Category Archives: Da Whiteman

Stamani in un urna d’acqua

It is true, professors are flowers and have to have sun, water, nice soil and time to read. You cannot jail someone below ground, sentence them to sacrifice and penitence, set them on a time-clock and expect a good result, even if the advisors say that is what is needed.

I caught a glimpse of what it would be to be here in Maringouin, right here at Vichy state, but in a department whose customs did not include ill will and where one had autonomy but also collegiality. I caught a glimpse of what it would be to have that, and at the same time not carry so much guilt about having been research oriented and done the Ph.D.

About that: my father did not think it was a good idea in general, and also did not think I, in particular, would be able to “live in snow” (Ann Arbor, Madison) or publish. I was always tentative about the degree for this reason. But for my mother it was much more traumatic because it meant I was not doing at all what she wanted, was not the kind of person she wanted. She really tore herself apart over this. And I hurt them so much by having the interests I had. In some later years I thought of them hourly with guilt and pain.

If I could do things over again the one thing I would do is turn down my aunt’s offer to pay for college. (This is not about graduate school now, but about college.) I had about $2,000 from another relative, that I later used for study abroad, but I could have taken it and run away to trade school. With the trade in hand, I could have paid myself to go to the very college I went to — it was quite inexpensive. Then my mother would not have had grounds to say I had taken money that should have been hers, and my father would have respected me because I would have paid for college myself.

And the family would not have hated me then, and I would not be considered to have hurt them. I would feel very different now if I had had the presence of mind to do these things, to protect myself at the outset from the years of recrimination.



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Henry Miller was right

Miller works the way one did before having to listen to the harangues of professors who read Boice. He lived at Big Sur at one point–perhaps the mystical awareness came to him there. Here are three of his points, with my comments:

  • Work on one thing at a time until finished. [Even when others demand you do something else, and even when you are efficiently accomplishing many things.]
  • Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’ [This second point is what is meant by the dictum against perfectionism — allow things to be finished when they are finished. It does not mean you should not finish things or not allow yourself to produce things that satisfy you.]
  • Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand. [That is SO different from the idea of setting a timer and your jaw that is recommended now, but it is what a real writer does.]

I am fortunate to have known these things early on. Really fortunate. I should sit in this knowledge more. Everything is fine when I have, or take more research and writing time, and more recreational time, and do not listen to those who say one does not know what one is doing and is only serious if committed to grim drudgery, or sacrifice and penitence without spirit.


I have been feeling well the past few days and it is because some things have come together. The situation was not created by me entirely, or by me alone, or perhaps we could say it was not created by me. What I have to say about these things is, very briefly, about the “disease model” of “depression” (which I don’t think I have, I think I have oppression, which may be another thing).

Disease model: it is useful insofar as it insists that the phenomenon is real. It fascinates me how many people think it is not. They really do think everything is a question of attitude, or in some cases correct Protestant-style morals. But it is destructive when people want to use it as an excuse to check out, or want you to. I find that a slight reduction in oppression goes a long way, but I also find that so many people feel they are entitled to so much that if you gave them the chance to say a reduction in oppression would help, they would decide they should just wait for more things to be served to them on silver platters.

In any case, though, I feel different lately. I feel as I did before psychotherapy and academic jobs, before I was told I was the wrong person, before I was told my accomplishments were not real and my pleasures not legitimate, and before I began to feel I had better either flee or hide if these were the things I was to believe in my current universe. The fact that I feel different is proof that depression, or oppression, are real things and really impair you. I do not believe they are biological matters and I am not at all convinced that you can recover just by taking the semester off.



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Des nouvelles

I am in the mood never to break or lose anything out of carelessness due to feeling distraught again. Those things only started happening to me when I started putting Reeducation’s life ahead of my own. I am in the mood never to miss a deadline again, or to miss fewer of them. I am in the mood for calm and stability.

About needs: some of our professors said we were complaining, spoiled, and entitled and we internalized this, but they were speaking for themselves. They were the ones with the hystrionics. Should you really work against your own professional needs and the needs of your field? Should you really expect yourself, unrealistically, to flourish where no plants bloom … do people who say you can do anything, anywhere, really believe their own words? I need stability and a non-undermining atmosphere, if not a nurturing atmosphere then one where development is not systematically impeded, and I need peace of mind. I do not think these things are so much to ask.

A friend who called me said I was amazing because I never complain, and I have a very positive and balanced attitude, and I try again and again. This is a perceptive person who knows me well.

Someone told me one should never review a book with a chip on one’s shoulder and I thought this was a brilliant comment that should be extended to everything — never do ANYTHING with a chip on your shoulder. Certain projects I have failed to complete: how could one, on shifting ground and with scolding and recrimination of different kinds, dissonant with each other, coming in from every side?

These attacks of panic that I have come to experience are in part the breaking after taking the last blow I could tolerate. They are about exhaustion from handling and putting up with more than any one person can. They are about trying to handle, or tolerate, or resist boundary invasions that threaten to finish me off.

I am in the mood not to allow any of these things any more.


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Revista Iberoamericana, o, hoy estoy mucho mejor

Dame Eleanor Hull has returned, and it is great.

Meanwhile, here is an interesting table of contents which shows what the world was like when I undertook my first serious research project. Had I read this issue of this journal more closely then, I would be yet more intelligent now, but I was reading older things. I was not to do read anything too recent because it would be too difficult for me and being new, could be wrong in unknown ways. It could thus lead me in a bad direction, it was said.

Life, it seemed, was a series of lessons in how to limit oneself. Nowadays this is chic: learning to accept limits, realizing you have limits, becoming disabled. Earlier on, though, it had been known that those lessons in how to limit oneself were a[n antifeminist] tool of oppression. Think of Joanna Russ.

My mother was raised with expectations which she felt were oppressive, and raised me with anti-expectations. Amateurism or doing just enough to get by were the goals. This was intended kindly, at least at the beginning, but soon I was deeply disappointing or at least incomprehensible because I was serious, or at least took an interest in things and wanted to get them done. These things are a large part of why I cannot abide the “good-enough” or the “bad first draft” cant. Other people may be perfectionists and need to tone it down, but what I always wanted in life was to work above the bare minimum, live above bare subsistence, aspire.

It is still not clear to me what is so wrong with this. When will we be allowed to do our best work?

Dulcis et decorum est per superficialitatem mori, I suppose the moral would be. You must work quickly and not challenge anything, and you are acceptable then; this exactly what I do not like.

I have also had an illumination about sleeping (you know I do not sleep, because I was taught I must feel pain and sleep deprivation is the way I achieve this). I think I am rebelling against conventionality, taking time for myself and so on, because only late at night am I completely sure I will not have to deal with people and thus will not have to be trampled upon or pulled one way and the next. But I am also participating in a  strategy of impairment, so that I will not want more than the minimum out of life; and most fundamentally it is submission to Reeducation which wanted me to find a way to feel more pain.

Perhaps if I remember that, it will be easier to renounce this practice which really feels like anorexia or an addiction.



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La méditation de cette semaine

This is my meditation for the week and I will remain true to it even though it appears that my dear, rat-tat-tat little computer is not very badly harmed. (Only two keys are still stuck, and it flickered upon rebooting but then came up just fine.)

My meditation will be about self-sabotage. I have spilled drops of tea on four keys of the good laptop, impeding their functionality. I hope this is means they need to dry deeply, or something simple — not that this is the end of the motherboard. It did not short out, and I got what data that was not backed up, off, and it is downloading updates now. Getting the data off meant having to organize some files, and this was a good thing, but regardez l’heure qu’il est, mon Dieu.

I have decided it is not an accident but a wake-up call. My ceramics teacher — two of them, actually — say I am destructive toward my work (the less perceptives ones say I am Zen, I am accepting of the fact that not every piece comes out right, but these older ladies are right). “You are not a beginner any more, Z, you must begin to take what you are doing seriously.” And this is not the first time I have done something to this, my good laptop.

And I do not procrastinate on work per se, but I procrastinate on that. And this, precisely, is how I get bogged down. One of the files I found and organized was a downloaded .pdf on procrastination from a Spanish psychology journal. It was a sophisticated study whose thesis was that procrastination was not about poor time management but about several complex forms of self-hatred.

Remember the disease I caught from Reeducation? That friend who said why are you depressed, you have so much to be happy about. And I said I know, and I am not depressed because of not having things to be happy about, I am depressed because I have caught self-hatred.

That is the meditation, and nobody gets to say I am “being too hard on myself” by saying this computer event is more than a random error. Do you remember, I am giving myself attention and centredness this Christmas? I was not joking when I said that and I think taking care about this kind of thing matters.

That computer is flickering and I think there is something happening to the motherboard. And yet not … it is starting. Weakly. We will see, but I am no longer willing to put up with this kind of event.




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Trois jours de santé

For the next three days I will work on this project and remain rational in it, no matter who I talk to or how scary that is. I will put myself first — and putting this first IS putting myself first.

For my present purposes anyone else’s irrationality is irrationality of my own that they are mirroring, and that I can talk to. I may need to talk about some difficulties I am having, without fear.

Footnote: I think Reeducation was designed for people in crisis, who were paralyzed and had nothing to do. That is why it had so many homework assignments. I do not think I actually needed them. Also: even for criminals I am not sure the daily examination of faults is quite the answer.

In any case, rejecting these ideas in ever more definitive ways is one of the things I must do to regain enough confidence to finish longer projects. There is so much I leave halfway through, not because of “poor time management” or anything mundane like that but because something new comes to shake my foundation.

This is why I am sure those people who say in their prologues that without backing and kind support, their project would never have been finished, speak truthfully.

For the next three days I will work on this project and remain rational in it, no matter who I talk to or how scary that is. I will put myself first — and putting this first IS putting myself first.



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Une des versions originelles et plus simples (de la méditation de cette semaine)

I am easily understood if one understands the reactions of abuse victims. Otherwise everything seems complicated and circular and incomprehensible and exhausting. I fear doing anything on my own behalf because I fear the destruction that will be visited upon me if I do. Acting on my own behalf means flinging myself into an irrational space where I will be powerless to escape permanent mutilation.

I need to think about the meaning of that sentence, how to counter it — because really, acting on my own behalf means entering a rational space, even the only rational space.

What immobilized me was the combination of recriminations for being research oriented, the “boundary” violations, the internalization of these recriminations, the rage at the boundary violations which I turned against myself, and the conversion of what had always been positive spaces into scenes of torture.

That was the combination of elements. But I find that abandoning self and abandoning my research projects meant that I had nothing with which to defend against those “boundary” violations, those recriminations.

They always say you have to feel better first but I think the path to that is to take self and project back. Those things, not “discipline” and “boundaries” — which come of themselves. I mean: it is because I had abandoned myself that I let crows eat the carcass.

Condensing: those research projects are mine and are my friends and will help protect me against invasive people. No: the deeper idea is that my life is mine. It always seemed to be someone else’s.


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