Monthly Archives: November 2012

Now I see

…what has been going on. There is a certain kind of bad situation I can usually only tell I have because of how I feel from it, not what I see.

You have to believe your senses. And I, if I am flashing back as I have kept doing intermittently for about three weeks, am always reacting to something that is happening now, even if I cannot identify it. This is a really important point, it is not random and it is not simply because I have been reminded — it is because there is some actually similar situation now.

Our lecture tonight was moved to a different building and we all felt so happy, without oppression, and the room was beautiful and we all felt somehow reborn, we were brilliant.


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Pelo Telefone, sung by Bahiano (1916)

Colleague, by telephone: You must help me, as I am terrified. I am painted into a corner, it is not easy to move from here and I cannot afford to move soon. I need to make tenure, really need it. Yet conditions are such that one cannot work to it. And I have found I am powerless to change these conditions, or even to make others see a change is the answer, despite the fact that a change would clearly benefit one and all.

Z: All I can say is, I am glad to know I am not the only one with this problem. I thought it was my lack of skill, or some situation unique to me.

Looking back on this long-ago day I remember the terror and I think it all has to do with the earnest Advice. “If you do not do exactly this, you will die!” appears to be what we both heard or knew.

My book on this, if I actually write it, will have to do with the variations on standard strategies. It will also have a different point of departure since most others appear to believe the hardest part of an academic job is research. I keep thinking this is a book for graduate students and new faculty, like so many others, but I wonder whether it might also be for their advisors.


What I am tired of is the state of emergency. When do we sail in clear water, when do we get free of the wreckage, when do we hit our stride.



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Coda on advice and its sources II

Colleague: Only you did not lie to me or misrepresent anything at my interview. Z: None of us lied, or intended to misrepresent anything. It is only that I know what it is like where you are from, and also where you studied, and I am not from here either, although I have been here some time. All of this means I was able translate for you, as it were.

I appear to have super-knowledge, on the one hand, but I am also impaired.

“Only do things that will help you move up and out.”
– Yes, but I must first create conditions in which I can do such things. (The advice is not made for this situation.)

It takes me such a long time to process things, perhaps because of having heard the advice so desperately, so many times, while everything that was actually done indicated that the advice was only official, or that the conditions in which it might be applied are only tenuously present.

“Why don’t you do this?”
– It is not within my power.
– The decision is not mine to make.
– Yes, I know things are different where you are.

That is all true but I have more power than I believe.


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Coda on advice and its sources I

I keep insisting, and I am sure I am right, that you in fact learned how to do academic work if you have a degree from anything like a reputable institution, and that you got it from the program itself.

Where else do you get advice? This is the submerged question, since much of the destructive advice I got in graduate school was from special workshops and pamphlets about the job market, which prophesied much doom but were also only half informed, composed as they were by faculty at my institution who did not have anything like the right kind of experience. (As one said to the other one famous day, what do you know? Where have you been? Princeton and Berkeley, and that is all.) The advice for those places is well known, but in most it does not apply without serious, Dr. Crazy-style modification.

That is why I need to write my book on this matter, and Dr. Crazy, who is different from me, hers.

In the meantime, however, I have only just realized what the sources of much of my advice are except in places like Princeton and Berkeley, where the advice of a department chair is standard and recognizable and nice, and does suffice.

Otherwise the sources are not reliable. They include department chairs who assume based on past experience that many faculty really are not research oriented, so they are speaking to an interlocutor that may not be onself, and also colleagues who are as shell shocked as you. They include other colleagues who may in fact be less well trained in reality or less experienced than you, or traumatized into a different shape than you, or have other goals than you, that neither of you may recognize. My point: all bets are off outside a certain circle, and this is where advice is necessarily non-standard.

How to discern better from worse non-standard advice is the actual question. Because everyone is exhorting because they are theorizing, they do not know for sure, they either have completely different priorities or are twisting themselves into pretzels as they attempt to apply a standard agenda or they have special status or they are just desperately trying to improvise.

There is the imperative to fit in and this really is imperative, but I have seen the effort to comply destroy peoples’ sense of integrity, in the sense of wholeness, more times than I can count. You cannot lose sight of North, but you must also modify your path.

I keep insisting on the destructiveness of all the directives to save time, which I have heard too often. But if you cut here and cut there until you have nothing left, you cut any purpose beyond bare survival. That is where all the dicta come from about how “It is your bread and butter, dear,” and “At least we are still employed.” Those are the phrases pronounced by people who have already renounced everything.

Your guides have to be true, they have to have North in sight themselves, they have to be able to see you clearly, and they cannot have nefarious agendas of their own. I used to tell the lost to find some old feminist or person of color in another, but related department, who had lost some wars and come past them, who was in another space now but still knew where the minefields lay and the allies lived.

Suddenly I realize I will soon be that person.


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Coda on the right to desire to aspire to feel inspired

The right to desire to aspire to feel inspired is a human right I am surely the first to articulate, but that I have not invented since it is eternal.

These are the main pieces of academic advice I have received:

– Do not think you will get a job
– Obey to get tenure
– Publish what they think so you can publish a lot and have them like it
– Cut corners on teaching
– Avoid any service not required, but here do exactly as told
– Be glad to be here, since you are not really qualified and this is just something nice we have arranged for you
– You do not deserve this and you are taking the place of many who do
– Don’t let it go to your head.

If one objects to the attitude evinced herein, there comes the “be glad you can eat” sentence.

I am sorry but it all strikes me somehow as a set of excuses for work avoidance.  It does not sound like efficiency or practicality or prioritization or time or task management, it sounds like the ravings of depressed persons.

This is why I have decided to publish the right to desire to aspire to feel inspired.


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And another public opinion poll

Pace the dolce far niente and Paul Lafargue (who, as I have just learned, was born in wealth on a coffee plantation in Santiago de Cuba) we will ask the question: do you think anyone has the right to desire or to aspire to inspiring work? Or, should people simply be grateful for “the opportunity to eat,” which was what the official written advice for job hunters said in one of my departments at my graduate institution?

This is the academic advice I have gotten:
– be grateful for the opportunity to eat
– be grateful, you could be on the street
– be grateful, you could be home with small children
– be grateful, you could be at the salt mines

and a few things like:
– if you do not demand the right to good conditions you are complicit in your own oppression and have only yourself to blame
– if you do not already have good conditions it is that you did not make the grade and have only yourself to blame.

What is behind the extremism and Manicheism here? Why have I so often found people unwilling to consider a middle path? Also, I appreciate being glad to be alive but are we to desire nothing, aspire to nothing?

I also do not know any more, at this point, how to define adequate or reasonable conditions.

Unspecified Whiteman, one day not today: Over the long term, yes, your visible research is more important to the University than is any amount of administration or service. Over the long term.
Z, silently: So my original intuition was correct. We are shock troops or FEMA doctors, here to help clear up the wreckage and create conditions such that the next set of hires might focus on research, but not us. We will sacrifice ourselves and it and then do penitence for having done so. I will not let them get away with that.


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Another dialogue, another fact

Z: Did you enjoy Madison?
Person from Houston: Yes, but it was really hard.
Z: How so? Is it really as cutthroat as one sometimes hears?
Person from Houston: No. It was that I had to learn how not to defer to men. You are not expected to do that there, and doing it does not get the results it gets here. It was really hard to learn how to operate in a different way.

I, of course, have always been on the opposite journey, so this was an interesting conversation. I do say, though, that all the time and energy I have spent and spend on this aspect of Reeducation is time and energy that could go to research and teaching, and that the entire exercise and its result is also detrimental to research and teaching.


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