Category Archives: What Is A Scholar?

How to work and live

Everyone advises and pontificates, and what they say is wrong from the point of view of anyone with any discipline, any hedonism, any love for life and any sophistication. So I will give the anti advice.

Advice: don’t read, write. Truth: reading is research. Do not try to produce without doing research.

Advice: only work is important, it matters not where you live. Truth: it does. Live where you like and how you like, and change jobs to do it.

Advice: only academic jobs are worth doing. Truth: they are not. Most academic jobs are like K-12 or community college jobs, not like the jobs your professors have. If you want a job like theirs and do not have it in academia, you should work for a research organization, go into publishing, things like that.

Advice: work is not really important, living and surviving and having Fun are. Truth: if you got into this kind of work, then yes work is important. It is the most important thing after setting, pleasure, love. Do not let people tell you otherwise — don’t let them tell you that it is “perfectionistic” to be interested in your best work, for instance.

Advice: House cleaning and yard work are forms of procrastination — like so many other basic activities. Truth: They are not. They come first. Just because you are a professor does not mean you do not deserve a pleasant and calm environment.

Advice: When you work, set timers and rush. Truth: If that is how you feel, perhaps you would prefer to get onto an assembly line. I keep track of time, of course, but I have a clock, not a timer; I am not an oven.

Axé.

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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.

Axé.

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Henry Miller and me

Instructions for writing and life.

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Miller’s schedule.

MORNINGS:
If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.

If in fine fettle, write.

AFTERNOONS:

Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.

EVENINGS:

See friends. Read in cafés.

Explore unfamiliar sections — on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.

Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.

Paint if empty or tired.

Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.

Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.

It is interesting that he is against the movies — I wonder what movies they were, or if it was all movies.

Miller has a whole book, Henry Miller on Writing, and I have it somewhere and must find it: it gives the instructions for life I myself used to follow without knowing I was following him.

*

I am at a psychotherapeutic impasse I do not have time to write out in detail but that does need note taking. I have not been in a position to lead or even really work all semester in this psychotherapy that I am trying to use as analysis, and I am disappointed, frustrated, and actually quite angry about this. Normally I take a strong lead in what happens to make sure it becomes as psychoanalytic as possible, but when I do not it becomes about mere life management and I have to answer questions that seem to presuppose frivolity. This is partly because I am afraid to ask for more. I am also afraid of comments that open an issue of possible interest but do it in an “off” way, so that I have to make desperate attempts to communicate, to say who I am, and then leave bruised and uncomfortable and then wait a week, and come back unsure whether it is safe or I am strong enough to try to work again. The situation needs restructuring.

Reviewing: why am I in constant emotional pain … why did I seek analysis in the first place? It is an effect of child abuse. Really bad child abuse that I am not even in full touch with. This was why I always wanted help and support, even when I did not know the reason. Since Reeducation, which includes my first job, my parents’ reaction to it and my first analysis, I usually feel as though I had been beaten up and screamed at and thrown into a cell from which there is no hope of escape — yet I have to function normally in regular life in this state.

I am not the person who was desired. If I had been a person who could have healed my parents, I would have played the piano. I would have wanted to attend college at the place I had my first job. I would have been conventional and nice, and above all I would have been born with my own money, so taking care of me would have been free. But I was not that person, and I refused to go to that college, and I did not want to take that job. And it turned out to be even worse than I imagined. And I am incompetent and unemployable and too expensive, just as they always said I was and would be. And my parents were so disappointed that I did not like the things they wanted me to, and that I really was not at all the kind of person they wanted. My existence hurts others. I could have saved them had I died or had I been someone else. But I was myself and did not die, and I have not died yet, so I have to keep trying to be someone else or to die, and this is my life.

That is my story or structure. It is one I must stop telling myself — it is the reason I am as ashamed of myself as I am, and as unwilling to go out in public as I am. Yet it is not the only story or structure that applies to me.

To counter this structure, what has to come first? I have to allow myself as decent a life as I did before Reeducation (where I learned that my abusers had been right and that I should join them). I have to do this even if I do not want to and even if it feels dogged. Many of my problems come from self-torture, in terms of sleep deprivation and the way I speak to myself. In Reeducation I was told I did not feel enough pain and I have since lived life in such a way as to always be suffering some form of pain, often physical pain, muscle pain. Sleep deprivation is a good way to cause pain and to limit one’s abilities, and I use this against myself a great deal. 

What else is fundamental? Authority.That is what Reeducation asked me to give up — authority in my own life and over my own work. I had “too much control” over what happened and it was considered inappropriate. But you MUST exert a certain amount of power and control over your work if you have a professional job, and everyone deserves self-determination in life. I would like to turn the question around: why did Reeducation feel it deserved control over me?

What is eating me at this very moment? My therapist’s use of the word ostracism — which goes directly to my mother’s rejection and her constant threats to “fire” me. The kind of thing I would like to be doing in therapy is meditating slowly on reactions like this, as opposed to setting little behavioral goals and reporting progress on them. I would like to meditate slowly on my recurring dream (the dream about the car full of refugees) and try to understand and change it. I would like to consider who it is I really want to kill when I say I want to die. I would like to actually deal with deep anger and trauma — NOT just learn self control (I have that, but much psychotherapy seems to presuppose that people need to learn it) and NOT just discuss immature and frivolous or egotistical, but above all superficial reactions I might have to the little irritations of life (psychotherapy seems fixated on possible emotions at this level). In practical terms I would in fact like to figure out some things about work (the office), in terms of concrete strategies and yes, even behavioral goals. But once again, I want to think in a thoroughgoing way.

Also, his idea that I am other directed, too much oriented to the service of others. Of course it is true but I have that kind of job, and the entire reason I live here is to serve others. To serve myself I would move away, do different things, live a different life. People who are disappointed that I am serving others have come too late. When I serve others and it works, that is the best situation available and I am not pleased to have the only victory available to me deflated. (This paragraph is an extreme expression and would need qualification to be scientific; of course I can serve myself in this place and should do so more, I am only talking about how it feels to be criticized for being so other oriented after having worked so hard to become this way, because people wanted it. I who do not have feelings, I who am too cold, I am talking about how I feel, may I not do so at least part of the time?)

The problem I always have in psychotherapy is that therapists tend to want to keep things very superficial and they seem to want to focus on tiny practical goals, with progress logged. I did not think this was true of the current person but it has seemed that way lately. That is partly because I have been so busy and distracted, I have surely been hard for him to follow. It is also that I am afraid it will turn out to be true, that I will never get to do any deeper work because that is out of fashion — now one is not to resolve any issues, but only behave. I am afraid that all I can get is my mother: cruelty, mocking, sneering, emptiness, superficiality, poking, bitterness, nudging, criticism.

What my father said last summer: be good to yourself and ask yourself each morning, what can I do for myself today? What shocks me: psychotherapy says (or, I fear it says): question yourself, tear yourself down, admit you are crazy and you have sinned, do not take the power, control, or authority to do anything for yourself today, focus on mere creeping survival as this is all you can do and all you deserve. That is not what my current therapist actually believes, but I am always afraid it will be.

A reason I like this therapist is that he puts up with the fact that I do not like living where I do. Very few people from here would do that and it is really to his credit that he can be patient with this. Another reason is that he is willing to see the importance of work, research, creative life — he is willing to see these things as part of mental health and not as burdens.

On the television program In Treatment, which Hattie has convinced me to become more interested in, most of the characters behave outrageously and the therapist mistreats his wife and his own therapist. His therapist and one or two of the patients are kind and grown-up and self-aware. If people really are like most characters on this show, I can see why mainstream psychotherapy is so interested in catching their lies, making them face these, teaching them basic manners, and shaking them out of their extreme and misplaced senses of entitlement.

The general impression I have, in fact, is that mainstream psychotherapy is about learning to limit yourself, rein in your outrageous behavior, fit in. I, on the other hand, do not need this, as I have been learning it since birth and have always tried to live on as little as possible. I imagine psychoanalysis as a way to free oneself, become free, remove pain from oneself; I often experience psychotherapy as a set of lessons in limits and a straitjacket of convoluted thoughts. I do not know how many times I have sat in a therapist’s office trying to understand their question. Finally it dawns on me: they want to know whether I am about to have some really base reaction, one I do not imagine and must reach to understand (i.e. being disappointed to feel well, being angry at someone else’s happiness, things like this).

Showing you can behave, showing you can see your shortcomings and be generous to others, showing you have feelings but can use logic, showing you can be goal oriented and log progress, seem to be the goals of psychotherapy. If you can do these things you need no more. I do not need lessons in these things and I want far more, but I am afraid to ask. I am afraid it will be considered self indulgent to want to work on dreams, dynamics of old experiences, psychoanalytic things. I am willing to discuss the practicalities of current life but only part of the time. I know some people would say it is a terrible luxury to do what I want to do, but I do not agree.

Look at this contradiction: I am too other-oriented, and I am ostracized, I am told, and these are problems. So here I am asserting myself and demanding to come in the door: I want a form of therapy more serious than certain behaviorist suggestions. Watch me be told I am too demanding, that I want too much. Then, once I retreat and try to live on less, fit in more easily, and serve still more perfectly, watch me receive renewed criticism for being ostracized and other-oriented.

Here is an interesting thought: Undergoing sleep deprivation so I can feel as though I had been beaten up so that I can know I am not using myself well so that I can realize there is something I am dissatisfied with. I am dissatisfied with what has been (not) happening in this psychotherapy lately and if I allowed myself to feel better I would be “mature” and tolerant about it, let things go, accept that what I want is too much to ask, try to get from it what I could.

Axé.

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Zotero

I have removed everything I have from the cumbersome Endnote and placed it in the virtuous Zotero, and that is how things will be. I will place things from the Seminario there, and from Evernote. I have become quite serious and will become moreso. I have not yet discovered whether I like Scrivener but I have gone and bought Word Perfect, and all of this is moving me further and further from my Linux plan. I am not sure how to feel about that.

Axé.

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Someone agrees with me on composition and the introduction to literature, Dieu merci

Q. Do you have comments on the idea that “literature is not for everybody, and should only be taught in literature classes” — ?

A. That idea makes me mad. I could point to cognitive theory, which makes the argument that literature is an important way we develop our ability to empathize with people who are not like us. I could point to the fact that “literature” in the sense of “storytelling” has been a part of every major culture, even non-literate ones, and every single student in our classes needs to learn how to understand what other people are doing when they are telling stories (and to identify it when it happens) because it is embedded in our advertising, our politics, our leisure activities, and yes–our art.

Literature should no more be limited to “literature classes” than math should be limited to “math classes.” We use math to understand physics, chemistry, sociology, psychology, and yes, even occasionally literature. The case of literature is the same (Flatland is a good example).

A. The Research Compliance Committee has determined that literature is too dangerous for general access, and must be handled according to strict guidelines, using proper and approved reading methods. Literature courses focusing on such methods are the most responsible way to expose students to working with literature, but other courses may be approved on a case-by-case basis by the Committee.

Axé.

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Advice to job candidates

Do not, as you introduce your job talk, say that your presentation is “part of a larger project” if the larger project to which you refer is a book of essays edited by someone other than you.

Faculty, don’t “professionalize” your students by teaching them phrases like the one quoted above if you do not also teach them their more correct usage.

Axé.

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Chuchería, fruslería, insignificancia, tontería, menudencia, bagatela

No hay tal yo de conjunto. Basta caminar algún trecho por la implacable rigidez que los espejos del pasado nos abren, para sentirnos forasteros y azorarnos cándidamente de nuestras jornadas antiguas. No hay en ellas comunidad de intencio­nes, ni un mismo viento las empuja. Lo han de­clarado así aquellos hombres que escudriñaron con verdad los calendarios de que fue descartán­dolos el tiempo. Unos, botarates como cohetes, se vanaglorian de tan entreverada confusión y di­cen que la disparidad es riqueza; otros, lejos de encaramar el desorden, deploran lo desigual de sus días y anhelan la popular lisura. Copiaré dos ejemplos. El primero lleva por fecha el año 1531 y es el epígrafe del libro De Incertitudine et Vanitate Scientiarum que en las desengañadas postrime­rías de su vida compuso el cabalista y astrólogo Agrippa de Nettesheim. Dice de esta manera:

Entre los dioses, sacuden a todos las befas de Momo.
Entre los héroes, Hércules da caza a todos los mons­truos.
Entre los demonios, el Rey del Infierno, Plutón, oprime todas las sombras.

Mientras Heráclito ante todo llora.
Nada sabe de nada Pirrón.
Y de saberlo todo se glorifica Aristóteles.
Despreciador de lo mundanal es Diógenes.
A nada de esto, yo Agrippa, soy ajeno.

Desprecio, sé, no sé, persigo, río, tiranizo, me quejo.
Soy filósofo, dios, héroe, demonio y el universo en­tero.

I must look up discussions of the philosophical sources of this text. Research, exercise, art, nature, revolution and love are everything, and are the antidotes to the cruauté of the university.

Axé.

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