Things we said last night

…living in a culture which is concerned to preserve itself in a static way and/or revive an older version of itself; which repeats more than it evolves; which is participatory but in the sense of working to present itself as an object of consumption.  (“I feel like a walking ethnographic exhibit,” someone said.)

…”I do not feel I can be who I am, or that the place allows me to become who I am,” someone said. She is walking on eggshells at all times because she knows from experience that simply acting as her direct, assertive self is to invite disaster.

…everyone knows one is not to care what others think but we must do, here, because what they think determines how they act upon one. If they are not constantly and correctly reassured, they can do a great deal of harm. This is a real double bind, since the reassurance, and the dependence upon others feeling reassured, is not healthy but is a necessity for survival.

…the women are gender policing each other and undermining or sabotaging each other in hopes of gaining the favor of the patriarch. One must watch one’s back at all times if one is interested in self preservation or needs to understand what has happened to one.

…important: the gender configuration of this culture is very oppressive and we are major threats to it; we are the enemy, although we do not realize it, and we are constantly under fire.

we are emotionally exhausted all the time from trying to fit in well enough not to have difficulties or be the difficult ones, from trying to understand the people we are working with well enough to work, from trying to gain access to the kinds of sustenance we need, and from recovering from the odd conflicts we do not understand.

…even people who are from here feel isolated if they are women not seeking to become a stone in the patriarchal mosaic.

…in theory there are many resources and things of interest here but they all take much work to gain access to. You must travel, you must have equipment, you must know people or meet them. You cannot simply walk out onto the street and find pleasure, or walk into your workplace and find the tools you need to work. Work and leisure are both tantalizingly available, but just out of reach.

…we are not happy because of the need to stifle and shrink ourselves to fit in, and to find space to grow the parts of ourselves we have amputated. We are constantly checking ourselves, dividing ourselves, quieting ourselves … and then wondering why the amputated parts of ourselves are not working as they should.

…the reason I do not like standard academic advice is that its rote repetition is condescending and dismissive. It is what is given to people who are not being taken seriously, who are not considered interlocutors. It is an obstacle thrown in our way, even as it is presented as a way in.

…the reason I need to be in a large department, at a university with advanced programs in my related departments, is not arrogance, elitism, or the desire for prestige (as I have always been told), or even my research orientation and preference for large venues. It is that I do not fit into the national literature paradigm. I am not only not a language teacher first, I am also not interested in promoting or reproducing national literatures. I am “more like someone in English,” it was said, but what was meant was that I am someone in literature tout court. Operating within a large “Hispanic Studies” net is one thing, but fitting into a small  Spanish box is another.

…how to use my talents and profundizar in my specialties, how to find space for this, has been the problem here: not just because one is asked to be a generalist Hispanist, as opposed to a comparatist or Latin Americanist with specialties, but also because the air in which one is working is so toxic, and because the ground keeps caving in.


These problems keep raising their heads although most immediately, that is only because I made overly ambitious teaching plans this semester and also because I have been sleeping poorly.  Could be that all I need is to be a little more definite about everything, a little less intimidated about everything, a little more confident, less in doubt about my own perceptions, less tentative, as fearless as I feel elsewhere?

Would this solve the problem despite what my friend who is from here said, that it is so difficult for her to be herself here, think like herself here, maintain her sense of reality here? Perhaps not, but it is still a good thing to do.

…my friend said my problem is not that I am unhappy but that I am unhappy here, and that I am really unhappy here, despite having things I appreciate about the place and despite not being unhappy en mí. (The idea that it is always you, that it is what you bring, is false, she said; circumstances are real things.)

I would so like to spend a day or a week not having to heavily strategize about how to gain, for an hour during the next week perhaps, a moment in which I am not having to put most of my physical and mental energy toward some form of self mutilation, something to help me fit in. A moment when I can be myself. I tend to think it is when I can be out of town but wait: perhaps it is that 30 minutes of research. Perhaps my intermittent research schedule this semester, and intermittent sleep and exercise schedules, have had worse effects than I know.


But it is also the emotional exhaustion, the effort to be acceptable here, and the paradoxical fact that those efforts are destructive toward the person who works.

My whole, entire professional problem involves knowing exactly what I want and need to do, yet having directions to do something entirely different. Having instructions not to be who I am, instructions to become someone else. I have been frantic with this for a long time.

Somehow though I must at least end complicity in that sabotage of the person I always was and wanted to be.

The endless self-criticism. Very practically, though, what I need is this: clear instructions on the basic language program. Then: teach my survey and the introductions to literature and culture in my standard ways. Then: teach the other surveys, whichever ones I get, on themes and topics I can manage. Then: have my advanced course on one of two topics, work these up, do no others. These things would limit teaching, and if I could limit service, refuse what is unweildy, that would help very much as well.

And it is still so much to do. And there is so much I want, there are so many interesting things I would like to teach, if I am to teach. But the first thing is to move a step away from intimidation, a step away from fear, a step away from self-doubt, and many steps away from the sadness over all that happened and all that I lost because of having been so pushed in these directions.

I could die of nostalgia now. I have been having visions all day of my first grade classroom, the sun on the oaks, the thick sparkling air, the feeling of eternity. I would so like not to have to struggle so hard, would so like to have backing rather than be undermined, would so like to begin again.





Filed under Banes

12 responses to “Things we said last night

  1. I got told today to be quiet about something and to never mention it any more. I said, “OK. Maybe it’s better not to solve problems, better at least than having screaming fights.” (My husband did not instigate this attack, but he did not stop it either.). My husband, who knows me well, knew I would insist on restitution, so we went out to lunch and I bought myself some blouses.
    The men are always worse than women, especially the older men, because they feel authorized to judge women all the time. I do not understand this fantasy about the superior kindness of older men. Of course they like young girls and women…

  2. And by the way, it is outrageous that you should be expected to teach the kind of language classes that are like the ESL classes I taught back when all I had was a B.A.

  3. Z

    It is very impractical, the ESL classes, yes. Lots of people better than me still teach these, though — I just don’t think they do it in such an unwieldy situation.

    My friend who articulated these things is 25.

  4. Jonathan Mayhew

    I am convinced you need to get out of there. Strategies for coping with all of that are all well and good, but really it looks psychologically untenable. And I know what that looks like.

    • Z

      It was very interesting to have someone who is from here and does not bring to academia the same problems I do, make the analysis I would make except more clearly.

      Still: the push-back has to be to decide I am right about things and be definite about everything.

    • I am thinking the same thing. Some of your recent posts make me think it would be better for you to move somewhere you like and live in a friend’s basement while you find another job, almost any other job. But not with your parents. It seems that your family has created damage that makes it easier for people in your current place to prey on you. Assertiveness is not enough, and some places/situations really are toxic, and that whole you-take-yourself-with-you trope is BS. The problems here are not you. L’enfer, c’est les autres.

      • I mean, the same thing as Jonathan.

      • Z

        You are right, DEH. So, tell me more about the you-take-yourself-with-you trope. I really do keep thinking that if I did not have the vulnerabilities I have, I would not be as open to this particular form of destruction.

        Of course: one presupposition of that trope is the (essentialist) idea that the subject/the self is a fixed entity.

      • The idea is that one’s problems are of one’s own making, so moving won’t help; one would still be obsessive-compulsive, lonely, mean, neurotic, alcoholic, or whatever, in a different setting. This attitude refuses to acknowledge that sometimes people are unhappy (OCD, lonely, whatever, including substance abuse) as a response to a bad situation, and that the appropriate response to (for instance) having an abusive boss or spouse is to leave, rather than to “work on oneself.” I suppose there are people who really do need to work on themselves, but there is a difference between those who say their problems are always someone else’s fault (and the “someone else” varies by day or situation) and those who recognize that one particular person, job, place, or whatever is a problem.

        So, since you say you are happy and functional in other places, and not in the one where you live and work, and you can clearly identify the systemic and other elements that make you unhappy where you currently live, then it seems transparently obvious that the problem is not inherent to you. That is, some of it may be—the abuse in your past, particularly in your family of origin, does predispose you to being taken advantage of by other manipulators—but that is not your fault. Being assertive does help, but all the same, the point is not to get strong enough to keep working with manipulators, but to be strong enough to get away from them. If you had a genetic predisposition to some disease, it would be basic common sense not to take a job that would be likely to make you develop that disease. You need to be around straightforward, reasonable, happy people for your own well-being.

  5. I am going through one of those mental shifts that happen to me every several years, becoming hyper-aware of my surroundings and actions, arranging matters (both short term and long term) for my future self, paying attention to my emotions and my real reactions to people. As always, I am probably overly alert to potentially dangerous people and situations, but that is a handy way to be at my age.

    A friend of mine from grad school visited the other day, and, at age 70 she is still behaving like a hippie chick. Her life consists of going from one thing to another in a picaresque way. Now she’s into online dating, one man after another. These are the bizarre results of fixing one’s personality as an adolescent and not changing. Because what’s cute at 17 is grotesque at 70.

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