consumed part 4

My mother jokes that I was born with a pencil in my hand. From the time I could form words, I wrote poems and stories and plays with song accompaniments. I was always performing, always pretending. Both my parents read voraciously which fueled my love of words. In eighth grade, a teacher told me that I would never be a writer. And I gave up writing for two years. I didn't even journal or write in a diary. When we moved halfway through my sophomore year of high school, my teachers encouraged me write creatively and I did. I was an English major as an undergraduate with dreams of publishing books and living in Paris. I soaked in novels, poetry collections, biographies of writers; I loved it all. I loved the romance of it and the difficulties, the not sleeping, drinking too much, etc. I was a writer. I would always consider myself a writer.

In graduate school, I majored in poetry. Again, I drank too much and lost myself in the possibilities, convinced I was doing good that I was part of revolution. (Reminds me of the Fallout Boy song, "It's not a Scene..." where he sings, "I am an arms dealer, fitting you with weapons in the form of words.") I didn't believe in writer's block. I didn't believe in getting stuck.

In the Ph.D program I took a course in which the professor's pedagogy was on a completely different solar system than my learning style as a student. I think she disliked me instantly. And I know students who say, "oh, (s)he doesn't like me" are usually off base but in this particular case, I could feel her disregard for me. It was, without a doubt, one of the worst learning environments I've ever experienced. After the class was over, I couldn't write. I was paralyzed. It was as if the comments she made throughout the course and on my final paper and the voices in my head, the ones that tell me I am a fraud, that I'm not near as smart as I think I am, were working together. She managed to echo all the horrible things I told myself as well as throw some new ideas about my lack of intellectual prowess to the mix. In short, I was humiliated. And every time I went to write a response or paper for a class, I froze. I finished assignments, barely, for other classes and they were subpar, further proving how much I sucked.

Then, Frankenstein entered my intellectual imagination. I was teaching the text to juniors and seniors and become obsessed with it. I knew a lot about the Shelleys because of previous research on Byron and Polidori. I delved into what I thought, at the time was an ancillary project about technology and the body in Frankenstein. Simultaneously, I was taking a Cultural Studies course. Eventually, my pet project became a paper for Cultural Studies, one I actually liked. And that paper became a presentation at PCA in Boston.

My sense of who I was as an academic writer had changed. I began working to write my comprehensive syntheses and the doubt began to crush me. I wish I could understand the panic. I wish I could have worked through it better. I know that freaking out is part of the process, but for me comps were almost paralyzing. I took the Spring semester off to recover and I felt guilty about it the whole time so that didn't help. Now, I'm in the throes of the dissertation proposal and I'm wondering how to overcome myself. This goes beyond anxiety, for me and it must be tied in to some psychological stuff but I can't figure out what. What I do know is that I used to love writing and I'm scared I will lose that through this process. I don't want to lose myself in this all consuming process that is dissertating. I need to remind myself to come up for air. It isn't about confidence, I know I can do this; don't I?. Okay, maybe it is about confidence and maybe what it is about is letting go and being good to myself, mentally and emotionally.

Why is that so hard?