Impostor Syndrome: “a problem I don’t especially wish to solve”

‘Impostor syndrome’ describes a problem I don’t especially wish to solve. Its remedy is to recognise that one does in fact belong. Yet I can’t convince myself I want to fully belong—indeed, I would experience belonging as a loss. The reasons for this are several, though all converge on a conviction that being ill-adapted has a value I would not forfeit.

Those are the words of Amy Olberding (University of Oklahoma), in a beautiful essay, “The Outsider,” at Aeon on life, work, class, family, academia, farming, and philosophy.

Here’s another excerpt:

When I took over the farm following my grandfather’s death, I initially despaired at all the loose bits and pieces that littered the place. Wire was my special enemy, for the barns were everywhere cluttered with it – wire salvaged from telephones, from appliances, from who-could-tell-where. I accumulated buckets of wire with a plan to dispose of them. Mercifully, I never got round to it, for I quickly learned the uncommon worth of wire. For example, it presently holds the muffler to my truck, secures the busted PTO cover on my bushhog, and seams caging around fruit-tree saplings, the better to protect them from the depredations of deer. My only concern about wire now is that I might need more.

The stock images sometimes used to depict the pitiable conditions or pathologies of the rural poor—images of homeplaces surrounded by wreckage and ‘trash’—tell a bigger story if you know how to read them. The broken-down car in the yard contains parts that still have use in them if need arises. That rusty freezer on the porch probably contains the dog’s food, since nothing beats an old freezer for storing feed where unsanctioned animals can’t get at it. Put plainly, if there is wire everywhere, there’s probably a reason. And if you can’t see the reason, there’s probably a reason for that too.

Farming’s field expediency has encouraged in me vitalising mental habits that are at odds with the orderly practices of academe. In life, it is a general good to see the strange, non-standard potentials in things, to use something built for one purpose for an entirely different purpose. So, too, it’s a plain good to fix what’s broke, whether mechanical or intellectual. And it’s good to become accustomed to a world that won’t always yield, to the recalcitrant material stuff that cares not for our larger, or even smaller, purposes—wire can’t, after all, do everything, no matter how much of it you have.

Read the whole thing, and savor the well-crafted and thoughtful writing of one of today’s wisest philosophers.

Emery Blagdon, Untitled (Individual element from The Healing Machine)

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