Alternatively titled: Why I feel like a fraud…
In the different grad programs I’ve been in, one of the most common sentiments expressed among my fellow students is the fear that one day, someone will finally realize that we’re frauds–that somehow our admission to a program was/is little more than a clerical error. Given the fact that I still feel like a fish out of water when it comes to declaring myself as a graduate student in English (just a year ago I was still a history graduate student), I essentially feel like the Wandering Jew in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (except completely different, because instead of being the embodiment of some gothic, mythical anti-Semitic stereotype with an upside-down crucifix carved into my face, I’m the embodiment of a lackluster character in a boring made-for-tv movie with the word “FRAUD” stamped in flaming invisible ink on my forehead). I hate the irrationality of this feeling, but it’s there, and it’s something I’m slowly but surely learning to counteract.
Today the feeling was brought about in one of my classes. The problem, as I see it, is that I do not think in a linear fashion. I pretend that I have a method that is more “organic,” but that’s just my way of covering up for the fact that I make crap up as I go along and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t (and when it doesn’t, let me tell you…it really doesn’t). I somehow managed to ace my logic course in college (they even asked me to be a tutor the next year, to which I responded with astonished laughter), but as anyone who knows me can attest, I have my own version of “logic” and my own way of working out problems. This doesn’t mean that I can’t think in a linear/logical fashion, it merely means that it isn’t natural for me. I’ve never even been able to do any sort of mind-mapping/brainstorming type of thing because it’s too concrete and linear for my tastes. If I were to visualize my thought process, I would say it’s more like a swarm of fireflies at night, lighting up in a rather haphazard manner. After being together for thirteen years, Apparent Dip can generally map out the connections between what I say, but I have an irritating tendency to speak to people as if we’re already in the middle of a conversation (little do they know, it’s because I have been having imaginary conversations with them in my head). To make a difficult situation worse, the filter between my brain and my mouth has major holes in it. I think out loud, and too often, people assume that when I say something, it is somehow the verbal equivalent of carving something in stone.
So, back to the undergrad class I sit in on (I warned you I wasn’t linear): we were doing small group work (which I hate), and analyzing a poem. I am crap when it comes to analyzing poetry on the fly. No one in my group was talking, and I hate awkward silences, so I started working out my thoughts. And I made a mistake. Unfortunately, one of the guys in my group is someone I would describe as a problem student. He’s apparently going through a Freudian phase, which is cool and all, but sometimes not everything (such as the Holocaust) can be reduced to Freud. He tends to railroad conversations in class. He reads other books about the Holocaust during class, and he carefully dresses himself in ennui. I get the feeling that he feels like he’s gracing us with his presence and his nuggets of psychological wisdom and that he feels like he has nothing to learn from the rest of us. So when I made the mistake (I said the phrase “biblical history” and I meant, I really did, to say “biblical metaphor”) he wouldn’t let it go politely, but instead looked at me and said “Yes, but this is an English class. You can’t believe the Bible is history.” I wanted to smack him and tell him about a four-letter word that I think he should learn (granted, there were a number of four-letter words in my mind, but my mother raised me to be nice): T-A-C-T. Instead, I let the guy get to me. Why? I mean, he’s an undergrad, I’m not. I know I do good work and that I just misspoke. I know that I wasn’t saying anything really intelligent, but my coffee hadn’t kicked in yet and I was actually thinking of how I had to read the next ten books of Paradise Lost by tomorrow. But I think it bothered me because, for a brief moment, I felt exposed. The invisible ink on my forehead became legible and all of the doubts I have about my ability as a scholar were seemingly there for the world to see. And this is something I really need to work on because the sad truth is: jerks exist everywhere. So the question I want to throw out to the few who have managed to read to the end of this really long, navel-gazing post is: What do you do? If you’ve had the clerical error syndrome, how do you deal with it? Can you? What do you do when someone makes you feel like an idiot? Or should I just stockpile large quantities of chocolate and wine for these (hopefully fleeting) moments of irrationality?