I feel wretched. Since getting back to Y-town, I just feel dragged out and utterly without energy. Washing dishes seems this incredible undertaking. And I get tired very quickly. I swept the house finally and had to lie down. I was just so tired. I left all my marking until midterm, because they make so much noise in the staffroom that if I am trying to work, I just hate all of them. It’s much nicer for me if I don’t try. Then I am not frustrated. Then I don’t hate them. So, if I can put work off until later, I do that. That has been my strategy. During those periods when the staff is not teaching much for some reason, and they are all hanging out the staffroom, I just futz around and don’t try to do anything very demanding.

To be honest, I think it is being in a room full of people, and trying to concentrate on something else that’s so maddening. If they were quiet, I could forget their existence, but they are not. They keep reminding me they are there, and for me it’s like, “Oh, there is a threat nearby. I need to keep an eye on them.” But actually I need to work. It’s too difficult. I think it’s like trying to work in a room full of venomous snakes. Probably they won’t bite me, but I ought to watch them. Only I can’t really mark exams and watch for snakes. They make noise in part because they like this constant reminder that there are people there. Country X-ers can’t stand to be alone. They feel extremely vulnerable when they are alone, and they get really scared. One of my former students—I guess she is 13 or so now—said when her family is not home, she goes outside to play. She can’t stand to be in the house alone. But I am not a Country X-er and I have all of these other issues, and they are also not my particular friends, and I don’t want to be reminded that they are there, because I find them slightly threatening. People are threatening. It’s extra for me, but I think it’s also a cultural divide. For a Country X-er, any living human will do, but people from Western cultures are selective. Some people are your friends and some people are not. The guy who whistles badly is not my friend. I hate him. I don’t think he has any particular feeling about me. I think I don’t exist for him.

It’s not as simple as I make it sound, but there is an incredible feeling of vulnerability that Country X-ers have about being alone, and I think it’s the reason behind the noise. They need to constantly remind themselves that someone is there, even if it is actually only themselves or only YouTube or whatever. The guy who shouts or makes weird noises when he walks into a room is looking for connection. He wants some kind of response, so that he knows he is not alone. I have started greeting him when he does this. He yells and I say “good morning” or “good afternoon.” It makes me feel less annoyed, anyway. I feel I am meeting his need in a way that is less startling to me and I have this idea that I am demonstrating a more appropriate way to get attention.

Whereas I feel fine alone. Generally, human beings are the problem. In all my years on this earth, almost nothing bad has happened to me that wasn’t the result of human agency. I am afraid of people. I could get bitten by a snake, but mostly I know how to deal with snakes. I could get bitten by a dog, but usually I know how to deal with dogs. Something could fall on my head, but that seems unlikely. A fire could start, but I know how to put a fire out. People are a different matter.

I think I am also very attuned to who seems to be foe and who seems to be friend. Who is my “us” and who is my “them.” “Us” is someone who considers my point of my view, my needs, and my feelings. I actually think that is quite universal. “Us” is someone who takes your perspective, who is motivated to do so and has enough knowledge of you that they can. The guy who whistles incessantly is very definitely “them.” My degree of awareness is extra, but everyone does this. Everyone sorts out who is “us” and who is “them” and everyone feels more relaxed around “us” and more wary around “them.”

So I have lots of work to do and absolutely no energy to do it with. It’s a problem.


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