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.