Listening to Elliot Smith reminds me of the three months it took my stepdad to go from really sick to dead in a hospital bed.

It reminds me of figuring out how to cook (just by trial and error, of buying stir fry vegetable packs from the foodland/IGA in Byford) and driving  (to Kelmscott to the video ezy to get more movies to distract my sister and myself from the emptiness of our house, to Armadale to go to the new shopping centre which was a surreal symbol of how everything was changing around us).

It reminds me of using the cassette to mini-jack adaptor to listen to my iPod in my old crappy white Festiva, churning through Figure 8 and XO.

It reminds me of his face being devoid of recognition when he saw us, because his brain was too eaten to make the connections. It reminds me of Mum crying because he would call her in a panic at 2 am, not knowing where he was, agitated and angry and scared.

It reminds me of writing exams and finding this cold, hard space where all my inventiveness and creativity and ability to analyse anything in my arts degree was. It reminds me of desperately trying to paw at that place in my mind, to find that spark I had, and realising I had to just form the shape of how I used to do these things, rather than be actually capable of doing it.

When he died it was 7 am on the 7th day of the 7th month in 2007, and I got the flu (the only time I have ever had the flu) and the house flooded, and the pharmacy assistant neighbour of ours dosed mum up on sleeping tablets so that she could let herself rest, and everyone brought us food (which was just annoying because at least cooking would let me do something useful when I felt like I could do nothing useful ever again), and people sent us flowers which just made the house seem sort of bizzarely cheerful and also macarbe (especially when they too started dying).

You think it would get easier the further away you were from that day, but the bizzareness of it made it just bareable.

(I promise I will write something cheerful in this place. I promise.)

half filled notebooks
I've been in interesting moods recently.

When I was an undergrad I used to love the start of semester. It was all new promises of "This semester, I'll be the best student! I'll do all the readings before the tutorial, I'll start my assignments months before they are due. This semester is going to be ace, I'll be in control and everything will turn out amazing". 

By week three, you're already two weeks behind in the readings. You've missed lectures here and there. Your writing has gone from being satisfyingly neat, to a collection of half filled notebooks of illegible scrawl. You're struggling: but not really because the workload is too much or too hard. You're struggling with having fucked it up, already, when you were prepared to be so brilliant. 

This is how I'm feeling about my life. There are great aspects of my life: just like I wrote some excellent essays in undergrad. But generally I look over the half finishedness of it all (and worse, the less-than-startedness) and feel overwhelmed with how mediocre I am.

I'm also angry. 

I am so frustrated with how brilliant I want to be, and my general lack of making this happen in any way. Rationally, I know I'm doing okay. I'm a bit lazy sometimes, but generally I'm going alright. Where I feel the worst is with respect to creativity. I did a whole degree in picking away at other peoples' creativity. More than anything I just want to contribute to that pool. I sing along with songs, identifying with a lyric here and there. How good would it be to sing lyrics which came from my own heart, rather than just making believe these other songs are mine? 

I know it's all just practice. But right now I just want to have a clean slate. To start drawing as a child. To pick up a guitar as a moody teen. To have a whole piece of something rather than just fragments which I can cobble together and call myself a person to hide the fact that I'm so unfinished and so unstarted. 

As a lapsed overachiever
Tip for life: "Don't get up in the morning to be average. Be extraordinary." - Prof Fiona Wood

I just want to say - I'm sick of this crap.

As a lapsed overachiever. 

From the time at which someone identifies you as "gifted", this kind of "motivation" is heaped upon you. It's as though you are an especially strong seedling which has emerged from the earth. Having seen this seedling the parent / teacher / mentor desperately wants it to be the tall poppy. I don't know if it's for some kind of bizzare pleasure of being able to say "oh yes, I knew from the moment I saw them, they were going to be something extraordinary". Maybe it is altruistic: maybe the overseeing garderner just wants to create the very best plant that they can.

In any case, when the seedling has surpassed it's youth, when it is a moderate shrub, it can spot all the other plants around it. And it notices so many other plants, so much taller than it.

Many a person has talked about the harms of telling children that they are exceptionally smart. It is harmful to make children think they are "exceptional" in themselves, because it makes them feel distanced from the exceptional-ness of their work. They don't feel that the effort which they expend is beneficial in achieving goals. Rather, it is their magic, special, selves which has made things work out okay so far.

When things start not to work out, you start to feel like you've lost your knack for things. You don't feel motivated to put effort into moving things back on track: after all, it was just that you were "gifted" or "talented" that made your work good in the first place.

And then you feel that the gardeners were probably mistaken. You weren't cut out to be a tall poppy. Struck with debilitating self-doubt, almost every action feels doomed.  Your life is not in your control, and you feel resentful of every person who told you that you were brilliant.

You don't have to be a kid who was identified as gifted or talented to feel this way, though. I was reading some reseach on brain stimulation to enhance performance, and the following sentence really resonated with me: 

"What if you could take a very specific vacation only from the stuff that makes it painful to be you: the sneering inner monologue that insists you're not capable enough or smart enough or pretty enough, or whatever hideous narrative rides you."
Please, sign me up for this vacation. 

The article goes on to relate how certain kinds of brain stimulation can remove this self-doubt. Once this is done, the subject can perform tasks with greatly improved skill. Apart from this research being interesting in terms of the practical benefits, it is interesting to note that these devices show that when we doubt ourselves, we become less good at performing. 

So, let's link this back to what Fiona Wood said. I'm sure she had the best of intentions with her encouragement, but is it useful? I'm a kid who was told I was brilliant and promising and all of that. When I wake up in the morning, I check twitter. I look guiltily at the clock until I can no longer justify snoozing. I drag myself out of bed, take a piss, and feed my cats. I browse the internet as I eat my breakfast (yoghurt, museli, fruit, and tea). I shower and I dress in a kind of PhD student way (jeans, t-shirt, jumper, sneakers). I cycle to uni (usually late). 

This is not an "extraordinary" morning. In fact some mornings I find it harder than others to get out of bed and things can get worse from there. Look, Fiona, I don't think this bodes well for the extraordinary nature of my day. My days lack promise. They often are pretty damn (professionally) depressing. I would be happy with a string of very ordinary days right now. I think most adults would. You're not helping us come to terms with the fact that our lives are strings of failed attempts to do some thing or other. 

And I already have the near-constant inner monologue of "you're not good enough to do science which works". Sometimes "I should have done this so long ago, ack, I feel so ashamed". Or worse, "you used to be so brilliant, what happened?".

I don't think it's useful to tell people to try to be extraordinary every day. I especially don't think it's useful to tell children this. They'll find the inner monologue of self doubt without fast-tracking them there by heaping this "motivational" bullshit on them. 

I think what we should say is "really enjoy what you are doing. Be engrossed, be involved in it". My best days are the days I have become too interested in my science to notice my inner monologue. They are the best in terms of my happiness, and also the best in terms of my productiveness. 

Stop talking goo. 


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