My class this semester is British Modernism, so we're studying Woolf and Joyce and Eliot and a couple others. A few years before World War I, right in the middle of the Modernist period, an Italian artist named Marinetti introduced an idea called Futurism (which bears no relation to futurists you hear about giving TED talks or working for Google). Immediately before the war, Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound introduced an idea called Vorticism. These two strains of Modernism are sort of opposed to each other, and in order to learn about them more thoroughly, our professor has set up a role-playing game to take place over the next week and a half, a literary salon in which various points of view will make themselves known. Real individuals - Eliot, Pound, Marinetti, etc. - are portrayed by students in this game, and more general groups of people are represented as well: New Women, book publishers, Welsh miners. The salon takes place in mid-1914 in London and is hosted by Virginia Woolf (who, in life, spent much of 1914 in the grip of a terrible mental breakdown, but anachronisms abound in this game).
I think this is wonderful. I think this is the best idea for helping us learn that I've encountered in a long while. I don't care much for either Futurism or Vorticism, but I'm really looking forward to the game, which starts today.
But did I mention I was given the role of Virginia Woolf?
I don't exactly know what my responsibilities entail, but I can tell from the game materials that they're different than those of the other personalities in the game. I can also tell that the other students think I've been singled out, somehow. I feel singled out. I feel like the professor publicly named me the smartest person in the class. (It may not seem that way out there in radioland, but the context of the class is largely what gives me this impression.) It makes me feel two sensations in equal measure: strutting peacocky pride and enormous discomfort.
This mix of emotions is not unfamiliar. It's how I feel about the upcoming magazine release and reading, and it's often how I feel (in smaller measures) when I get compliments. When I work hard, I'm aware that I worked hard, and I take pride in people recognizing it. But I also feel squirmy about the idea that other people are noticing that I did something good, or - as in this case - that other people are noticing that I've been picked, like a banana from the bunch, for something good. I'm proud that I was the cleanest or ripest or prettiest banana, but I also wonder if maybe some of the other bananas weren't going to be better for the job. What if I'm not so ripe after all?
The metaphor's going south a bit, but the point is, if more people than just me are aware of something I did that was worthy of recognition, I'm going to look all the stupider if I fail or fuck up. Impostor syndrome is only sometimes a problem for me, but fear of failure is powerful bad juju. The voice in my head as I've been preparing for this game over the last couple of weeks is straight-up Tweek from South Park, "Agh! Too much pressure!"
|I think my brain is Cartman in this scenario|
And I know it isn't, that it's all going to be over in like two weeks and no one will remember or care what went on and I'll get a B at worst and everything will be fine. But I still feel like something big is expected from me because the professor's put me in the shoes of one of the great writers of the 20th century, one of the great feminist thinkers of all time, a writer she fairly gushed about when we were reading To the Lighthouse last month. The pride kicks in and I feel like being Woolf (for three days) suits me, and then I feel like an inadequate, arrogant jerk for even thinking that she suits me because see the last sentence, and then I feel like, well, I didn't trick the professor into thinking I'm something I'm not, and then I feel like, oh God, how am I going to be Woolf for three whole days without doing something dumb or off-key? And simultaneously I'm kind of shifting in my seat because everybody knows that I (probably) didn't trick her.
All of this seesawing, I'm feeling it all keenly this morning, getting ready to dress up in my Woolf costume and head off to school with my fountain pen and reasonably period-appropriate notebook. It's comforting that Woolf herself was sort of an emotional mess, no matter how controlled and crystalline her writing was.
Oh, I guess I forgot to add that we get extra points for cosplaying. Yes, this game is serious fun. Wish me luck.
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The notebook I can't help you with; it was a gift.