Sai, diabo!


Lately I have had so much trouble fighting back the evil grisgris that I have been casting spells upon myself, in English and in Spanish, every two to three hours.


When I do academic work I am often engulfed with shame. That has a complicated history which it does me no good to repeat. The brief version is that when I went to Reeducation I was taught that I should be ashamed to be an academic. Having become one was for many reasons a sign of failure in life, and to be oriented toward writing and research made it worse. That, of course, creates a double bind – actually a series of them, which again, it does me no good to rehearse.


On many days my mind is not clear, and I am not sure how or where to turn. A piece of a decent answer is to remember that it is not laziness or slowness I am battling, it is shame. To remember this puts things in perspective and beats the evil grisgris back. That is, of course, why I have this weblog.


In Reeducation I acquired behavior and thought patterns which resemble those associated with depression. I remember bringing this up at the time: but those are destructive ideas, sir, I am not sure I can afford to take them on. No, these are the keys to better living. I am trying, piece by piece, to relieve myself of the accumulation of small but heavy weights with which I replaced clarity and freedom.


In the garden I have been trying to remove an old tree stump. I can see now that the taproot is as long as the tree was tall. Every evening I dig a little deeper but the stump has not yet budged. I am cutting the lateral roots as I go down. Eventually I will be able to pull up the stump and taproot with a chain. It is when I succeed in dislodging (I will not say removing) each small burden that I realize how large it actually was.


I borrowed a chainsaw and cut the stump off at ground level. I am going to drill holes in it, and put Roundup in them so that the root just withers away. I realize this sounds somewhat violent, unromantic, and un-Green, but I am just tired of dealing with the stump and its root.


I planted five Mexican trees and then got a very useful piece of mail. I think the trees must have brought it on. But my mind cleared, as when clouds roll away or a heavy curtain rolls back.


8 thoughts on “Sai, diabo!

  1. Oh, good. I sometimes wonder whether these ultra personal musings are too-too. Anyway, your comment inspired a realization about school.

    I did not go to the fanciest of public schools, but they were decent and in retrospect, significantly better than I realized at the time. One key reason was the default assumption that everyone not only could and would learn, but also that even if small, they already had some ideas worth discussing in a non-patronizing way.

    From that I got the idea that as a teacher, you were supposed to come in with this kind of assumption. For many of my students here, it is a novel one. If they were considered poor students before, it is empowering for them, but if they were good rote students and are comfortable with that, it is threatening. All of this is quite interesting.

    Anyway, it turned out that one of my skills is improving peoples’ grades by imparting to them the confidence to try for it. I am fully aware that they have been weakened because in the past, they were shamed, and now they are sort of anxious, even phobic, and afraid to try – trying is destabilizing, as it means entering the quicksand territory, and they need to be focused and bright to deal with the rest of their lives, their families, their jobs. So I try to help stabilize the quicksand for them.

    I know these things and have been knowing them, but what I had just realized when I wrote this post was that they have also applied to me since Reeducation, and I should be turning these teaching principles directly upon myself!!!

  2. I know some kind of grisgris very well, I think. This is helpful to read.

    I had a strange experience this morning. I was starting to beat myself up and feel bad, and then I said, wait a minute. Beating myself up is part of the system. I don’t want to be part of the system. And it just receded. I felt much better.

    It’s been creeping up again, and after typing that it receded again. Amazing.

    I also really like your comment about giving students confidence to really learn. I still remember a TA I had in my freshman physics class. I was struggling, and she wrote on one of my homework papers “have some confidence.” And I just followed her advice and soon I had a lot of confidence and I did a lot better.

    I’ve done very little lecturing but a lot of tutoring, and I’ve seen a bunch of students (who have way more than enough natural ability) get stuck doing poorly, for reasons somehow related to what you’re describing.

  3. Yes but in a veiled manner. It was a 1991-93 stint with what I now realize was commercialized psychotherapy and Al-Anon. It was 100% psychic destruction: I was “in denial” because I was not in as bad shape as I should have been for the adult child of an alcoholic, and the fact that one of the authors I was working on had (apparently) been a sexual abuse victim meant that so was I. And on, and on. Being in academia, and in my field of it, made me GUILTY!

    In those days everyone’s family was “dysfunctional” and we all “needed therapy.” I had always wanted to know how to deal with bullies, boundary crossers, line steppers and verbal and emotional abusers, which is why I went … and it assigned Al-Anon to me. Both therapy and Al-Anon seemed *incredibly* immature and un-spiritual to me, but everyone I knew insisted my criticisms of them had to be mere “resistance to healthy change” and so I kept on. I had the presence of mind to quit in 1993 but I am only now starting to really recover from the whole experience.

  4. Thanks for the background.

    (Looking back at my first comment, it sounds a little like the most annoying conceivable sort of dumbass shallow “advice” that people sometimes give.

    Please believe that it wasn’t intended as advice at all! Just something strange that happened this morning, that stumped me, sounded too good to be true, and that your post reminded me of.)

  5. It didn’t seem like advice to me – just like a comment, something resonated … I was glad, I tend to assume that these sorts of posts are utterly egotistical, navel gazing for me, and I’m glad they resonate with other people sometimes. It means they did some good, and it is also “validating.”

  6. If they were considered poor students before, it is empowering for them, but if they were good rote students and are comfortable with that, it is threatening.

    I have seen this played out. The good rote students become hostile and argue if their grade on a paper is lower than one of those empowered students. Yet, it is all so subtle that to point it out would make for an accusation without merit. And the whole time the empowered student is truly astonished and relieved that he or she received a higher mark. Never does that high point relieve the anxiety that the next paper, grade, will prove that the other shoe does in fact drop. Unlike the good rote students who cannot ever imagine either shoe dropping, much less knowing the anxiety comes with being aware of the other shoe may drop syndrome.

    I remember in Fiction writing, a good rote student would go out of his or her way to say nasty little comments like, “yeah yeah we know, ____________________, anything just to dismiss the work of other students whose poor experiences made for better and more interesting writing than the good rote students. It was as if instead of them striving to do better they just had to dismiss or insult the other.

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