Prime suffering years

Do you know who Marcel Proust is?…Yeah. French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he’s also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh… he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, ’cause they made him who he was.
–Frank, Little Miss Sunshine

1. not working or active; unemployed; doing nothing: idleworkers.
2. not spent or filled with activity: idle hours.
3. not in use or operation; not kept busy: idle machinery.
4. habitually doing nothing or avoiding work; lazy.
5. of no real worth, importance, or significance: idle talk.
(Origin: Middle English; Empty, trifling, vain, useless)

Circle ‘round August to August, last year to now and you might think that nothing has come of me, nothing has changed. But you’d be wrong.

I have not graduated, finished a dissertation let alone defended one. Look at me and you won’t see progress, just idle hands.

You see, my engagement with the texts in my discipline (English) is a little “too.” Too personal, too creative. When I work, I’m to think critically and I do, but then I get bored and I wander and I play. I tell myself jokes; I tilt words and ideas against each other. I write love letters to my novels and hold hands with their pages. This doesn’t look like academic writing. This doesn’t look like a dissertation. I am All But Dissertation.

I try to change, I force it and will it and rip myself out of each draft because Me and I are selfish, narcissistic, egotistical and the academy is a humble and rational place. Then, it doesn’t sound right or read right and I am further away from finishing than when I started.

Gavin Craig says, “Hey, girl! Come write for The Idler. It’s a place I’m building where we can talk about things that are fun, activities that are too creative, too mindless, too enjoyable.” And I say okay. Biweekly I compose a page or two about the things that I know (fashion and television, crafting and dog-mom-ing). I share all these nothings that are all but dissertation.

Still. I’ve been sick or stuck or both for a long time. I probably could have written two dissertations in the time that it’s taken me to anxiously wallow through day after day of not writing one. Every day when I begin, when I heave myself to the blank page or somebody else’s written one, it’s a struggle. Each word I read is overshadowed by the thousands I haven’t. Each phrase I commit to the screen reminds me of chapters unwritten. Daily, I am a dot adrift in a sea of failure. Whenever I attempt to situate myself, navigate these bitter waters, take charge of my life, my destiny, or please God, even just a paragraph, I do so always with an anchor firmly tethered round my waist.

A few years ago — yes, I’ve lost years — I imagined an “out” of sorts. A fluffy marshmallow dream in which I get hit by a car. But, I wasn’t suicidal — no, that’s way too hardcore for the likes of me. Noooo.

I just wanted to be injured, maybe maimed.

Something that would make me bleed, crack a bone or two and swell my body into a plump bruise. A black eye would be a nice touch. Then, you see, people would feel sorry for me. Clearly, the dissertation clock could stop ticking for a spell. I would have the time to heal my invisible wounds while the “real” visible ones, the kind people care about, got better. I would make up lost time on my work while my body recovered and everything would be fine. Viola!

This little fantasy would float in and out of my consciousness every now and then, but it’s lost all its magical power since my friend and fellow grad student really got hit by a car. She’s okay, but the thought of losing her to something so stupid, and something I’ve designed in semi-comic/semi realistic detail in my head. . . it makes me want to retch.

And still I go on being stilted. No progress to be seen.

I take in a lot of fluff. I am a pop culture queen,

a goddess of nothing.

The Idler collects my columns, shrines to inaction. My computer file folders are once again filled with documents. Not the right ones, but still. . .

I write these stupid words
And I love every one
Waiting there for me.
Yes I do, I do.
“In the Garage,” Weezer

I watch Grey’s Anatomy. TV reminds me that even super surgeon Christina Yang needs time. She leaves surgery, she bartends, she decorates the apartment. She comes back when she’s good and ready. Shonda Rhimes helps me remember that trauma doesn’t care about your deadlines. You gotta work through your shit, she says. Toni Morrison tells me something similar in Song of Soloman.

You wanna fly? You gotta give up the shit that wears you down.

But this quote is attached to another silent truth. The giving up takes time. It takes work. It even requires moments, stretches of idleness.

(Origin: the verb sense of “running slowly and steadily without transmitting power” (as a motor) first recorded 1916.)

Circle ‘round August to August, last year to now and you might think that nothing has come of me, nothing has changed. But you’d be wrong.

3 Responses to “Prime suffering years”
  1. aristotlejulep says:

    I often hope that something “bad” will happen to me–that I’ll be in a horrendous car accident, that I’ll nearly get hit by a train, that I’ll get struck by lightning, etc.–so that the shock of the whole thing will “reset” me and I’ll become the happy, beautiful, productive, pulled-together person that I want to be.

  2. ana says:

    right? it’s a bit of a sick fantasy. i thought about that when i was at my worst. definitely take me up on talking about this stuff sometime.

  3. Jill Kolongowski says:

    This is lovely. I too have been agonizing over not doing the work I need to be doing, and am wasting my time feeling guilty rather than just getting shit done.

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