Doubt has been following me for a while, it seems. I say that as though this is an unusual occurrence. It isn’t; doubt comes around regularly and usually has something important to say when it shows up. What strikes me is this version of doubt has been creeping around in the background, slowly rumbling into my belly without being noticed.

The last couple of years has been like running a marathon uphill – no, not uphill, up a mountain, a towering Everest that leaves one limping oxygen-deprived for the last three miles. I suffocated more than once, and I don’t really remember how I managed to breathe again. But I did, and it would seem that would be enough to restore confidence.

Yet here I am, realizing that my confidence is indeed, shaken. Daily living continues; breakfast is made, work is attended to, sleep appears (sometimes)…so it doesn’t seem as though doubt has been hanging around too much. Thus, I am surprised to notice that I am not as sure of myself as I have been before. I would like to tell myself that these hesitations are simply connected to being yet-again new, to learning the unknown, to meeting the unfamiliar. But I know intuitively there is more to it than that.

What catches me is how this feeling hisses in the background. I was expecting doubt to be as it had been before – loud, irritating, shouting in my face to sit down and be quiet. I suppose I have learned a thing or two about telling doubt to knock it off. Doubt doesn’t tantrum as it once did because there’s enough of me to know better.

So this lurking presence, this tone that hums like white noise, is mildly startling. I am not knocked off my feet or blown into submission. But I do hesitate, and I realize it is because I am fearful of steeling myself for criticism, rejection, abject humiliation.

I get the oddity of that phrase. I’m afraid to prepare myself. What it really means is I’m afraid of the possibility that situations could arise where I need to prepare myself. I wish it were an irrational fear, but the conditions of the kind of work I do mean other people’s opinions will be foisted upon you regularly.

It sounds rough – I’ve blogged about it before. If you write, you will face readers who hate your papers. If you talk, you will face an audience who hates your words. If you do something, someone will tell you it is wrong. If you do nothing, someone will point and laugh. I do accept this is what you sign up for if you’re going to do this work; of course, I also think this is sort of what happens if you’re going to live at all. I had to prepare myself long ago for the unkind gaze offered by so many ill-mannered critics, and I’ve even learned how to take some of that and learn from it.

But right now, the prospect of stepping into that again makes me want to go back to bed. And in truth, I don’t really think I’m walking into the same level of vitriol I lived in for the last couple of years, or any vitriol for that matter. I think I’m back living in “normal.”

Trauma has a way of making all your gauges run slightly askew. That’s what I’m figuring out now, that my meter is a little off. Doubt slinks around the way it usually would, and probably should, but the part of me that can usually recognize the extent of doubt’s threat is seeing a rattlesnake instead of a length of rope.

So fuck off, rope. Yep, I’ll make more mistakes, and someone will complain about something I’ve done or said. I will remind myself that “safe” ideas are also bland and often untrue. Eventually, confidence will show me that when I fall, I learn to pick myself up again.

Damn you, Batman.IMG_6644


Line Dancing

“The terror of failure can make you feel like a failure. So a bunch of people think you’re not very good at your thing. How much do you invest in what they say? How much do you care? Failure is not putting yourself on the line.” – Dylan Moran

Jane Elliott (Eye of the Storm) spoke at my campus recently and I finally was able to see her. I have shown her Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes “experiment” in my classes and used her work to help students understand how racism and privilege get created and perpetuated. In short, Jane Elliott is a pit bull. She takes no “guff” from anyone and speaks the truth of racism bluntly, directly, and fearlessly. For example:

I admit, I’ve used that line in my own classes. It works. It also takes a good amount of guts to do it. I am not able to deliver my stuff the same way she does, but of course it would be foolish to try to be a copy of her. Her way of doing things is exactly that, her way. But my way can also be direct, challenging, controversial, and make everyone in the audience as uncomfortable as her audience. It is not an easy thing to do because it invites people to really, unreservedly, dislike you.

The thing is, I do like it when people like me. It’s kind of nice. But my adult life has been full of realizing that being liked and being respected are two very different things that often don’t lead to each other. And that means I get a lot of people not liking me.

What has baffled me about this is most of the time though, I’m not really intending to be controversial. Challenging classroom scenarios aside, most of the time I seem to set people off just by asking a question or making an observation. Lately I seem to be getting serious criticism because I keep noticing when someone breaks the rules. But even there it is a matter of me saying, “what did you do?” and then someone curses me with the fury of their ancestors.

It isn’t always that naive though, as I’ve written plenty of times about needing to speak up in order to identify injustice or highlight bias or instigate change. That definitely doesn’t win popularity contests. So there I am choosing to enter a situation where my likability will be questioned, even threatened. And I often find myself thinking in the middle of an altercation, “why the heck did I do this again?” If I would just keep my mouth shut, people could just like me and I wouldn’t have so many sleepless nights.

Except it wouldn’t really happen that way, I think. It’s true that if you spend your time being pleasant and conciliatory, you’ll have way fewer arguments. But what would really get done? In my own experience, I had plenty of times when I went along for the sake of going along. Perhaps I wanted to be part of the crowd, or was afraid of an argument, or not sure if my stance was worth defending. I could just say the thing that makes someone else feel good, or the thing that distracts from what is going on, and keep things simple. But it never really did make anything simple, because then I’d leave and think to myself, “why did I do that. Why did I go along with that stupid thing.” And when my eyes opened up to see how keeping my thoughts to myself mostly allowed other people to be overlooked, ignored, or even mistreated, it became much harder to justify why my comfort was more important than their humanity.

So I learned to say things. I later found out that many people do actually appreciate me saying things, whether I am deliberately controversial or innocently inquiring. Some have even said that it was validating, because they found out that someone else had the same thought they did. This led to me eventually building the confidence to keep talking. After enough arguments, it also led me to realize that the worst thing that happens in an argument is: having an argument. People get mad and say dumb things. The truly hard part is staying cool and not saying dumb things. But I learned I can do that too.

But it does mean I spend a good portion of my time being disliked.

What people don’t realize is that even when someone like me learns how to take such experiences as the norm, it doesn’t mean that we don’t get hurt in the process. It is not fun to have someone shout at you, call you names, criticize your work until you want to bleed from your ears. I get filled with doubt, I want to go home and hide under the duvet and not come out for several years. I will ask myself over and over again, what is wrong with me. Just shut up already. No One Cares.

I’m writing about all this because lately I have felt particularly disliked. It is not easy to bounce back and sometimes I don’t want to. I have spent several sleepless nights of late debating in my head if I should just pack it all in. Things were supposed to get easier, and yet I think it all really got harder. Will it ever end?

And then I get to see Jane Elliott, up on stage, telling it just as hard as she ever has and letting that audience know she is not fooling around. Okay, so I don’t agree with every single point she says, but that is insignificant. Because what is real is her passion, her fire, her fury, and she has been doing this for 48 years. That’s longer than I’ve been alive. And she has sacrificed and suffered, and definitely not been liked. At the end of a very emotional 2 hours, she shares:

“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputations… can never effect a reform.” – Susan B. Anthony

I am reminded that the important stuff is never easy. Because if it’s easy, it means you’re just going along, riding the current. It also suggests there isn’t anything needing to be changed. And if you’re okay with that, then keep on going along. But if you for a moment think that something looks, smells, feels, seems, just in the teeniest bit askew…

Then get ready to be disliked.