Category Archives: What Is A Scholar?

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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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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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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And now, postscripts to that letter

The other reason I feel terrible working in my original field is the infantilization — I associate it working in it with shame and humiliation. And of course all the advice I rail about, the advice I tried to use to get myself to keep working on it, is infantilizing advice, so the entire atmosphere is quite toxic. Yet if I did not continue, I would hurt and disappoint everyone, and be killed.

It was all quite paralyzing and I understand perfectly why I wanted to leave and not return, even if no-one else does, or if everyone else says that they would have been strong enough to withstand the situation, or that their love of field would have been enough to sustain them, or that I had a tenure-track job and should not complain.

So now, many years later, I am depressed because I do not work enough on the things I really like, and yet do not work enough on those things because I am depressed. Then I am further depressed because I claim I should use discipline and time management to work on those things, and it doesn’t work, although I am good at task management strategies and they always worked for me before.

We have seen that self-hatred and self-torture are evils to be eradicated but here is a postscript from my letter-writing friend: I needed kindred souls. If I could have found kindred souls, or were in a place where they were easier to find, I would not have become or remained so depressed, or doubted my interest in field, he says.

And I suddenly see it is more than true: this is why I find I am interested in field and able to write easily during conferences and on research trips, although not otherwise — even being in the vague presence of people who might be kindred souls seems to be enough. And it is why, if I were to live here, I wanted a different profession: there were kindred souls doing that.

(Of course, once again, I know what some will say: that even bound hand and foot in an isolation cell, they would sing their most beautiful poems and publish new theories in first-tier journals, because they are committed.)

And I see that improving the depression is like language learning, or research and writing. It has to be done incrementally — everything I have tried has been either too slow and vague or too much of a whirlwind or crash course. I would never have said living well was anything but a daily activity and a slow practice, before.

On the other hand, letting it lift is like jumping. I hesitate to walk into torture chambers, yes. But what about that hesitation to jump into a beautiful pool?



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Extraits d’une lettre

“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. . . . “

That is from someone who writes every year or two. I met him long ago when I had just started my depression; he asked why I had it and I said it was because I had contracted self-hatred from psychotherapy. We are both unmoored primordially for reasons having to with our translucent mothers, and for this reason we understand each other. Today I explained that the reason I am not at the top of my field ni mucho menos is that I am constantly trying to limit my intelligence and awareness so my mother can love me and I can survive.

It is constantly confusing to me that if you are not highly intelligent and high achieving you will not get tenure and will be thrown out on the street, while at the same time if you do have these characteristics, your mother will not love you and will throw you out on the street. I never knew which path to choose, which one would give me the longest run.

But this excruciating childhood dilemma is the reason I have wanted to get off the straight and narrow, away from atmospheres in which things had to be approved, to other atmospheres where they might simply be lost or won. I suffer with academic research and writing in my original field because for me it is about obedience, approval-seeking, and honorific writing about great men. It is definitely not exploration or learning or assertion or expression or the advancement of knowledge. These associations are what I have against it.

It is interesting to see these things. It is encouraging that do not feel the same way about the field I moved into, and that I would have moved into sooner if I had not followed (or tried to follow) the most conservative academic advice. But thinking about Vallejo — not thinking about him, but having to produce something about him — throws me into this really negative and desperate space, where I must write something meaningless and inferior to survive and at the same time, I may be exiled for writing anything at all.

Both options are so deadly and also so do not have to do with my actual life. Qui écrit? I have writing difficulty to prove to Reeducation and to my mother that I am more than a coldhearted scientist and that I therefore deserve to survive, and also because writing meaningless and inferior things for the sake of survival is such a dismal prospect. Who else can I be? In contradistinction to what my father sometimes said about what he was writing, I do not think that what I have to say is meaningless or inferior. I would also say that the idea that one is writing to survive is too much of a distraction.

“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.”


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