I’ve been working on a big paper for a while now, my senior thesis for philosophy. Those words are an understatement. Substitute ‘big’ with ‘time-consuming, confusing, frustrating, and important’ and substitute ‘a while’ with ‘three months’, and you’ll have a better idea. It’s not the be-all and end-all of papers. People write dissertations all the time. It’s not the hardest thing people have ever done, but good grief. It’s hard enough. And it’s lonely because it’s hard to bring people in on concepts you barely understand that are complex and basically in another language.
I’ve been wading through the philosophers I chose to write about and questioning whether or not I’m capable of writing anything of value on them. So many deep sighs. So little understanding. I didn’t get a single thing out of that entire chapter. I have to read it again. And again. And again. Okay, now I think I understand the basic premise. Implications? No idea. Probably aren’t any. I didn’t know it was possible for something to be so abstract.
I sent it to a classmate for peer review. That helped. My peer had questions, and he pointed out some spots where things in my paper made sense.Writing was never meant to be a solitary process. Sure, you may write in your closet, but coming up with a quality product needs other people.
I talked it over with another student… for about an hour. That helped. She had questions. I had a few more answers than I’d had during peer review.
I thought I had an epiphany. I think I sort of did. I wrote more. I edited what I’d written. Gosh, this is like sending my messy room to someone. But I sent it to my professor anyways.
He saw where I was going and helped me come up with an outline. *Deep sigh of relief* The light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter.
Then, as I was about to take my paper and leave his office, he said, “You’ve done good work on this.”
Was that good work? It was work, I think. It took work. It must be good work if the product is a little bit good. Maybe it shows the work. This brought relief, too. Maybe I won’t disappoint all my professors!
I sent the paper to my friend who is also a writing advisor and asked her to point out any parts where it didn’t make sense. You need some sort of initiation to these kinds of papers–not that it’s too smart for anyone, you just have to have some sort of exposure to the language to be able to follow the philosophical arguments. It’s foreign lingo.
When she responded, she told me she was impressed, that I was intelligent.
I’d like to think so. But there was a voice in the back on my mind when she told me that that said, “It’s not that you’re smart. It’s that the language is fancy. It’s that she hasn’t had time to read this kind of stuff because she’s in freaking nursing school. She’s just being nice. You have such nice friends.”
I often think that voice tells the truth. (Well, it’s right that I do have nice friends, and she’s one of the best.) The voice feels like it’s keeping me humble. It’s keeping me on earth, where if I let myself think I was intelligent, I might get a head too big to fit my graduation cap on. (and now it’s too late to get a different size. Not good. This could be disastrous)
But that’s not humility, is it? Humility doesn’t require that I downgrade myself or deny what others have said in efforts to build me up. Humility asks that I think of myself less, that I look for ways to build other people up, and that I accept the praise offered me when it is given with grace.
I’m just going to take it.
I’m going to accept what she said, file it away in that file of things people have said about me, and decide if it’s true later. Maybe it will be true some days and in some cases and not in others. I’m going to accept that my professor says I did good work, to file that away in the file of tasks that others have affirmed and keep trying to live up to the affirmation.
This seems like a healthier response. Also, it’s finals time, so let’s face it, genuine affirmation is always a lovely thing. And when I can accept it, I bet it’ll be easier to give.