Natalie Zemon Davis

It has been a beautiful day here in Maringouin, heat index 104, not as hot as yesterday and I am starting to feel better than I did. In radio news, Historiann‘s software has a glitch which prevents me from posting, so I want to say here that I totally agree with this post.


“In this profession each person is allowed one eccentricity,” said the chair of my PhD examination committee, “and you have already used yours, since you are a woman. This examination is excellent; if you maintain a conventional enough persona, you can have a brilliant career.” I wish it were this simple.

“I cannot imagine anyone would discriminate against me based upon my choice to emphasize my status as a mother,” said one of our graduate students; “That would be so unfair.” I am glad we now inhabit a world in which it is possible to even entertain this thought.


As an undergraduate I took a class from Natalie Davis, who was a fascinating and dynamic lecturer. Once her husband flew in from New York and met her after class — yes, they were commuting academics. Was it difficult? we asked. The difficulty was doing this with children, she said. With direct flights and enough salary to pay for these and the telephone, it was entirely possible. They had tried having one home base and a studio for the other person, but this had not worked. Both had to be at home where their job was, so both homes had to be home bases — especially since there were children.

I was raised with the idea that you could not be married and have a career. Employers would reject married women, and marriages would reject women with careers. Natalie Davis was one of the exceptions. Disaster struck many finishing graduate students in my program. There was a running joke about being served diplomas and divorce papers on the same day, and it was unwise to let employers know you were married. Things have improved a lot since those days.

“Our two institutions are not working hard enough at coordinating our two teaching schedules, and it is unfair” does not, however, seem like a reasonable complaint to me or like a feminist issue. (Am I missing something?)


As I say, it is a beautiful day in Maringouin. My friend says I should add the MBA to my JD plan, and this might indeed solve some of the problems with it. I really like the reading I am doing and I like my work, but I have had another piece rejected. I would like to live in town and meet people and not be so poor.

(Is this terribly selfish? I keep being told I am robbing my field of the contributions I could still make, and I remember that chair of my PhD examination committee saying, “You can have a brilliant career.” I have determined, however, that the idea that you can write yourself to an ideal job for you is one of the lies professors tell each other, and I am not willing to entertain it again.)

The academic interest I have that crosses over into law is the construction of “race.” The origin of my interest in the JD was some work on the prison industrial complex. I am interested in this in the US and in the global context, and I am interested in globalization and trade; anti-dumping litigation fascinates me in theory at least. (I am thinking about these things so as to hone my plans and prepare to talk to people.)


Clarissa gets my yogi-like study attitude. This pleases me because it, and not discipline (do not misunderstand: scheduling is good but it is far more superficial) is what I have been trying to regain through this blog. Since my decline began I have tried to ramp things up via discipline because that is the standard advice, but it was never the problem.

Didion reminds us that it is not just a question of discipline, it is work circumstances. I say it is good to be reminded of that because it is true, but that my own discouragement does not even come from work circumstances but from advice as to what to do about these:

From Reeducation: everything is not all right; there is something wrong with you; that you cannot see you are fatally flawed is proof that you are; you should not be doing so well; not to be reactive is to be unfeeling; you should be in more pain; your life should not be in as good order as it is; you should be feeling more powerless.
From Time Managers: who are you to think you know what you want to do, or should do with your project? who are you to think you know how to estimate timelines on any project? stop doubting your directors and managers — don’t be lazy — write what you are told is meet — obey!

I do not know whether I can escape Maringouin; I do not know to what extent my problem really is Maringouin; I do not know whether my problem is actual lack of interest in field or whether it is the obligation to feel a lack of interest — when I was a child all the adults were assistant professors and perhaps part of showing they were worthy was to strike disaffected poses. I do know that I associate academic jobs with verbal and emotional abuse and unbearable pain.


I am still practicing, still attempting to acquire the skill of not saying to myself the things Reeducation and the Time Managers told me. It is strange that I am trying on and practicing the belief in the right to health and the right not to self-harm given that earlier in life, I did not doubt my right to these rights.


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