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Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Positive or Negative?

So to summarize, the dynamic of positive and negative thoughts is quite similar. Both distract from the work itself. Both types of thought can be accepted and summarily dismissed.

A negative thought might contain some useful information, if it is directly related to the work. So, for example, I might say, "that sentence doesn't say what I wanted it to say." But then, that negative thought is not really about my ego, or my ability as a writer, but just a useful observation. The same way, a positive thought might be, "yeah, that paragraph is done now" or "that sounds right."

So the opposition you should think about is: what thoughts are about the work itself, and which ones are irrelevant judgments that have to do with your ego? It is easy to see that a negative thought about the work itself, "gee, that sentence is not very clear" could lead to the thought: "I am a bad writer." The latter thought, though, does not lead to anything particularly productive.

If those ego thoughts are less prominent in your writing session, you will find that the writing will flow better. Afterwards, if you want to congratulate yourself on how smart you are, or worry whether you are good enough, that is fine. Well, it isn't ideal either, but it won't interrupt you as much.

I've found that trying to prevent those thoughts from occurring, or trying to make the positive ones outweigh the negative ones, is useless. I know I will have negative and positive thoughts related to my own abilities as I'm writing.

The entire academic process, after all, is built on judgment. We get grades from our earliest years for our school work. We are judged even as full professors, through systems of peer evaluation. We are called upon the grade students and to judge our own peers. It is surprising that anyone could sit down and write without a whole host of anxieties besetting her.

3 comments:

profacero said...

Actually, this pinpoints various of my sources of academic anxiety, namely that professors do not seem to be very good at keeping things in proportion.

1. Saying you like what you wrote. Bad idea: people get on your case for arrogance, or for imagining you did something of any value.

2. Saying you do not think your piece is right yet. Bad idea: people get on your case for being too critical or for conspiring to procrastinate. They go on about how many drafts are needed, yet get on your case if you won't say your first draft is good enough.

3. In the meantime, blowing up minor miscalculations into major issues. Was your syllabus perfect, or did you overassign reading and then cut back, thus first scaring people and then making a change that unsettled them because it was a change? Sinful! A Major Error!

I find this atmosphere melodramatic and stressful; it puts me on edge, makes me anxious. There must be some way to stay in one's "trece" and disagree.

Jonathan said...

I can't even imagine caring all that much about whether someone would say I'm arrogant, or whether my first draft is bad or good.

It seems that your anxiety is caused by caring what other people think. Since you can't ever control what people are going to think, that is a real trap.

Of course it is easy for me to say, because I am not under anyone's control.

profacero said...

Where I live, the power of gossip is very great, it is true, and the quality of life of is very much determined by the insecurities of others and you have to watch your back constantly; it is tiring.

But at a deeper level I would say it is not what others think of one, for me, it is oh my God?! Do we really have to construct the world this way? The psychic world you seem to say we must inhabit seems positively lethal -- but are you saying those who do not participate will be thrown off the island?

So I am not concerned about what they think, but about what they can get me to think. Hm. Interesting.