Category Archives: What Is A Scholar?

C’est des tips volés

12 things, none of them a real solution to anything. Mostly these are about letting myself be a “good enough teacher.”


1. Cancel a class. Ideally timed to a point in the term when students are cramming my office or when I know I’ll need to catch my breath. Very hard to give oneself permission to do this. But my God it helps. (This works particularly well on the quarter system.)

2. Drop an assignment — even if this departs from the syllabus, even if you’ve already started the term with a plan, if you are spending all your time grading, there’s one way to fix this, which is by giving fewer assignments. Again, hard to give oneself permission, especially mid-course but I have NEVER regretted doing this.

3. Next best thing: Convert an assignment to pass/fail.

4. Grade only with letters or, even better, with just A/B/C/D – no pluses/minuses. Helps to draw the line more clearly between an “A” and a “B.” And man o man it speeds up grading! I end up giving more As than I would, but that’s OK.

5. It feels like a total betrayal, but, depending on assignment no comments beyond those which explain the grade.

6. Assign bibliographic research — an annotated bibliography takes less time to evaluate than does an essay. You end up teaching them a lot as most have no idea how to research anything, but this is less soul killing than reading essays. Most of your teaching is done face-to-face rather than in comments. Someone else said this, which means it is not lazy of me to do it.

7. If you have a large class and can hire a grader, hire 2 — it pays so little, most students who hire themselves out as graders are doing it for the exposure to teaching upper division classes — but if you hire 2, you can split the grading 3 ways. In a 90-person class, this means that you each handle 30. 30 is much better than 45. This kind of arithmetic is important.

8. Do not meet with students outside of office hours, move office hours once or twice during the term to make schedule conflict less likely.

9. Say no to all LOR requests for a term, unless its a PhD student on the job market. I’ve never been able to see this through but it does mean in a term like that I only write LORs for the exceptional student.

10. Make the following a matter of policy: you read but do not reply to their emails. Period. All questions about grades must be made in person, after class or during office hours, no exceptions.

11. A trick, for when you are “in the weeds” and are entering a week when prepping for class is going to be hard—make your students bring questions to class, written down. Collect at the beginning of class, and spend the whole class answering the most interesting ones. This is fun, it really works — and it requires no prep beyond doing the reading yourself. I do this even when I am not “in the weeds.” Why: because it allows me to meet the students where they are. I tend to prepare way above their level and class does not go well then.

12. (related to 11) Teach from handouts made of key quotations from that day’s reading. Also, assign a question on the reading to be answered in writing before class, and organize discussion based on the answers people bring. (Make them answer in a serious way, of course, if you want this to work.)

12. (related to 11) NEVER assign material you haven’t read within the past 2 years. Generally a good rule of thumb. I should do this. I had never thought of it since I am usually assigned to teach so far out of field. But I should do it and make it a rule of thumb: also for accepting invitations to speak and write.


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Qu’est-ce que je peux faire pour MOI asteur?

…decide what this paper, which feels alien, has to do with my book, which does not.


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The next step

It is to talk about work, my history of work. Relation to self in work, relation to family in work. Education, Reeducation, work, identity, right to exist. This is a broader topic than I am covering in this post.

This post is about research. There is a way in which my entire academic problem is about research, which one was always supposed to cut short in order to rush products out the door. That has in part to do with studying on the quarter system.

It has more to do with the idea that research should be hidden and teaching and service made obvious, if you were to get along. Yes, you wanted writings out by the end of the year, but actually having these writings be good writings, more than pirouettes, was self indulgent.

It was also considered to be “procrastination.” You should not undertake research, you should just write. It is research time and research calm, not writing strategies, that are key; this is where I disagree with everyone else.


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On television, and on the next step

There is Amar en tiempos revueltos, and there is also Isabel la Católica. I would love to just watch all of these things on RTVE and withdraw from the world entirely. But it is a beautiful fall now, my favorite season outdoors.

What is the next step:
should I consider denial, magical thinking, evasion, avoidance, not taking responsibility — does any of this apply to me? (There are things I am hiding from, but do the words listed name the phenomenon accurately?) Is this the next step, even, or a future one?

The next step:
maintain the first. Name the things that feel problematic (e.g. “this is an imposition”) and notice the destructive things I say to myself. Rather than adhere to any kind of discipline, even “be good to yourself” (although that is still a good lemma to remember), think: integrate.

Also: the point of writing these papers is actually therapy. Even if they are not good, or original, working on them is therapeutic.


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Un dimanche, and a self-indulgent, self-involved post. Or not: it starts out with consumerism, yet ultimately it could be a psychoanalytic post.

The weather is pleasant today and I could suffer less than I do. I have paid off a card and so in shopping news I ordered jeans and a bag, that I needed, and decided to buy glasses, that I need, and all of these things are for work. I have also located a bicycle, although I cannot afford it until next summer.

I have decided against a desk or a chair for the foreseeable future. I have further decided that I am in a phase of disliking to write and I need a pomodoro. (No, I do not, because it ticks — and I invented that “technique” before it was marketed, anyway — I should just start to do it and be  bullet-biter.)

I dreamed this morning of my mother. I asked her why she wanted me to do nothing for myself and nothing for her, yet not to leave her side. She said that what she needed was for me to stand within her line of sight and look wise.

That would be quite something for a psychoanalyst to study. I am thinking about my major in college, chosen because it was a compromise between my own interests and the family’s. I needed a major that interested me and that they would not be abusive about or hurt by. Later on I could do another set of degrees, chosen in absolute freedom, I thought.

And this has never been quite possible, but something like it may become possible one day.

My favorite book is Go Tell It On the Mountain. This is a reason to reread it and discover new reasons why this is my favorite book. I know it is because it is the book that always comes to mind when people ask what books are important to one. Today, when answering that question, I said the additional books I wanted to read were by Braudel, Fromm, Huizinga, and Marx.

That gives an idea of my actual major, perhaps, although not a complete one.

I want to read. I want to finish this paper so I can get back to my real project. That I have this thought is exciting.


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Comment écrire

The way to write is to write 2.5 hours in the morning and do things that strengthen you the rest of the time.

But those are just practicalities. At a deeper level, you have to fill the project with yourself, as Proust might have said, and pull it onto your ground.

I find myself unable to work efficiently on Vallejo because I withdraw. I withdraw because I feel I am being crushed by the mountain of work on him that I am not interested in, but should theoretically control and address when I would much rather read him alongside other things. Outside as well are the shouting voices of various supervisors telling me to write more and faster (from an era when in fact I was writing more and faster than they, I must point out).

Now that I see the reason my mind seems to scramble is withdrawal, I may be able to improve the situation. The other thing I notice is that I do not seem to think Vallejo projects are my friends. Vallejo materials only seem friendly when I look at them as an amateur or fellow traveler. I find I must keep reminding myself that even at a professional level, they are my friends. This is somewhat odd, I find, but it is true.



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Finally: on not wanting to come out in public

“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.”

All right. But the fact is that I am also so ashamed of being who I am that I do not want to be seen in public, or make any public statements.

Meanwhile, this habit of getting up feeling terrible, and spending most of the day trying to feel less terrible so as to be able to do anything, and looking into the darkness so as to shed light, and not resting, and not getting enough done so that one does not sleep an accomplished sleep, and restarts the cycle, has simply got to go.

How to get up feeling terrible and change it to well? There has to be a way of doing this and I have to remember to do it every day.

One reading is that I get up feeling terrible so that I can be ill and thus procrastinate on doing the things I do not feel worthy of doing even though doing them would make me feel better. I procrastinate out of rebellion: I wanted to do this, but I wanted to do it according to my judgement, and I wanted to do other things as well. I wanted to express myself but it seemed that this would not be allowed, so I refused to speak. I keep losing for this reason, and the problem is that I gave up making my own decisions.

Always I had had to limit my choices to what would be approved, but I was learning to expand more and more, when I was cut down. What do I want? has been the question asked but I has retreated so far that the question is more, where have I gone? (Of course I do know what I want generally. What I do not want is to lead the empty, obedient life the academic advisors recommend. That seems to be what I am struggling with, and committing hara-kiri over.)

But I want an adult life.


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