Into My Hermitage

The post below is about ten days old and so much has happened since, and I am so over it all. Now the heat has almost arrived and I am going camping. Then I will enter my hermitage. The problem with my hermitage, of course, is that I am ultimately so sociable. But I am even now in my hermitage.

I have been on sabbatical this semester and it has worked somewhat although the state is too small, and I am too penniless, to escape completely. But I have learned many fascinating things, including the names of all the things I wish to avoid in life, and how to identify them before they catch me.

I have been disabled since 21 March due to three instances in a row of emotional abuse I did not catch in time — although I must say I got faster and faster on the uptake. I cannot afford to go through any more. I hope these five weeks of lost time can have the benefit of immunizing me. I always want to move to foreign countries, or spend time in foreign countries, because there I am for various reasons less vulnerable to these incidents. And my friends always tell me I must move away from here because of the prevalence in this area of certain behavior. I think, though, that the task at hand is to see and stand my ground.

Now that the spring festival season is over I am also going to detoxify myself from all mind altering substances except caffeine. This will give me great pleasure. There is no point this time in telling me I should not be so Puritanical, since my goal is quite the opposite. I will soon look divine.


Why am I so irritated? asks someone. I am irritated because I do not like being projected into, patronized, or bullied. I am irritated because I do not like being the object of destructive envy. And I point out that not only are some bullies assistant professors, as we had pointed out earlier some are students and prospective students.


One such person, a neighbor, came to needle me lately. Why was he not accepted into his department’s PhD program, he wanted to know. It appeared that the reasons had been explained to him many times. He did not accept the explanations, and felt the committee did not recognize his virtues. He believed that having the minimum grades and scores allowed by the graduate school for entry to an M.A. program gave him the right to enter a Ph.D. program. He was hurt, said he, convinced that the rejection had been made for personal or political reasons.

I told him there were probably other more competitive candidates, and explained gently that his grades and GRE score, while valuable, were not as high as they might be. I also said it did not sound as though his writing sample had given a clear indication of research ability, or that his statement of purpose was clear. I said he did not appear to me to understand the nature of Ph.D. level work, and that the committee might have noticed this as well. Not to understand the nature of PhD level work was a recipe for frustration and failure, I said, so I understood the committee’s decision and would probably have made the same recommendation myself.

He went away, and came back a few days later. Would I help him write a letter of appeal to the university? I said no. He said, why not? I said, for all the reasons I explained to you when you were last here. I agree with the university. He was at this point very intent upon talking up his virtues and the reasons he was still convinced the department was wrong. It was all I could do to be quiet. I later found out from him that he had tried to press the department once again, and was hurt to be told to stop bothering them.

That was an exhausting conversation — too exhausting — and I realized that I had been too kind and that we had been talking at cross purposes, anyway. He is a type of bully! I realized. He does not even like the department to which he is applying, and he is not seriously interested in the field. He does want to impose his will upon it, and to solicit me as an ally in this endeavor. I had been trying to create a “teaching moment” but this was not at all what was desired. That was why the conversation on my doorstep was a struggle. He was relating to me as he relates to the school and the only response his posture truly permitted was the department’s strident no. I had assumed he had approached me with a different attitude and I struggled in the conversation until I relinquished this assumption.

And Reeducation would have said that it was my fault he even approached me. It would have said I should have “drawn a better boundary” in the first place. I think that is ridiculous, and that Reeducation and its weak minded ideas are greater bullies than my neighbor. I think it takes time to figure out what people are up to. I do not consider it a failing to give them the benefit of the doubt until they actually show themselves to be less developed people than one might wish. But my major error in these kinds of situations is to want, through kindness, to get the unreasonable person to become reasonable. That is the kind of “control” Reeducation does not think it a good idea to attempt to exert, and I agree.


And once again, I am convinced that it is at societal structures and not to individual psychologies (or “dysfunction”) one must look for the keys to these problems.


15 thoughts on “Into My Hermitage

  1. It’s definitely societal structures that are at fault. The following is a kind of random reflection which more or less connects to what you are saying in that last sentence.

    I was sitting on the oval (like a large playing field — about 5 acres) today, reflecting upon personal space. I asked myself why it was so difficult to relax in most contemporary contexts, whereas as a child, I’d gone into some pretty dangerous and hair-raising places on all sorts of adventures, and always felt at peace. Part of it is, of course, the years of being traumatised — of entering a place where one felt it was alright to relax, only to find somebody giving you hell. If this happens enough, you learn never to relax, no matter where you are.

    I noticed some workmen approaching the side of the oval, and for some reason it made me agitated. “Time to get up and go!” I thought. But I was all for catching myself out thinking in a reflexive, rather than contemplative manner. They were just workmen, walking around the side of the oval. In what possible way could they assert their dominance? I waited some more.

    My instincts, it appeared, had been right. They were cutting grass in a way that sent a huge jet of noise disturbance across the field. It was less than peaceful for me to be there anymore, and so I wandered off.

    As I walked homewards, I thought about the tiny people in their tiny houses and gardens and how little genuine privacy they really had.

    Right now there is a high pitched noise of some earth moving vehicles, creating a housing estate behind where I live. The noise cuts through my brain, it’s so repetitive, volumnous, and extremely high pitched. It’s been going on since the beginning of the year, between 8 and 5, and it prevents me from studying. I have jammed cotton wool into my ears.

    My father, I have noticed, makes it his habit to intrude upon personal space as a way of asserting dominance. It gives me the feeling of rotten entrails held up towards my nose — something profoundly repellant and yet unspeakable, since the vibrations I receive off him are so profoundly negative. It’s like a rotten body stinking — some kind of aspect of himself that he had left in the cellar to go off, which he brings near to people in order to repel them.

  2. PZ, I’m so glad you posted this update today. For a while I was reading your previous posts about bullying assistant professors through anxious, mildly paranoid eyes. 🙂 I’ve been fighting anxieties lately to do with my own troubled relationship with my own department and felt almost threatened by those posts, as if you were accusing ALL grad students, non-tenured faculty and assistant professors of pushing too much. Some of the people in those categories are quite alright, but there will always be assholes.

  3. Natasha – The person herein described is not a student or a faculty member at any university. In a very serious and necessary attempt not to have any person or event referred to, recognized, I never mention entities at universities as individuals, and all university events discussed in this blog are composite pictures of a variety of events.

    Many academic blogs complain about “senior faculty” as a group, as well as “administrators,” and “students,” meaning undergraduates. This isn’t really intended as an academic blog, but a blog about recovery from abuse. Precisely because assistant professors tend to be so concerned to make sure senior faculty feel fine, I find it amazing that compulsively abusive people throw caution to the wind even in this regard — if they’re a perpetrator, they’re a perpetrator, no matter how risky it might be. And ironically now, that we have become more conscious about not mistreating or “hazing” assistant professors than people were when I was a new one, abusive people at that level have a new kind of cover. That fascinates and amazes me.

    I do wish graduate students and assistant professors would not imagine that everything was always about them. I also wish graduate students and assistant professors would accept that one is not always at liberty to tell them everything, that it would not always be good for them anyway, that one might want some privacy, and that one might not want to revisit ancient history in an idle manner (although there are reasons one might want to know, on the other hand, why some things are done as they are).

    I have no way of judging whether I would think you too pushy. But if, for example, you’re not phoning senior colleagues you barely know at home to pass on ugly gossip or to make vague threats, then you’re doing better than some people I know and have known.


    Jennifer – personal space, yes. This is one of the most annoying of American characteristics, I find.

  4. “I do wish graduate students and assistant professors would not imagine that everything was always about them. I also wish graduate students and assistant professors would accept that one is not always at liberty to tell them everything, that it would not always be good for them anyway, that one might want some privacy…”

  5. Dear Zero, I don’t care to hear any more details about your departmental politics. I don’t want you to disclose any more information than you feel comfortable disclosing.

    To be frank, I think it was the John Muir posting that struck a chord with me. It seemed to accuse a large swatch of the population of being “villainous” – Christians, enmeshed mothers, assistant professors, postmodernists, and I don’t know who all else. I’m against bullying in any form, wherever it may occur, but I find many of my personal heroes have been Christians (Martin Luther King/John Lewis/Robert Kennedy), some have been Atheists (Bertrand Russell), some were once assistant professors (Obama), some enmeshed mothers (Sylvia Plath/Ruth Ginsberg/Sophia Loren), though I’m not sure I understand what this is, and many are postmodernists (hooks/Lorde/O’Brien/Hassan). How does one define enmeshing/who crosses the line? Much of the enmeshing comes out of anxiety. It’s a frightening thing to create a little person whose happiness one is responsible for.

  6. Well, sorry you didn’t like the posts, Natasha, but that’s not what this one said:

    And this blog is notes for me, not pronouncements of anything I claim is or should be true for others.

    The Muir post has a list of types of people I’ve found to be the most invasive and abusive — in my experience — over the past twenty years or so, and it gives examples, but what it lists are personality types and penchants, not classes of people.

    The category postmodern has less meaning for me than it appears to have for you, and we don’t have all the same favorite authors and politicians, which is fine.

  7. And — on the groups actually listed in the Muir post — I really do need to watch invasiveness and projection from them to survive psychically and do my job. Remember, I live in Maringouin which is rife with them and in this culture there is a lot of invasiveness and projection, and a lot of contact, and some of these people are actually quite nice. But they want one to join their mentality and it is lethal to me and I have already tried to negotiate … for a very long time. Being able to realize what certain mentalities are and just let them be, being able to reserve myself for me, is absolutely key or I will continue to struggle. My huge problem is being too kind and that post was the antidote. The list is absolutely essential for self defense.

  8. I’ve realised that the ideological warmongers (witting and unwitting) do not believe in the argument of self defence. I don’t know why, exactly, except for the fact that they do believe very fully in their own ideologies and their own theories of redemption — but I have never met an ideologue of any sort who believed in the theory of self defence.

    (You can pretty much tell an ideological braggart from someone who lives more closely in the real world by whether they will permit you to defend yourself.)

  9. As Marechera said, in The Black Insider, those who are defeated “do not lose their weapons but their armour.” If you belong to a defeated race or nation or gender, you will not be permitted to defend yourself against slander, abuse, psychological warfare, and so on. It will be considered quite “immoral” for you to attempt to do so.

  10. You and Marechera are quite right and perceptive.

    Here “defensiveness” is criticized but this is a criticism developed by whitemen for whitemen. The meaning of it, for whitemen open to it, is that you should learn to see others’ points of view, or realize you may have a shortcoming or some such thing.

    Of course, the people this admonition gets used on in reality are the defeated races, nations, and genders — people without a moral right to self defense.

    I guess this is what people like MLK were trying to riff off of with their nonviolent strategies … OK I will not defend and I will STILL win, something like this … ???

  11. Actually I think that the nonviolent strategies CAN be a way of calling someone’s bluff. Boxers do it when they want to really rile an opponent, and heat him up emotionally so that he loses his focus. They drop their guard, as if they think the opponent couldn’t hit them even with their guards dropped. With MLK it’s like saying, “Yeah, so what if you have the greater power? I transcend you where it counts — in terms of character and strength of mind.”

  12. I think that the whole tantrum throwing of certain right-wingers (moreso in the past than in terms of anything that I have recently seen), whereby they attempt to make sure that everybody conforms to the same whitebread Judeao-Christian values, is a response to the hatred of knowing that liberals and leftists can hold their own without conforming to the dictates or rigid authorities. It’s as if there are free spirits going around all the time with their guards down, whereas right-wingers know — or feel they know– that they must keep theirs up.

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