It's something I don't really like to admit to myself, but I am largely, tremendously driven by ego...particularly by not wanting to feel useless and dumb. I tell myself that I, much like Annie Savoy, should be so strong that such things as "how smart I seem" cannot affect me. This is, however, a fiction that never really works.
This relentless need to not feel useless and dumb is not, I should point out, entirely bad. It is what caused me to leave my dead-end job as a salesman (of water, no less...that's right, I could convince people to pay money for something that came out of their taps, and I was actually pretty good at it). It has caused me to keep working on my scholarship in spite of a job that doesn't reward such work at all. It causes me to study, to learn, to read, to do any of the things that keep one a vital human.
But it leads to doubts...lots of them. Have I never been in a band that played out because I suck as much as many assume? Why, I ask myself, do I have do read this damn Zizek article five times to actually understand it? Is it because I'm as dense as I feel? Why don't I have that tenure-track job? Is it really the economy, or am I simply not good enough? Why does that article, which a part of me truly believes is really well-written and vital, keep getting rejected? On those rare occasions when I evaluate myself and find myself worthy, am I really just led by delusion? The doubt festers, like a...like a...sigh. Even the damn metaphors escape me.
There have always been many things where I knew I lacked something. In spite of my best efforts, for instance, there is something about car repair that eludes me. But I always thought I could minimize the gap. For instance, I am fully aware that in the hierarchy of intelligence, I can think of about fifteen close friends who are definitively smarter than me. Yet I still think, I still study, I still try to stretch my mind (at least as far as my schedule allows) because I honestly believe I can make a difference somewhere...can't I?
The problem is that even when I feel I'm making progress in one area, life has a way of smacking me down in some other way.
Case in point: although I have never actually done any substantial writing in a Fall semester since graduating (I teach 16 credit hours, and that doesn't lend itself to doing much of anything), I signed up for a November academic conference. In order to force some scholarship, I even committed to a new topic. And in spite of beguiling students and a thousand commitments on my day, I am actually making headway. I think I have good, notable conclusions, and even though I am not sure I'll have an actual paper ready to go for my presentation this weekend, I feel confident in my ability to do something meaningful, tangible, something that will eventually become a publishable article (something I can really use).
Of course, something else crops up. "You hear that?" my internal Agent Jones, asks. "That is the sound of inevitability." And indeed, I heard inevitability scraping down my hallway. So what did it sound like?
One word: laundry.
In between doing a thousand other things this weekend, I spent some time doing laundry. As I was putting my final load into the dryer, however, the door refused to latch...and you really can't dry clothes with a dryer open to the world. I looked at the latch mechanism, poked it with some tools, but no dice. I tried a temporary fix with duct tape holding the door closed, but here I learned something: duct tape, when heated, stretches, thus requiring the launderer to reapply every ten minutes. Truly, this was not an ideal solution.
While I am no means a mechanical genius, I knew that this was probably not a complicated repair...pull out one part, put in another. However, I've got students clamoring for last minute topic approval, that conference in less than a week, a full week's worth of cooking to do, and the requisite 1,387,242 self-doubts to quell, so rather than locate the latch, drive around and buy it, and hammer the sucker in place myself, I decide to just call someone.
And that was where my stupidity reared back and smacked me in the face. The repair guy came today. As I suspected, he only had to pry out the old part and hammer in a new $6 latch. It took all of three minutes. My charge? Well, the service fee was $40. Then I had to pay $20 for this guy's three minutes of labor. My desire to save 30 minutes cost me $70 after tax. Sigh.
Once again, I realize that as much as I try to convince myself otherwise, I have not in fact escaped my own general stupidity, and that in this case (as in countless others), that stupidity comes partially on relying on others. I look forward to the day where I won't be quite so dumb, but right now, I really wonder if that day will ever come. Not today, it seems.