The misery does not validate the work

I managed to plow through another 1451 words today for the Findings chapter of my thesis. The chapter, as forewarned (by my advisor, who sees that brevity isn’t one of my strongest suits) can easily reach 100 pages.

‘Plow through’ is a funny phrase actually. It implies the act of persevering or forcing your way through, and it sounds like a physically and/or mentally demanding activity. In another definition, it also implies the act of slow progress through difficult or boring, like reading a very long-winding book because you have somehow personally imposed upon yourself the rule of finishing every book you start, or writing a dull report the boss makes you write. It can be this or that, and that’s how confusing English can be.

Today I learned about the existence of diaeresis, which refers to the two dots seen over vowel combinations to make sure that they are pronounced separately. These are words like ‘coöperation’, to indicate that the ‘coop’ in the word is pronounced ‘co-op’ and not ‘coop’; or ‘reëlect’, to indicate that it should be pronounced as ‘re-elect’ and not ‘reeh-lect’. Apparently, they do exist (I am today years old as I found out about it) — The New Yorker was pretty obsessed with it and even included diaereses in its style guide. If you think that is confusing, it is even pronounced “die-heiresses”.

When I was about to enrol in my doctoral programme, I bumped into someone within my work circle who had acquired her own doctorate. When I told her about it, she sniggered and said, “Good luck”. I was feeling particularly bothered about it, so I asked her what she meant, to which she said, “Good luck, because it will be tough.” And I was like, “OK, so everything is challenging. Do you have any tips?” She said something along the lines of “it’s so tough” again, “prepare to cry a lot”, and “it is just the way it is” when I asked if there’s anything she had learned, so one could take note and make it easier for others. I didn’t receive any satisfying answers beyond “it’s tough because it is meant to be.”

And that’s really mind-boggling about this whole “it’s tough because it is meant to be” notion. I get it, every single experience in your life can be challenging. But if there is any opportunity for you as someone who has experienced it to dispense some tips to others to navigate it, or open the door for others, why not do it? What is this whole prevalence of “I suffered so others must too” mentality in academia, or any industry in general?

(If I ever do the whole “I suffered so others must too” attitude in any smallest sense, please please smack some sense into me. You have my permission.)

As I went through the deluge of quotes pouring in in remembrance of Toni Morrison, a lodestar whose work helped upend an entire literary canon of bringing the light of African-American identity, this whole passage from her speech delivered in 1981 caught my attention:

We need protection in the form of structure: an accessible organisation that is truly representative of the diverse interests of all writers. An organisation committed to the rights of the few. And we need protection in the form of clarity, a knowledge of the limits of individualism and the private, indulgent suffering it fosters. We have to stop loving our horror stories. Joyce’s Ulysses was rejected fourteen times. I don’t like that story; I hate it. Fitzgerald burned out and could not work. Hemingway despaired and could not work. A went mad, B died in penury, C drank herself to death, D was blacklisted, E committed suicide. I hate those stories. Great works are written in prisons and holding camps. So are stupid books. The misery does not validate the work. It outrages the sensibilities and violates the work.

Remember this: the misery does not validate the work.

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