All those threats

Before college: Anything you do that is your own or that is expressive of you causes your mother to suffer the greatest of tortures. Be still.

Before graduate school: You cannot do anything and must get married so someone will support you, but you will not of course be able to marry anyone who loves you or will treat you well.

In graduate school: Do not develop teaching confidence, or any serious interests outside research and writing. You will not be a good researcher and writer so you must put extra time and effort into this, as it is the only thing that counts.

In professordom: The only thing that counts is basic teaching. You have too much research skill, you write too easily, you are too outspoken and you have too many friends outside our circles.

Later: Please do not leave the academic fold! Do not abandon us! And I thought: Anything you do that is your own or that is expressive of you causes your mother to suffer the greatest of tortures. Be still.

I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.

1/ I was always told not to be a professor because it was a bad business. I also knew that graduate school was the only thing I could do at the time, and that it was good for me. And it wasn’t true that I did not want to be a [certain kind of] professor.

I had just had it so ingrained in me that to be a professor was a sign of failure as a person, and that it was also impossible to achieve. These things made it hard to commit.

2/ I do not have a “writing problem” but as a professor I quickly learned to feel guilty and scared about time spent doing research. I hear people screaming at me that I am selfish and should be spending this time caring for others. I hear that if I do not repress my own work and dedicate myself to such care, I may be thrown out on the street and left to die.

I will be gravely wounded and without resources. It will be a slow, painful, abandoned, desolate death. People will kick me as they walk by. I hear that I should be reading more superficially and faster. “Cut corners, dear.”

3/ Nowadays every problem I have has to do with lack of research / writing time and of autonomy. There is also the instability of the university and of my department. There is the malevolent faculty atmosphere — and the majority of students who do not care about a great deal. (I went to a thesis defense the other day and it was so different.)

What can one do about this: insist upon as much autonomy as possible, maintain integrity, fight on one’s own side and ruthlessly put research first every day. Research may not be the only thing that counts but it is the only thing that sets the bones, or that guides the river into its own course.

The malevolence. Having so often had to deal with unsafe elements in the house.

Axé.

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