Tag Archives: feelings

All that we see or seem

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Two things happened in the last month. The first is that I came out to my students – gender-wise, and my unconformity. The second is that I wrote a thing for my department’s newsletter about social media and how I use it. I didn’t realize those how connected those things were until about ten minutes ago.

There’s a third thing that I think might be behind most of that connection, which is that I will not be receiving funding next year. That in itself isn’t necessarily something to be angry about – I got more than a lot of grad students get, nationwide – but how it happened was, without going into detail, less than satisfactory, and I’ve been doing some major reevaluating about my place here and my relationship with this institution and what it all means to me personally. And what started as real anger has turned into a kind of freedom I didn’t expect.

I don’t care anymore.

Which, ironically, might mean that I can actually care about the right things for the first time in my entire graduate school career.

So  I came out to my students. I explained what “genderqueer” meant, and then I put myself up there as an example. I did it mostly in passing – an “and I’m that, so you know what that is already” – but it felt big.

It’s not the first time I’ve come out to a class, and it wasn’t the first time this semester where I used myself as an example. I’m a weird confluence of identity categories, exactly like most people: white, middle/upper middle class in many respects but growing up in a lower middle class neighborhood on a lower middle class income, born with a female body but not identifying that way in terms of my gender, sexually sort of all over the place, able-bodied but possessing a wacky constellation of mental illnesses, disorders, and cognitive disabilities. Whatever, nobody’s normal, we all agreed. There’s no such thing.

I had not yet been informed that I wouldn’t be funded. Maybe some part of me knew already that this semester was different.

It’s always an interesting question, how much of yourself you reveal to a class. How much of yourself you reveal to yourself. Coming out to someone about anything strange or uncomfortable makes that person into kind of a mirror; see yourself through their eyes and suddenly you might see something different. It might not be true, but it’s there. In my mid-twenties I came to an understanding of myself as genderqueer, but I’ve never been comfortable with gender, and I’ve never been comfortable with my body, and I’ve always felt like my mind was actively trying to hurt me. I’m not comfortable with anything. At all. Ever. But life has become a process of getting to be Okay with that, and talking about it to other people is part of how I’ve been getting there.

So then I wasn’t funded, and while I’ve been decoupling from Giving A Shit since my comprehensive exams, this finally kicked me away completely.

Abruptly I was saying everything. I was just talking. I told them a lot, in private and in the classroom itself. My final class, I sat on a table in front of my students and I told them the story of the last few weeks. I told them I wouldn’t be teaching again in the fall and how sad that made me. I told them how angry I was. I told them about how diseased higher education is, and about how increasingly their own institutions are cheating them. And I told them what I had realized, after many conversations with wise people: We don’t have to stay here. We don’t have to chain ourselves to failing institutions. We can make space elsewhere for the work we want to do. For some of us it’s easy and for some of us it’s so much harder, but we have to try. Those of us with power have to step back and empower others. It’s painful, this kind of self-confrontation.

But it was more painful to keep lying to them, and lying by omission is still a lie.

I’ve made 2014 the year I started writing my rage, and now I’m making it the year I stopped lying and started talking. I’m making this space aggressively, with my fists and my fingernails and my feet, with my tongue and my teeth. I’m learning how to live in my body. I’m working on not being afraid anymore.

I wrote this for the newsletter, among other things:

We’re taught that we’re not supposed to do that, to be vulnerable. Life teaches us this, but I think academia teaches it especially hard. When you’re in graduate school you’re highly susceptible to fear—What’s going to happen to me? Am I going to find a job? What do all these faculty think of me? How am I coming off? Does so and so hate me? Am I letting people down? Oh God. That kind of fear can break you, but keeping it inside for even greater fear of looking weak makes it even worse, and at some point I decided I couldn’t do that anymore.

It’s more terrifying for me, now, to continue to pretend I’m not terrified. So I’m going to stop. I’m going to dare to be a human being in the most public of ways. We’ll see what happens.

~

Sometimes, when I’m in a certain place in my head, I imagine slicing my chest open with a boxcutter. Somehow it’s sharp enough to pierce the sternum, and I pull my ribcage apart with my bare hands. A flock of crows explodes into the air. There’s never any blood. Inside I’m smooth and clean and full of whispering birds.

So let’s check in with my mental health problems.

I have a tendency to get compulsive about things. I think writing is becoming one of those.

I’m sitting here, facing the possibility of a lazy Sunday ahead of me where I just play games and sit on the couch and knit, and the possibility of not writing is terrifying to me.

shutterstock_337528542-250x167Okay, should be no big deal, right? Spend half an hour or so on writing something or other, call it a day. Except even that won’t work, because a) once I’m really into it, it’s difficult to stop, and b) I’m also going through a period of profound self-doubt and anxiety regarding my ability to do this well. Which I thought I was over, but ever since a bunch of awesome things happened I’m looking ahead to 2014 not as something that I can and should enjoy but as something that must meet and surpass the standard of 2013. I’m not allowed to have dry spells. I’m not allowed to pull back and take it easy. I always have to be better, and the better I am, the better I have to be, all the time.

It’s exhausting.

This is why I’ve written over and over about how “if you’re not enough before the gold medal, you won’t be enough with it.” It’s not a platitude or a way to sound superior but a painful fucking reality. This is something I know intellectually but don’t seem able to grasp viscerally. I can’t just be a good writer, I have to be the best writer possible and I can’t relax that standard for a second.

I realize that many people would kill to have this problem, so this probably sounds a little like self-indulgent whining. But please believe me when I say this: It. HURTS.

In some ways I think this constant, relentless drive to be better is part of what’s gotten me to where I am now. Some of it is talent, but a lot of it is simply the determination to trample over the bodies of my past selves to reach some ever-receding goal. It gets you further, yes, but then what do you have, if you can’t enjoy the successes you’ve earned? And how do you cope with failure? Because you will fail. Self, you will.

In 2014, my goal is to find a way to maintain my motivation while abandoning the unhealthy sides of it. Also, finding a way to transfer some of that motivation into things that I’m technically supposed to be focusing on, like my doctoral dissertation.

But now I’m going to write. Because apparently, right now, I can’t not.

So for me, and for those of you who experience anything like this, or simply terror and anxiety regarding writing at all, let’s repeat this all together: You don’t have to be the best. You don’t have to win all the awards. Your emotional and mental health is more important than your number of acceptances and publications. If you don’t take care of you, it won’t matter how good you are. You’re a human being, not a word-machine.

And as a bonus, here’s a writerly “Neopro Writer’s Bill of Rights” that Robert Dawson, a fellow Codexian, put together. It’s therapy. For anyone who isn’t specifically SFnal, here’s a more generic version.

On the completion of large things

I’m never sure what to do with myself after I finish a book. There used to be this huge sense of accomplishment and GO ME I’M AWESOME and I still do get sorta cocky about it because I wrote a book and it’s a thing I get to do, but mostly my internal sense is one of well thank Christ THAT’S over. This is true even if I’ve really been enjoying myself. I don’t know if I’m jaded or what, but that’s what seems to happen now.

So with Labyrinthian. I finished the primary editing pass yesterday and I think it’s pretty much ready to go off to the publisher, and I really love it as a book, but I look back over the 88k+ words I wrote and I just feel sort of tired, more than anything. Maybe it also comes from the now-distant discovery that finishing a novel isn’t the ticket to writerly success that I think a lot of us sort of subconsciously think it might be, even if we intellectually know it isn’t. You finish a novel and then… You have a novel. You have a bunch of words. Whoop-de-doo.

I’ve written stuff along these lines before, about how the anxiety and self-doubt don’t appear to go away regardless of how much you publish in however many great places – though it’s also true that I’m pretty much finished doubting my own raw ability – but this isn’t even anxiety and self-doubt so much as it is a crushing ennui. I feel sort of disengaged from a lot of things. I’m getting back on the horse regarding a lot of other things I neglected over the course of this whole process, and that’s great, but in terms of creative stuff, I feel so blah.

And of course I have another two books to write in the next few months. So there’s that.