Category Archives: Resources

How to fix things

…by practicing mental health hygiene. It is not all one must do but hygiene is not mere obedience or compliance. And it does not work in a day but it has a cumulative effect, if only that of not being destructive.

The trick is not to say it is all one needs, or not to allow anyone to say this. It is only a basis for things. Claiming that hygiene was enough is one of my past errors–it is akin to the claim that standard academic advice is enough. This, I see, is one of the reasons I self-destruct by, for instance, not keeping food in the house, not sleeping enough, or whatever it is: I am dissatisfied with mere hygiene because it is insufficient. This does not mean it is not necessary, of course, and I see why I am so angry with mental health hygiene now.

Here is the hygiene exercise du jour: work for three hours without yelling at myself or berating myself for any reason, and without allowing myself to become engulfed in self-doubt or sadness. It is because these feelings overtake me that I get enmired (and allowing such feelings to overtake me is of course something I had inculcated in Reeducation).

It is interesting that I had to LEARN to allow those feelings to overtake me: before Reeducation I would have dismissed them as irrational remnants, which they are. In Reeducation those remnants had to be one’s TRUE feelings but in yoga or Buddhism, for instance, they would just be vague passers-by, illusions.

(In Christianity, I notice, people struggle with demons but I like the idea of illusions much better. It is far more fun to simply let an illusion pass than it is to lock oneself into a struggle with a demon.)

ADDENDUM: Dumping guilt has to be one of the first hygiene moves. In my case also, feeling guilty disables me (via fatigue) such that I am not able to come through on things–which exacerbates guilt. And it is strange, I never used to feel guilty about academic work. People would say they felt guilty when taking time off, for instance, but I never did, because I was not then in an abusive relationship with it. I am subsumed in guilt nowadays, though, and on this half masochistic and half liberating weblog I try to deal with it.



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I also think this

If I stop accusing myself of procrastination and avoidance and recognize that these things are not rooted laziness or adolescent-style “rebellion” but fear, and they are also misguided efforts at protection (against yet greater self-abuse, I might add), it might help.

What can I do for me today? Be gentle. I am so violent with myself, it is frightening. Just the thought of being gentle, the possibility of it, brings instant calm and clears my mind.

(It is true that after a certain point I did not lead the life I wanted but the life others chose. I am not going to torture myself about that, either. I will remember it is not my fault that, since earliest memory, my priority could not be choosing what I wanted and had to be compliance. I will remember that I knew this was a problem and sought help for it, and was sincere.)

I can achieve calm if I remember to be gentle. So that is what I can do tomorrow: not ask what I can do for ME today, or “be good to myself” since I do not entirely understand that, but just be gentle.


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That incredibly low self-esteem

This was what that psychotherapy got me in touch with and said was the real me, that I needed to come out of denial about being. It is true that as a small child I was very ashamed of being such a deficient and also inadvertently mean person. I was afraid of being thrown out on the street if I made any further errors at all, or if I did not manage to function entirely at the service and for the pleasure of my caregiver. I knew that nobody else would put up with me, and my death on the street would be long and painful. I was willing to give a great deal of myself in exchange for avoiding that.

All of this is true but in contradistinction to the views of my Reeducative therapist, it did not mean I could not grow out of it, or had not already grown out of a large part of it. It did not mean that all the things I had done in spite of this were illegitimate, illusory, or fake.

“Do you mean you are going to take more of a stand, rather than remain silent? I pride myself for being able to glimpse in a person that elusive quality of heightened awareness. YOU ARE TRULY BRILLIANT, GOD DAMNIT. Please just admit it.”

It is difficult to do that because it would be to say I am not like the others. Yet I notice that many others are as imperfect as I and they still allow themselves things. I also note that not only am I not unintelligent. I am also not all that unhealthy, or all that cruel. It is not mean to say you are an individual, or to disagree with others, or to have high standards, or to experience joy. These are things people have said, but they are not necessarily true.

Sleeping the sleep of the guilty. Waking up in the morning already screaming at myself. Spending most of each day trying to stop, trying to talk myself out of that point of view. How to limit this phenomenon by some measure that does not appear to be a disciplinary measure?

How to be kind? (For many years I woke up happy and sprang up, and slept an innocent sleep.)


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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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An important comment from Clarissa

Discipline will not do anything useful with [the problem of self-sabotage and self-hatred]. Just the opposite – it will aggravate the issue. Discipline is a form of masochism, a symptom of self-hate, and you can’t eradicate self-hate with more of the same.

And, I suppose, it is because of this that I have such an issue with academic advice. Also, what is the difference between having “discipline” in a positive sense and forcing yourself to do something? Why is it that love notes work so much better to get me to do things than warning notices?

And a related point: we are supposed to produce good products, yet at the same time we are advised to mediocrity. I remember this from school, constantly being told that the most important thing was to make deadlines and avoid controversy. Then, when finally I decided I must make a serious effort at my Ph.D. examination in English to make sure I would pass, I was told I really ought to make that kind of effort more often because my work was very good and people did not know it, since I did not give myself the chance.

Later there was that moment at the ceramics studio where the teacher took me aside and said, you have been improving as slowly as you could manage to do for years, but you have been improving and you are now quite good. You must stop treating your work in such a casual way.

Being good to oneself: something I usually thought was only possible in foreign countries or late at night, when nobody would know I had taken a break from suffering.

Choosing what one likes: something I thought was not possible for me. I thought that for me, the only possibility was choosing what seemed best from a pre-approved list. Also, it seemed to me that my first choice would always be denied, so the key was to choose the second least objectionable activity from the pre-approved list. This is why I have difficulty knowing what I like, or rather how much I like something or not — and to what degree I am doing something by choice, or out of interest in its intrinsic nature.

Waking up in the morning and saying, what can I do for ME today? This, again, is something I normally consider impossible, disallowed, during the day in the United States. In a foreign country were I cannot be seen from here, or while others sleep, I can of course consider these things, and I could here if I were independently wealthy. But I consider that while here and visible, what I must do to survive is prove each day that I am NOT putting myself or my own work first. This, of course, is what must change and this weblog is my form of psychoanalysis and is here to change this very deep training.




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De l’objectivité

In Reeducation, as we know, my ability to remain objective and maintain a certain level of detachment from things was considered to be a lack of affect … when really it was just a professional skill, as well as an unwillingness to participate in histrionics. Did I need really destructive treatment … a lethal blow to the head, for instance … so I could finally “feel” in the way that was desired?

I am not at all convinced of Alice Miller’s thesis, that you must have hit home (so to speak) the full horror of whatever you might have been through, and I do not believe in re-experiencing things or having them reinflicted. But I have heard a great deal about how one should give free rein to emotions, and make sure to grieve and re-grieve.

My thesis tonight again is that in order to write, you must be able to maintain a certain degree of objectivity, including a slight distance from your material and the right connection with yourself. You need easy access to self, and I suppose enough ego for confidence, but you must be in a position to leave ego concerns, positive or negative, aside.

When I was really depressed I wanted to be in some dry field or some field that had very little to do with me personally. Then I would have been able to just keep on working, lose myself in work, I thought. Instead I wrote large institutional grants, made needed curricular reforms, designed and coded university webpages in html, created programs, and more. Some of this was low level work but some was quite sophisticated, and all of it was dry. All of it could be done without a great deal of access to self.

But being depressed affects my precision in the humanities and the arts. I lose the ability to get to just the right degree of objectivity, the right combination of proximity and distance. I feel too far away from the subject matter and too close to myself, perhaps. Or too close to my superficial self, and too alienated from my core being. And now, writing again on a poet who is falling apart while I am falling apart, a poet who is also connected to the family that fell apart, the poet on whom I could not write for these reasons and, since I could not understand why, thought it meant I could no longer write … well, it is quite an exercise in attaining the right degree of objectivity, I will say.

The other problem I have with this piece is that it is not nearly well enough researched. That is because I have these reeling experiences when I do research on this person, all too much involved with nostalgia and regret and incomprehension and other feelings. It means my lucidity waxes and wanes. I am taking this entire experience as an exercise in taking hold of things.



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