Chelonian Lament

I am sick of being the Tortoise. Okay, okay, sure. "Slow and steady wins the race," whatever race it is that I'm (stupid enough to be) running. But meanwhile there are these damn hares bouncing around all over the place, overtaking me, and I'm stuck plodding along in the heat and the dust, getting nowhere. I'm sick of everything that I think about coming with so many entailments. Of everything that I write needing so many footnotes. Of everything that I want to know being connected to everything else so that I have to read everything before I feel like I know anything. Couldn't I be a hare just for a little bit? They look like they have so much more fun than us tortoises.


  1. Yes, but tortoises win the John Nicholas Brown Prize, the Morris D. Forkosch Prize, and are named a Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title of the Year. Just say that you were slowed down by all the bling...

  2. Or trying to live up to my younger self? Alas, the hares get prizes, too, but they don't turn into tortoises thereby. Some of them even have hobbies. And families. They just don't seem to have these shells.

  3. Think of them more like electron shells. Not heavy shields but powerful points of interaction that help create matter. Besides, then you get to be an electronic tortoise, which is way cooler.

  4. Sort of what Jason said. I don't know if I'm a tortoise or a hare professionally, since I've published I think quite a bit for someone my age, but I don't believe I'm at all considered a star, or someone really "going places," since I'm not at a high profile university at all.

    Now, on the other hand, in terms of actually running, which I love but am crap at competitively, I know very well I'm a tortoise. My 9 year old son just beat me in a 5K! In my defense, he is fantastically talented athletically, and I can say that without seeming too boastful, because clearly his talent does not come from my genetic input! But I'm going to keep running anyway, because it's fun.

    See, to me, you look like the sort of scholar I dream of being--great job at a top-notch university, prizes, plenaries, etc. Not to mention scholarship that I admire greatly. Plus, marriage (I hope happy these days) and a kid as well. So I think you should not be so hard on yourself.

  5. Thanks, both of you! @ntbw: Yes, you're right. In many ways, I am myself the sort of scholar I dream(ed) of being. It's easy to lose perspective when you're too close to the situation. The problem is seeing things in the right context. For example, there are only some 50 or 60 women my age (give or take a decade) who compete at the national level in fencing, but it doesn't really help (at least, at the moment) when you are number 29 out of 29 competing in a particular tournament. Sure, you could say, how many women my age can do what I do? But I still want to win. And yet, when I'm not at a tournament and talking about fencing with friends who don't fence (of the few that I have; fencers tend to be friends mostly with fencers!), sure, it feels good to know how special it is to be able to fence at all. Both contexts are true, both are real. Context for the moment: we voted on tenure cases in my department this week. I don't think there's anything we do that takes more out of one's ego than those discussions--other than the ones we have when we're hiring. Enough said.

  6. I have one more story to tell you re context. I totally understand what you mean. I started learning classical ballet when I was 27 years old. It is something I had wanted to do my whole life, and didn't have the chance to do as a child. It turns out, I'm quite good at it--quite good for someone who didn't start until she was 27, that is. My teacher says I have fabulous turnout and "beautiful feet." I'm a pretty great jumper and a pretty good turner. I'm now just turned 40, and so have been dancing for many years. And I always wonder, what if I had had the chance to start when I was younger? Maybe I could have been really, really good--even professional. I don't know that I would have wanted to do that, but I wonder if I could have (though I suspect that would have been a road toward an eating disorder, to be honest, since I am fit but not at all ballet dancer thin).

    I sometimes attend a class at my university, which has a top 5 ranked dance program. I am the worst in the class by miles and miles. And that's depressing, if I let it be. But dancing makes me so very happy, and I can always work to make my own performance better, even if it will never be as good as that of the woman beside me. And I have realized how lucky I am to have had the chance to learn to dance, and to work with wonderful teachers. This came not that easily to me, because I am quite competitive by nature. But the competitive drive was making me lose the joy, so I had to rechannel it to compete against myself, not against the person next to me.

  7. I feel the same way when I fence A-level fencers who have been fencing since they were kids--and usually still are (kids, that is; we only have one A fencer among the Vet Women foilists; the men have more). It is so exhilarating just being there on the strip with them, I don't care that I'm going to lose.

    The chelonian frustration I feel is not about starting late in life, but about not progressing as fast as those who have started at the same time in life as I have. Am I not practicing hard enough? Working hard enough? Talented enough? Smart enough? Why do I seem to have barriers to get over that they don't? And so forth.

    The tortoise and the hare start at the same time, but the hare can simply move faster because she's a hare. Yes, it's better for the tortoise to stay in the race because you never know, the hare might take a nap, and besides, if you keep with it, you will have gotten to walk the route. But it's hard keeping to the path when the hares don't seem to have to in order to get to the end.


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