New Directions for the Future of (our) Work 

By: Will Arguelles

Every Tuesday here at the Futures Initiative, our fellows and staff gather, update one another on our work, and brainstorm solutions to complex problems.  A key component of our work is professionalization and helping our cozy community of scholars blossom into the best versions of themselves. The content of this blog post originated in our 12/05 weekly meeting, where Tysean Bucknor had us dream up premonitions of a world without necessary labor. The text of this activity has been edited and reformatted to fit a wider, public audience.

  It is a truth universally acknowledged that working under capitalism is awful. As it stands, for the average person, the necessary pursuit of money often leads us to forget about activities we enjoy outside of the workplace. In this “gig economy” where everything can and often will be commoditized, these moments of non-commercial enjoyment are often little acts of rebellion, resistance to a damaging overarching system. In our meeting right before the holiday, FI-Fellow-in-Residence, Tysean posed these ideas as two questions  – “what would we do if we didn’t have to work?” and “How could you (re)integrate these interests in your life?” – and it led to some very fun and deep places. In short, by trying to imagine a future without forced labor, we were better able to re-center ourselves and, potentially, rediscover activities that we’ve been forced to  deprioritize in our lives.

  Some of us dreamt of entirely new careers. Megan, the editor of our Newsletter, said “I’d be a private investigator, even though I have no skills in that arena,” imagined alongside getting another dog, and traveling the world to volunteer in science education. FI Founder and Faculty Co-Chair, Cathy N. Davidson would enjoy going to Japan and writing more novels – combining her long relationship with Japanese culture and her passion for fiction writing. Cathy’s agent recently sent out the first volume of her science fiction trilogy to editors and she’s hard at work on the second volume–set partly in Japan. She continues to do academic research, of course, but has written fiction over her whole career “the way others knit or indulge seriously and passionately in other (unpaid) activities they do just for love.” 

  Some of us focused on regrowing our skills. Tysean would like to relearn the guitar and get back into skateboarding, despite being “more prone to injury in my old age.”  Parisa, HASTAC Scholars Co-Director, wanted to refocus on creative or design work, making something that is three-dimensional and fun every day.

  A love of music was a common thread across so many of our answers. Assistant Director, Rod Hurley mentioned wanting to put on concerts across the globe, in rural and impoverished neighborhoods. Kelsey, our CPL Facilitator, stated that in addition to recording her debut album, the possible lead single already released on Spotify [add link], she would open a wonderful “third space,” envisioned as a poetry cafe by day, and a salsa club by night, with all the proceeds going to funding local mutual aid organizations. Coline, HASTAC Scholars Co-Director, had a similar mindset of mixing philanthropy and artistic expression, as she would like to set up her own production initiative for community research in geography and arts that support projects in Latin America and Africa, so she could dance with friends across the global south, attending more photo/creative workshops and producing events like a music festival.

The good works continued, as several of us imagined ways of using our newly found considerable wealth to create lasting change. Beiyi, our Outreach Manager, would like to establish an organization that supports females in China for their professional development. Lauren, Director of CUNY Peer Leaders, planned to use her money and time in ways to help others, through non-profit educational programs for the youth, but also by doing random acts of kindness for those she met on her travels as she lived the dream 

  Of course, perhaps the most frequent fantasy was to see and visit every nook of our wondrous world. The methods of travel, though, were so vivid and compelling! The ocean calls to Faculty Co- Chair, Shelley Eversley, who mentioned wanted to sail the Caribbean, then soar across the ocean to visit places like Senegal, Ghana, Kenya, and those islands off the coast of Tanzania. Equally as compelling was the rollicking equine adventure proposed by CPL Program Coordinator & Asst. to Sr. Advisor to Chancellor, Jackie, who said that she wanted to ride horses around the mediterranean. Beiyi prefers the mechanical mode of travel to the equestrian, with her dream trip involving bicycling from Asia to Europe, then onwards down to Africa. All along this odyssey of international biking, Beiyi would stop at every city and explore, talking to the local people and writing up a wondrous memoir-meets-ethnography after the trip. Similarly, some of us focused on the sojourn itself, like Tysean who mentioned wanting to travel globally to places like Australia, South Africa, Indonesia, Japan, and Nigeria, making sure to give back to the communities he’d encounter there – a strong reminder that tourism should not just be about ourselves, but about bettering the places we visit.

  And speaking of leaving places better than we found it, so many of us focused on making the world a better place. Research Fellow Jasmeene talked about reigniting her passion for gardening, spending all day caring for her plants, eventually even creating a little communal farm with chickens and an alpaca or two in Fort Greene Park. Senior Researcher Christina also mentioned wanting to raise animals and garden, but added that she’d like to remodel a “fixer-upper” home, and make it a beautiful home to raise her family in. Lauren took this literally, imagining not having to work at all, and instead spending more time raising her daughter, focusing on teaching her how to talk and potty train.

And it was not all dreams here, as several of us discussed next steps to making these fantasies reality. Jasmeene had just found a community garden around the corner from her apartment. The garden seemed limited in December, but as we move towards spring and the warmer months, she hopes to reach out to them and begin her journey towards being an urban farmer. Megan already volunteers at several institutions, so she plans to continue doing so eventually getting into some higher-up positions and developing her own educational programs. Tysean wants to find ways to help the communities that need it around the city through his work, perhaps by producing music and utilizing his considerable digital toolbox of skills.

  Some of us, though, have the pleasure of currently living our dream jobs. Cathy already writes novels and is recently back from Japan. Chris would keep doing what he already is doing, mixing academic and critical pedagogical projects, alongside his responsibilities as a parent. And I myself fall into this camp, as I am currently living out my dream, and genuinely struggle to imagine ever leaving CUNY, my first real “home” as an adult. FI Executive director Adashima Oyo conccurs, stating that she’d really like to just keep doing the job she’s doing right now, because she is so passionate about our City Universities of New York. Jackie similarly felt that, as she wants to be one of those beloved elderly auditors who use their free time to better themselves in courses across many campuses at CUNY.  Programs like the policy for senior citizens to audit courses for a nominal fee remind us how important it is that we keep these institutions funded and supported, both in this new year and the countless to come. This commitment to lifelong learning is what inspires and drives all of us who work inside CUNY to be better each day than the last. In closing, then, we here at the Futures Initiative hope that this talk of our dreams and ambitions inspired you to take steps to making your fantasy a reality as well. Together, we can walk towards a brighter future for us all.


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