The mortifying ordeal

Willb/ September 23, 2020/ personal/ 0 comments

A while ago someone wrote “If we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known,” in some fancy newspaper. This concept – of submission to such an excruciating process in order to find comfort and solidarity with others – resonated with a lot of people. Like anything that can be interpreted in a personal, meaningful way, people on the internet began using humor to reinterpret, deflect, or re-communicate the concept; these people were by and large pretty effective at doing so, if only because I encountered the quote through a meme and not the original author’s writing.

The aforementioned meme, by tumblr user tieflinggay

Recently, I’ve had to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known more than I’d like. I was recently interviewed by our school newspaper about my thesis; I sent this interview to my parents, my friends, my thesis advisor. It even got mentioned in the weekly digest the newspaper sends to the student email list, which meant I first learned the article was live when my friend Alexis sent me a message about it.

I’ve also been a lot more active than I normally would be, trying to reach out to researchers to network in anticipation of my grad school applications, trying to communicate as clearly and frequently as necessary to do my teachers assistant job well, and to do my thesis research well. Making sure to reach out to colleagues when I’m stuck on a problem (eternal thanks to Jea and Joe for suffering me that). I’ve been trying to interview people in the astronomy department here for the articles I write for the STEM Network.

I’ve realized pretty intensely that I view communication as a very vulnerable act, one that I avoid more than other people. I think chalking up my relationship to communicating with others to introversion is pretty corny, and I think it misses the point. For me, a lot of emotional content gets ascribed to these small acts of vulnerability, and when I (as I often do) read too far into others tone, engagement, or responses and hurt my own feelings, I tend to want to withdraw further.

All this post to say, life is harder when you can’t submit yourself to the mortifying ordeal. You become more isolated, you lose out on opportunities, and its harder for you to succeed when you can’t ask for help. As much as the mortifying sensation becomes physical stress and pain, and in spite of all the systems in our society that want to silo, isolate and alienate you even more than you already are, you have to submit. Submit, and through your submission, eventually feel loved.

I feel like I’m constantly at some break point, where my momentum will falter, and my old habits will take over. Those old habits ruined a lot of good things for me. As if to add to the stress of the process itself, I find myself anxious about failing myself and betraying my own small sites of growth. I try to remind myself that the act of trying itself will always be better than giving up. For now, I’ll keep going.

And as to whether submitting to the mortifying ordeal is sufficient, or simply necessary, in order to feel loved? I’d don’t think I can answer that one just yet.

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About willb

I'm Will, an undergraduate astronomer studying transition disks, direct imaging, and planet accretion and formation at the Follette Lab at Amherst College. I use they/them/theirs pronouns.

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