Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"I'm not enough"

One of the shows I watch with some regularity is NCIS. Yes, I get that it has its ridiculousnesses and idiocies (and it drives me up the wall to see Abby drinking Caf-Pow IN A LAB), but I enjoy it. I like the characters.

Abby Sciuto is one of my favorites. In an odd way, I relate to her a bit - the weird enthusiasms, the wanting to see the world as basically good, the dressing somewhat eccentrically (though I would never wear platform boots or skirts as short as she does, and my wardrobe tends to be more colorful).

A bit of a story arc they've done with her this season is her upset after the bombing of the Navy Yard - though she's shown inklings of the same upset before, the idea that there's evil in the world and bad things happen and she can't stop them. (At one point she said something along the lines of "What happens when you give up trying to either stop the bad things, or make things better after they happen, and you just give up and accept that the world is bad?")

(After here, there be spoilers for this week's episode)

This week's episode (mostly) focused on her. Oh, it had a car wreck in which a Marine and the woman who turned out to be his girlfriend, but that was mostly a MacGuffin. The real story was Abby flashing back to her first "case" - where as a maybe-11-year-old, she is looking at a car that was involved in a wreck (it is in a junkyard), finds a teddy bear in it, and tries to return it to the girl that it belonged to. And the idea of interracial marriage comes up as a side note, and a spouse not wanting a relationship with the other spouse's parents for some reason (though I assumed it was the interracial thing, perhaps).

And she winds up just sad, because she remembered that, and remembered it as a time when she couldn't fix stuff the way she wanted to. And winds up in a giant funk. And at one point this bit of dialog comes up:

Abby: All I ever wanted was to help people with the truth. And I've done that, but then bad still won sometimes. And I just want to file it away, like it never happened so I can go back to being happy.
McGee: There's nothing wrong with that.
Abby: Yes there is, McGee, because sometimes the Cutwrights and the Dunns [the two families that were the MacGuffins in the episode], they just keep fighting no matter what the truth is. And sometimes Ricky [the little girl who owned the teddy bear] never gets to see her grandpa again. If the bad outweighs the good then that means that I'm not enough.
McGee: Abby listen to me...
Abby: And if I'm not enough, McGee, then why even try?
(dialog from TV Fanatic)

And that struck me. (And I admit - while I keep it together pretty well "in public," if something strikes me as sad or whatever when I'm by myself - I allow the tears to come. And given the way I felt Friday, I let them come.)

Although I admit I tend not to feel so much "I'm not enough" about the state of the world: one thing I've learned, one thing my faith has taught me? NO human is "enough." We can't fix it. It's actually kind of a relief to believe that I am NOT the pivot on which the good maybe outweighing the bad balances - it's too exhausting to think of that. (And Abby, if she still has her nun friends - well, she should understand the philosophy of no human being big enough for that. But whatever).

My "not enough" tends more to come in the little things of my life - am I doing "enough" to justify my existence in the sense of scholarly productivity, or being helpful to students, or doing service, or doing volunteer work, or whatever. I think that's what drives me to take on some tasks I really would rather not take on.

And it really stinks, feeling like you're "not enough," however that feeling comes. (I think it would be more crushing to feel as if the goodness or the badness of the world depended on your actions)

And I think the "why even try" comes into play no matter where the "not enough" comes from - considering that on Friday I was seriously considering just ashcanning the paper and not even bothering. But then the terror - but I won't have anything else ready to submit, and I "need" to at least submit one paper every year - came, and drove me to work on it again. (And I'm better now. I think it's fundamentally OK research, but I made a couple of writing errors that made it look worse than it was, and probably the place I submitted it was a bit above its scope. But I have a journal that is more suitable I can try).

But then again: on the idea of the bad outweighing the good, and an individual being not enough, I said a while back, in re a terrible thing happening in this world:

"Also, it occurs to me: the world's a broken place, and horrible things happen, horrible acts of evil. And no human being can repair that brokenness. But we can - and I would argue, we have a responsibility - to do what we can to keep that brokenness from spreading. Even if it's just as simple as, as I said, "Don't be a jerk to other people."

And I stand by that. I can't "fix" things, I can't undo the brokenness. No human can. But we can keep that brokenness from spreading, and I would argue that we have an obligation to do so. That may come in different ways for different people - for me, it might be helping a student who is in some distress. Or it might be contributing money to a cause that helps people after natural disasters. Or it might be as simple as giving a kind word to someone who might not have heard one recently. (I try very hard to treat shop clerks and phone support people and all that with kindness and decency, because I've seen a lot of instances of them not being treated that way. And granted, there are people who are incompetent at their job or who act like jerks to customers....but then again, there are a lot of people who are doing the best they can under less-than-ideal circumstances. And I know all too well how much of a difference it makes to have someone say "thank you" when you do something for them, versus someone who complains that you didn't do more.)

Though sometimes it's so hard to see if you're having any kind of an impact. Yes, I know of cases where someone said something to me that they didn't remember, but that I did, and that thing was important to me. Or you often read of cases where some small kindness makes all the difference to a person. But most of the time, you never know, and for a lot of us, it's hard to assume that what we are doing is making a difference; I tend sometimes to feel like my kind, civil, friendly, whatever gestures get sucked into a black hole or drowned out in a whirlwind. Though I guess not seeing the result of what you do isn't a reason to give up trying.

I suppose maybe I do sometimes need to get out of the one-inch picture frame of my own work some days - and when I'm frustrated with the 'game' of academic publishing (which I swear is a rigged game) or when there's some new bureaucratic thing that makes life harder - to remind myself of the times when I've been able to do stuff to keep the brokenness from spreading, and count that as success in life, even if I may not actually see the help they do. Or maybe to accept that it's enough to, as I said, keep the brokenness from spreading even if nothing you does patches up any of it.

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