Friday, March 7

on being wrong

a sticky note just above the third-floor drinking fountain says "you matter," penciled all sloppy and plain and unpunctuated.
{ image borrowed from dear Patti Poblete }

my reaction to this yesterday morning was a somewhat cynical inward scoffing. who? me? sure. matter. I am made of matter. so is everything. your solid flesh, your melted heart, the dew, the slings, the arrows, all of it. matter. so what?

so I've been working too hard. sleeping too little. skipping breakfast. foregoing yoga for homework.

{ actually textbooks from last semester }

a few weeks ago I translated three short sections of Martin Heidegger's Gelassenheit, and by the end I felt fairly confident that I'd made sense of the German. my English version would need some corrections, I was sure, but not so very many. I was learning things. I was getting better at this grammatical deciphering game.

I turned in my Heidegger translations the day I left for Paris.

once upon a time (ten years ago, in Modern Drama class) I wrote a pretty average analysis of Anton Chekov's The Cherry Orchard. I don't remember exactly, but I think the prompt asked us to look at the characters' motivations and say something about their effect.

what I do remember are the professor's comments when I had the essay handed back to me. I'd significantly misinterpreted that prompt and addressed my very average analysis to an unrelated, irrelevant set of details.

this sort of thing happens.

I came back from Paris almost two weeks ago and met with Claudia to get caught up on the German classes I'd missed. she first handed back my Heidegger translation, covered with scribbled marks and a note at the top: still a lot of mistakes and misunderstandings, but it was a challenging assignment, I know!

so much for all my confidence. that's the thing about being wrong--most of the time it's almost impossible to sense when it's happening. even when you do feel uncertain, part of such a feeling's defining essence involves cutting you off from the answers you could use to fix your wrongness. such an obliviously helpless precariousness.

there is a value in being wrong, sometimes. mistakes are how we learn things. mistakes are how we get better. maybe before you ever really start to understand something there has to be a stage where you only think you understand it.

back in the hallway next to that third-floor drinking fountain, I ran into colleague Freddie (he's got at least three blogs or bloglike places out there). he kindly asked how I was, and in stressed-out exhaustion (worrying that the German midterm I'd just turned in would come back to me in shreds, worrying that the half-finished conference paper I needed to finish would never emerge from the swamp of idiotic-sounding sentence fragments) I muttered and shrugged and squirmed a very uncertain response. he looked over his shoulder as he pushed at the stairwell doors and said "Oh it always seems like that but you'll be fine. I'm sure you're doing fine."

does "fine" mean working a little too hard, sleeping too little, and skipping yoga? I didn't have time to dispute Freddie's encouragement. it was a little harder to scoff at, though, at least.

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