Thank you for the comments and emails! I think I have some ideas now.
You might remember that I wrote a paper about the Carter administration a few months ago. You might remember it because I blogged about it a hundred times or so. I get worked up when I write papers. Anyway, 1n 1979, President Carter gave a now-famous speech that is usually referred to as the "malaise" speech, although the word "malaise" never actually appeared in the speech. The speech addressed what Carter termed a "crisis of confidence" among the American people during the recession and energy crisis of the 1970s. (and regardless of how you might feel about President Carter, it's hard to read this and not be a little amazed at how prescient it was. But this isn't a political post. Not really). Right now, I'm up to my neck in malaise, and "crisis" very aptly describes my confidence level. It's not depression, really. I know from depression. But I'm not really myself, especially in writing.
I've just finished writing a paper, and I'm not at all happy with it. It's not the best I can do, but unfortunately, it's the best I can do right now, and it will have to suffice. I had the same professor when I took the American novels class last summer, and I did very well in his class (he's the one who called one of my papers "supernally good"). This one is not supernal, and it might not even be adequate. I feel bad about the paper itself, and I feel bad about submitting work I consider subpar to a professor who thinks highly of me. Even if I do OK with this paper, I'll know that he's giving me a pass based on my earlier work.
This whole thing bothers me, because writing is one of the things that I do well. I say that without any conceit, because I'm way aware of my limitations. I have so many crazy anxieties and insecurities that I could have my own chapter in the DSM-IV, and having said that I know that I write well, I'll also admit that I don't do many other things well. As I told Lady in an email, if you take away the writing, I'm left with spelling, housekeeping, snappy comebacks, and breastfeeding. And since I'm all finished having babies, that last one isn't going to do me any good. So I'm worried about not being able to write (and ps--add worrying to the list of things that I do well. I'm a once-in-a-generation talent when it comes to worry).
Again, thank you for the ideas, and for patiently reading this. I'm going to use some of your suggestions. And I'm going to try to stop worrying about this. Right after I grow gills and learn how extract oxygen from water, that is. Worry is the air I breathe.