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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Tarot reading, and the fifties

I asked, should I move out of the country? Where is home? The layout was the Celtic Cross and I am looking at the Wild Unknown Tarot and the Biddy Tarot. I will meditate upon this.

  1. Heart of the matter/present: Six of Swords. Crossing water, leaving something regretfully but getting somewhere calmer, brighter.
  2. Challenge/obstacle: Ten of Cups. Family happiness, love, plenitude, joy. (Do I really want to leave? Have I newly fallen in love with where I am?) See also card 4. Perhaps: how to find the way from the Ace to the Ten of Cups?
  3. Root cause/deeper past: King of Wands. I of course identify with this figure.
  4. Recent past/immediate future (what is developing): Ace of Cups. True love, in a traditional reading. Beginning of love, compassion, intuition, creativity, expression (Biddy Tarot). See also card 2. There was a beginning but its realization or fruition is the obstacle or challenge.
  5. Goals/aspirations/possible outcome (“above”): Ten of pentacles. Affluence, accomplishment, completion.
  6. Unconscious motivations/possible immediate future (“below”): Five of Swords (anger, conflict, tension, hurt, defeat).
  7. Self/advice: Seven of Wands. I must assert myself and dare to stand out, but not crash and burn (viz. card 6).
  8. Context/outside world: Temperance (major arcana XIV). Equilibrium, meditation, transformation. I can work to moderate energies around me, and it appears that conditions are auspicious for this.
  9.  Hopes and fears: Four of Pentacles. Money, security, material things, control/the known/what one has; what one tried for or committed to. Perhaps also money and rigidity over trust and love (the advice most Americans give other Americans), but I tend to read this more simply as duty to the original goal, original plan, original role, original assignment. Also: hoping to have enough money/love (I see the symbol money as a stand-in for abundance/ease/love, not as their opposite).
  10. Outcome: Four of Swords. This is the outcome if I continue on the current course: rest, meditation and recovery, then a return to work on the project / projects.

Meanwhile, Dame Eleanor Hull is living the life of a 1950s male academic, and liking it. In a way, so am I–not materially, but psychically, because of having decided I have rights. It really frees up energy and time. I can only imagine how being treated like a person, and also paid enough to really live on, might augment the feeling. But the Tarot reading will help me consolidate the first step–the rights step.


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Today I am buying skin products. Fancy ones, if I can. Things for the eyes, and things with vitamins C and E. I will get T-Mobile cell service, too. I will balance my checkbook and pay all bills.

This is the week to patch the paint on the house. I’ll have the car detailed, and schedule a massage. I’ll read my new Sebald novel and the Perceval. I might buy perfume. If that cat is still here, I will have him neutered. I will buy flea medication.

And all of this will be for love and pleasure, and not for virtue.



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Last sunset in Lettland

There is so much to do here that is of interest to me, and it is so beautiful. I want to come back, and soon, but one does not know when that would be. After my dear month in Mexico City in 2012 I said I would be back within the year. I have not been back since.

I had two arguments by e-mail, one about whether I should rush to apply for a Fulbright here (I shouldn’t, I should just sail steady and keep an eye on Baltic Fulbright offerings) and one about whether I should have a product placement blog on travel in hopes of getting vouchers for tours and cruises. I reacted to this with horror and then, more composed as I sat on a city bus in my new dress, feeling poised, realized what the fight-or-flight reaction had been:

1/ Traveling in the way that I do is the space in which I allow myself, and am allowed to be fully myself, to have utter integrity. I don’t want to give this up because then there would be nothing left of me at all.

2/ Traveling to me is deeply personal. I want to do the things I want to do. I don’t want to perform travel to please others, or be obliged to feign enjoyment. I’d honestly rather do sex work to support independent travel, than go on “free” cruises and tours and then blog about them. I would go on cruises and tours and write about them, even write positively about them, if I were also PAID to go on the excursion and for the writing, but that would be a completely different situation. And if I monetize my travel experiences in some way, benefit financially from selling my stories, I want to be the one who decides what stories I tell.

3/ It strikes me that there is something really perverse in commodifying yourself and your experience to promote a commodity, and masking this activity as a travel narrative. It also strikes me that the travel companies really win here–they get advertising they hardly pay for, and the person they underpaid considers it a gift.

In any case, some things from today are:

a/ The Great Cemetery of Riga, and other important cemeteries one could see; in the great cemetery I discovered the memorial stone for Kristian Jaak Peterson, founder of modern Estonian literature, compared to Pushkin and Goethe, who lived 21 years and mastered 20 languages;

b/ An earlier conversation in which I learned that the Latvian national epic was composed in the nineteenth century like Martin Fierro, and it involves a pre-Christian hero. He fought for the old gods against the catechists, and could kill bears with his bare hands.

c/ The conversation with the old man waiting for the bus. I will write about him in more detail later. I must remember to discuss the languages he speaks and why; his anti-Communism (and dislike of political news on television); his experiences in Siberia and the Red Army; his love for Estonia and fishing; the parades he had seen with both Hitler and Stalin on the very street where we were waiting for the bus.

d/ The open-air ethnographic museum, my thoughts on peasant life and the Wild West, my appreciation of these insufficiently respected people.


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What I bought in Latvia

I should have bought: ceramics, salt scrub and other cosmetics with Latvian herbs, black balsam, mittens, belts, amber, and perhaps other high-quality, traditional and artisanal things.

What I really bought is:
– Books: an interesting guidebook in German, a Latvian grammar, an English translation of a Pushkin story
– Postcards: many, from a bookstore, scenes of Riga, and from the art museums, reproductions of paintings; one magnet that is a reproduction of a plate by Romans Suta
– A design element to wear: it is like a knee-length, buttonless and sleeveless coat with one hook in front, and it is in an odd pink that looks good on me. Latvian design and production, and all the fashionable young women in Riga have something like this, I cannot be left behind. A luxury at 65 euros
– 13 euros each, bought in Portuguese form a Russian: Indian blouse, Italian sundress marked down from 104, and fascinating cross between shirt, dress and jacket: another design element to be worn over other things, except that this one can be buttoned up
– A genuine striped flax towel, of the kind we had long ago
– A jar of spice: sea salt mixed with hemp powder. It gives a very good taste and is to be sprinkled on salad or quark.

I thought it was excessive to buy these clothes, was not sure of any of them, but looking at them now I realize nobody else will have anything like them, they are so sophisticated and unusual.


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An evening in Riga

I said by mail:

Is the main cathedral Lutheran? It looks like it inside, but then again that might be because it is reconstructed, having been more or less destroyed by German bombs on 29 June, 1941. I went to the organ concert there and determined that this organ and these players are not actually as fancy and amazing as the one I happened upon in the Lutheran basilica. Still. After that I wandered around the medieval quarter in the afternoon (8 PM) sunshine and was allowed into the modernista synagogue as shul let out. Muy interesante although I will have to return in actual visiting hours. This is a town of many churches and until 1941 many synagogues as well, but it seems that most people are paganesque (Christianity and Judaism got here quite late) and that this is a reason flowers are so popular.

The parks go on and on, each one more beautiful than the last, with interesting statues. I crossed Waldemar’s Street and strolled through part of the real Jungendstil neighborhood. It is swanky, I will tell you. My neighborhood is part Jungendstil too, and part older, wooden Russian-style buildings like my 2d great-uncle A. V. Bary’s factory in Moscow. One of these buildings is this mysterious youth center that seems to have an interesting art-rock band in the courtyard every night. Shy people like me stand outside and look in. In my case, I have not found out whether or not it is a public place, but I have now seen where the door is and if this continues, will end up going in.

Now the sun is setting (10:15 PM), earlier than yesterday, we are three weeks past midsummer. It will rain tomorrow so: museums, national library? Then three more days: Jelgava, Jurmala, and the open air ethnograhic museum? You are supposed to go to Rundale Palace but somehow I am less interested in it than in these other places. And I mean to go to this sauna.

I am concerned about shopping, when will I have time to really learn about it and do it? You must have mittens, balsam, ceramics, hand-made cosmetics, linen, and of course amber but in a Latin American-style place like this (it is a Latin American-style place) you need time to learn about all the things, and get the ones that are really made right and priced right, as the market is full of fakes. I do not actually want to shop but I have the distinct feeling I should bring tangible proof of having been present in this exotic land. (But really what I want to do is go back to the Central Market and eat more of its food.)

You should really come with me back to Latvia, it is really quite the place. We could go into the forest and have a picnic following their instructions: it’s not a picnic lunch, but a picnic dinner (it is broad daylight at dinnertime); you take some food with you but you complement it with the wild foods you gather.



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