For this short diagnostic, you will write a two-paragraph response to the selection below and the following question.
Prompt: Write a two-paragraph response to Joy’s essay. In your first paragraph, explain why she does not feel successful despite her achievements as an author and editor, and then explain what suggestion she makes at the end of her essay: what does she ask her readers to do? In your second paragraph, respond to these ideas. Do you, like Joy, frequently worry about being unsuccessful, or not accomplishing all of your goals? Do you agree with her that we should forgive other people when they let us down or miss deadlines? Can you think of any examples from your own experience?
Excerpt from “Failing, Fragility, and Making Things”
[Eileen Joy has a PhD in medieval studies and teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the founder and chief editor of the publishing company Punctum Books, an associate director for the record label Punctum Records, the author of ten nonfiction books on the Middle Ages, and a frequent guest lecturer on the value of the humanities in education.]
I never have time to myself anymore; I don’t even know what “time to myself” would look, or feel, like. Somehow, I have a partner who sticks by me, even though to be “by me” has increasingly fewer and fewer returns, for I have retreated into a world where I work obsessively and at a fever pitch, with little regard for my own health, my own sanity, or anyone close to me who might need a more generous share of my focused attention. I have let many friendships lapse, I have let many emails and phone calls go unattended, I have let many students down who needed a closer look at their writings, and yet this work, perversely, brings me great joy — I feel most alive when I am doing this work, and when I am in transit and on the move, when I am meeting new people, when I am taking risks to test out new ventures, new ideas, new collaborations, I am most happy.
The thought of settling, of staying in one place, of adopting any routine whatsoever, fills me with dread. I worry sometimes that I am a risk junkie — I’ve never liked to ski downhill or jump out of planes or race cars (I’m not that kind of risk junkie), but truth be told, I like making dangerous leaps and going where, supposedly, only fools rush in. I like testing out certain waters without a life-jacket, and if someone, or several someones, tell me that’s not such a good idea, it just encourages me to do it even more. Somewhere, in some manual, there is probably a listing for this kind of behavior as some sort of “disorder,” but I find it exhilarating, enlivening. It’s like falling in love. Over and over again. Since conventional social life discourages us from falling in love too much, or too often, with persons (one of the tragedies of our shared experience), I’ve given myself permission to fall in love with things and ideas, with projects, with other people’s books, with other people’s desires to accomplish something. I live in the space(s) of what other people want, and for the most part, I am happy there. After all, this is what I want, too. This is not altruism; it is sheer desire.
What prompts me to share this? Several things. One is the fact that, even though I kind of suspect that many people would describe me as a “successful” person, I nevertheless don’t feel successful very often.
I’m not saying I never sit back and reflect that I’ve accomplished some things (I know I have), but indeed, most days I torture myself with thinking about all of the things I have failed to do. For every book I edit, and for every essay I write, there are several more that I have failed to edit, and failed to write. For every deadline I make, there are several I fail to make. I forget to mail checks, I put off filing my taxes, I don’t call my parents enough, I can’t read all the books I feel I should read, I don’t pet my dogs enough, I miss doctors’ appointments, I neglect the boxwoods and roses in my garden, I rush down streets without raising my eyes to meet the gaze of others, etc. — and yes, we are all feeling this sense of how we could do more, do better, every day. This is human, after all, but so-called professional “failings” can feel more acute. So, for every person who thinks I am dependable and trustworthy as an editor or an author, there are at least four times as many who think I am a liar and incapable of “getting the job done.” I don’t know how to say “no,” I want to say “yes” to everything, and I often do. It gets me in trouble. I can’t tell you how many grant applications I have written (and some, I have received) for books that will never be written and archival research that will never be undertaken. I know I’m not the only one who has this problem, although I feel we often hide this fact of our lives from each other because it is often too painful to admit that we cannot “keep up,” that we cannot meet all of our obligations, that we are letting our colleagues down, that we are not the intellectual superheroes we would like to imagine we are.
Let us reflect on this and be kinder to each other when we do not meet our obligations. Not meeting our obligations is part of what we do. It is human. It is to be expected. So the next time someone misses a deadline you have imposed, let it go, and sweetly. They do not mean to offend you, or to let you down. They have come up short and will torture themselves enough for that without your assistance.
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