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Underwood Hall, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea

Some forty-nine years ago, having suffered 1 year of  “higher education” at the hands of the Illinois Institute of Technology, at the then-famed school of architecture (a factory for Mies van der Rohe clones), I quit, and was going to go to an art school to which I’d been accepted, unbeknownst to my parents, in Bath, England.  I visited Bath in June I think and immediately understood I shouldn’t be going there – a playground for upper-class kids who couldn’t hack college or university, but they could tootle around in their MG’s and play artiste.   I went hitch-hiking around Europe for the summer instead and didn’t show up in autumn for classes.

Now, nearly a half-century later, this morning I sent in my “I am resigning as Professor” note to Yonsei University, my employer of the last 4 years, and the only actual job in my life.   I’ve been in the Graduate Department of Communications and Arts, where I noted that the former was in scarce supply.  I didn’t see much of the latter either.  There was a fair bit of cookie cutter academic “art” preoccupied with the usual stuff.   I was here to fill in as the practical “guy who knows how to make films” and perhaps as a “famous name” to adorn the faculty.   Well, I do know how to make films/videos, and can teach that pretty well.  I demure on the other aspect.  However, in four years here in the grad dept., I’d say I had 4 or 5 students who were evidently talented, driven to work some, and actually made some very nice things under my guidance.  I think most of those were not, on the other hand, much at “scholarship.”   Which, for me, made it frustrating, along with the increasing problem of language – the first 2 years the majority of students had some or a good handle on English; the last two years most the incoming students have little or none.  In consequence for the last two terms no one signed up for the courses I offered, courses I was advised the students wanted.  So instead I did an undergraduate class (where in general the students are a bit better, more energetic and enthusiastic – some of them).  In turn the administration wondered why I was here, collecting my pay.  I did too.   Asking them 3 months ago to give me a solid yes/no on the coming year they lapsed into bureaucratic habits and inertia, though I’d told them I needed to know well in advance to plot my life in keeping with my reality.  A few weeks ago they said they’d let me know on Monday, the 20th of June, and other things hinted a likely no, or…?    So I talked with my wife Marcella, and decided to bring this little episode to an end, despite the fiscal and other benefits of being here (good pay, cheap city to live in, good hospital in case of need, and a very lax and easy job – day a week, on the absurd academic schedule Sept-Dec/March-June).  Given the global economy and all, one side was clearly tilted to suck on that teat.  However, such cynicism doesn’t sit well with me, and besides 4 years in one place is a very long stay for this soul.  So at 68 years of age, with little aside from savings, wits and some tools, I snipped the umbilical cord, kind of like I did 49 years ago.   Can’t say I am 19 anymore, but….

[Update a day later: school seems to be somewhat frantically trying to get me to stay on – maybe if they up the pay 50%, or give me carte blanche to go to autumn fests….  Marcella suggests staying one more year, but I really …..][ …. and a few days later, definitive – leaving.  I have felt so much better since informing them of my departure – invigorated!]

An hour or two after sending off my gone-fishin’ note, arrived in my email box a happy little notice: an invitation from the Yamagata Film Festival saying Imagens de uma cidade perdida, already shown in Rotterdam, has been selected for their competition.   I’ve been to this festival now four times before, starting I think in 1989 with Plain Talk and Common Sense (uncommon senses), which I sent to them thinking maybe Japanese culture sees things differently and a film like it might be considered, as I consider it, a kind of documentary-essay, instead of, as most Western places would have it, as an “experimental” film – a toxic word designed to say to most people, “you don’t want to see this.”  Later on they invited London Brief (1997), and then 6 Easy Pieces (2001) which won some kind of prize as I recall, and then OUI NON (2003), a film I am certain no Western doc festival would deem acceptable.   Yamagata has a nice hefty money first prize, and some good secondary ones as well.  Would be real nice to snare one and replace my now MIA income, but I think Imagens is likely too subdued and gentle for such things.  However it’ll be nice to be there.  And, as it happens, it is very near Sendei, the city that got pretty wasted by the earthquake and tsunami, as well as the devastated nuclear plant area of Fukushima.  I hope to stay an extra week or so and nose around, as well as to do some screenings in Tokyo.

Imagens de uma cidade perdida

I’ve sent Imagens to a handful of other documentary festivals – Margaret Mead in NYC, the Festival dei Populi in Florence Italy, the Lisboa Doc festival, something in not-so-far-from-here Vladivostock, Russia, and I think another one or two.  Also sent the newest, fresh off the griddle “documentary” DISSONANCE to those, along as to Venice.  It is maybe too weird for any takers, but we’ll see.  And there’s another, of which later some words, also sent to Venice.


Now if anybody out there has a job kinda like the one here, but with sharp students eager to learn and work, and in some other place than I’ve lived or been in before, let’s talk !  Meantime I’ll plod along like an official 9.1 % of Americans, or an unofficial something around 20%, being unemployed.  However, in my case no government relief, etc.  Just like it always was.



  1. Let me be the first (here anyway) to say that I’m happy for you.

  2. Glad to hear this news.

  3. Maybe you could get a job at the NY Times writing editorials? Anyway, there are plenty of fish yet to fry. Good Luck!

  4. jon, i’m an undergrad facing pressure from (some sides of) the family to make a fiscally-minded career choice, and your dedicated unwillingness to cave in to that sort of pressure is absolutely inspiring. best of luck in the future, at festivals and otherwise. i wish to god you had been my film production professor last semester.

    • Where do you/did you go? Curious. My choice isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. But these days there is this absurd social pressure to get that costly degree to…. to be unemployed with a big debt hanging over you (so you will “voluntarily” get on that tread-mill, pay the SS – to have it yanked away from you to but more bullets – and live the Great American Nightmare). I got off early – like when I was 17. And at this late stage I gotta say to myself, I think I did (for me) the right thing. I didn’t pay into SS or Medicaid and I am not going to ask for a dime out. And if I did in a few years it won’t be there anyway! Best wishes and whatever the thing, do what you want to do the most.

        • brian
        • Posted July 11, 2011 at 2:04 am
        • Permalink

        swarthmore college. my ambivalent feelings about higher-education-as-career-furthering-and/or-cultural-capital are tempered by the fact that i really love it there. and a college degree is something you need if you want to teach, which i do…
        …thanks for the kind words.

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