New Year: In Which I Am Not a Suburban-American

In the New Year I will renew last year’s vows, namely, to engage in luxury, calm, and voluptuousness. I will call more regularly upon the spirits, who reside here in the breath of winter’s fiery hearth.


In graduate school one had to prove one was serious. One of the main ways to prove this was to say one would live anywhere. In the New Year I will say I am only interested in urban life. Perhaps I am not serious. Perhaps my attitude is  insufficiently sacrificada. But my problem as an academic has always been that in order to be one, one was expected to renounce being the person one needed to be in order to be one.


In Reeducation one had to change oneself, also. The main change was that you had to learn to feel the pall of death inside your chest. You had no right to the breath of life, and you must stamp it out. Despite these warnings I still wanted more breath, not less, and so I failed Reeducation. But I am as sure now as when I failed this course that it is in one’s own nature that one finds the breath of life.


Since Reeducation I have been intensely phobic about almost every aspect of academic work. I spend a great deal of my work energy calming my nerves around the fact of being here at all. This is because academia, for me, has not been a great deal more than a random, abusive workplace, located far away from the things which interest me in life. And in both academia and Reeducation, having an intellectual orientation turned out to be problematic.

The result of it all is that to stay in both I had to defer my own life and suppress my intellectual interests. This process of suppression is very violent, and that is why I am so phobic. Every day I have to deaden myself in order to go to work, and then reanimate myself enough to function. Being half dead and also  falsely animated, it is hard to produce well.

“You are steeling yourself like someone who is going to a torture chamber,” said a friend watching me get ready one morning. It was true, I noted, but I had not even realized it, because I was not even preparing for a difficult day.


This year I will no longer say, except in public, that I like things I do not.  I will also work on getting over my  academophobia by hiding from it less. I will honor its causes, recognize that its roots are real, and then nurture my breath. I will say that it is wonderful I have gotten through things at all. I have already asked, why did you succumb to everything, and answered that it was because I was weak or weakened. There is no need to ask again.


I have these tendencies to self abuse and to claustrophobia as a result of trying to change my interests, desires, and tastes to fit in with academia, suburban life, and Reeducation. I try to limit myself in the proper ways, but it feels like suffocation and suicide. I then want to run from the scenes of these crimes and also from the self that feels shame of having suffered them and has not yet overcome their effects. I want to run to my stronger side, or to a side with no memory.


What is it I want to leave? From what can I depart instantly? This year I will stop residing in the self that thinks it should be someone else. I will remember that it is not a personal failing not to thrive in the suburbs, or to have a taste for a different sort of life. I have been trying to survive by becoming someone else and only being myself in cyberspace, but this year I am going to stop.  That, I think, should help with the claustrophobia and activate the breath of life.


Despite what I say in III and what others say, my issue has never been the academic world per se. It is the nature of my own daily life in it and my attempts to submit to it which bother me. The common answer is to adjust but there is a point at which adjustment becomes self-betrayal. It might be possible to live the same life minus the attempt at adjustment, and live it better.


Also despite what I say in III, it is worth remembering the list of things that actually set off my academophobia is very short. My problem is that those activities are my principal job assignment. It is unclear to me what to do about that fact in the immediate term, but I perceive that to remember how short the list actually is would help. And I am always amused that those who tell me most stridently that I need to adjust, do not want to hear what my job actually is – or wrinkle their noses if I do explain it. I am used to the things which shock them, but it is still terribly hard to live so far from town.


It helps to notice how well my research brain wakes up when I get to California, or the D.F., or Lima, or S. Paulo, or anywhere with cities, mountains, and seas. It will help to remember that the list of phobias is short and all the phobias arise from my working conditions, not my work. It will help to remember that I am phobic because of having lived in situations where it was dangerous to say no to things any sensible person, or self respecting academic would refuse. It will also help to remember that at the root of it all is my thinking I should be someone else. It is, of course, possible that I should be someone else – that I should be able to live without cities, mountains, or seas – but I have seen that it is not fruitful to try.


12 thoughts on “New Year: In Which I Am Not a Suburban-American

  1. Ah, luxe, calme, et volupté! Indeed this is what I wish for you in the new year, Professor Zero.

    I also wish you that the academy adjust more to you than you do to them. The place deserves fresh colours, and I think yours are brilliant.

    Happy new year. 🙂

  2. Have a listen to the Zimbabwean music I sent you.

    Once your consciousness reaches a critical point, whereby you simply know that you are doing yourself harm by remaining in the situation you are in, then you must move. If you do not, your unconscious mind will realise that despite the firming of your knowledge, you have chosen to remain in the “safe” situation with the devil you know. It will never forgive you for that.

  3. “If you do not, your unconscious mind will realise that despite the firming of your knowledge, you have chosen to remain in the ‘safe’ situation with the devil you know.”

    Yes indeed. Gracias, y’all, and happy new year! 🙂

  4. P.S. More evidence: living in L.A., I found out that my professor friends from Berkeley actually did not care about the excellent museum and music scene – which shocked me.

    This is more data for my data set, the hypothesis being that 80% of professors, including professors of what we call “culture,” actually want suburban ranch houses and are satisfied with television. !!! It’s just a hypothesis but if it is true it would explain a lot.

  5. Now I am informed that it is not weird for a single person to prefer living in a city.

    This reminds me of the reason one of my grad school cohort quit academia – it meant living in small towns and suburbs and you had to take a family with you, said she. At the time I thought she just meant she didn’t like moving alone, but I see the point now – it’s about being in the suburbs for no reason except a nominal job.

  6. And/but – being on sabbatical, I notice how much happier I am in this town and area when I do not have to deal with the university … in particular, with my department of it. I knew my job was making me miserable, but I did not fully realize how much.

  7. Hah! Phobia is dogging me. How did I get it: by learning that abuse will happen and you won’t be able to predict it … that this is the venue for it, yet you can’t get away.

    Antidote: realize how disabling that is and give credit for it. This not as a justification for continuing to feel phobic but as recognition of how one feels. Then: find ways not to take all the various crappy things so much to heart. My main problem is having been told I should take them to heart and having finally quailed to that. Send fear and intimidation back where they came from, tell them to leave, say to self the things I would say to someone else who expressed the kinds of frozenness I feel.

    Why I feel frozen: because I’ve learned that if I do what I think it is right, it will be considered wrong and violence will ensue … because I feel so many of my efforts are futile. Antidotes: in the first case, don’t internalize it if it happens. In the second case, decide everything is most likely to futile and that this is normal, so only do what one would do in one’s best judgment anyway. Then even if it’s futile (and not everything is) it still is fun in itself. HMMMMMMMMMMM. And even though authorization and approval are such big weapons here, don’t have an internal need for them, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need them to feel safe … or to feel safe from YOURSELF. (This being my problem. I will now work for 2 hours without yelling at myself, going into spasms of regret, self recrimination, etc.)

    Having undergone too much abuse is disabling, it really is, as I learned from a film I watched this weekend (illuminating, but not necessarily healthy for me). One must not do things which further disable, or expect oneself not to be disabled, but rather do things that help heal. This has to happen all the time.

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