Andare, Partire, Tornare

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A summery brain that went to seed

Due to my Internet access at work being down, I ended up tying this below entry yesterday, and waiting to post it. If you're reading it, the people in the basement have flipped the big switch that lets me back onto the wild, unsullied reaches of the world wide web…(cue threatening music) Anyway, it's a long, introspective rant-ish sort of thing, so read at your own risk.

I've been caught in a little tail-spin of emotions recently, so I figured I'd write some of it out to try and remove it (it's currently festering somewhere between my breastbone and navel. How's that for specifics?) Anyway, I spoke yesterday with a professor who still had a paper of mine from last semester, and she basically told me that she was keeping it a B because I didn't let my topic "sing for itself" and didn't sharpen my points enough. I can't write papers for her, although I take her tests and get extra points out the wazoo, and end up with scores like 108% and with little hearts all over the place. So, that wasn't as big a problem, since although this professor is brilliant, she's also crazy in the head, and people in her classes tend to simply struggle along as best they can, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But we got into another discussion about my miserable slide exam, and she gave me a combination pep talk/scolding that just made me miserable again. She likes me, and meant for it to be helpful, and said that I should talk about how I felt to the dept. head, but any reminder of that topic recently has just made me really distressed. So the knot in my chest is already there, when I get home and check my email.

I get an email from my advisor, who agrees to meet with me briefly here in DC when they come down on the bus to see Virtue and Beauty at the National Gallery, and he sneaks in a little one-liner about a good tip to pass slide exams would be to remember the dates of the works. NO DUH. I don't know what happened on that test, but I do know that I felt like I was trying to think while my brain was immersed in really thick grits. (Inelegant, but accurate) I nearly fled the test by the third slide, when I realized that I wasn't able to write a single coherent sentence about artists and works I knew like the back of my hand. Obviously, the end result of the test was failure, and I have been more than disappointed...I've been really ashamed of myself. I get like this. I hate being bad at things, but I also get lazy, and try to rely on shortcuts and tricks, and then when I don't do as well, the anger at doing badly gets mixed in with that little voice whispering, "You know you didn't put as much effort into it as you could have..." I don't seem to learn from these past patterns, though! I will say, that for this test I did study harder than I did for the first one, and it helped in that I recognized more slides. But when it came time to write intellegently about them, my brain locked up. And the result is me walking around like a flagellent, all immersed in my private pity party that ends up ticking off people around me because it's really self-indulgent, and for crissakes, I am doing fairly well in life, all this aside.

To tie this into _Gaudy Night_, (not that I have to, but it does play into it), I learned early that the academic life was a pure and beautiful one. Getting to know some actual academics, who play mind games just as vicious, if not more so, as the rest of the world, did tarnish that early impression of the Intellectual Life, but I still have this idea that writing a well-crafted term paper might be the best achievement one could produce. I enjoy the cachet that I get from gently murmurring that yes, I'm in grad school for Art History, and yes, I can go through a museum and Know Things That Other People Don't. Concit, indeed! But I don't have a mind that is as honed as it needs to be to succeed at higher levels of academia. My brain is one that Harriet Vane would gently make fun of years later at a class reunion, as a summery brain that produced some nice flowers, but that didn't grow any good, nourishing wheat. (Make of that analogy what you will! I dare you!) And I'm surrounded by good friends who are producing work that will be important, and meaningful, and meanwhile I'm struggling to find the time to even research my thesis. My conclusion to this is that academics isn't my Proper Job, when all this time I thought it had to be, because it was Harriet's. And that is what, I think, is making me the most heartsick - that I can't emulate a frickin' fictional character! How can people say that books don't relate to real life?

I like my job. I enjoy working for a museum. In the minds of many an academic, it may be the less pure choice. I know one prof. in particular sees it as a bastardization of academia, because museums have to worry about the public they serve, and knowledge has to be made palatible to them. Fuck 'em. I don't have time to listen to them. I'm going to be busy studying for the next test.

(Nice triumphant ending to diary entry. Now...follow through on it...)

2:19 p.m. - 2001-11-07

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