On Self Injury

I am on sabbatical and could easily do as I see fit, namely work in the morning and evening, play in the afternoon, and sleep at night. In reality I work in the afternoon and night, play in the evening, and sleep in the morning. Notice how I choose to work at the hours of low biorhythms. See how I am getting things done, but with more difficulty than I might, and with far less health than is easily available. Note also that I am rebelling against the unrealistic possibility of  Puritanism — get up in the morning and work! — and protecting unnecessarily against the possibility of being interrupted by working in the dead of night.

I have said it before: I was always told that women should have an ethic of suffering, and academics too, but I did not believe it. In Reeducation we were not expected to suffer, either, but we were expected to be impaired. To be at one’s full powers, to enjoy full health, was to engage in the sin of denial; one had to be stopped or struggling. Not being in a position to stop or to risk permanent injury I was careful not to get too extreme, but I did take some measures to limit myself, so I could become more modest and hampered, as one was to be in Reeducation.

Working at odd hours like this was an excellent strategy toward this goal. It enables you to work less efficiently, so that you are less satisfied. It interdicts much exercise and sleep, and it hampers housework and play. You thus have a poorer return on your efforts than you would if you did not engage in sabotaging them. This is very important because then Reeducation cannot call you arrogant because you are getting things done, or selfish because you are enjoying your life. Most importantly, it cannot say you have more control over your life than you deserve.

As I say, in Reeducation you could be either hampered or stopped; if anyone pointed this out to Reeucation it would respond that actually, it had freed us to “do as we wanted.” Except that in Reeducation, most things were forbidden. But in Reeducation I picked up some habits I have not yet fully dropped.


12 thoughts on “On Self Injury

  1. This is really perceptive–the unconscious pushing of writing/work out of the most productive hours, so that it always seems to become a bleary-eyed activity. Moi aussi.

  2. I was thinking about this just now and I think for me anyway it is something about defenses, i.e., when i am working while tired I don’t have as much energy to send myself negative messages.

  3. Yes, there is that — it’s important. I’m thinking about it too and there is something about needing to be in an altered state. Night is an altered state and for me, afternoons are too because I want to be asleep, or doing a sport, or just strolling.

    Where I went to college and graduate school everything was altered — it’s “Euphoric State” in a David Lodge novel, after all. You’d walk down the hill to campus and it was full of people, all intent on their projects, from the vans delivering commuters to the freshmen studying calculus to the Nobel Prize winners parking in their special parking places to the classicists poring over their Greek in the reading room at HGS. You, too, could be intent, and there were materials upon which to be intent, and many strange creatures and tribes walking across campus doing their thing at all times — a permanent carnival.

    Out here in Maringouin, by contrast, many people and things one sees are either anaesthetized or are some really neutral form of normal — not awake in the Buddha’s sense. One has to become enough like that to be able to jive with it and function, but then there is the problem of getting back into the zone of actually thinking (because it’s turning your brain down that makes you able to function in Maringouin, and it is not because people are less intelligent, it is because they have also turned their brains down, it is the custom here).

    So then to really work, I have to turn my brain back up again, and one of the most easily available altered states is fatigue. This is paradoxical and dysfunctional, I know, but at least by thinking about it I can perhaps figure out a better way to reach the goal of turning my brain back up (I also feel as though I need to turn my eyes back on, I seem to turn them off as well, to a large extent, in daily life).

    [Actually, this is how I use Facebook and why I actually *want* (unlike some other faculty) to be on it with all the quirky students. They have a lot of the kind of energy I am looking for, and I see it and perk up.]

  4. And here I am, eleven o’clock and underproducing and getting irritated with myself for it.

    I haven’t been Reeducated, yet. I don’t think I have. I think I’m in a place where I can not be, if I choose.

    Let’s write about resisting it. (It? What?) Can we, please? I guess that’s what you do. I started blogging again so that I could resist it. It’s working, a little.

  5. I think we have to be like Meg Murray on the planet Camazotz. I just discovered that that was a reference to the Popol Vuh, so I don’t know how to feel about it, but when we talk of resisting it, that is what I think of.

  6. Resisting it, yes. That’s what the blogs are for, and I really think they work! (You’d know it if you’d been reeducated … it involves giving up your power.)

    Camazotz, OMG, it’s true. I think that means “Bat House” or something, one of the places in the underworld where the sacred twins have to outwit their enemies. (The enemies have names like 1-Death and 7-Death.) No, now I’ve looked it up, he was a bat god associated with night, sacrifice, and death.

  7. I may not have been Reeducated, but I have evidently lost my childhood: I had to google Meg Murry and Camazotz and read the whole Wikipedia page before I understood.

    Unfortunately (based on my Wikipedia-level knowledge), Meg’s strategy will not work: love is not enough. Unless it is a very sophisticated love, maybe. A re-read is in order.

    Bet I could get A Wrinkle in Time on my orals list by claiming it as a latter-day romance.

  8. I think for me the operative metaphor is that she has to (a) think rationally and (b) practically scream out her allegiances in order to defeat IT. I think a reread is in order here, too. I am considering reading Philip Pullman with my first year students this fall, as well.

  9. I had to look up Pullman. He sounds great … and about right for my stage of development, too, from a small to a larger stela.

    I am very ambivalent about the experiences of these girl heroines like Meg, although of course the worst experiences are all in Hans Christian Andersen. I am very ambivalent about Pan’s Labyrinth, also. So much forbearance is required and naturalized.

  10. Also, though, for productivity, an altered state can be useful. Sometimes I need one to penetrate a book or an idea. Ideally one can get these by going on a wonderful hike up a mountain, or something, but not having mountains I find that that dull headache of being up too late that pushes my consciousness of everything else away and that I then ignore so I can concentrate (there is only one thing to ignore then) gives me just the edge I need to unravel something. I’ll look at my notes or what I wrote and say WOW. Most of the blog posts people most most love were written that way, too.

    I need a kayak, it is clear, and I need to go back to yoga.

  11. Meg is a very ambivalent character–as the series progresses she marries Calvin and has a ton of kids and disappears, and the narrative focuses on her daughter Polyhymnia–as if only children can have independent moral lives in her universe.

    My therapist has been coaching me to hold my book ms. lightly, and it has been helping.

  12. The therapist is right.

    Polyhymnia: I had a student who wrote for another class a paper called “Procreating the Text in Authors x y and z.” Ze’s (? grammar?) thesis was that it was problematic that everything had to be resolved in the next generation, because that presupposed and reinscribed heterosexual reproduction. “Ze’s” prof had given hir an A for good argumentation, correct use of sources, etc., etc., but had been freaked out by the general attitude and take. I, however, think ze had a point.

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