Someone on social media recently shared this meme, and I’m not sure why, but it made me laugh.
That’s not exactly true, if I think about it, I do know why. The reason it was initially funny is because I have started taking college courses with a goal toward earning a degree in English. Anyone who has taken college English courses understands the MLA reference. MLA and APA are formats for writing academic papers upon which college students are graded. Heck, maybe they teach this in high school now, too. It’s been some years since Mr. Springfield’s class.
In my first English class last spring I was dismayed to learn that it was not going to be two hours of an enthusiastic professor reading the inspired works of me and my classmates, whispering “masterful” and “poetic” under his breath. Instead, it was a class lead by a man who taught far too many classes to far too many night school students who were just there because it was required for their particular major.
He said “essay” and I excitedly got out my shiny new laptop and started taking notes, while my classmates yawned, dug cellphones out of their overstuffed backpacks and opened the Notes app.
As the professor launched into the rules of MLA, in text citations, spacing, margins, resource pages, and then a limited list of rather dull topics about which I could write my essay, my excitement started to wane just a bit. In its place came anxiety.
Anxiety said, “How will you remember all those rules? You are 55 years old, what the Hell do you think you are doing?” Anxiety said “This is ridiculous. You should cut your losses. You still have time to get a refund if you drop the class now. You are making a fool of yourself. You will never earn your degree. Even if you did, what good will it do you? What do you think you will do with it?”
My anxiety tends to be an ass. I’ve known her for years, 55 to be exact. But, we are not friends. She’s my constant companion, but she’s not nice to me. She laughs at my efforts. She is condescending and she is brutal, but she’s always there. She was there when I jumped out of the airplane when I turned 50, “the chute won’t open, your kids will hate you for being stupid and your boyfriend will meet someone new at your funeral.”
She was there when I tried out for a play at the local theater “all these seasoned thespians are wondering what you think you are doing here. You don’t belong here.”
When I walked into a creative writing class this fall, a class full of eager students lead by an enthusiastic professor who chanted “keep writing, keep writing” over everything I submitted, my anxiety was there, too. But she sat in the back row with the anxieties of my classmates, and I paid her no mind.
She followed me into my second semester English class, too. It was filled with the same less than eager young students and a few just like me who were simply trying to improve their lives. She sat near me for a while, taunting, but I ignored her and eventually she went down to student services to get a Diet Coke and bother someone else for awhile.
Most of my life she has kept me in the safety of mediocrity. There are many types of anxiety, but mine comes in the form of the fear of looking foolish.
Recently, I discovered the one thing that prevents her from being successful. I embrace every opportunity to look foolish. I no longer care how I look. Because what is more foolish than spending 50 years afraid of putting myself out there; afraid to risk failure to bet on a better life? I would rather look foolish trying something new and failing, than be foolish for never trying.
My anxiety will never go away. Like a spoiled child throwing a fit in the toy store, she still demands attention. She wakes me at night with new and interesting thoughts to scare me. But the more I ignore her and the more I refuse to give into her demands, the better able I am to move forward in spite of her tantrums. I step over her as she holds her breath and pounds the floor, and I move forward toward the next wonderfully foolish thing.