Claim an Education

I’ve been struggling with the fact that I have exams. I hate exams. I don’t have the patience for exams. And yet here I am, enrolled to take exams. I’m writing now, because the urge to throw up the towel is too strong. I’m writing, because I’ve been procrastinating for far too long. I’m writing, because I am out of balance, and confused. I don’t know what I want, I don’t know what I should do. I’m 28 years old, and my family is going through something big. In many ways, I am looking at my future, and I feel helpless to do anything to stop it. If it happened once, what’s stopping it from happening again?

I think it’s obvious that my will is weak. While I’m sure my childhood and upbringing has something to do with it, I am uninterested in knowing more. The fact is, it happened. Everything that happened, the people I had around me, how I was treated and conditioned, has led me to become who I am now. And who I am now is a woman struggling, half-believing she’s a woman, half-convinced she’s a girl. I don’t feel 28, and this infuriates me. I wish I had more time.

But I do have time. I’m 28. In the larger scheme of things, I am young. And while I’m not on the path that I want to be, I know I’m on the path that other people would give anything to be in. I am convinced that my only saving grace is the persistent, inevitable feeling of hope. I always end up being hopeful. I end up disappointing myself most of the time, but I always end up feeling hopeful. Hope without results is annoying.

In my quest to motivate myself, I came across this speech by Adrienne Rich called, “Claiming an Education.” I’d like to share it, because it’s what I want to do so desperately, even though my body and mind is as eager to get away and indulge myself in idle entertainment. The reality is, once upon a time not so long ago, women were denied an education. I feel absurd, terrible, and angry that I neglect my studies. I’m so ungrateful!

The first thing I want to say to you who are students, is that you cannot afford to think of being here to receive an education: you will do much better to think of being here to claim one. One of the dictionary definitions of the verb “to claim” is: to take as the rightful owner; to assert in the face of possible contradiction. “To receive” is to come into possession of: to act as receptacle or container for; to accept as authoritative or true. The difference is that between acting and being acted-upon, and for women it can literally mean the difference between life and death.

The next few passages I lifted deals with responsibility to the self, and hard work.

Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work. It means that you do not treat your body as a commodity with which to purchase superficial intimacy or economic security; for our bodies to be treated as objects, our minds are in mortal danger. It means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind. It means being able to say, with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre: “I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all the extraneous delights should be withheld or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”

Oh how quickly do people around me, including myself, succumb to what is ‘easily digestible.’ Case in point, the link to this article stayed open for 2 days before I finally had the courage to read it.

Responsibility to yourself means that you don’t fall for shallow and easy solutions–predigested books and ideas, weekend encounters guaranteed to change your life, taking “gut” courses instead of ones you know will challenge you, bluffing at school and life instead of doing solid work, marrying early as an escape from real decisions, getting pregnant as an evasion of already existing problems. It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short, simply to avoid conflict and confrontation. And this, in turn, means resisting the forces in society which say that women should be nice, play safe, have low professional expectations, drown in love and forget about work, live through others, and stay in the places assigned to us. It means that we insist on a life of meaningful work, insist that work be as meaningful as love and friendship in our lives.

I’ve been discontented with the way I’ve lived my life since the beginning of June. Everything from January to May was all about growth, learning, fun, and struggle. Now, I’ve become bored, and unproductive– despite the fact I have a hundred opportunities to escape that. (But maybe that’s the problem, I have too much possibilities and it’s paralyzing me– okay that’s for another entry).

The difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference. Once we begin to feel committed to our lives, responsible to ourselves, we can never again be satisfied with the old, passive way.

I guess I did live life actively, once. That’s why I’m so fucking angry right now. I hate this state of passivity.

Too often, all of us fail to teach the most important thing, which is that clear thinking, active discussion, and excellent writing are all necessary for intellectual freedom, and that these require hard work.

It all boils down to hard work. And I’m inherently averse to hard work. I will not blame my childhood, I will not blame my childhood (But yeah, I do). I wouldn’t be much of a psychologist if I don’t acknowledge the power of my childhood on who I am today. But I wouldn’t be much of  a person if I let myself accept the inevitable. It’s just not in my nature to give up!!!

I have said that the contract on the student’s part involves that you demand to be taken seriously so that you can also go on taking yourself seriously. This means seeking out criticism, recognizing that the most affirming thing anyone can do for you is demand that you push yourself further, show you the range of what you can do.

That’s why I felt a burst of happiness when my crammed research proposal didn’t make the cut. I welcome this fathering, this shepherding of my attitude, this challenge on my skills. I was happy to know that my rushed mediocrity is unacceptable. But damn, is it inconvenient. So I’m left with a happy-sad-stressed feeling. I pray, I pray, I pray to get myself out of this rut. Too many things are happening, and are about to happen. I can’t do this alone.

 

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