Category Archives: Working

Esteban

When I finish my syllabi I will write a Fulbright letter and we will work on materials for Asymptote.

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Anxiety and voice

I have greater problems with anxiety, and also with lack of voice, than I knew–and these problems are related. Here in California, with the mountains, redwoods, seas, I have perspective and do not experience these problems, but in the swamps of Louisiana, I do.

Tomorrow I have to work on: poetry selections for the new publication, the contact lens order, the notary.

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Conferences that are seminars

ILLI is also organized in seminars now. I really like this format.

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The writing-stalled professor?

This post should describe me. I do not think it does. What I actually have is a violent workplace. It does not help to try to say the problem is internal to me.

I have already tried ignoring the violence, trying to step around it, good faith negotiation with it, organizing it. I have not protected myself well enough from it, and I should do this and then fight it. I have to remember that it is the enemy of everything good, not me, and that all my allies are in other departments, and none are in my own. Although my department may have neutral parties, and well wishers, only the wicked elements in it are strong. I can only protect myself by keeping these things firmly in mind, exerting as much control in my own realm as I can (e.g. by not expecting the program to function, but insisting that my classes do), and also remembering that I am more right than wrong. I will study my Tarot reading, and take care of the ancient wound in the sixth card.

I’ve been writing-stalled all week but I do not feel as though I throw myself into teaching and service projects to avoid writing: I say yes to the same things I used to say yes to, but now that means saying yes to every part of the task, including making the paper it is written on, as it were. There is also the inefficiency and obstruction.

Every time I read one of these articles about efficiency and discipline I feel as though everything were my fault. I have to remember what my most “productive” colleague says: “They have ruined our careers.” “We have to do the things the provost, the vice president, the dean and the chair should be doing and do not.” “Since we are mostly instructors and instructors cannot be asked to do major service, we are sharing among three people the service responsibilities corresponding to nine.” This is the truth and of course, we are only nominally sharing those responsibilities: they all fall to me. And when I don’t do them, I suffer from the results of, let us say, the equivalent of the garbage not being picked up. It does affect me, and others do not step up to the plate as they are somehow able to function in garbage. I may not get enough other things done, but at least I do not have to sit in garbage. I do not know the answer to these things but I do think extreme egoism and self-love, not additional discipline and condescending do-your-homework exercises, are the answer.

I have had a couple of department chairs who were responsible and effective, and I really respect and admire their work. I would not say they had just done this work “to avoid writing.” I have also had chairs who kept their research up while being chair, but of these the one who was an effective chair and a highly productive scholar at the same time had a low teaching load and strong administrative support.

Some of the comments on the article are smart. We do not have enough faculty who pull their weight in service and political engagement, and life would be easier if we did. We also do not have enough administrators who are working on behalf of, as opposed to against our academic programs.

I would like a reading group, as reading and not writing is my deepest problem: I feel nervous reading, as I know someone is going to tap me on the shoulder and say I should not be doing it, that I should be doing some teaching or service activity–or that I should be “writing before I was ready” (i.e. not reading). But without reading, there is nothing, I have always found.

What I have always wanted is proper administrative support for our program. Where I find my time going is in defending the program against anti-support. Then, when I read articles that suggest to me I am putting too much effort into that, I try to be quiet and turn a blind eye. And then I discover that some disaster has taken place while I was not looking, that I am asked to repair.

It feels as though one cannot win. I know what it is like to have conditions in which one can in fact follow the directions in this article. One of my problems is being so uncomfortable at home, yet not having a viable secret home to go to. From Riga I had brought this zen that made the days here seem long and under my control. We have had difficulty at the university since, but the discovery that it was possible, in some way, to feel safe enough here to concentrate, was a revelation.

I think the people who dispense advice that goes to work ethic only, do not know what it is to work in such a volatile atmosphere, or where one feels as much danger as we tend to do here. I also think that the ones who say you have to fit your core work in 15-minute increments around swirling chaos, do not understand that you may need those 15 minutes to come back to yourself, and that you may need to take out your scythe and cut the chaos down in enormous swaths–not just try to work around it, or within it, or avoid it in some other impossible way.

It is self-management in these kinds of situations that is my issue. I keep coming to the conclusion that “protecting time” is not the right image. Visualizing myself as a castle under siege is paralyzing. Clearing space and taking it, breathing life into it, is the image that works.

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Tu rechingada madre

Que me cago en la muy podrida leche de la puta madre que parió a mis llamados colegas. If I, on frequent flyer miles, in transit to and then in the former SSR my ancestors are from, and while looking at their names on the commemorative ghetto wall, and walking into one of the cattle cars into which they also appear to have walked in a more serious way, and looking for further documentation in broken-down ex-Soviet archives while people speak to me in Latvian and Russian that I do not understand, can still be responding, upon dropping Internet, to questions about ridiculous situations into which students on study abroad have gotten themselves, and if their program directors in other developing countries can respond sensibly as well and are, furthermore, taking responsible action, then the people at home who have received copies of all of these messages can at least fucking answer.

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On having time to yourself

THIS is why the people with their alarm clocks and hourglasses, upping their so-called productivity, seem so antithetical to the life of the mind.

“The world of labor and wealth is armed against the idleness and utopia that it sometimes promises. Thinking and dreaming require unregulated time; intellectuals lingering over coffee and drink threaten solid citizens by the effort—or the appearance—of escaping the bondage of money and drudgery. Guardians of order have denigrated, almost for centuries, critics and rebels as mere ‘coffee house intellectuals.’ In the catalog of bourgeois sins bohemian intellectuals earn a double entry, thinking too much and doing too little.”

—Russell Jacoby in The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe (Basic Books, 1987): 29.

I must read that book. I remember the reviews, but now I actually get it.

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On primitivism and aristocracy

I do not agree with everything in this Appiah article on primitivism but there are some very interesting references in it.

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I have been in Utrecht for a week and it has changed me greatly. I want to live here. I looked at some notes I made the first day and I know so much more about the town now, and the Netherlands are so much more familiar now.

I have learned something important: the idea that was imposed upon me, that one should finish the Ph.D. in a field like letters, and then decide what to do with one’s life, is an aristocratic one, was what aristocrats actually did. It is not an odd neurosis of mine that one must first prove personhood via the Ph.D. and ideally tenure in a top place in a humanities field before going on with one’s life, finding ones true field and vocation — it is an aristocratic ideal that was actually communicated to me as a requirement.

This is very interesting. Parents who want children out of the nest, on the one hand, but want to tie them to it hand and foot, on the other. I had some other psychoanalytic insights as well, about early infancy.

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