Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Stock Market Is Down and So Am I

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Only the Stimulus of Blogging Can Help My Dip

"Writing is about not committing suicide," a friend of mine told me this afternoon.

I got my paper back from my professor this evening and called back my friend to say. "Just wanted to follow up from our talk this afternoon; you're right. I felt like killing myself over it."

She laughed. I told her, "Just as I was leaving the main building, I looked up from reading the comments on my paper while an attractive young woman was entering the door; she must have heard me talking to myself. I said aloud, 'I might as well just give up now.' I kept walking, mortified that a stranger heard such tragic self-talk."

When I described the mortifying moment to Pat, she said, "She probably thought you got an F."

I didn't. Somehow, I received an A for the course. She didn't even mark the paper itself.

Pat: "Me, I'd have said, 'Well, phew! I got an A!'"

"Sarah, can I tell you something as a trained professional?" said another of my friends, who is a psychotherapist. "You don't have to try to feel good tonight. You can feel however you feel and still do whatever you planned to do anyway....Just before you go, can I tell you that men are coming out of the woodwork suddenly? Now, should I feel that I'm not good enough when they're not swarming me? Should I care that they don't love me? It's analogous to what you're going through. So what if she didn't like the way you wrote the paper. It doesn't mean you're not a good writer."

Pat: "It's just a new kind of writing that you have the opportunity to learn now; it's different from business writing and blogging. It's writing for grad school. It'll be good for you as a writer to learn an additional way to write."

"You have a journalist background, right?" asked my first friend, the writer, this afternoon, when I was telling her that all I wanted was to be published, even though I do not want to have to revise anything I write. She flattered me in thinking I had journalism training, but I said no; rather, I made the comment in the context of anticipating getting my paper back, and how originally, my professor had said that it needed to include a literature review, if it was going to be publishable -- an encouraging statement, but I never heard another word about publishing after submitting the paper, I told my friend, and so I felt nervous to receive it tonight.

"You're a very good writer with a deep gift for observation and you deserve to be published. Well, but you are published; you're on the web with your blog. Also, you should ask her about the publishability of the paper."

"What I really like to write is personal essays."

"They're not just personal. You write about all sorts of things."

Psychotherapist friend: "What is making you feel so bad right now?"

"I'm embarrassed that I did poorly on the paper, especially when I delivered a paper she loved in a previous class with her. As I think back on it, there wasn't the same requirement for it to be ultra-academic. But this shakes my confidence in my writing, and makes me sad about it."

My professor's comment on the paper's title-page: "Sarah, I found/find the insights are here, but the writing needs greater depth and more alignment with academic conventions to be persuasive...." It goes on with examples of what she means by "depth." Ugh! I'm so embarrassed.

"Don't be discouraged," my professor said to me on my way out; she anticipated my feeling when I would read it upon leaving the department open-house tonight. "Keep in touch."

The open-house included a number of the people I like most in my program, but eventually, the evening turned sour for me.

Exuberance, Then a Crash, and Then Some Hope

At 4:30 pm, I arrived at Teachers College and went to the library to try to take out Reserve books for my upcoming course. It felt luscious to be back in that privileged environment. A steel-drum band was playing in the lobby and a student was dancing unself-consciously by himself in front of it. One of the librarians had a Michigan accent and turned out to be from Ann Arbor (where I had studied as an undergrad). I felt so at home.

As I checked out my books with the librarian next to her, she said that my ID was obsolete, but that she'd check out my books till I got a new one.

"When did they change?"

"In November."

"Ah, well, I was in India for six months and so I missed getting that done."

She seemed unimpressed. I was reminded that I really had been away from the campus for half a year.

I went to the department party and saw my professor, who hugged me, and I hugged my adviser and both welcomed me home. "How was India?"

I was just so happy to be back in an environment, where I was no longer forced to study on my own; I couldn't wax on about how great the experience was.

And then a former classmate, Caitlin, came in, providing dark-coral fresh air.

And then one of the women I know from QueerTC, and then one of the women I went through orientation with, and then another with whom I was in a workshop several semesters ago, and then I spotted my professor for my upcoming class.

Caitlin, my first professor and I talked about "Brokeback Mountain," since Caitlin announce d that she had heard of Heath Ledger's death. We also talked about where our families were from originally and our parents' Holocaust-consciousness and then a doctoral student with an Israeli accent appeared and my professor introduced us to him. He had grown up in Latin America, where his parents had fled from Eastern Europe after his grandparents were killed in the Holocaust.

Caitlin said she was getting a snack, and so I made my move: "Can you slip me the paper now, and I won't read it till I leave, but I'm afraid I'll forget," I told my professor. And then, "You told me it needed to include a literature review if it was to be publishable. Is that realistic, for students to publish while they're still students?"

"Sure. Now your writing needs to come a long way before it's ready to be published. It's too bullet-pointed -- not academic enough. I suppose if you wanted to publish in a trade publication...."

"Like what would be an example?"

"Like an HR magazine or --"

"OK, well thanks." I found a way to excuse myself because I just couldn't talk with her for another moment, since she thought my writing was so poor.

Instead, I went over to speak with my professor for my upcoming course. And then I introduced him to two of the students I know, who'll be taking it. One of them -- who I know less well -- said, "I hope this course doesn't take me over the edge because I just don't know how self-disclosing I want to be."

"I'm not a fan of pain, but I cannot control where the class takes it during the semester."

"Well, I just don't know if I'm prepared for it to be therapeutic."

Oh, God!!! That's just what I'm hoping it'll be. (I don't say this aloud.)

"You should be all right. The most important thing is for everyone to feel safe."

Well, I don't feel safe at all now. I feel like I'm too much. Too intense. I was ready to be super-self-disclosing. I mean, why sign up for "Leadership and Self Development: A Biographical Approach" if you don't wish to do some plumbing?

The stated purpose in the syllabus begins: "This course takes an in-depth look at leadership from the inside out. It is based on the assumption shared by current leadership theorists (e.g. Raelin 2003) that a leader must develop a strong internal foundation of self awareness and personal mastery to achieve great external results."

I excuse myself and return to the first professor, who had returned my paper to me, and to the doctoral student, to show that I wasn't running away from her, and to enable myself to run away from the other professor, who wanted me to feel safe(!)

God has a plan? My writer friend says to me while I'm driving home, "Your writing, your career, your education, it's all leading somewhere, and it'll work out."


Anonymous said...

Just curious: why do you hate revision? Is there any particular reason?

Sarah Siegel said...

I hate revision because I'm a fast writer, and writing quickly is playing. Revision is working.

Writing=pleasure, joy, playing
Revision=pain, hardship, laboring

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Goes to show how different writers' experiences and perceptions can be. I love revision and see it almost as an inseparable part of the process. I love making a wordy sentence tight or a vague one clear, and I love the feeling of finally figuring out which structural changes will make a piece solid. Different experiences, I guess, but maybe your professor was taking you seriously and showing faith in you by assuming that you were ready to engage in this kind of work.

Marni said...

I think _this_ is the plumbing.

Sarah Siegel said...

Agreed that this is definitely my primary plumbing opportunity, and while I'm plumbing, let me say another thing or two re: revision in response to the comment above:

Typically, I feel more humiliated than humbled when I realize that the writing isn't yet what it needs to be. It becomes a shame for me -- the writing -- rather than a liberation.

Polish, polish, polish has its satisfactions, but mostly, I'm too anxious to hang on to a piece of writing/thinking, to let it deepen.

Why couldn't it be deep enough initially? Why aren't I more talented? And then it spirals down from there and I don't even wish to write at all; I'd rather just turn on the TV than think about what it would take to make my writing publishable (by someone other than me, here, or my high school and college newspapers, and two gay papers in the eighties), when I reviewed a book of lesbian plays, and the Judy Chicago exhibit.