Aw, Shucks

Support has been coming to me from all over in the last few days, from Eric’s comment on the original whiny post, to Jason’s comment on the followup, to several email messages and conversations with colleagues and friends. Most moving to me in all this is the students who’ve leapt to my side, and particularly that they’ve done so without disavowing their fondness for my colleague, who is equally deserving of their devotion.

This is the point at which I’m supposed to say that I realize that my whining post looked like I was begging for this kind of reassurance, but really I wasn’t, I just wanted to get this off my chest.

Not true. I was totally begging for reassurance. I really needed to hear that I belong in this profession, and that I’m not alone in the kinds of crises I periodically face. And you all came through, both on the site and in the backchannel. And for that, I thank you.

But at the behest of one e-mail communicator, I’m now contemplating what it would mean for this site, and my writing more generally, and my career on the whole, if I finally left behind the nervous, uncertain, forever in need of reassurance persona I’ve been lugging around and instead allowed the total ass-kicking persona that’s lurking in the background room to grow. Is this a persona I can give voice to? What would that voice sound like?

Many years ago, I found myself in a group therapy session with a cluster of massively depressed people, all of whom were talking that day, in various ways, about their complete inability to develop self-esteem. I’d been a member of this group for about a year and a half, and this day, for whatever reason, my patience with the process and with the kind of wallowing that the group inspired just flat wore out. I kind of lost it with them, and with myself, and said that the only way to develop a positive sense of self was just to DO IT. “Just decide,” I blurted. “One day I woke up and just decided that I deserved better than this. That I was worth it. You’ll never get out of this pit until you decide to get out.” (I left the group very shortly thereafter, needless to say.)

What I left out then, or maybe what I hadn’t figured out yet, was that it takes a while for belief to catch up with that decision. It takes a period of faking your way through being confident before actual confidence can take root.

So perhaps this blog will allow me a kind of space to enact this total ass-kicking persona in ways that will permit the persona to take root, for me to begin to believe in myself as a kicker of ass. It’s interesting to note, though, in light of the book that Jill pointed out, that one of the things that holds me back from fully inhabiting such a persona is the sense that it’s unseemly to brag. And if there were ever a self-defeatingly girly mode of being, man, that’s it.

So: more horn-blowing. Less whining. More imagining what can be, and less regretting what isn’t. And more kicking of total ass.


  1. Hear hear!

    This stuff’s hard. The wallowing (which I do, which lots of us do) is in lots of ways really good – I feel much more confident that I’ll be fine in academia knowing that other women have a lot of the same worries as I do. If I’d believed the glossy images men tend to project were the only way of being an academic, I very likely would not be here.

    On the other hand, it can get too much. It’s hard to figure out just where and how to balance it.

    And definitely, we’re expected to and allowed to find stuff hard, so we’re not punished for expressing that, at least not at a visible level. Men probably would be punished for expressing these kinds of self-doubts.

    Kicking ass sounds great – and kind of scary, I have to admit.

    I don’t know. But I’ve ordered that book from Amazon – it’ll take a week or so to arrive. I’m rather curious about it 🙂

  2. Have I missed the bandwagon for offering support already, or can I take a minute to second Eric’s earlier comment (verbatim)? All it took for me was one seminar with you (well, and maybe a Buffy marathon or two, speaking of ass-kicking) to make me realize I’d cut off my own thumb rather than do college over again without having known you. (I only have two — he’d get the other.)

    For me it was especially important to have met such a brilliant, inspiring woman. I didn’t think about that at the time, but looking back now (as I’m about to embark on this same career path myself, eep) I realize I really needed that.

    Ah… the best part about graduating is that I don’t have to feel embarassed anymore (or afraid of seeming disingenuine) for expressing my gratitude to influential people as profusely as I’d like to. It’s true — you deserve it all –for what it’s worth!

  3. I dunno, I think I’m a big fan of the occasional nervous, uncertain plea for reassurance, as long as it doesn’t become the norm–and it certainly hasn’t on this blog.

    For someone on the bottom of the academic totem pole (just starting a dissertation in a department that’s apparently in a three-way tie for eleventh place), it’s quite helpful to know that even tenured professors with plum* positions suffer from bouts of anxiety and insecurity.

    – – – –

    * – At least, I hope it’s a plum position, since it is my alma mater and all.

  4. I don’t read you or see you as (what was the phrase?) a “nervous, uncertain, forever in need of reassurance persona,” K-Fitz. Don’t think of it as whining; think of it as bitching. And everybody gets to bitch.

    Bitch or explode, baby, bitch or explode.

    Seriously, admitting in public that something chaps your hide does NOT make you a Nervous Nellie… although maybe *thinking* so does.

  5. This post alone shows you’re DOING what it takes for a positive sense of self. It’s total-ass-kicking to say : yeah, I needed reassurance, and what’s it to you.

    We take ourselves warts and all (or should that be decaying toenails and all) and we move on.

    You rock.

  6. It seems to me that what you over the weekend about the death of the Pope and your thinking about the Catholic church, much like the writing in this space that you were doing about a year ago about your relationship with your father, represents the type of writing in which you embrace a voice and authority that is distinctively your own. I’d encourage you to continue to engage in this type of writing that takes you further into your own experience. A professor of mine in college once told me – in reference to writing poetry – that “the further you go into yourself, the further you speak to things outside of yourself.” That seemed a bit much at the time, and still does to a degree, but there’s something valuable there to consider.

    Even more than horn-blowing, I’d like to see you continue to speak to and write about the things that matter most to you – not in the navel-gazing way that some worry about in terms of blogs, but in the valuable reflective mode that asks us to participate in an experience outside of our own, one that may enable us to further consider our own experience. That is a voice I look forward to hearing, and writing that I look forward to reading. I’ve seen you write this, and heard you speak it over beers and/or martinis, so I know it’s in there!

    Of course, that’s when all that other writing and work are done… 🙂

  7. Damn if I can’t relate.

    In your post is an unblemished truth about self-image, one that it took years and years to work out: namely, that developing self-love and confidence is a difficult game. It is a game of persistence more than anything. It is a game of tirelessly trying to block out the flood of self-loathing beliefs and memories that are so readily available when you need them least, of training to break out of them into the *you* of the moment–the one that is always charming, always ass-kicking, and happy with itself and the world.

    It’s not easy, but all we can do is keep our eyes on the pinprick of glorious self-assurance and kicking of ass that awaits at the end of the tunnel. Keep truckin’.

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