Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stressed out and its discontents.

There's a certain amount of madness that occurs in the long middle of any semester. In fact, you don't quite know it as a semester until that madness arrives--when you realize that you are, officially, behind, and you're probably going to be behind until it's over. Some semesters are worse than others; sometimes there are things beyond your personal control that make it that way, sometimes you just have less inner resources than other times, blah blah blah and then, the semester's over, and you can survey the ashes.

Is anyone else feeling bleak, though, about the entire enterprise? By "entire," you can take your pick: the global recession, the state of higher education, the specter of long-term unemployment that really takes the shine off optimism about anything, gridlock in the federal government, our truly horrifying state legislature, and on and on.

Who wants to read this? No one. I don't even want to write it.

Last week, I thought I was, perhaps, getting a handle on a particularly knotty problem at work, in my life as a faculty leader. That knotty problem is pretty substantial, involving budget cuts and the potential loss of jobs among the faculty. After a faculty meeting I conducted, wherein those present decided upon a course of action, a crash occurred. As in, I crashed. I crashed, emotionally, for a couple of days.

What it feels like is this: you feel like there's at least something you can do. It can still be daunting and scary. You can still feel, as it were, out there. Exposed, a little, but you feel like you can marshall your powers, be brave, get out there, exert yourself, execute a strategy, do something.

However: when you start to think that perhaps the action you've decided upon won't have the effect you've intended--that maybe it will lead to a worse outcome than just doing nothing--what is that? That makes you feel useless. And if you've marshaled your own powers--your research, your relationships, your rhetoric--to start taking action, and then you feel this shock of existential terror that this strategy might not be a good thing . . . you feel leached of direction, motive, faith in your own powers. Or anyone's powers, frankly.

By "you," I mean "me." Obviously.

You know what actually made me feel better? Not about the situation. I don't know what will make me feel better about that. No, the thing that made me feel connected to life again was buying food. Running son is off to Beijing this week, so we're having a little family/friends party tonight. Wandering the over-priced aisles of Whole Foods made me feel like a human being again. A person who can plan and execute the plan. A person who can make something good happen, like dinner. And conviviality.

We also saw my niece in her junior high musical production of Annie, which was shockingly well-produced and very enjoyable. May I say that my niece played a very talented Person of New York? and that the dog who played Sandy was very talented at sniffing out dog treats, and also alarmingly adorable? This play--there were a hundred kids, I bet, involved in it, and countless hours of planning and effort. I am not embarrassed to say that it lifted my spirits--the play itself, which was wonderful, but also just the thought of people working that hard to make something happen.

And off I'll go tomorrow, after we clean up the dishes and the leftovers tonight, to try to pull something together. Perhaps a more nuanced, multi-level strategy. More conversations and more behind-the-scenes negotiations. Something, maybe, that will make the situation better and not worse. Maybe I can still help.


  1. The fact that there are people like you--no, that there is a specific person, a you, a wonderful you--makes me hopeful.

  2. I felt a very certain bleakness/lack of hope the past few weeks, but I thought it was just my thyroid. Ha! But I agree. I feel a bit hopeless about the prospect of education, in general, and my classes, specifically. And my writing career. But then, I got the mag in the mail, I worked out a bit, I made a delicious thrown together meal, also there was chocolate. So, all in all, there are things to be hopeful about. Also, you give me hope! Plus, we must see a movie.

  3. Look in the mirror, and say these things: "I'm good enough. I'm smart enough, and gosh darnit, people like me." That and a killer outfit or two should see you through this.
    Love you

  4. I am moved. Honestly, there is a lump in my throat and hair standing on end all along my arms.

    There should be a word for those small rest houses of conviviality along the way - the celebratory fluff of things done that don't need to be done but which are somehow deeply deeply essential.

    I'm so glad you found those wide lovely aisles and an evening with Annie. I just wish there were a way to know where to find the springs of hope consistently. They move and change so.

  5. reading about you shopping for food made ME feel better . . .

  6. Thats the spirit!

  7. I found myself just nodding along as I read your post, HT. Not a cheerful, "Sing it, sister!" sort of nod, but more of a "Yeah. Shit. Yeah" nod of recognition.

    Every year I think the legislature couldn't possibly get any more horrifyingly stupid, but every year it can.

    As one who has mostly checked out of the big picture--Education, Politics, Economy--it really isn't fair for me to say so, but I am truly glad there are people like you still holding up an umbrella in the hurricane. It gives me hope for people, at least, if not that the storm will ever settle.

    I am all and only about the saving grace of small things, these days: a grandson who shows me how to draw a better elephant; the first Spring Beauty pushing up through the snow; a good blueberry scone--a quiet walk through the Megastore.

  8. Wouldst add my blogen to your spiel? Husker-Du at

  9. I too am glad for people like you holding up the umbrella in the hurricane as Radagast puts it. In fact I think that's a perfect image for you HT, perfectly representing your resiliency, energy, hope. You are amazing.



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