So the first half of yesterday was tremendously awful. I am occasionally prone to brief but intense fits of inexplicable anxiety and self-reproach, and when I woke up yesterday, after a very long and sound night of rest, it felt as though a silverback had sat on my chest. My breathing was rapid and I felt as though I had just sold the last worthy part of my soul for something cheap and fleeting. I felt as though I was only barely a person.
This may require some explaining.
Sometimes I think I am squandering the best parts of me. I don't consider my youth to be or to have been particularly well-spent, and it's only in the past few years that I've become something of a social creature. As a kid my habitat was mostly indoors, thought forays to my back yard or the backyards of my neighborhood friends Jeremy and Todd were as common as my generally unsuccessful fishing attempts at the nearby lake or canal. I never learned how to ride a bike, though I am an excellent swimmer and a sure shot. In high school I never went to a party that didn't have the word "birthday" or "pool" in front of it, though I imagined that all other parties must have been as lame as those, if not lamer, because in my mind jerks abounded wherever I dared not dwell. My best memories from the high school era all take place in various AP classes or making ridiculously fun and hilarious video projects for those classes. There was a lot of other enjoyable and sundry stuff, too, like getting close to Stephanie while volunteering at the Boys & Girl's Club and stargazing in the Everglades. Mostly, though, nothing truly significant or life altering occurred during my most formative years, which is to say that I cannot match any changes in my identity to any specific events. I think sometimes that I've had it too easy, that I was never in a position to struggle or strive for anything. I coasted through highschool on my wits and somehow made it into Bard with mediocre grades and financial aid. My safety school, the University of Florida, rejected my application, yet Bard and Drew were open to me. So I flew up North and kept old habits, resulting in three semesters of continued academic probation and subsequent worry. The professors and deans gathered that I was intelligent from my papers (the ones that I turned in) so they cut me some slack, told me, essentially, to discipline myself to the rigors of academia, to shape up. And I'd like to say I've been trying, but there really is room and time for a lot of improvements that I simply have not undertaken. I'm doing better, certainly. I've turned in every paper assigned to me, and have received variants of As on the ones I've gotten back. But yesterday I felt myself slipping into that nasty void where self-doubt becomes paralyzing and the paralysis becomes sickening.
It had something to do with a paper that was due Thursday of last week. Every day since that Thursday I had promised myself I'd complete it, and despite never having class until 3pm, I'd wake up shortly after sunrise, have an early breakfast, and camp out in the computer center where I'd find ways to do everything but my paper. First I cannot conceive of an idea. Then I cannot structure that idea. Then I cannot back up that idea. And then comes the most grueling, blood-draining part of the process, the actual conversion of ideas into written language. It feels like every sentence is a subtle lie made manifest, a trick that I'm playing on my reader and myself. People tell me that my writing is half-decent and I tend to agree, but why must one of the blessed few things that I'm good at feel like nothing more than a chore? Writing a personal livejournal entry is significantly less difficult, but it still stings a little. I like to think that I'm hammering this out as a warning to myself. Again, I have to explain.
My feeling wretched yesterday had something to do with my fear of academic failure and something more to do with the fear that I am betraying myself in other ways. I'll try to describe it this way: I felt that I had let that which is good and useful and even powerful in me rot. A palpable rottenness within, accompanied by shortness of breath and hunched shoulders and a feeling of inescapable, quiet panic. Last year I visited my friend Matthew at NYU and we stopped by the dorm of his friend and my pal Casey. Casey had written on a slip of paper a quote of Nietzsche's which she'd then affixed to her bedside desk. I cannot recall it exactly, but it spoke of the self that we aspire to, our Best Self which hovers somewhere above our heads and follows us around while we ignore it. Sometimes, I think Nietzsche said, we are able to reach up to that identity and we experience an ecstasy and a confidence which is the treasure of all men. I think, perhaps, that I've felt that once or twice, or something akin to it, or the "Oceanic Feeling" or whatever intellectual gobbledygook that good stuff goes by. Yesterday I felt like I had shotgunned my better self to the ground for kicks. There's a bit in Vonnegut's Mother Night in which the protagonist loses all sense of purpose, and simply stops, on the sidewalk, and remains there, motionless. That is what I did, except I opted to sit down, on the curving path that runs between two houses on Annandale Rd. and goes up to the library. It was beautiful and warm out and I tried to listen to birdsong to calm myself down. It worked to a slim extent, and I thought to call my mother and interrupt her third period history class, because I know that she loves me without condition and would tell me that I am not worthless, despite however worthless I may have felt at the time. She defused my burning self-loathing enough for me to confront the immediate issue at hand, the material issue, the academic issue, the paper which I was not being able to do. I stopped by the office of my beloved professor and adviser Yuka Suzuki, to whom I owed that very late paper, and to whom I had turned in very late papers in the past.
Yuka and I spoke for the better part of an hour and her everpresent smile and incisive understanding of my personal problems allayed much of the anxiety and disdain that had built up in my spinal fluid. She mentioned the cold and necessary truth of accepting one's own mediocrity, no matter how great one really is, and then spoke of the importance of denying that mediocrity in the face of all obstacles whatever, or something to that effect. There's something valuable in there about not taking oneself too seriously - though I don't think I've ever really been prone to that error. Ms. Suzuki assured me that she's known my situation all to well, and has struggled with some of the same problems, and has come up with some half-decent solutions which, I suppose, is why she's now my professor and adviser. She also mentioned the unfortunate and swift degradation of memory, particularly when it comes to emotions. We can remember being joyful, but we cannot remember the joy. Likewise with feeling like gutter shit. Thus this entry, foolheaded and truthful, that I may read it weeks and years hence and recall how utterly pitiful one's inner world can become when one mistreats oneself with doubt and escapism.
I finished the paper earlier today and handed it in, one day less than one week late. Less than a week late! I'm improving.