It was three days into the project and I had already accumulated a small army of books. There were big, cloth bound, crackly-paged books, filled with drawings of the ancient monuments, sculptures and inscriptions I will spend the next 10 weeks studying. Others were new, dust-jacketed hardbacks, crammed with conference papers in scores of languages that I hardly recognise. There were small books, there were big books. There were books filled with cramped, spidery typeface; books covered in the pencilings of long gone students; and books that were so heavy I’d convinced myself that carrying them to Classics counted as a work out. Stacked in various precariously angled towers around my room, they had already completely overrun my desk, had reduced my floor to an obstacle filled minefield, and had even launched sneak attacks when I rolled over in bed only to find myself stabbed by their hard corners.
In sum: there were a lot of books in my room.
But the problem was, that whilst these books contain all sorts of exciting things; theories and information I am genuinely enthused by, and evidence from mysterious and obscure archives and museums; they had started to take on an air of menace. In these megaliths lie hundreds of years of academic study, by internationally renowned experts and intellectuals, and although this is at once awe inspiring, the sheer scale of their scholarship had begun to petrify me. Every now and then I would find myself frozen, staring in silent panic at the names of the intellectuals who have defined these fields. Those texts are the products of years of education, experience, and academic discussion; crafted by people with more letters after their names than I thought was possible. They are milestones, pioneers and revolutionaries.
And there I stood, before those dog-eared pillars of knowledge, a lowly undergraduate. Somehow, somewhere, in this crowded and overflowing academic landscape, I needed to offer something different; and that, is terrifying.
It was in this state of panic that I found myself festering earlier this week. Whenever I tried to think logically about the work I needed to do and the plans I needed to make, I could feel an underlying sense of hopelessness about my own inadequacy when faced with this academic heritage. Yet at the same time, I was becoming increasingly aware that although ten weeks had initially felt like an infinity of time, the longer I let fear grip me, the deeper I let my own self doubt embed itself into my psyche, the harder it will eventually be to wrench myself free.
At this point, it began to dawn on me. The self-doubt and panic I felt had not been created by the books or their authors, they are just the latest incarnation of those old fears of inadequacy and unworthiness that have stalked me since adolescence. These were merely old foes in a new disguise.
Whilst the return of these old demons may at first may seem horrifying, in this revelation I also found hope. Yes, in the last decade these anxieties have not been eradicated, but they have not stopped me from learning and working and creating things I am immensely proud of. I am not facing a new adversary, but something I have grappled with before and managed to overcome.
In the end then, the books were ‘just’ books- their malevolent superiority merely projections of my own fears. And so, I found myself able to approach them again, with excitement and reverence and the recognition that the only monsters I would find in their pages were creatures of my own creation, who I know, I have the power to tame.