“You do not have to be good”

Given the precarity of the job market, academic and otherwise, I find myself listening to friends and colleagues increasingly blaming themselves for the state of risk we experience daily. Their personal and seemingly individualized situations of disinvestment, agony, and loss are more common than most humans will let on. These experiences are actually shared psychological and economic angst which permeates through the global and the intimate equally. I increasingly read of the burdens of this risk, which is all at once so shiny and biting, especially in the US and most especially in the City of New York where the promises of meritocracy are the bedrock of our geographical and sociocultural imaginaries. On the need to break apart the equation of risk and meritocracy, I recommend the delicious Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries by Gina Neff from MIT Press in 2012.

Thankfully, it’s raining in New York and we can all wash away and grow into what’s next, all the while working to end these systems of systemic unsteadiness and worry. This poem, which I so deeply dig, can also help.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

From: 1992. New and Selected Poems. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.