Learning to accept the self doubt
It's part of a learning curve, to show some self-love and not be so hard on yourself that you feel paralysed by inhibition and do nothing
I watched the horizon spill over into shades of lozenge orange this morning. The night train from Delhi was inching towards Khajuraho. The plains seemed to extend for miles and by the time we arrived, I saw shafts of light hit the signboard at the station announcing our destination. It should have been a luminous moment heralding the birth of any and all possibilities, but I was quaking inside. The deadline for the funding application for the PhD I was seeking to enrol in had just slipped up on me.
I was fraught with anxiety. All the feminist activism I'd been engaged in all of December had taken such a psychological toll on me, I didn't have the clarity of thought that is essential for writing out a proposal. I knew what I was looking to do but felt overwhelmed by the ambitious scope of what I was daring to envision. Since my references were in order, it felt incumbent that I proceeded with the application and not bail on myself, as I am prone to do in such moments of intellectual vulnerability. It has been 12 years since I actively left the world of academia. Did I really want back in? What was I trying to prove? Was my desire to enrol coming from a space of insecurity? Did I simply just want to feel that I, too, was entitled to claim a space of scholarship and the legitimacy that comes from it? What did I want this to translate into?
Once again, I'd woken up with the spectre of self-doubt cast all over my being, as if it had entered me in the thick of night like a phantom and was now refusing to be exorcised. I texted my support group of friends, and one of them, Valay Singh, whom I've known now since 2011, and who recently published his debut non-fiction title, Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord, texted me a lovely little card that someone must perhaps have gifted him. It had blue handmade paper, over which was pasted a little note on whose left was the neck of a craft-like duck's neck. It read: "And by the way everything in life is writeable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self doubt." It was an excerpt from the unabridged journals of Sylvia Plath.
You could consider it an obsession, my continuing saga with this question of self-doubt. Perhaps, if you're a writer, it never ever leaves you. It's like a shadow that only either shrinks or elongates, but never disappears or vanishes, is omniscient. I've written before about how one must learn to have faith even in doubt, but I wonder if it's easier said than done. How do you practise this behavioural gesture? How do you find ways of talking your way out of the indubitable spell that gets casts over you? How do you befriend it and ask of it to be kinder? Or is it a non-negotiable force, one that demands that you alter your own conscious and subconscious behaviour in order to counter its sting?
Plath's advice is remarkably audacious, especially if you're a writer. She seems to be telling herself primarily that no subject should be considered out of one's reach if you've made the decision to accept it as your muse and if you've got enough daring to immerse yourself in it. I love the phrase, "the imagination to improvise", for that is one of the highest faculties the imagination offers, the ability to improvise, to wing it, not from the space of bullshitting, but from the vantage point of simply believing that you do, in fact, know more than you give yourself credit for. To improvise is simply to follow your intuition, to have faith that the various elements of your conscious and subconscious mind are in dialogue with each other and you can therefore wrestle with complexities that you might otherwise feel are beyond you.
It's part of a learning curve, and mostly involves having the grace and generosity to also be kind to that aspect of yourself that feels daunted, that feels overwhelmed, to not be so hard on yourself that you feel paralysed by inhibition and do nothing instead. I'm living with the uncertainty of meeting tomorrow's deadline for application. But I've embraced the fact that it won't mean the end of the world. Maybe I'm not ready yet. Maybe I need more time for my conscious mind to find a strategy for articulating that which my subconscious mind is confident of and convinced by. Therapy has been teaching me to be kinder to elements of my self that betray the ideal towards which I'm aspiring. That is also me, I'm learning to say.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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