Thursday, January 19, 2006

Peeking out from beneath the Virtual Stack of Papers

The assignments that I'm grading right now are a descriptive writing assignment that I give in all of my writing classes. It's really a simple assignment - find somebody you don't know and observe the person for fifteen minutes and write a description that makes me "see" your person that you observed. Students tend to enjoy the assignment, and I tend to enjoy reading them. It's nice responding to them electronically (only the second time that I've done that) because I basically tell everyone to work on one or two things that are specific to what they turned in, but the rest of the comments are a copied form letter. In other words, I think I'm borrowing the institutional procedures of my administration when they respond to my reappointment, promotion, and tenure materials. Still, it's nice to get personal feedback, and because I do these tiny assignments, it means that the students in my writing classes get that feedback very early in the semester, which I think is a good thing.

I don't really have it in me to do the post that Scrivener asked for in an extended way, but here are the reasons that I can't do the self-affirming posts without apologizing for them or beating myself up for them:

1. I've been told by strangers that I seem "stuck up" since childhood. This is because of something about me, but so I'm sensitive that people will think that I'm arrogant or something or (horror of horrors for one who is raised by my mother) a braggart. I don't want to be one of those. Or a hot dog, which is almost as bad. (When was the last time you called somebody a hot dog? 7th grade? Takes you back, doesn't it?)

2. I think there's definitely a class thing at work in my not wanting to brag or boast or whatever, related to growing up hearing people being defamed because they "think their shit don't stink." Wouldn't want to be one of those people either.

3. I went to graduate school at a place where the culture demanded that you talk yourself down, and I totally internalized this.

4. Oh, did I mention that I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools for the first 9 years of my education? You know that whole guilt thing that Catholics have? Yeah, I've got that. Thus, I tend to feel bad whenever anything good is going on.

5. I'm superstitious, and I think that if I am happy with what I'm doing and express that happiness that it will offend the Gods in charge of my Academic Success, thus making them punish me and sending me into a downward spiral of stupidity from which I (and my career) will never recover.

And finally, I hate reading things that are about how great people's lives are. It makes me want to punch them in the face. Thus, when I write things about how great my life is, I want to punch myself in the face. That's no good. No good at all.

Hmmm.... What else? I REALLY don't want to finish these papers this afternoon. I am a lazy, lazy girl.


deej said...

Funny, I'm in a graduate school culture where the students are more prone to talking themselves up all the time. It's unbelievably irritating.

I'll say something like, "well, I got a rejection from XYZ publication today," and a classmate will say, "Well, that's too bad, but I just feel so lucky that I'm on publication number 150 and I'm not even on the market yet!!" (I'm exaggerating here, but you get the picture) I have created an internal mute button for such occasions.

It's OK to have insecurities, and it's OK to talk about them. It's when the insecurities start eating away at you when the troubles begin. (and I tend to think that some of the people who are overly self-congratulatory, such as many of my classmates, are the ones with the real insecurity issues)

Cats & Dogma said...

And of course, not wanting to read happy happy stories relates to the last post: happy happy stories don't tell the reader much about how to make it through the tougher spots, the sad spots, the depressing spots, the grey area spots that make no sense but occupy most of life.

And as someone who does post self-congratulatory posts more that perhaps I ought, I'll confess that Deej is right--those are as much about my own insecurities (Look at me! Aren't I a good teacher? Please?) as anything else.

But (not to hijack the thread) when you are a good teacher, or a good cigarette smoking quitter, or a good exerciser, sometimes, just sometimes in the midst of the soul searching, your readers like to know that good things happen to good people and want to know how.

Anonymous said...

my school can be a lot like deej describes. hmmmm.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

My undergrad was big on talking down about yourself, and it completely baffled me when I got to grad school and did that, and people took me seriously.

I TOTALLY get your post, by the way - being "conceited" was the worst thing you could do in my family, too, which is funny because my parents are really supportive and proud of my accomplishments. But you're still never ever supposed to brag about it. I think there is a class thing to it, because both my parents grew up very working class. It's interesting.

Scrivener said...

I am with Cats & Dogma on this one. I mean, I understand too, and I can feel the same twinges you do. But honesty requires being able to see the good about yourself too. Plus, it helps you keep from going totally crazy.

Dr. Virago said...

I promise that if I write a self-congratulatory post I will put a "Dr. Crazy, don't read this" warning on it. :)

Seriously, what Scrivener and Cats and Dogma said.

Seeking Solace said...

I can completely relate to everything you said. I grew up in an environment where I was called stuck up because I did not act a certain way. It is somewhat pain still, because that is SO not who I am.

Bane said...

I know what you mean. I was always the "haughty" and "proud" one in my family, and admittedly, I can be pretty vain--and guilty about it!

Someone told me recently that denying the talents and gifts you truly have is false modesty. He suggested that true modesty consisted in the awareness that no one else will ever have the same opinion of your person and abilities that you do. To that I'd add that true modesty recognizes that talents and good fortune are always undeserved, and that they never make any one person more worthy of love and respect than another.

Manorama said...

Everyone's blog is different. I appreciate your posts because they're yours and they're honest. (And I am probably one of those people whose blog makes you want to punch me! I do try to keep it positive and encourage myself--and I have my list of reasons just as you have yours.) I think some people wondered why you're not a little more self affirming because we see your strengths and appreciate them quite often. The reasons you've posted are understandable, though.

Dr. Crazy said...

You know, it's funny. I don't normally react to others' blogs with the "I want to punch you in the face" instinct.... so maybe my inability to write a positive self-affirming post without apologizing for it has to do with something other than how I actually interpret those sorts of posts from others.....

I think what it is more is a reaction against the more "professional" materials that we write, like job letters or annual reviews, etc. And the thing is, I'm pretty good with those forms, and so I think that some of my resistance to them comes from the fact that I'm good at them, if that makes any sense. Ok, no time to continue to think/babble/comment as I have papers (still) that I've not finished grading. I have, however, organized peer review groups for my classes. yeah. I needed to take 25 minutes to do that. Sure I did.

Scrivener said...

Crazy, I'm glad you don't respond to others' blogs like that because my first thought, which I didn't mention in my earlier comment, was how often you want to pummel me!

I don't think it has to do with how you respond to others' writing. I think it has to do with not allowing yourself positive recognition. A very common malady amongst academics, I think. Unfortunately, too, so many of us who are not so afflicted are, in fact, pompous, self-satsified asses, so it might seem to bear out any fears you have about being publicly nice to yourself being perceived as you being stuck up.

You talked about changing the tone on your new blog some. I, personally, would like to see you use the space to practice patting yourself on the back periodically when things go well.

Just a suggestion. Feel free to roll your eyes at me if you'd like...