I have spent most of my life feeling stupid.
I said, feeling stupid, so that means there's no point you arguing with me about it. It's the worst feeling in the world for me. Absolutely unbearable. And also, unfortunately, super familiar.
Now instead of feeling stupid at school, which is where I perfected my early-life stupid, I feel stupid constantly at my job. It's pretty amazing. I have actually never felt this professionally incompetent ever. For someone like me who enjoys being of service and doing things well, this is a wholly unexpected excruciating torture. The moment I think I am getting the hang of it, boom, something happens and I'm right back to the beginning. Stupid.
What's crazy is that I actually took a step down to take this position. At my old job and the job before that and the job before that, I did way more, had way more responsibility, than I do now. I was exhausted of it and thought that taking this scope- and pay-cut would mean I'd be more free, less owned by the job. I thought it would be easier.
I thought wrong.
I had such a vivid memory today while sitting at my desk at my job feeling like I was just worthless, of being in Mrs Torlakson's English class at Lowell, when I was probably in 10th grade. She was so severe, a skelelon with light blond hair cut in straight bangs across her forehead, monastic in her attire. We were reading Crime and Punishment. I was so unsuccessful in that class that as the semester passed my handwriting -- in those days we didn't type our work -- became smaller and smaller and smaller. I was so afraid to be more wrong that I was quite literally making my thoughts, words, opinions so small that they were invisible to the naked human eye. I've never forgotten how terrible that all felt to me. I loved Crime and Punishment, such a great book, but I hated the feeling of not getting how the class worked, what the expectations were, what the judgment was about.
And that, my friends, is pretty precisely how I felt today. Strange to be as old as I am -- and turning even older on Saturday -- and still to feel exactly the same, the present experience charged with old pain.
I know it's ridiculous. I do not need to be convinced. Of course I'm not stupid. It's just that now, as then, I'm in the wrong place, I don't quite fit, they're speaking German and I speak everything else but that. It's so insanely painful and I just want to get away.
I grit my teeth. I put my head down and collect paycheck, as a friend's friend says, repeating to myself that feeling stupid doesn't make it so. And I do my work and I do my best and then I leave. I get in my car, pick up my dog and my husband and go home. We have dinner and I read and write, and we watch Being Human and I make a hot water bottle and we curl up in our cozy bed and sleep. I wake up the next day really early, with a little bit of dread about where I'm going to spend the day, but since I get up at 4:30, I have almost 4 hours to be me, to not be stupid, before I go to work and put that particular mantle on.
I keep thinking there is something about the situation I find myself in that requires someone to be stupid and that it just gets to be me for now. I don't think it's personal, really -- although naturally it feels that way because it involves, well, my person -- it's just kind of part of the deal like Good Cop/Bad Cop except it's Smart and Stupid. If I tell myself this story, then it's easier to bear, easier to separate it out so that it doesn't touch the rest of me, get everything all icky with its ickiness.
What's really stupid is the situation itself, and I know it. I grit my teeth and feel my feelings and work and plan and wait.
It isn't forever. Sometimes it just seems that way.