Saturday, April 23, 2005Actively Doing Nothing, Passively Doing Something
I got a bit of good news from my acting-Plan sponsor: apparently I've already accomplished enough work this term to get a pass on to my final term. It seems that most first-term seniors accomplish very little real work (lots of research and reading, not much outward production), so in having knocked out nearly 40 pages already this term, I've done more than many. Which isn't to say that it wouldn't be good to do more -- better to spend that last term developing and revising than drafting -- but that I don't need to worry much about "not getting done." I find that slightly difficult to believe -- 40 pages of writing in a term is considered pretty light at this school -- but then again, the senior year is something of a separate phenomenon with its own rules and conventions.
I don't know if this is down to ambition or maturity or what, but it seems to be a recurring theme in this reprisal of my academic career: I'm demanding and expecting a great deal more from myself than anyone else is. I came in with an academic idea that's probably more suited to a multi-year doctoral thesis than an undergraduate research project (however sophisticated that project might be); and have been frustrated by the increasing obviousness of the fact that I'm not going to finish everything I set out to do... at least, not here.
On the other hand, there's a good deal of relief in knowing that I've already passed the mark and that from here on out everything I do -- however beneficial and encouraged it is -- is voluntary. I've come to a realization this term that intellectually I really don't do my best work with a lot of immediate, external pressure -- I need some deadlines for motivation, but the minute I start to feel as though I'm being judged, I actually become less able to do work that will be judged favorably. This is true creatively -- the thing that most quickly kills my creativity is the sense that whatever project I'm working on will be decisive in determining my genius or lack thereof -- and true intellectually, where the harder I struggle to be brilliant the less brilliant I am. If I can relax, it all comes easily; but fostering both productivity and relaxation is something I haven't quite mastered yet.
But now I know that I don't have to fight anymore this term, that from here out I can basically cruise, and immediately my enthusiasm for the work has increased. Maybe it's just down to my childhood experiences, where getting a good grade was (in my childish mind) the measure of my personal worth. Facing up to something that won't produce a guaranteed good grade causes anxiety and a kind of mental freezing-up; that probably has something to do with why, as an adult, I'm such a staunch defender of the Good Try and the Valiant Effort. How much easier it would be to actually do things if I weren't terrified of failure.
I still want to do a good 40-page draft of the other (ostensibly more important) paper before I go home for the summer. I've gotten so wrapped up in Deren-ology that I've neglected the project I really came here to do, and now that I'm mostly finished with her I can turn my attention back. I'm still writing with an eye to a book eventually, but now I'm thinking it's really a shame nobody's written a good, accessible biography of Maya Deren. Hmmm... |