When I first started “Early Blackface, etc.,” I saw the blog partly as a writing journal. But this feels like the first entry I’ve made that really focuses on my writing and the long-standing difficulties I experience as a writer.
It seemed like a lifetime, but there was a time from 1977 to 1994 when I struggled for access to words when I was trying to write. Beginning with my nervous breakdown during my first year of poli sci grad school and not really ending until after I had tenure at Morehead State in KY, I would churn with ideas but the connection to words would crumble not unlike the way Voldemort crumbled to end the Harry Potter movies. The reason for the problem was the same for the whole 17 years. I had an underlying combination of anxiety and depression that turned any effort I made to further myself into a version of the torture dreams I was having and trying to shut myself down was one way in which I subconsciously coped. Given that I had invent brain surgery (successful) and grew up in an abusive family, the anxiety and depression had deep roots from my time growing up and was a deep hole that I would have to climb out of if I wanted to write (or really be functional at all).
Vaguely recognizing that I needed help, I sought out therapy in the summer of 1977 as I began a two-year leave from grad school at UNC-Chapel Hill. Likewise, I’ve been in therapy most of my adult life and have sought help while living in Chapel Hill NC, Ann Arbor MI, Philadelphia and London in the UK. I’ve also adapted and shed a number of coping strategies including lots of tennis, pin ball, pool, and “boisterous” partying gradually being winnowed out especially as I developed an allergy to booze. While I was in Chapel Hill, playing four hours of pinball and tennis a day tired me enough that I had some freedom from anxiety and night and could get stuff done. When I came back from my leave, I also began to adapt a trickster kind of persona in relation to my grad school work and began to see everything in my American Political Thought class as “funny” and, much to my professor’s annoyance, filled up my weekly papers with jokey observations about the reading. Represented in this post by Loki, the trickster persona was a resource in allowing me to sidestep the anxieties and allow me to write my fellowship proposals, dissertation, and the articles I’ve gotten published since 1997. Among other things, laughter is a form of aggression and it’s been an aggression that complimented the aggression that had stayed with me from my days as a bullying high school linebacker for the Waverly (NY) Wolverines.
But I’ve also never finished a book and I’ve come to believe that the trickster persona was been limiting as well as enabling. I don’t remember Loki ever winning in the Thor comics I read as a kid let alone the Avengers. And The Joker lost whether he was being played by Caesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, or Heath Ledger. So did the Green Goblin in Spider Man. The tricksters either never win or have won so far out of my awareness that their wins never counted for me. This all came into sharp relief and it started to hit me that Agent Coulson was also talking to me when he told Loki in The Avengers that “you’re going to fail . . . because you lack conviction.” That’s where the trickster persona has been so limiting to me. No matter how many years or decades I spend preparing to finish a book, I don’t have the “conviction” that I’ll actually get a manuscript either finished or published.
And it’s all stupid. If I shared this with friends, some of them would start banging their heads against the wall at my absurd under-estimation of my own capacities.
Stupid but still real.
So what’s been happening is that I’ve been spending my therapy time at age 67 going back through my whole history of demeaning and underestimating myself a kind of self-congratulation (“so clever”), habit, and protection from bigger problems. That’s why I “lack conviction.” Given that the whole trickster mode was a way to distract myself from the pain of anxiety and depression, the whole exercise is pretty painful.
But also there’s a certain way in which “enough is enough” and I’m getting on with it.