On the Hazards of Freedom


The boundaries of my life are disappearing.

The effacement began years ago, noticeably inaugurated by my departure from the corporate world and my re-entry into the academe. Corporate efficiency is premised on compartmentalization. There’s not just a place for everything but also a place for everyone—and even a place for everywhen. Space is structured, time is structured, relationships are structured, and one’s behavior is embedded in the geography and history and politics of the everyday.

(Cases in point: Sunday evening, seven o’clock, the living room of my high-rise apartment, in the company of my equally corporate-enslaved flatmates—it’s time to be depressed; Friday afternoon, four o’clock, the office water cooler, in the company of my multi-functional team: it’s time to be elated.)

The academe also has its compartments (they hit notorious levels the higher up you go; in especially esoteric branches of knowledge, you’ll get hundreds of species of pedantry with a single member each). At the same time, the silo effect tends to be limited to the realm of the intellectual enterprise. Elsewhere there’s a significant amount of fluidity, if not in space, at least in time (since you can teach in the evenings, or on the weekends, or even, God forbid, on the days of obligation). The notion of the functional competency is far more elastic too, as  academics in the Philippines are also expected to be accreditors, administators, teachers, formators, prize winners, researchers, writers and, yes, photocopiers.

But ever since I left the academe (a temporary and deliberate state of affairs engineered as part of a personal transition process), the boundaries have disappeared entirely. Space has collapsed (my home is now my galaxy), time has become an amorphous mass (Sundays may just as well be Mondays) and I’m learning to do all kinds of things by myself (me, a self-confessed member of the Cult of the Core Competency). Apart from a few enduring and necessary obligations, there is literally no place I have to be, no person I have to see, and no schedule I have to follow.

On the one hand, the freedom is absolutely refreshing; on the other hand it’s terribly unsettling. For without the guideposts of clock, calendar, custom and convention, and in the absence of the compartments provided by the notions of experts, professionals, offices, departments, holidays and seasons, how do I know what’s work and what’s play, what’s too much and what’s too little, what’s time to begin and what’s time to end?

I don’t know and I can’t know. In this brave new world of almost unlimited freedom, the only trails that I can follow are the ones I blaze myself.

What a terrifying thought.

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