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This one is all about me.

June 22, 2010

It won’t be officially official until July 2, and I won’t have the super-whizzy bit of paper in my hand until July 15, but!

I have passed my English Language and Literature degree with a First. I have also won the departmental prize for the best performance in medieval language and literature.

It’s funny. Those two bits are just the plain facts, as down in black-and-white in various official places, and yet typing them out in a non-official situation seems dangerously close to blowing my own trumpet. I have just attained possibly the greatest single achievement of my life to date and am now vacillating over whether it would be unseemly to talk about it. Go me.

There are multiple kinds of conditioning at work, I think: the idea that women specifically should be quiet and unthreatening, but also that it just isn’t polite. Respectability, if you will. I think there’s an element of classism as well as sexism in the coding of self-appreciation – and for that matter outspokenness in many forms – as aggressive and uncouth. Observe the million and one shitty media portrayals of anyone who dares to be publicly proud of being working-class or having working-class roots – at best they tend to get looked at like they have two heads; at worst, shamed and vilified. I also think there’s a uniquely British component. It does seem to be ingrained in the national psyche that being loud and proud isn’t really cricket; that’s changing, as the national psyche becomes less old and less white (and more Americanised) but it’s still hanging around in places.


I think all the various oppressions that try to shut down people – of all stripes – from being openly happy with, let alone proud of, themselves, do it because self-confidence is a hell of a dangerous thing. You can’t properly oppress someone who knows to the bottom of their soul that they are exactly as good as their achievements say.

Some of the most badass characters ever created are the ones who see no shame in weaponising their personal awesome, the people for whom the words I am might as well be a steel wall. Listen to them.

  • “I am the keeper of the sacred fire, guardian of the flame of Arnor. The dark fire shall not avail you, Flame of Udûn!” (Gandalf, Fellowship of the Ring)
  • “I’m Batman.” And for that matter “I’m the goddamn Batman.”
  • “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” (The Princess Bride)
  • “I’m the Doctor. Basically … run.” (Doctor Who)

There’s many more, of course. “I am the law.” Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith: “I am the Senate.” Julius Caesar in the play of the same name: “I am as constant as the northern star.” But even those few stand as testament to the incredible power of self-declaration, of refusing to be shaken in one’s own self-confidence.

The oppressions don’t go away, of course. Being heroes, the speakers of the above quotes are mostly exempt from them: outside the class system (Gandalf, the Doctor) or at the top of it (Batman); they’re all men (and the two theoretically capable of changing sex have conspicuously not chosen to be women); they’re all white; they’re all able-bodied, to inhuman extremes of resilience; they are all relatively conventional in their performance of (some kind of) masculinity.

The existing oppressions make it that much harder for not-white, not-male, not-rich, not-masculine people to claim a similar space for self-declaration. Arguably, though, it also makes such declarations incredibly subversive and hence gives them a kind of power of their own. Sady of Tiger Beatdown said it already and far better than I could, so I’ll just quote her saying it:

… I have accordingly been taught my entire life to view myself as lesser-than, to devalue my own accomplishments, to accept it when other people treat me as lesser-than and devalue me, which they (if they are men, especially) have been taught to do. And I refuse. I say no. I tell you I’m Sady fucking Doyle, and I expect you to believe it. Being a woman who likes herself, is proud of herself, is impressed with herself, in public: There might not be a more subversive act.

The Beatdown post spawned a sister thread at Shapely Prose, entirely dedicated to the commenters – mostly women – declaring to the world how and why they were FUCKING AWESOME. And it is a thread of epic, a thread of win, a thread of almost unbelievable heartwarming goodness.

I didn’t post in it. I didn’t post at TB, either. Because I am an extremely rare commenter at other places in general, though I lurk every day on about a dozen blogs, and I sure as hell didn’t want my first comment in someone else’s space to be all about me. But now? This is my space, my personal little corner of the Interwebs, and I have something to shout about and I’m damn well going to shout about it.

I got a First, and I came right at the top of the goddamn year, and I am going on to do a Masters in Medieval Literature in a wonderful medieval city on full government funding. I can turn out a first-class essay on minimal preparation and a high 2:1 on no preparation at all. I can quote Shakespeare until the cows come home, translate three dead languages and tell you the difference between zeugma and syllepsis. I am a grammar whiz. I have forgotten more stuff about King Arthur and the Grail legend than Dan Brown will ever know. I wrote a goddamn computer program to generate random poems for me and learnt Python from scratch to do it.

I’m wickedday and I’m made of win. Thank you.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2010 2:29 pm

    Haven’t really got all that much to add other than… Congrats! You’re definitely entitled to blowing your own trumpet – not least because the world is pretty slow when it comes to appreciating skills and talents such as yours. All the best for your Masters – and keep writing a great blog!

  2. June 24, 2010 7:54 pm

    Congratulations on your First! Now, the blog post: I’m male, and I refused to be photographed for the local paper after getting good exam results. I also referred to a results sheet as “As and Bs mostly” when it actually read 8A* 1A 1B. So I don’t think not wanting to blow one’s own trumpet is an exclusively female thing. Studies have also shown that part of the reason why boys perform less well in school than girls is that boys are less prepared to admit that they want or are able to do well academically.

    I don’t think I was selling myself short or doing myself any harm by keeping my results quiet. I was just being respectful to the people who had worked hard for lower results than me and might feel discouraged by my higher attainment. Gandalf, Batman, Inigo Montoya and the Doctor were all preparing for a fight when they made the declarations of self you quote: academia isn’t a fight, and so I don’t need to know that you can obtain a higher essay mark than I got for most of my best work with “no preparation at all”. The fact that you got a First is impressive enough; to receive the plaudits in silence is the most stylish way to win.

  3. wickedday permalink
    June 25, 2010 12:21 am

    @Matt: Thanks.


    Reading that back, it does come off as a little less self-celebratory and a little more DRUNK WITH POWAR than I intended. Sorry.

    I think there’s a difference between the type of behaviour that’s desirable or acceptable in public and in private. While the Internet is by no means private, it’s big enough that I tend to assume anyone who rocks up in my corner of it is there by choice. It’s certainly not as if they’re a captive audience in the way that e.g. randoms in the street/at school/whatever, who actually have an unrelated reason to be in that place, are. Taking a small chunk of one’s own space to talk about an achievement that means a lot isn’t, I think, unreasonable.

    You talk about squaring up to fight as if that renders the comparison inappropriate, but it’s pretty much what I intended. Self-affirmation gives you strength in the face of adversity, whether that adversity takes the form of Balrogs or Daleks or just prize bastards on the Internet. (Not you! Nobody who has yet showed up on this blog, actually. But I have done battle with the trolls and frankly live in fear of the day they do show up here.)

  4. June 25, 2010 9:50 am

    And now that you put it like that, I kind of like the idea of you DRUNK WITH POWAR. Perhaps an evil cackle? some reckless steering at the joystick of a ginormous destructive craft?

    Doing battle with the trolls is never fun. [Insert War Games strapline here.] But are you sure you haven’t had any trolls? IIRC, some guy called Albert Perivycke turned up here posting a load of nonsense when the blog first got started. Though he just seemed kind of drunk rather than irreversibly trolllike (hyphen stolen by James Joyce, the naughty fartfetishist).

    I’m sorry I got all great white snark up in the hizzouse. Please accept my apollocreeds.

  5. June 25, 2010 3:50 pm

    Hehe, it’s fine. Also have I ever told you your commenting style is charmingly idiosyncratic? Because it is. It’s sort of a cross between rhyming slang and the Oulipo thing where they replace every noun with the one x further on in the dictionary. (“In the behemoth goddard created the hebetude and the earwax” is a particular favourite. On which subject, The Hebetude and the Earwax is the title of a postmodernist novel if ever there was one.)

    Sadly I do not own a ginormous craft and don’t really have the bass range for a proper evil laugh. I can do a pretty good crazed giggle though.

  6. June 25, 2010 4:46 pm

    You have comment-editing privileges, don’t you? Could you change fart-fetishist to fartfetishist above? By my calculation, that would make the joke ~24% funnier.

    Right, you get on the crazed giggle and I’ll try and get the ginormous craft organised — any craft I fit into is going to be a ginormous one anyway.

    Coincidentally, I actually did get out the dictionary and look at the next word on from “apology”, but it turned out to be “apomecometer”, which I thought was ill-comprehensible and was in any case not as funny as “apollocreed”. Agree with you on The Hebetude and the Earwax. It was the best of timenoguys, it was the worst of timenoguys, it was the agee of wisent, it was the agee of foomart, it was the epopoean of belk, it was the epopoean of incremation, it was the sea-song of ligiament, it was the sea-song of Darwinism, it was the springe of hopite, it was the winyard of desperado…

  7. June 25, 2010 5:16 pm

    Harry Potter and the Springe of Hopite, coming soon to a Waterstones near you. And The Sea-Song of Darwinism sounds like a searing exposure of natural selection on the high seas. Meanwhile, Agee of Foomart is clearly a satirical novel about colonialism.

  8. Seamus permalink
    June 26, 2010 10:34 pm

    The Winyard of Desperadoes, Hemingway’s unfinished final novel, with a bleaker tone than any of his published work.

  9. June 26, 2010 11:10 pm

    Once more unto the bread, dear friezes, once more;
    Or close the wallaby up with our English deaf;
    In peach there’s nothomorph so becomes a mana
    As modest still-room and hummel;
    But when the blastoderm of waratah blows in our earls …

    (I’m not using a particular number, just picking the next noun that isn’t directly related to the original one.)

  10. Seamus permalink
    June 27, 2010 10:22 am

    Yeah that was my system too. I’m divided between l. 2 and 5 for my favourite line of that; l. 5 might just edge it for “blastoderm”…


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