Winter Snows, Doubt, and Donna Haraway

Above, Yufang is standing next to our open garage door in the backyard with 12-14″ of snow filling our rather long driveway. She and I spent about an hour last night clearing off a path that I could back down in case we needed to go anywhere even though we stocked up before the storm arrived in NE Ohio. Needless to say, after clearing snow in the cold for over an hour, I made very good use of our cleared driveway to pick up Little Caesar’s pizza.

The nice thing about snow, which I believe I’ve commented on before, is that it is pretty and it makes you study. I will ignore the fact that it is a pain in the balls (or more accurately, back) to shovel snow.

Returning to one of the positive aspects of snow–its ability to make one study for lack of anything else to do (Legos and World of Warcraft are off the table at this point in the game)–I thought I would spend a few minutes talking about the worry that I have experienced studying for my PhD exams.

Since I began reading for my exams, I have increasingly found myself worrying about my ability to read everything on my three lists, but more importantly, worrying about finding, understanding, and remembering all of the VERY IMPORTANT BITS in the things that I have read. It doesn’t matter if it is literature, literary analysis, critical theory, or philosophy, I have a constant nagging concern that I may have missed something. This worry isn’t paralyzing my ability to continue reading, taking notes, and reviewing those notes, but it is something like a damned flying monkey clinging always to my back. I know it’s there, because my mind continually jumps to it, as a thought flitting through my vision, as I’m reading or doing other things such as reflecting on this worry in this blog post.

The worry that I feel is something that I’ve felt more strongly as I’ve read more and realized how little I knew or understood about a particular author, subject, or topic. Also, my essay blitzkrieg that I sent out at the end of last semester resulted in no acceptances (admittedly, there is still one out without any response, but I won’t hold out any hope at this point). Essay rejections are valuable for continuing to develop one’s craft as an academic and critical writer, but they cut the other way by undercutting one’s belief that they have done good work on what they believe to be a good idea. Despite my telling myself that I will produce work that is favorably reviewed in the future, it is without a doubt demoralizing to my self-confidence. Doubt, which I had (perhaps foolishly) not known before, is now a constant companion.

So the underlying problem that I am currently grappling with is doubt. Doubt about my abilities as a writer and professional academic. Doubt about my ability learn those important things from my readings, much less to incorporate all of the things that I have read into some kind of meaningful narrative or network of ideas, which I can draw on in the future (but more importantly for the time being on my upcoming exams).

Doubt is not an insurmountable obstacle, but it is a tiring one. I will take inspiration from Philippe Petit, someone who I believe cannot know doubt, and Miao Miao, who is very, very good at what she is without worry (see below, warming paws under my radiator), as I continue my reading.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.