Failure will set you free

I´m in trouble. I need to have a topic and a supervising tutor for my master thesis until the sixth of March, and while I do have an idea for a topic, I cannot seem to find a tutor. The professor I asked told me briefly that he doesn´t believe my topic is appropriate, so he won´t do it, bang. To be honest, I was quite devastated. Not because I love my topic so much. But I´ll have a hard time making up a new one within two weeks and finding a tutor. Particularly when I´m not entirely convinced of the topic. I saw clearly the difference between uni and school. At school, I would have had to pick some topic. I might not have liked it, but I wouldn´t just have fallen off the edge of the world. I had a right to be admitted to my exams, even if I didn´t have a right to choose the topic. Whereas now…I have to think of something I want to do, and then advertise it. If nobody likes it, well, tough luck. There is really nobody in that entire fucking institution who gives a damn if I graduate or not.

I could feel as if I am completely at their mercy. But oddly enough, as I had locked up myself in the bathroom to cry in peace (thanks to some nice escapades this weekend I´m a lot less tense and can actually show some feelings, and even the racing thoughts have shut up for a moment), I realized that I was free. I spent a moment in my head all alone with myself and I felt that, to me, it doesn´t matter if I graduate from college or not. It doesn´t even matter to me which subject I´d get a degree in if I should, after all, manage to graduate. Degrees genuinely don´t matter to me. Alone in my head, I don´t feel like I´m worth less if I don´t graduate. It wouldn´t take a thing away from my ability to think, formulate theories and question things.  And dropping out of college would most certainly not stop me from doing these things. And right now as I am working on  my essay about Freud´s “seduction theory”, a subject which genuinely matters to me, I realize that the most wonderful moments are those when I am simply absorbed in a subject, developing my thoughts without giving a fuck if what I write is what my teachers want to read. What I write there is probably the most readable thing I´ve ever written for uni. So many other essays were just…sucking up. Ass-kissing. Trying to conform to some standards and please a nitpicking  judge. They have nothing to do with intellectual integrity, even if I correctly quoted all sources and used the right formatting.

I also knew, though, that I would be blamed if I failed to apply for my exams this winter.  Everybody would criticize me merely by gracefully mentioning that there is no point in criticizing me now, but please do learn from this for the future. Irene would be all over me for not preparing a concrete, agreeable subject and convince a tutor in time. She told me a million times that it is never too soon to start, after all. I should have started a year ago, and what do I do? Start a month before the deadline! How can such an intelligent person be so dumb?

Well. I don´t know. Maybe I am not as goddamn intelligent as my family always claimed. Maybe I simply am dumb. This, too, is an oddly liberating thought. Because to me, this does not mean that I cannot do anything. It just means that I can´t do everything. I have limits. If I have limits, though, I have to focus on what matters to me. For the first time in my life, restricting my options feels like a good, liberating idea. Until now, I always felt like I need to pack absolutely everything into my life. If I haven´t done one thing, it means that I have failed overall. Like one person could excel in everything there is. Cooking, dancing, being a writer, being a singer, being a scientist, being a mother and saving the world. Or so. I felt obliged to be all that because I couldn´t feel I have limits.

If this sounds like megalomania…well, maybe it is. But there is another side to this. If you don´t know your limits (and make them your boundaries and defend them), you are bound to be exploited. If you don´t realize that you will feel miserable when you constantly try to please absolutely everyone, then you will keep on trying (and failing) and mistake your misery for normalcy. You will feel obliged to conform to every standard, even contradicting ones, and forget who the hell you really are. We are our limits. (I admit this statement is debatable. But I don´t mean it in the sense that we are our flaws. What I mean is that there is nothing wrong with limits, and that they can help us get a sense of who we are.)

I wondered if I should just drop out of college if I don´t manage to find a tutor on time. I could still try to apply next term. But somehow I feel like this could kill me. It would cast me into some very dark, deep hole. You know…spending six months doing nothing before I can apply again? Really nothing? Just because I was too stupid to start working on my application in time? I couldn´t take my family´s reaction to this. I think this would make me feel low and worthless to a dangerous extent, without me getting anything in return that truly matters to me. It would completely devalue my degree, even if it was excellent. My family thinks I already spent too much time in college. I could have done it all faster, if only I could have been bothered to work properly. They would probably congratulate me in a patronizing manner, mentioning how nice it is that I still managed to get such a neat degree after it took so much time or something equally friendly. And the worst thing is that they´d believe they are actually being nice.

I do recognize another limit of mine, though. I cannot cope with how my family will react if I fail to successfully apply this winter. My newfound acceptance for myself and my limitedness is very, very frail. As soon as I face any member of my family, it could vanish again. So I will need to get this application done somehow. Not because I totally want it. But even less because they want it and wrote an academic degree into my CV before I was even born. No. Just to protect myself. This is a legitimate motivation. I am being absolutely true to myself in doing so.

At least I tell myself so. Somehow I feel a great deal of resistance at the thought of writing another professor tomorrow. Rethinking this, I can see why. If my family´s reaction limits me, then I am not free. And if I´m not free, where should my motivation come from? I´m not true to myself at all. At the thought of just calling it quits and getting a job, though…I feel a wonderful little jolt of excitement. I feel like I´ve waited for that all my life. Just escaping to freedom.

Straight away I hear scornful voices in my head. “You think that having a job is so nice and pleasant? Think about how much your mother has to work. She has no free time at all *now the voice becomes admonishing and accusing* and she is very unhappy about that. If you think you will be free as soon as you enter work life, particularly with no college degree, you should think again. You might harshly regret such a step.” It is a strange mixture of my mother´s and father´s voice. And indeed my parents said similar things to me. (At other times when I was feeling depressed and anxious about the horrible world of work which was lying ahead of me, they shook their heads about my irrational fears and told me that everything was completely different that I imagined it.)

So I dutifully take one step after the other. I had escape fantasies ever since tenth grade when I could technically have left school. And each time I was persuaded (or persuaded myself) to stay and keep on achieving one goal after the other, so the life I would one day escape to would be glorious and successful. And at the same time I could never shake the feeling that such a life wouldn´t really be mine.

***

It is bizarre, isn´t it? Selling myself into slavery so one day I can be free? But it is equally bizarre to needlessly diminish my chances on the labor market after working for a college degree for six years. I just don´t know how much longer I can live with myself. I never made an informed, deliberate, independent choice in my life. I always took the line of the least resistance and followed through with what others saw fit. I remember trying to question if I should really go to college and I realized that I could absolutely not imagine not doing it. But not because there was anything in college I really wanted. It was just understood that I was going to get an academic degree. I was “intelligent”, after all. I had no idea what to study. And then the deadline approached and I picked philosophy because that way I wasn´t limiting myself to a specific subject. I think I really understand now in what way my dream about Dexter was actually about me. I told you it was some kind of lucid dream. Just that Dexter does have a purpose and an identity. He merely needs to hide it. Is there one to, inside of me, hidden even from myself? Or am I empty inside, with no real me and no wishes of my own?

***

Right now I feel some numb, dull, impotent anger.  At my parents. At my university. Not really at myself, though. I´m not angry just because it is difficult to get a degree. I´m not afraid of intellectual challenges. I´m not even scared of having to work hard on something. What makes me angry is the reason why it is difficult to get a degree: Because our professors don´t know us and don´t give a damn about us. And I don´t like to be treated as if I don´t matter. I may not have described my topic very well, but I do have a point. I cannot make it yet (I had hoped I could clarify it for myself and the reader while writing the paper), but it is there somewhere on the brink of my mind, waiting to be developed. I´m a slacker, granted, but I´m not a genuinely lazy, uninterested person who only wants a degree so she gets a higher paid job. I´m not as bad as I´m being treated.

Well, I guess if I was a “good person” I´d be angry at myself now. On the surface I only have myself to blame. But…do I really pass any blame? When I want something from persons who don´t give a fuck about whether I get it or not, then of course it is my responsibility to make them do it somehow, even if it means that I have to start a year in advance – but I can still resent them for being indifferent assholes, can´t I? What, I thought I was the philosopher? And I can´t even answer a question like that? Have I learned nothing?

No, I have learned nothing. I spent my college years sleeping too long, drinking too much and researching serial killers. Again, it is incredibly relaxing to just admit it. I´m a failure. Unfortunately that alone doesn´t make me free. The title is a lie. (Then again, it didn´t say that failure was both a necessary and a sufficient condition for freedom. See, I´ve learned that much.) On a serious note, though, failure is really just one part of the deal.  The other part is to stop trying to be a winner. Failing at that doesn´t make you free. It keeps you prisoner forever.

 

 

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