I haven’t started sewing yet.
I haven’t ordered a pattern yet.
I haven’t even really settled on a pattern yet.
This is the part in every project where inertia and procrastination settle in. Over my many years as an academic, I have noticed my work patterns go in a similar route every time something large and difficult is looming:
1. Initial enthusiasm. Do all the things, make lots of lists, get all my resources lined up.
2. Trouble ahead. Get distracted, read at a slower pace than expected, put things off.
3. Panic and worry. Despite having time until the deadline, begin to feel as if nothing will ever be accomplished and I’m a terrible person for trying to do things, and hide from the project.
4. Buckle down and flagellate. Work like a mad fiend, all the while mentally yelling at myself for not being more efficient in those early weeks. Usually, at this stage, I manage to pull out something useful, if not brilliant.
5. Finish. Get everything done by the deadline, turn it in on time, and have some kind of emotional breakdown thereafter usually requiring copious amounts of children’s shows to recover (this is where my obsession with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic comes from).
This is not a healthy pattern. I know it’s not. I suffer from a lot of anxiety and depression, and it makes it hard to work continuously and efficiently, using my time and resources to their maximum benefit. The more anxious I get about a project, the more depressed I become, and as I avoid it, I tend not to use the resources out there in the word world because I can’t motivate myself to put on pants that don’t belong in a yoga studio. When you start avoiding libraries because you feel judged, this is perhaps a problem.
I’ve been trying to overcome this pattern. The system my program at Goddard College uses is a distance model, with packets of work, usually around 30 pages or so, going in every 3 weeks. Ideally, I should be writing ten pages a week to keep on track. It never works that way, and somewhere around the middle/end of week 2, I start to panic and feel as if nothing I do will ever be good enough and I am a terrible joke of a person for even trying.
(I said I had a lot of issues. I meant it.)
Ideally, I should have a pattern in hand by now. I don’t. I have an eyeball at a pattern I want to make, and am doing estimates for fabric and boning. The Laughing Moon Silverado corset pattern looks to be about where I want to be, and corsetmaking.com has a corset kit which has boning, busk, boning casing, and grommets for the project, with the option to buy the pattern and fabric from them as well. This is probably the way I’m going to go. I just have to get over my feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing, that this is a waste of time and money, and shouldn’t I just stick to books, which is the really important academic work, anyway?
That’s what a lot of this boils down to. It’s hard to believe in one’s own work. It’s hard to really own the odd stuff one does in the academy, because clearly, the serious scholars are out there, translating obscure languages and making dazzling insights into the human condition, probably at Harvard or Oxford or somewhere else important. And I, a silly little baby scholar, at a small school, who is also a woman and took a non-traditional track to get here, my work won’t count because I am doing something weird about women and playing with fabric. And I know all of that isn’t true. I know it’s the academic’s version of the jerkbrain, the part of our brains that tells us all the nasty, hateful things that we believe, despite the fact that if our worst enemy said them to us, we’d punch them in the face. We are capable of being so much nastier to ourselves than we’d ever tolerate someone being to us. And combine that with the sort of inferiority complex that grad school breeds like bunnies, and it’s a one-way ticket to neurotic overdrive with a guilt complex to make a Jewish mother proud.
It’s hard to believe in the work. It’s hard to believe that the clothes middle-class women wore in urban centers in the South matters. It’s hard to believe that antiquated ideas about gender and mourning and the social world of the Gulf South has any impact outside my own interest. It’s harder still to believe that any self-respecting PhD program will take me on to do this stuff. But I have to. Because this is what I’m doing, and if I don’t believe in it, no-one will (except my partner and my mother, because they have to).
So I’m forgiving myself for not ordering the pattern yet. I’m even giving myself a break, and telling myself it’s okay to work on the papers for the packet, and to fuss over the Louisiana Studies conference I’m headed to in two weeks. Because I still believe this all matters. And if it matters, then not only do I have to buckle down and do it, I have to also take care of my mental health in the process. If the work matters, then so does the person doing it. And that means being gentle with myself, and being careful with my expectations. No-one expects me to be a corset-sewing, paper-writing superstar all the time. And that’s okay. I just have to stop expecting superstardom from myself, too.
But I’m still going to order the pattern and kit next week.