Category Archives: Working

“I’m allowed to feel disappointed”

This is worth thinking about. Something I have procrastinated about is leaving academia. In a way, I feel I was pushed out when I started my first job, which had nothing to do with the kind of job, or life I was interested in. So my career change already happened to me, and when I think of career changes it is to begin doing something that more closely resembles the kind of work I was interested in and thought I could find in academia. I have been reticent about asking certain questions, but something I did discuss with friends and family was leaving. They were all horrified and convinced me not to, and I stayed because I was told I owed it to them, they would suffer too terribly if I left (that is another reason I feel trapped and do not work well). This, actually, shows why I do not ask enough questions–I am not accustomed to receiving non-destructive answers.

Axé.

The Precariat & The Professor

Talking with Jill yesterday about disappointment and the post-ac hustle, I was reminded of Kate Ragon’s chapter for The Precariat & The Professor, “Pleasure & Paradoxes of Organizing in the Corporate University.” We come to academia for a variety of reasons, but so many of us arrived here because we are idealists, we are dreamers– we believed the university was the contemporary City on a Hill, the last remaining one, in fact. Swallowing the bitter pill of the university’s reality is only the beginning of disappointment, which compounds, whether you get on the tenure track, work contingently, or leave for other, better things: Kate Ragon, like Erik Strobl, writes of the frustration of attempting to organize academics who think union labor is somehow below them. Jill, on the other hand, writes of being disappointed that she’s disappointed in herself for willfully walking away from a university who exploited her knowledge…

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On change

“Bien regarder, je crois que ça s’apprend.”
–Emmanuelle Riva in Hiroshima mon amour.

“Change comes first at the societal level, not at the level of the individual. You work to change society, change the relations of production, and this work changes you.” My Marxist boyfriend said this one day in Berkeley during Reagan’s second presidential term, when we were exasperated at the vagaries of the hippies. That was long ago but I remember it because it was true.

I forgot for a long time because of learning to survive the university as it took its entrepreneurial turn, while we were trying to earn tenure in the belief that things still were as they had been. (The vocabulary was still the same, and policies and practices were changing but on their face the changes were small, and most of us lacked the perspective necessary to accurately interpret the shifting panorama.) The cant was that we should work on ourselves, and manage this regardless of circumstances, since the real relations of production had to be irrelevant to rising stars. One was not to recognize the obvious truth that such advice–liberal/conservative propaganda, actually–was only appropriate in situations where the real relations of production were working, at least adequately, for you.

Similarly, change at the individual level does not come from changes in habit: that, again, is liberal/conservative propaganda. Changes in habit flow naturally from deeper change. Deeper change is change in relation to self, in relation to the means of production, in relation to meaning.

All of these things are deeply and definitely true.

Axé.

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Sobre la china poblana

At one time we were all trying to convince my brother to write a dissertation on the china poblana who is such an odd cultural figure. I never actually looked up research on her but now here is an article sent by a friend. There is also a book chapter, more than one actually, by Kathleen Myers. I should teach this matter in cultural studies and I think I might gain new and fascinating perspectives of my own from studying it.

Axé.

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A rough draft (response to Jonathan)

I know people say procrastination is perfectionism but I don’t know how in the world they came up with this idea. I know perfectionists and they don’t procrastinate, they’re just meticulous and over-critical, over-fussy.

I first “procrastinated” twice in graduate school, when I had paper ideas that were not actually viable. Studying on quarters there was no time to change, so I tried to force the papers to take their planned shape anyway. They were hard to write because they were not working, and I called the stalling and thrashing about, “procrastination”. I think it was something else. I wasn’t putting off work, I was avoiding the work that was actually needed, because if I did that work I would not finish by the deadline.

I was also accused of conspiring to procrastinate in graduate school, when I estimated twenty weeks as the time needed to research and write an article while also doing other things. The professor said that would be procrastination. I should not write a publishable article, just write some essay, in ten weeks. Again, I don’t think this was procrastination: I think it was good planning (ten weeks of reading and ten of writing was what I wanted). I made a deal with the professor to give me two quarters of B instead of one quarter of A. I wrote the article and it was published in a good place. People laughed at me as well when I said I could write a dissertation in a year at the rate of six pages a week (they wanted seven very rough pages a day, but I don’t make progress when I write that rough). They were floored when I actually did it (they had also yelled at me every day when they saw me not at the desk, because I was working a job, so they could not believe I was making progress).

My next big procrastination episode came with a book contract that asked for major revisions to the manuscript, requiring major research, that I wasn’t sure would lead in the direction either I or the press actually wanted, to be done in six months when I would also be teaching three courses new to me. I knew it was not realistic but signed on anyway, due to fear of being accused of conspiring to procrastinate (conspiring to be lazy, I suppose, which is a sin). I could not figure out a feasible project plan because there wasn’t one within those time constraints. I wanted to ask someone about it but did not dare due to fear of the pain of being accused of conspiring to procrastinate.

Instead, I just waited to not get tenure. Note what the actual procrastination was: I did not procrastinate on work, but on asking the question I needed to ask. I thought about this clearly at the time. I preferred to have something bad happen for a good reason, not finishing the book, over the possibility of abuse and a false accusation of conspiring to procrastinate. (I also wanted someone to volunteer the suggestion that I ask the needed question, and would fish for this, but was not clear enough about it because I was so fearful that I might instead get an accusation of conspiring to procrastinate.)

People did not understand why I was not devastated, but rather pleased, over the tenure decision. The decision came from a high administrative level, not from those who knew me. The paperwork said everything was excellent except for the non-finishing of this project, and that the university would reconsider if the project were finished within the year. I was pleased because everything was true: nothing false, no apparent bias, nothing trumped-up. The only thing that was wrong was something I knew was wrong and could agree to. This was immensely satisfying because what was wrong was a real thing, not something unjustified or worse, justified but invisible to me–and most importantly, not a character flaw, only a project not finished.

Note, then, where the procrastination is in all of this: it isn’t in not working, it’s in being afraid to ask questions. In the case of the two seminar papers I struggled with, what I really needed was to visit office hours and say I was struggling with the topic and the argument. I was afraid to do this because facing the actual problem could put me past deadline, and also, one was supposed to be willing not to be a perfectionist. I did not think the professors in question would have these reactions; I thought Zeus or Yahweh would. In the case of the book, I again procrastinated about asking the right question. I was afraid because once again, what I wanted to ask was heretical and I feared either immediate execution or torture of a type that would cause permanent disfigurement and disability. It was better to simply freeze.

Note what I have been afraid to ask: (a) can I let the research on the project take it where it will? (b) can I have a reasonable deadline, so that I can concentrate on the work itself? Note that the only constructive answers to these questions are a form of yes. But I not only expected negative answers, I also expected extreme violence and devastating abuse as a result of asking. Note also that when I was accused of conspiring to procrastinate, I went right ahead and did what I was planning, and got an article and a dissertation.

Procrastinating on work, having outright bad work habits, is only something I got into later. I could not understand it. That was when I came up with what you have in this post: it is a form of self-punishment and a separation from self. (One of the ways I have thought about it is as an overdeveloped superego, tied to an underdeveloped ego, that makes one want to retreat into id.)

For me, I still need to refine the theory, because if it is just this odd choice of askesis over the feeling of accomplishment, if that were a sufficient answer, I’d snap out of it. (Note that I procrastinate on many things, on everything that is a required activity, including also work on house and yard, and I only have healthy relationships to art work, political activism, and program design/institutional grant-making. *Because in these activities I do not feel there is some terrible super-ego watching me.*)

So in tentative conclusion: yes, procrastination is self-destructive yet feels good, or feels constructive in some way. But to understand why this is, one must refine the theory. Practical example: in my first academic job I would always stay up too late, because I hated the job and wanted to maximize the time in which I had gotten away from it for the day. Going to bed only brought the next day closer, when I would have to go to the torture chamber again. So once more, for me, procrastination is self-destructive but feels like self-protection, or like *the only way available to grab some space for the self to just be, as opposed to be subjugated to être-pour-les-autres*.

This, actually, could be an important insight. What if procrastination is pleasant because it is the en-soi? What if working should be the pour-soi, but is often the pour-les-autres? What if it is only easy to work if one can be sure it can be pour-soi?

Finally: I could also write about another form of procrastination in which I have engaged, about changing careers, but this post is already long. I would rather end with a newer insight, gained as I wrote this post: I have always procrastinated about speaking for myself, due to fear of extreme violence. The example that came to me while writing is from a conversation with a professor on my Ph.D. examination committee. The exam had been good and she had been surprised: “Don’t take this the wrong way, please, because I didn’t think you would fail, but I didn’t know you were this good. You are always so tentative, so careful, so unwilling to fully engage. What you have done here was brave and you should continue: you can have a brilliant career, I know this now.”

I have of course not had, because of Reeducation in all its aspects. But notice what the professor pointed out: I had always procrastinated about developing my ideas and asserting them. I did not explain to her that I had decided to do this for the examination because as I studied, I realized it would be the only way to pass: if I did not stand on my ideas, I would not be able to organize my thoughts, because there was too much information to retain and organize. So I came out with my ideas, did not procrastinate, because I thought that the best way to avoid failure or death. But in many other instances, I procrastinate because I wish to avoid death.

Axé.

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Antropologías del sur

There are all these books, new books, amazing South American anthropology and theory books, that you can download from the Antropologías del sur site. There is also a really smart post about writing productivity.

I keep forgetting that I am slightly dissociative, or slightly withdrawn. I forget because it is almost imperceptible, and then I don’t understand myself when it happens. I have had a new and unexplained attraction to small children lately, and I wonder if the one I am looking for is me.

I have thought about access to self, and bringing more ego to things. If I address this small person directly, bring them along with me, it might help. It would be someone to get objective for, to be sweet to, to be positive for.

Axé.

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On wing-clipping

This life is more ascetic than one I would lead, but it has the meditativeness I like and the activity. Other people swear by the 15-minute block and perhaps it is because of having been invaded and trampled upon so much, but I don’t like crammed schedules and do like time to meditate. My difficulty with work is not bringing enough ego to it. Not thinking one was allowed to be present with the work, as oneself.

I also never know whether I am bored with my topics, or only want to escape abusive environments. There are fields I have always wished to be in, and topics I have always wished to devote myself to. I long for them, for a non-abusive environment, and for just having or being able or feeling safe to put the requisite amount of ego toward a project, all at once. But I need to bring enough ego to things, regardless.

I had written some notes on the back of a grocery receipt, which I have misplaced or lost. I have other notes, also about having clipped wings. The image that came to me involved having new parts of my body cut off, so I would never be larger than a kindergarten size.

In research, one was not to be original, but obedient. In teaching, acceptable. In Reeducation, as with part of the family, one was not to be an intellectual at all. And now, memos saying “we do not support research in your field” are something I should simply burn, I see.

How to grow clipped wings? How to learn to place enough ego where it is needed? I might say: I will protect you from the clippers, little Z.

Axé.

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A hierarchy of motivation

Postive motivation: I am enjoying this and I wish to continue.
Neutral motivation: I want this to be finished, so I will continue.
Negative motivation: I must prove myself (and please people), so I will do this.

The negative motivation is negative because it assumes one is insufficient. It focuses very heavily on this insufficient self, who is insufficient and thus inadequate to the task, which then seems impossible.

*

It is the negative motivation which overcame me in Reeducation, which of course coincided with the job market and the tenure track. This is my key problem, I discern. If you have a negative atmosphere, negative mirrors and negative motivation, the air is a thick thing to move through.

But I think most people are more comfortable with the negative motivation than am I. Earlier in life, I had the positive motivation and sometimes the neutral one, but after Reeducation I have had mostly the negative one. Even the neutral one is difficult to manage, and insufficiently positive, when the negative one reigns.

*

I was, however, also trying to prove myself. Once I had done this, I was ready to move into the next thing, the life that would be my own and would not be a mere pre-life. I did not realize the pre-life was something I had promised to do forever. My research arises from this pre-life, the exercise based on recreational interests I undertook in order to attain equality.

You need a Ph.D. and tenure in the humanities, centering on Western civilization, at a good place. Then you will be a cultured person and will become equal. Once you are equal, you can do what you want: social science, science, non-Western studies, law.

What did I envision? Forestry, economics, agricultural economics, World Food Programme. Comparative Literature, a UNESCO post. Near Eastern Studies, and another United Nations-style post. Law, and work on migrations, trade, the global prison industrial complex. All of this involves work in a large international organization with a view toward influencing global policy.

*

What motivates me at work now? Anything having to do with program building, rights, grant-making, governance. Why?

Because freedom from oppression is the first thing. I am not wrong. The standard advice is that cultivating one’s garden is the first thing. But the first thing is to build the garden, as we have no garden here.

*

Every vision I had for my real life was research focused, and also policy focused. I am mostly interested in learning, understanding, knowledge, and I am not very choosy about field or topic. My research, I would be happy to do if it enabled a life I liked. Since it does not, I am restless and want meaning. My research is meaningful but others are working well on it. I see such need for my skills and talents elsewhere–in the fields I identified as vocations, not as recreation.

I have said these things for years. I say them each summer. Where is the gap? It is in not believing I deserve to believe in me.

*

We return to the beginning. Anything undertaken with the purpose of proving oneself, improving oneself, is motivated negatively. Anything undertaken simply to get it done risks turning to drudgery. Things must be undertaken in brightness and love.

I had not read Viktor Frankl since childhood but I have now, and he says success cannot be sought. This is one way in which professionalization distorts people. We were told to renounce discovery for success. I never agreed, nor does Frankl, and he should know.

Axé.

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