again.

“Oh, it’s my friend Clarissa!” she announced, approaching us. “Clarissa, please introduce me to these people. I always wanted to meet the leaders of our association!”

And then I finally got it. Claudia never had any genuine interest in me. She was simply networking. My relevance to her depended completely on whether she found me useful.

I was flooded with intolerable vicarious shame. My colleague’s behavior was so blatant, so obviously insincere that I was ashamed on her behalf. At that moment, I decided once and for all that, come what may, I would never network. Here is the result of my musings on networking, my Anti-Networker’s Manifesto:

1. I will never network. I will only meet, talk to and keep in touch with people who genuinely interest me.

2. If my professional success depends on networking, then I don’t need this kind of success and this kind of profession.

3. I will avoid people who treat others on the basis of their usefulness.

4. Seeing people as professional assets is for those who have no other assets to speak of.

5. Networking entails blurring the line between the public and the private, which is always fraught with danger.

6. We spend a lot of time working as it is. Letting work invade my personal life is more than I get paid for.

7. Networking entails calculating people’s value as if they were objects. But if you trade in people as if they were objects, what does that make you?

8. Selling friendship for possible financial benefits is in no way different than selling sex.

I’ve seen people who are obsessed with “making useful connections.” It’s never a pretty picture, which is why I refuse to join their ranks. And the funny thing is that I have never seen anybody who uses others in this way achieve any kind of professional success. They hustle and bustle, making themselves look ridiculous to everybody else by their boundless desire to accumulate potentially usable people. Yet, the results of all this industriousness are usually quite pathetic.

P.S. By networking I don’t mean, of course, things like creating a database of companies that are hiring in your area. I mean very specifically engaging is friendly interactions with people with the sole purpose of using them for professional and financial advancement.

Meme: Easy and Hard Things to Learn

I love memes but I never seem to find good ones that I want to participate in. Finally, however, I found a really cool meme created by blogger n8chz:

The gist of the meme is to list three things in the course of your lifelong learning that came as natural as falling off a log, especially if they strike you as possessing elegance, expository power, arousal of curiosity, or best of all, a lot of formerly disparate concepts somehow “fall into place.” The other list is three things that are utterly opaque to your mind, that you have made repeated attempts to learn, but for some reason or other, you just don’t seem to be meant to learn these things.

Three things that make sense to me:

1. Spanish grammar. When I explain Spanish grammar to my students, I always tell them that we are not going to memorize pages of rules and exceptions. Instead, we will discuss the philosophy of the language and discover the internal logic that organizes its grammar. The Spanish language makes so much sense to me that just staring at a long and beautiful sentence in it makes me feel like everything is right in the world.

2. Cooking. It’s the only creative thing I do, but I do it very well. I never had to learn to cook. It just happened for me, somehow. Just like blogging. Less people enjoy the fruits of my cooking than those of my blogging, however.

3. Blogging. People say they never know what to write about, but I just don’t get it. I have so many ideas for posts that I could just keep publishing them for weeks and never run out.

Three things that make no sense to me:

1. Social chit-chat. When I see people gather and chat about nothing for hours, I feel like a creature from another planet. I can see they are enjoying it but their enjoyment is alien to me. Within 5 minutes, my jaw begins to ache because I try hard to stifle yawns. If anybody can explain to me what it is that people gain from discussing absolutely nothing during all those social gatherings, I will be grateful.

2. Networking. I know it has its uses and that people have found jobs and advanced in their careers through networking. I, however, view it with horror. I mean, don’t people know that one only pursues them, chats them up and keeps in touch because one hopes to use them for personal advancement? Isn’t that kind of blatant?

3. Fashion. I love beautiful clothes and shoes. However, I don’t see the point of abandoning my personal style that I worked hard on figuring out in favor of something that will look atrocious on me just because everybody is wearing it at the moment. I realize that the idea of fashion is to show that you have enough money to buy new clothes every season. I, however, don’t have enough money for that and don’t feel it makes me a lesser human being. If I can look fantastic in a dress that I bought for $28 seven years ago, then who cares that it is completely out of style and nobody wears anything like this right now? Better for me because I will look completely original.

I realize that I kind of transformed the idea of the original meme here but I enjoyed it and I hope my readers will, too.

What are your 3 things?

Blog for Choice 2012

I’ve never had an abortion. I don’t think I would have one, although this kind of a hypothetical is always useless. However, I’m lucid enough to realize that I can say such things because I have the incredible good fortune of having a great support system, a stable income, a wonderful partner, an amazing profession, and access to the best medical services one can imagine. Because of these things I know that an unintended pregnancy will not devastate me emotionally, psychologically, economically, professionally, and health-wise.

I belong to a very tiny minority of women in the world who have the luxury of not needing to consider abortion. It would never occur to me to judge other people from my position of good fortune.

People who want to make abortion illegal or hard to obtain terrify me. I cannot even begin to imagine what kind of hubris, what kind of contempt and deep-seated hatred for actual living, breathing, thinking human beings one needs to have to believe that one has the right to make such a decision for them. If you have principles, beliefs or religious convictions that make you find abortion unacceptable, then don’t have one. But don’t you dare try to impose your religion and your beliefs on others. Trying to inscribe your views on the bodies of other people is one of the most immoral, disgusting, vile things anybody could ever come up with.

Roe vs Wade brought this country into the ranks of civilized places that don’t see women as inanimate objects whose destinies have to be decided and whose bodies need to be managed by politicians who never even saw them. If you do not support Row vs Wade, if you believe that you have the right to invade and manage other people’s uteri, then I have news for you: you are a horrible, disgusting individual. There is no excuse for you. You deserve to be shunned by every normal person with a shred of humanity.

Those of us who respect women enough to let them decide what to do with their own bodies seem to have some unhealthy fear of offending anti-abortionists. They scream “baby killer!” in front of clinics and we try to reason with them and treat them with respect while doing so. In the process, we betray all of those women who will die or be mutilated in back-alley abortions if abortion becomes illegal in this country.

I propose we stop coddling these hateful creeps. I propose we start telling them exactly what we think about them. I propose we stop trying to reason with them because they speak from a place of unbridled, unconstrained loathing for female bodies that they want to invade.

If you are anti-choice, shame on you.

If you support choice, you need to know that we will prevail. There are still many struggles ahead of us but, in the end, reason will overcome barbarity and we will find ourselves in a world where women will be considered by everybody to be valid human beings capable of making their own choices about their own bodies.

Believe in women. Support choice.