The writing-stalled professor?

This post should describe me. I do not think it does. What I actually have is a violent workplace. It does not help to try to say the problem is internal to me.

I have already tried ignoring the violence, trying to step around it, good faith negotiation with it, organizing it. I have not protected myself well enough from it, and I should do this and then fight it. I have to remember that it is the enemy of everything good, not me, and that all my allies are in other departments, and none are in my own. Although my department may have neutral parties, and well wishers, only the wicked elements in it are strong. I can only protect myself by keeping these things firmly in mind, exerting as much control in my own realm as I can (e.g. by not expecting the program to function, but insisting that my classes do), and also remembering that I am more right than wrong. I will study my Tarot reading, and take care of the ancient wound in the sixth card.

I’ve been writing-stalled all week but I do not feel as though I throw myself into teaching and service projects to avoid writing: I say yes to the same things I used to say yes to, but now that means saying yes to every part of the task, including making the paper it is written on, as it were. There is also the inefficiency and obstruction.

Every time I read one of these articles about efficiency and discipline I feel as though everything were my fault. I have to remember what my most “productive” colleague says: “They have ruined our careers.” “We have to do the things the provost, the vice president, the dean and the chair should be doing and do not.” “Since we are mostly instructors and instructors cannot be asked to do major service, we are sharing among three people the service responsibilities corresponding to nine.” This is the truth and of course, we are only nominally sharing those responsibilities: they all fall to me. And when I don’t do them, I suffer from the results of, let us say, the equivalent of the garbage not being picked up. It does affect me, and others do not step up to the plate as they are somehow able to function in garbage. I may not get enough other things done, but at least I do not have to sit in garbage. I do not know the answer to these things but I do think extreme egoism and self-love, not additional discipline and condescending do-your-homework exercises, are the answer.

I have had a couple of department chairs who were responsible and effective, and I really respect and admire their work. I would not say they had just done this work “to avoid writing.” I have also had chairs who kept their research up while being chair, but of these the one who was an effective chair and a highly productive scholar at the same time had a low teaching load and strong administrative support.

Some of the comments on the article are smart. We do not have enough faculty who pull their weight in service and political engagement, and life would be easier if we did. We also do not have enough administrators who are working on behalf of, as opposed to against our academic programs.

I would like a reading group, as reading and not writing is my deepest problem: I feel nervous reading, as I know someone is going to tap me on the shoulder and say I should not be doing it, that I should be doing some teaching or service activity–or that I should be “writing before I was ready” (i.e. not reading). But without reading, there is nothing, I have always found.

What I have always wanted is proper administrative support for our program. Where I find my time going is in defending the program against anti-support. Then, when I read articles that suggest to me I am putting too much effort into that, I try to be quiet and turn a blind eye. And then I discover that some disaster has taken place while I was not looking, that I am asked to repair.

It feels as though one cannot win. I know what it is like to have conditions in which one can in fact follow the directions in this article. One of my problems is being so uncomfortable at home, yet not having a viable secret home to go to. From Riga I had brought this zen that made the days here seem long and under my control. We have had difficulty at the university since, but the discovery that it was possible, in some way, to feel safe enough here to concentrate, was a revelation.

I think the people who dispense advice that goes to work ethic only, do not know what it is to work in such a volatile atmosphere, or where one feels as much danger as we tend to do here. I also think that the ones who say you have to fit your core work in 15-minute increments around swirling chaos, do not understand that you may need those 15 minutes to come back to yourself, and that you may need to take out your scythe and cut the chaos down in enormous swaths–not just try to work around it, or within it, or avoid it in some other impossible way.

It is self-management in these kinds of situations that is my issue. I keep coming to the conclusion that “protecting time” is not the right image. Visualizing myself as a castle under siege is paralyzing. Clearing space and taking it, breathing life into it, is the image that works.


One thought on “The writing-stalled professor?

  1. On this, the question when I got here: why is it so hard to just concentrate on classes and research? The answer was clear: because classes are being sabotaged, the library is closed, the teaching schedule precludes travel to other libraries, and there were enormous service and administrative demands for things that one needed done to be able to function. So of course service and administration, and politics (stopping the sabotage) had to come first. That was the answer, then, and yes, it felt like jumping off a cliff but it seemed to be the only way ahead.

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