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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

the difficulties--and the wonder of it

I had another broken night of sleep: this time I was awakened by a screaming headache at 3:14 a.m. I've managed to keep it subdued all day, but it's lurking (and jumped out momentarily in Advisement: I turned my head too fast and the top of my skull felt like it was going to blow off). Despite the way in which headaches interfere with my synaptic connections, I managed to be at least moderately useful in the Assessment meeting--which was, in the event, a bit of a bust, as only five of us were there, less than half the committee. I also managed to be helpful to students in Advisement. And I think I managed to teach the Fiction class with some measure of success.

I am, of course, drowning in student assignments: this is what happens when two sick days (Thursday and Monday) are followed by three days packed with events. I spent some time dithering about how best to utilize my time: start marking, even though I know I can't possibly finish before tomorrow's classes? Just note who turned in what? I started marking, which may have been a mistake, but I would like to get work returned to the 102 students so they have feedback before their submissions next week. Of course, in a way, it would make more sense to mark the stuff for the Mystery class: I won't be collecting anything else from 102 tomorrow, but I will get another batch of notes from the Mystery students, so I could keep the stacks relatively even, instead of having one go down while the other increases. But the Mystery students don't have quite the same need to get their assignments back. Triage, triage. Given how nuts tomorrow will be, and how much I have to do, I almost--almost--wish we had our regular schedule next week, so I'd be in on Monday, getting work done. I'll take a stack of papers home with me tomorrow, but I'm not laying any bets about how much I'll get done. I know myself too well.

So, those are the difficulties: nothing unusual, just the ordinary grind. And the difficulties are not truly all that difficult. Yes, there is a grind, but there is in any job--and yes, I tend to overload my plate, but I'm aware that's my decision, so I hardly have grounds to bitch. (Oh, speaking of which: the woman who, for the last several millennia, has run the Chancellor's Award committee--along with honors, and god knows what else--is retiring in December, so we're going to have to elect a new chair for the Chancellor's Award committee. (I don't know how a new monarch of honors will be chosen.) I immediately thought, "I should run: this is important for promotion to full professor, being chair of a college-wide committee." Then I came to my senses. Not only are there people on the committee who have been on it a hell of a lot longer than I have, and who therefore know the ropes a hell of a lot better than I do--but what am I, nuts? Do I really want to take on that amount of work? Lord, woman, get a grip on yourself and sit on your damned hands.)

But now, now, to talk about the wonder of it.

Today I had the single most moving moment of my career. I was leaving the Fiction class, heading back to Bradley, and a woman got out of a car, calling to me, "Are you Professor P--?" Yes, I said, curious: this was no one I'd ever laid eyes on before. She introduced herself: she's the mother of the Fiction Writing student who produced that beautiful soap bubble of a story. She didn't want her daughter to see her talking to me--the student is part of that gang who hang out together after class--but she said her daughter had pointed me out before, and that she had to thank me. Turns out my student has suffered from severe clinical depression for three years. Prior to the onset of the depression, she used to love to write, but as she fell into the depression, she told her mother repeatedly how she couldn't write any more, and how painful it was that she felt she couldn't. However, the mother told me, since the start of the semester, this lovely young woman has been writing--passionately, endlessly--and loving it. The mother was profoundly grateful to see her child happy again, enjoying writing again, and she attributed that change to me. She said that after the first class, her daughter came home and said how much she liked me, how much she was looking forward to the class.

I almost cried. The look on the mother's face, as if her world had suddenly opened up--as if she were herself suddenly rising out of a depression--was beautiful. I told her I don't think it's really about me: it's the young woman herself. But I am more deeply moved than I can say to know that something about that class was the catalyst that helped the student find again something that she thought she had lost, something she missed, something she needed to bring her joy. I've been searching for a nickname for her, and this has helped me find it: Calyx.

There is no way to adequately express how moved I am by this. Or how humbling it is to be even a small part in something so important, not only to this young woman but to her family, the people who love her. I am truly overwhelmed.

I wonder what cosmic forces are aligned that I have two students this semester, both young women, both highly intelligent, who are struggling with depression. Or, more precisely, that I know they are: it's possible I've often had students in my classes who are dealing with that pain, but this time, I know it. I have actively wanted to bring more compassion into my teaching, to find a way to maintain my high standards while offering more solicitude. It seems these young women have come into my sphere of influence at a time when what they need is precisely what I hope to offer. Their presence confirms for me that my desire to approach the world with more sympathy is correct. All I know for sure is that I feel much better about myself, my work, my interactions with my students, as I work to cultivate compassion along with rigor, not only in my profession but in all of my life.

I'm going to take this home with me, this warmth around the heart, my enormous gratitude that I am able to facilitate someone's unfolding in this way. I am truly, deeply honored--and blessed.

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