La lentitude aujourd’hui


I wrote a page of my paper, and then I went to the store. I wrote another page, and then I took the rest of the day to write in my novel, which has no schedule and no publisher, and which would not count at work since I was not hired as a “creative writer.” Then we went out for a cocktail and walked into a gallery, where I bought a Chinese basket. Then I came home and started reading and writing in blogs.

“A page, and then a break – and then another page, and then another break, and then you knocked off for the day?” My youngest brother asked this question incredulously.

“That sounds painful – it is bad for the self esteem!” said a student of mine, who has reason to know of such things. But once again, two pages are better for the self esteem than are no pages, and what is worse for the self esteem is to say, when your head is swimming and your interests lie elsewhere, that two pages are not enough. That would be fourteen pages in a week, and an article in a fortnight, and I do not know anyone who would say that is not enough. They only say that two pages in a day is not enough.


If you doubt I am an egghead, read my other blog. But I also secretly want to be a journalist and creative writer. I might just go ahead with these projects. As long as I do not actually do them, they seep out of my pores and make my academic writing sweaty. I should organize life in such a way as to do them all.

That would require efficiency and purpose, but not speed. I am in the process of recapturing my natural, and only apparent slowness as a writer and also as a reader. Some people have “math anxiety” and “test taking anxiety,” and I have now heard of “foreign language anxiety.” But I have reading and writing anxiety, and I caught them, mostly, at school.


Reading anxiety came with graduate school. I had always read, and then written, but it this was no longer recommended. You should write, and then check references. You should attempt to avoid reading anything you could not, at some point, cite. If we read as curious people do, we would not write, and we would fail. We must read, but only as vultures would.

I began to feel fidgety and to have trouble concentrating when I read. This made writing more difficult than it had once been, but it was still easy and I wrote more than was required. The reading anxiety stayed with me, though, and I am anxious reading anything I do not plan to cite or teach.

When I became a professor, and had published enough so that people realized I might actually make tenure, I caught writing anxiety. The sources of contagion were certain authorities, suddenly sure I would not write any more, and that I would therefore “fail,” and certain other authorities who were sure that I should not write any more: my interest in writing was proof that there was something wrong with me. You cannot be good at both teaching and writing; you cannot be more interested in writing than marriage; you should not be interested in asymmetrical art forms, such interests are indicative of deeper problems.


These two, conflicting forms of pessimism were expressed to me so often that writing became nerve-wracking. It was not that I actually believed these authorities. It was that I could not tolerate hearing their exhortations. Those of the second set were particularly frightening.

Ever since I have tried to write too fast, because I might, on the one hand, be too slow for the first set of authorities, and because on the other, I need to finish quickly so that I am not caught writing by the second set.

The result is that when I write, I have splitting headaches. My heart pounds in my mouth. I fidget in my chair and the muscles in my back freeze. At one point the words of these two sets of authorities were so strong in me that it was as though they were shouting at me within my own house: you cannot, you should not, you must, stop, go. To shield myself from these voices I would dissociate slightly. Ego and self, perhaps, dissociated themselves from this overdeveloped superego, and went into hiding so as not to disintegrate. It is possible to write through a splitting headache, but not from dissociation.

So now I am writing slowly, and I am going to learn to read slowly, as well. This slowness is actually faster than trying to hurry is, although it is at this point slower than my truly natural pace. People say I am being slow but I say, at least I am not dissociating.

When I achieve slowness, I will speed up to my natural pace, and I will start taking my nonacademic writing projects more seriously. And when I describe my natural pace, people always express shock at how slow it sounds. But it has never gotten me behind.




Filed under Banes, Da Whiteman, Theories, What Is A Scholar?

6 responses to “La lentitude aujourd’hui

  1. I share these anxieties, my sister. In some respects, grad school was one of the worst things that could have happened to me as a writer. But I got over it. But it took me some time to begin reading and writing for pleasure again.

    The good part was the discipline, the people and the rathskellar.


  2. Hola Geoffrey – I’m glad I am not a lone neurotic! Rathskellar, yes! But y’all, in my experience – if graduate school is bad for writing, assistant professordom is worse – it’s when the real commodification sets in!

  3. Wow! sounds like it “hurts so good.” -Mellencamp. 🙂 I posted about writing today as well. Yes, two pages can beat out an empty one any day.

  4. Tom

    5oo words a day is slow?

  5. Ah, what inspiring responses. Tom, I think it is the people who do not write at all who think 500 words in a day is slow. My personal goal for any day is actually 250! More is better of course but aiming low is a better strategy for many reasons.

    Stephen, everyone should read your post – it is fantastic –

    I can just hear some low level para-writer say nyah nyah, that is just an excuse for not getting on with it, but I can say back, HAH! It is a quotation from Nabokov! He knows about writing!

  6. Two pages a day? you go!

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