Category Archives: News

The progress, or, how to write, meaning, how to do any type of work

I have now become more rational with this project, and it is a big achievement.  Here is how it is done. Any time I work on this topic I feel crushed by it, like it is a mountain or a slag heap, or a dead body I cannot move out of my way. When you just keep working in this situation you go in circles, and I find myself writing endless prologues or alternate beginnings, and cannot move out beyond these breakers.

In very vulgar psychoanalytic terms you have to quell that mountainous superego and enhance ego. There may well not be a yo de conjunto, as Borges would put it, but an excess of ego shattering is not a good idea.

Even Vallejo, that fractured subject, had a great deal of ego in real life. This is why I like Stephen Hart’s biographical investigations, which insist that Vallejo, no matter what the situation, was never a complete pobrecito, was never like that Pelele character in El señor Presidente, for instance.

Someone needs to do something psychoanalytic on Vallejo, by the way, something serious, and I will note that my first intuitions on him came from listening to Leo Bersani–although I never followed these out fully. (A Future for Astyanax, I wonder, perhaps Astyanax, c’est moi.)



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And now, some fluff

So, while I think that in part I do undue violence to myself on this weblog, and that I must change that, I also say that in many posts I am not “procrastinating” but attempting to call forth the person who writes, and who is a person I either hid very well, or tortured and killed, or both, I am not sure. She is difficult to call forth, I will tell you, and she has good reason for it. I am going to take on the luxury of being that person, the pristine and confident version of me that lives elsewhere, in just a few minutes and stay in that identity for three hours.

However, I cannot resist this: here is an article on marriage by a therapist. Clarissa, look at it, you will just have to laugh. Gosh — “settling” — just so you can be married — and for what, exactly? I mean: this article recommends going into marriages knowing you are ambivalent about them, on the theory that you HAVE to be married.

I can remember what I was taught about that. First, that I was not attractive enough to be chosen by someone who would be nice to me, so I should look for someone who would be as non-abusive as possible. Because abusability was what I had to offer. Later, that one should marry for love and not out of desperation or fear of solitude. Or that marriage itself was an old paradigm. Do we really have to “settle,” now?



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And two or three post-points, or, “I just wanted to bask in your brilliant mind,” as my friend said

The other thing the academic advisors do not understand is that quality of life does matter and should in fact come first. Any philosopher would tell you that. If there actually are people who only care about publishing certain books and teaching at the tertiary level and can do this well in any circumstances and at any personal price, then that is well and good, but it does not follow that people who are interested in the life of the mind more broadly, and who do want some quality of life, are “not serious enough” or “not interested enough” or are seeking great rewards beyond the interesting nature of the work itself. The moralistic finger-shaking of the academic advisors assumes and recommends masochism if not outright self-hatred, and I discern that it is where I get some of the self-hatred I do not enjoy.

And the problem I have been having with this paper is that I have not been following my own advice, which is to write a page a day, and read after going to the pool. This has always worked for me for everything, since the sixth grade. It was when psychotherapy asked me to use that writing time to write endless confessions and workbook entries that I stopped — not just because of the time it took but because what I was writing was the systematic dismantling of myself as a person.

Also, people refuse to recognize that I suffer because of these years of dismantling and the result, which is a very difficult life, and not because of a mysterious genetic disease to be corrected with pills. “If left untreated, symptoms of clinical or major depression may worsen and last for years. They can cause untold suffering and possibly lead to suicide,” says one source I am reading now. I would say, if not treated in a competent enough way. I would like to get through to somebody on this.

I seem to be impossible to comprehend since I am in worse pain than people recognize yet not as neurotic or deluded as they appear to expect. I keep saying that living well and getting to the root of things is the answer, whereas they seem to be more used to people who only want to ease suffering and accept limitations. It is as though one had only two choices: (a) be  unhappy, yet functional and (b) be disabled to one degree or another. I may be yelping more than the people in either group, but I do not think I am ultimately in as bad shape.

But I am also just out of practice, and I keep forgetting. I always slept, and I always went to the pool, and I always wrote a page each morning and read each afternoon. I always had a clean house with groceries in it, and I always had recreation. The idea that these habits were mere “coping mechanisms” that were helping me to “remain in denial,” and that I should lose them so as to be able to “feel my true feelings” is so ludicrous … and if it had been presented to me directly instead of insinuated slowly, I would have laughed.

There were other things that happened in that psychotherapy as well, and that were similarly ludicrous, but that I absorbed because I wanted to stand up to standard academic advice and did not dare. So the idea that I was working on Vallejo for really dark reasons (darker than my actual ones, which are dark enough in their way) became something I considered because in fact I wanted to do something different with the project than what I had been told I must, and I did not quite dare to take my own academic advice.

And the issue has always been the lack of kindred spirits, and that is why it is important to be where there are some, and not to back down on this. People hated Rebecca Schumann for saying that but I think that is a sign of poor mental health on their part, not on hers.

So I will allow myself to be a grown-up and take my own advice, and write a page every day, and read after going to the pool, and sleep, and have recreation. I will live as I did before, yet even moreso. This is what it means, in the immediate term at least, to be good to oneself – even if the question what can I do for ME today? inspires the spontaneous answer of putting the house on the market, packing up and driving to the Santa Monica Pier, and even if my most successful colleague recently did just that without a job to go to, saying “Anyplace I could live would be better than here, including under a bridge.”

Also, every time I write about the past I say it is the last time, but it keeps coming up in different ways. That is why I wanted to move to a different life; contemplating that darkness is not always useful although the darkness of the dark needs to be combatted. What I would like ideally is a time during the day or week to think about that, and to live well and in the present the rest of the time.

It is as though I were refusing that, living well in the present, because it is only a first step. I will not be satisfied with the results of the first step and I will be asked to be satisfied. Perhaps I can go ahead and take that first step if I also do not require myself to think it is enough.



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And the last point…

After this, we will go back to poetry. The idea that this is the greatest profession in the world is problematic because it is, if you have a good situation. If not, it is not, but one is constantly told that it should be, and will be next year in Jerusalem, for the deserving, when they get through the needle’s eye. And that if they do not see it, then they were not among the elect to begin with.

That is, of course, how the adjuncts get beguiled into continuing. It is this Calvinist strain of thought that must be combatted, O Legba. And tomorrow is Sunday, Oxalá. Stand in the light.



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Y bien

Perhaps I have my text working, although I wish I could have managed it sooner. Of course I do all the writing things people recommend: put the books away and just write, write imperfect sentences, set a limited amount of time and see how much you can do within it. I do not disagree with these strategies–it is just that they are writing strategies, not project planning strategies or remedies for other things in life.

//I cannot write because I am not present, I said. Just do it, they said; on the other hand Reeducation said I had to be Reeducated first, which was of course wrong. You must come and sit with me if you want it done, help me to be present, I said. Just do it, they said. This effort to just do it, while Reeducation was saying I should not be able to do anything, is the wheel on which I was destroyed.//

I am so tired of talking about these things, and of being in situations where I must still deal with the fallout from these events, and I am so angry (and tired of being angry) about having been pummelled about and discouraged from my better judgement, which was that given the circumstances, the best move to make would be onward, up and out, by which I did not mean waiting and praying for another academic job (in another mystery location, to boot).

I would so like to be able to live differently. I keep saying this should be possible. But my friend says the problem is not me or any lack of effort on my part, but the lack of kindred spirits. The grief counseling and the suicide prevention people, meanwhile, say I should be “easier on myself” by accepting that certain things are not possible for me just now.

The problem I have is that they have been saying this for twenty years, and I do not think I am actually that weak, and I want so much more from life. Neither “this is not possible for me right now” nor “I am merely procrastinating” seem accurate, or sufficient.



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Muy interesante

Very well, I will stop complaining since there is a fine line between making discoveries and articulating the actual state of things, and engaging in precisely the kind of self-destruction I have decided to watch out for and not do.

I have just remembered something I used to do, before Reeducation: designate time during the week for working out problems like this one. The rest of the time, I was on vacation from them, enjoying work and life.

In Reeducation this was considered too businesslike a strategy, but I disagree.

I need to jump into a different layer of self than the one I am presently in. This is something I learned about once, the idea of a layered self; it is more useful than the idea of having different faces, for instance.

I do not know what I am afraid of. Yes, I do: I am afraid that someone will discover I am treating myself decently and enjoying life, and that they will kill me. No, not that: I am rebelling against obedience. There has to be a better way to do that.

(And I have already said a great deal about how I find it impossible to write without taking at least some modicum of authority.)

What I wanted to say back then, and did not dare because it went against academic advice, but it was the grown-up thing to say:

“This schedule is unrealistic for me, and this project is at too early a stage for me to say where it will lead. I am also too close to it personally, and I need time to create the amount of distance I need to look at it objectively and practically.”

Saying this was not possible because it was too assertive and was based in too much self-knowledge. Saying I could and should do something different first was too confident. So I tried, but failed to obey and I have been destroying myself over that ever since.

As someone said long ago, and it has become more true every year: “Has pagado un gran precio por la obediencia.”

There is another, more practical way to look at the present problem: I have been heavily procrastinating on this piece because of the particularly disabling emotions I have around its subject. The piece is, furthermore, insufficiently researched, and this is a problem and it pains me. From the beginning there was not time to do the research, but in the time I have spent trying to calm down about the whole thing I could have done more.

Furthermore, when I used to work on this topic I was exhorted so much to move ahead without doing research, to write quickly, to make words flow rapidly, and to move on a dime between one activity and another, and I so dislike trying to work that way, that in the end I wanted to quit the topic and the profession — all because I was being told not to work in the way that had always worked for me.

You can call what I have been doing now procrastination, and you can say I do not know how to work. I call it being tired and unhappy and drained and guilty, and not having had it in me to work even though I know how. And sitting here trying, and not getting far enough. You can say that means I need a vacation, and this is true, but I need more.

I need another attitude toward myself, and I need a research culture. People say in print and on blogs that this is not necessary, and that by exercising discipline you should be able to work anywhere. This is mere wishful thinking, however.

At the same time my problems and blocks have to do with refusing to allow myself the authority I allowed myself in work from elementary school through parts of two assistant professorships. And professors think that the only academic problems are writing problems, but my academic blocks are about everything.

I do not have the authority to work on this, thinks the layer of me who works on the present project. So I have got to work with a more grown-up self. That person would have gotten themselves the authority to work on this. Only with a certain amount of authority can you decide to give yourself the time to work something out, and even more importantly, maintain a clear gaze in the face of all the conflicting arguments that swirl around everything.

And I was right that academia had been ruined for me, at least for the time being. All the exhortations about how I must just not be interested in field, or about how I must be loyal, were misguided because they failed to recognize the trauma(s). And in part, I sit in traumas still because I want them recognized. (Perhaps it is I, myself, who did not stand up for myself on this; perhaps it is my own attention I am trying to get.)

Ah, wanting an adult life and seeing it available right in front of me. Ah, being frozen and not able to break through the glass. Sondé miroir, O Legba.


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And simplifying

“Working here is like working in a coffin or a tomb,” said my colleague. So part of my issue is, wanting to be somewhere more lively. Wanting to do this work but needing to be somewhere more lively to do it. Is that a crime? (My colleagues making six figures are in lively places often, but I am not.)

The other thing I wanted, and that I do not think is a crime or an indication of lack of interest, was license to do research, time to think about things. The prospect of writing desperately without having time or peace to read or think or evolve or let your ideas evolve, this is what I did not like. I did not like it in graduate seminars done on the quarter system, either.

But by now, it is I who think one must work like that. This is part of my problem. The other part is that when I try to work in my way, in the way that works for me where I am happy, I find that it is not enough: I still need a place with a landscape and kindred souls.

And I know we should just keep on writing and pray for the deliverance that is promised to come one day, but this career strategy and life plan always seemed all too passive to me. I also say one needs the landscape and the kindred souls now, and not just as potential.

Part of why I went on strike for so long was that I wanted to say these things. I do understand that one is to find the landscape and the kindred souls in books.



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