Matthew A. Merendo
September 17, 2018
4:36 am

In which I suffer from crippling self-doubt

Right now, I should be writing my thesis. I’ve closed both of my games, and I have Scrivener open, my manuscript loaded. Celtic Woman is on the radio, their ethereal voices filling me with peace and promise. And yet, here I am, writing a journal entry instead. I am struggling. I am struggling very, very bad. Each time I sit down to write Fourteen Lines, I can’t do it. Then I go through minor panic attacks in which I think I should change my thesis, panic at the thought, panic because I’m then stuck with Fourteen Lines, and then panic because I can’t write Fourteen Lines, and then the whole thing starts over until my brain can no longer take the stress and I go to my bedroom, lie in the dark, and pass out.

Why, you may ask, can I not write Fourteen Lines? To that, I would answer: I don’t know! I feel completely incapable of writing such a serious piece, where my characters have to go through the destruction of their belief systems, where my setting has to go through paradigm-shifting astronomical changes. I am a sad thirty-five year old gay virgin who can’t drive. I’m scared of literally everything. I’ve never had a boyfriend, I go home to have my mom wash my clothes, and the most exciting thing I ever do is buy untasted half-pounds of cheese for my sandwiches. Absolutely nothing of significance has ever happened in my life: no trauma, no actual heartbreak, no earth-shattering cataclysms. How am I expected to write a ruler, an artisan, a priest, two slaves? How am I expected to come up with stories, with emotions, with narrative for this? I don’t know. Clearly the answer is Imagination! but I am 99% certain that my imagination works only on the light-hearted, comic level. As such, I’ve done a lot of staring at a blank screen lately, cursing my ineptitude and worthlessness.

Change my thesis then, you say? Write something different, something light and bright and sparkling? Yes, perhaps, except this is graduate school and light and bright and sparkling is shamed. It’s like trying to win an Oscar for Best Picture by submitting Dude, Where’s My Car? to the committee. Further, I’ve already told my board what I’m writing, and though I know they’d simply have to deal with a change in plans, I’d feel like a failure for admitting defeat. There’s also the matter of the proposal, which is a ten-page piece of critical writing about your thesis that needs a lot of research, and all of the work I’ve done for that has been geared towards Fourteen Lines. If I switch now, I’d have to start from scratch, and it’s due in a little over three weeks.

Not to point fingers, but I do feel unprepared for this entire endeavor. Is it Chatham’s obligation to prepare me for thesis-writing? Perhaps. We discussed theses briefly our first semester, where we wrote a mock proposal, but that was brief and isolated. I wish, in hindsight, that we had an entire course to prepare for our thesis: to wrestle with various ideas, to read as widely as we need to read, to write and finalize these proposals. As it stands, I feel as if the class I’m taking now is two classes palimpsested on top of each other, because I’m writing a proposal for a thesis while I’m writing the thesis. In most people’s minds, I think, proposals should come first. Had we taken some sort of thesis prep class last spring, I wouldn’t be struggling now, because I’d have struggled then, and everything regarding What am I doing for my thesis?!? would be sorted out, so right now, instead of panicking about that, I could be panicking about how I’m a terrible writer. But no, I am only just now panicking about what I’m doing for my thesis, all with this October 11th deadline looming over my head. It’s great fun.

While I do intend to bring this up with someone at the school, this is ultimately my fault. I should have been toying with these ideas, mapping out plots, building characters, reading widely all summer. We were told, in a sort of offhanded way, to do that, and I tried, but this summer was rough on me, starting literally on the last day of classes last spring, when my (very close) cousin overdosed, my best friend nearly died and spent weeks in the hospital, and my sister had a cancer scare. My depression was in full force, and my digestive track was in full revolt for weeks. I did very little over the summer that counts as productive, because I spent most of the summer just trying to get through it.

Even still, though, that’s an excuse. This is mostly my fault, and I’m not sure what to do at this point. Do I stick with Fourteen Lines, try to beat back all of the voices in my head that are telling me to stop and just write anything, anything to get through it? Do I choose something else and try to scrounge together a proposal? Do I throw my hands up in defeat and put thesis off for a year? (I’m not actually sure if that’s even possible, both financially and logistically.) Everyone, various Chatham professors have assured me, has several meltdowns during the writing of their thesis, but they pull through. Perhaps I’m no different. Perhaps I’ll pull through this. But right now, staring at this open Scrivener file, with a progress bar that’s painfully unfilled, the sound of my World of Warcraft clock literally ticking away the brief time I have left to write, I’m not so sure. And that is just another thing that scares me.

Matthew A. Merendo