I think there’s some kind of disparity…

Wherein I digress and walk around in circles.

Remember I wrote this post about how badly I thought I’d done in my uni assignment? I got a Distinction for that essay and the tutor gave me very complimentary feedback.

I wrote another essay where I felt exactly the same way; that I’d completely missed the point and that my writing was terrible. I didn’t want to go to my exam because I didn’t want to risk potentially meeting the tutor and lecturer and have them see me and know it was me who wrote such an awful essay.

I got that essay back today. I got a HD. I’ve just copied the comments that the tutor wrote into an email to myself so that whenever I’m torturing myself with how utterly shite at studying and writing I am, I can read it and feel O.K.

Billie Mae this essay is carefully considered, beautifully written and theoretically engaged – thankyou for such an intelligent and compelling response to the text and the ideas raised in the unit, it was a pleasure to read. Beautiful, beautiful work.

Good luck in the exam and all the best for your future studies. If you are interested in Honours at the end of your degree, based on the standard of this essay I think it would definitely be worth considering.

I don’t know why I have such a disparity between how I think I’m going with my studies and the results I actually get. I realise that I’m actually one of those people who whinges and moans that they’ve failed but who, at the very least, passes fairly easily. I hate those people. I’m trying to determine what it is that makes me feel like I’m failing when I’m passing. 

Obviously low self-confidence – I mean, I can see that theoretically but I don’t actually feel as though I have low self-confidence. I’m not walking around all the time thinking ‘I’m shit’ but I don’t think that’s solely how low self-confidence manifests. I think that’s what makes having low self-confidence so insidious; it’s so normal and manifests in so many ways that it takes work to recognise it. At first when I read my tutors comments I was all chuffed and thrilled. Then I started thinking that she probably thinks she is marking the work of a 17 year old and that when she finally sees me, she will realise that I’m old and that I should be able to write better than I do. Which is derogatory to me and derogatory to 17 year olds. It’s interesting that even as I’m thinking these thoughts I’m also thinking ‘see, this is what you do to minimise the joy of the compliment’. If I can just learn to… I don’t know, I don’t even know how to turn that around and fully accept the pleasure of the compliment whilst still keeping an eye on reality. I think it’s a safety mechanism to stop me being burnt later. As though, because I’ve thought about it first, if it did happen – if I went to the exam and she said ‘oh my god, i thought you were 15’ – it’s ok because I already knew she thought that. I’ve minimised the hurt that those words would cause.

Which reminds me, of something similar I did recently. This young bloke asked me out and I was like “WHAT?”. A scenario ran through my head of being out at dinner or drinks and he finds out I’m 37 and freaks out. I turned him down automatically without even processing that properly. It’s interesting that firstly, I’ve internalised ageism and sexism (women don’t go out with younger blokes) but also that again, to avoid the hurt I would feel when he realised I was significantly older than him – I automatically said no. I dismissed him to avoid being hurt later.

By minimising the hypothetical/imaginary hurt that I might feel later, I diminish the joy/pride that I should be feeling now and not taking pride in your achievements diminishes your self-confidence. What a nasty little catch 22.

Comparison – this one has a bit of an upside to it. I do read a lot and the type of reading for uni is usually academic journals, essays, and articles; work that has had extensive research and time go into it. Work that has probably been professionally edited and reviewed. I read that finished product after it has been distilled through a very particular process and It can be disheartening to compare the finished product to my own inarticulate ramblings. I read them and think ‘oh fuck! I can’t do this. I can’t write like this, I can’t articulate the complexity of a topic like this’. I become aware of all the faults and cracks in my own writing which is, of course the faults and cracks in my own thinking!

In 2006 I read Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life and one little gem from the chapter How to be a Good Friend has helped me cope with the fact that ‘I can’t write like that’. It’s an anecdote describing the differences between conversation and writing which I’ve always hazily remembered in relation to writing (had to go and look it up online).  Botton tells a story about how, when James Joyce and Proust met, they had nothing to say to one another. Botton explains that, although we might expect them to converse late into the night, the act of conversation and writing are so fundamentally different that we shouldn’t be surprised they hadn’t much to say to one another. Botton goes on to discuss the way that writing is the result of a long process of writing and rewriting;

…[w]riting accommodates and is largely made up of rewriting, during which original thoughts – bare, inarticulate strands – are enriched or nuanced over time. They may thereby appear on a page according to the logic and aesthetic order they demand…

and (just because I like the quote)…

There was naturally no sign of the process of elaboration or of the material conditions of creation in the published version, only a continuous, controlled, faultless voice revealing nothing of where sentences had had to be rewritten, where asthma attacks had intruded, where a metaphor had to be altered, where a point had to be clarified, and between which lines the author had had to sleep, eat breakfast, or write a thank-you letter.

In some ways comparing myself to the academic journals, articles and essays that I am reading is utterly disheartening but it also gives me something to aspire to – I just have to put it into some kind of perspective. At some point I just have to think ‘just fucking write something and hand the fucker in and never think about it again’.

That’s where I’m at at the moment – a bit of reflection as the end of semester draws near (exam tomorrow!) and trying to figure out why and how I am the way I am.


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