In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Shape Up or Ship Out.”
Dear my lack of conviction in myself,
I thought it was time that we sat down and had a chat. It’s funny how I can fake being tough when I need to, yet if I think too hard the tawdry glean of the fakeness shines like cheap polyester pants washed ten too many times.
I’ll be sitting and writing, talking in a discussion group, reading Levinas or the like; you sidle up to me, your breathing audible from my chair where the hairs on the back of my neck start tingling as you rest your hand on my shoulder. Your denim shorts cut off right above the knee, a peach coloured tshirt, the hair left over by your newly shaven undercut held together with an elastic band.
You usually sit quietly next to me, but the heavy weight of the air particles when you are close remind me of your gaze. Every now and then you have something to say, sometimes a bit cocky, always self-assured.
“Isn’t that nice of your colleagues to be supportive and give you such comments?”
“You know you’re going to have to read a lot more if you want to be the academic you want to be”
I suppose the part I find hardest to deal with is the kernel of truth in each statement and my inability to tell how big whether it is a kernel or a rock.
Well, my dearest friend, Mr Lack of Conviction, Mr Will Never Be good Enough… We’re over.
I know you’ve been seeing other women. And men. Mostly women. But really, all of the PhD students here. And a bunch of the academics. Quite possibly some of the executive, but I’ll hedge a wager that you definitely only visit women at that level. The vertical suits of the executive probably told you to fuck off many years ago, or never even met you at all. I know you let these academics give you nicknames – the imposter syndrome, chronic anxiety, overcooked for promotions… sometimes I’ve tried calling you these names myself.
But that’s not it. I don’t mind that you have been getting around these hallowed arches; in fact I prefer it that way. You see, even when we were first getting to know each other, you always left an uneasy feeling deep in my gut, a slight quickening of the pulse. Not having to entertain you for a while was a relief.
You seem to work well in cliches. So here we go: it’s not you, it’s me. It’s not that I don’t love you anymore. Your charm, your self-assurance, that certain oozy sliminess. It’s just that when I look in the mirror, I see that I will never be as good at charm and self-assurance as you are. I might try faking it, but I will never have the same creepy quality that you have as you hover behind me. A paradoxical puzzle perhaps – I am trying to telling my lack of conviction to disappear by arguing my own lack of conviction.
But when I said it’s me, I meant I am who I am. I may never have a 100% belief in myself, and perhaps that’s okay. But as long as you are with me, that lack of belief becomes a problem. You see baby, it’s who I am when I’m with you, not you, as sleazy as you are.
In which case, I will bid you adieu for now. I’m sure you will be the ex I can never get rid of, texting innocuous messages, calling me out of the blue on a Saturday night when we’ve both been drinking at bars on the opposite ends of town. And I know I will see you around these fluro lit cubicles. Just because I’m breaking up with you, doesn’t mean you will break ties with all of my colleagues. But that’s okay. I’ll give them a hug and some platitudes to balance out your cliches.
Recently I have been thinking a lot about theory, and how people make sense of their lives. In my undergraduate psychology days, I was taught the scientific method of theory. Theory was the foundation of everything we did – we used theory to guide the research we would do, and we did research to test theories. Data could either support or contradict a theory. In the case of a contradiction, we knew we had to revise either the theory or our research methods. Being trained in a very positivist paradigm, we were told that what we did was science, and you could not trust anything else. To know, to find rules that we could use to predict the future, was the whole purpose of research.
And so starting a PhD in education was confusing, particular with my main supervisor coming from a very philosophical background in terms of what research…
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