Writing about risk. That's the theme of the 2015 Conference on College Composition & Communication, which will take place in Tampa, Florida, the very home of my doctoral program (USF). Last week, I learned that my proposal had been accepted. My performance explores the rhetoric of "DIY" (do it yourself) composing projects as a kind of "optimistic failure." Upon reading the acceptance email, I had a moment of gratitude and joy, and I shared the news with 2 of my immediate supervisors (as we are encouraged to do and as may be rhetorically wise, though it always *always* feels creepy, the same kinda creepy that keeps me from applying for awards. i think that if you'd like to give me an award, great. but to compete for one isn't in my nature. i'm hardwired, perhaps, for failure, and as i am thinking about it, accepting this truth and all that it may mean about my private definition of "failure," i'm okay with that). So the C's talk -- the work will draw upon Lauren Berlant's concept of Cruel Optimism, and I'm excited about taking up her work to think about my own, as I did at the 2014 CCCC in "Open Aesthetics."
For Berlant, optimism is "“the force that moves you out of yourself and into the world in order to bring closer the satisfying something that you cannot generate on your own but sense in the wake of a person, a way of life, an object, project, concept, or scene” (1-2). Optimism "becomes cruel only when the object that draws your attachment actively impedes the aim that brought you to it initially" (1). Surely, we think of our work, our attractions and attachments, the desires that brought us to teaching writing at the university level -- the creativity, the drama, empowerment (!), the rewards of having served, social justice (!), and more. And then, the impediments (...).
We've all heard that we should treat work as only part of a full and happy life. Doing so has always seemed difficult. My attachments to the promises of my teaching life have perhaps been out of balance, but even with my profound career missteps and disappointments, I've remained. After the dark mood that greeted me upon waking today, I'm writing it out, wondering why. I'm writing this entry as an optimistic approach to contemplating my attachments to my work as a form of cruel optimism, where I both gain ego points and crushing anxiety, both at the same time.
Tenure provided some sense of security, though it was never terrifically fortifying. But despite the research, reflection, soul-searching, and other work I did to prepare to leave it, I could not have anticipated how much giving it up would undo me (my therapist has helped me to forgive myself for being "so stupid!"). I wake feeling threatened nearly every day. I suppose many of my NTT compadres will say, "welcome, bonnie." I wake nearly every day sensing that the "aim that brought me to it [teaching, but especially this new move] initially" is "actively impeding" [sic] my ability to not only thrive but to feel even a measure of sanity about my choices, my situation, my future and present happiness. Sure sure, life is suffering, but this is suffering from the privilege of even having a job in this economy, so let's say we just heap on a few dollops of guilt, shall we? Is this helping?
It may help to explain that I am not a gamer. I don't play video games because of the throbbing proximity of these two experiences (ego grat/crushing anxiety) and the crescendo of FAIL they escalate in the process. But through Berlant's "cruel optimism," I get at least a sense of the integrity of my choices. Sure, romantic. Also sure, motivated by love. We'll see where this goes. Happy Saturday. I'm going to my niece's soccer game. Aoife (5) is playing for Matilda (6), who fell out of a tree and had to get stitches this week. My time in the ER motivated at least one of the threatening emails, as I missed an opening speaker, oh, and here is Tilda offering to let me move one of her cupcakes for a WIN. You kids play nice.