August 23, 2007


The semester starts for me tomorrow, and I'm having my annual complete freak-out, replete with full-blown anxiety attack today. You know, all the good stuff: the dry heaves, the feeling that a Rhino is standing on my chest, the imagined feel of a metal cord cinching ever tighter around my head.

Therapy, you say? Well, if I were supremely organized, my syllabi would be done and ready to go, and I'd sneak out to watch Jason Bourne kicking some Black Briar Butt. But, as it is, the syllabi need to be polished, and the carpool meets tomorrow extra-early, so that option's not in the cards. (Add to that the Baconator's sudden interest in pitching for the Devil Rays, and a full blown panic attack is called for.)

So I've popped into itunes a playlist of sacred music: nothing like all-Monks, all the time, in Latin no less to calm my torpidly perturbed spirit.

It's weird to me, but I love to teach, and am good at it. But the act of preparing to teach has, as I have gotten older, become increasingly difficult, bordering occasionally on the terrifying. Which is weird, because public lectures are not a problem--even lectures in some pretty high profile places with high stakes audiences, while nerve racking, don't existentially bother me at all. But for some reason, the act of getting myself into the physical classroom at my school fills me with foreboding and dread completely and absolutely disproportionate to what the rational portion of my brain knows to be true.

Part of it might be just the process of getting old. I started teaching full time as a professor when I was (only) 28, and I'm now 41. Except for the occasional morning pain in the knees, I wouldn't change places, under any circumstances. I was never "cool," nor did I ever try to define myself as part of the "young and hip" crowd on the faculty. About six years ago or so I realized when doing the academic procession, "hey, I'm no longer at the back of the line," and I was never part of the hip crowd, I was no longer part of the young one either. That didn't bother me---in fact, it was something of a relief. The students stopped coming by to chat all the time, which made things somewhat easier to get things done, and to get home to the growing family. But what I've noticed this year for the first time is that I feel old from a technological and pedagogical perspective. I thought I'd been keeping up on new developments not just in the field but on the support side of things, but while I hold my own in the field, on the "new methods" side, I feel like Grandpa Simpson. Is that what's causing the anxiety? No, because it's been going on for awhile. Is it a contributing factor? Yes, I think it is.

What to do about it? I don't know, just do what I know how to do. This feeling usually passes with the beginning of the semester, or, at the very minimum, is at its worst just before it starts.

It's funny, because all summer I've looked forward to the semester starting. The past two years have been a professional hades, followed by the wilderness. I've worked very hard to get our department restocked, rebalanced, reloaded, and in effect restarted, which has worked better than I could have hoped for. So why does that leave me sitting here, the night before the semester starts, feeling like I have a ginormous flem-coated ice-cold rock sitting at the bottom of my stomach?

Yeah, I know, suck it up.

Posted by Steve-O at August 23, 2007 05:58 PM | TrackBack

It is somewhat helpful to know the professors have the same beginning of the semester panic attacks we students have (although our reappear around finals!).

Posted by: April at August 23, 2007 06:49 PM

Yup, I feel the same way. I figure it's a little performance anxiety mixed with a long history of public-speaking-aphobia. I hit the classroom and always do fine.

Do llamas have performance anxiety?

Posted by: tee bee at August 23, 2007 07:14 PM

I friend of mine once said that teaching is strange profession. You and your friends and family grow old, while the world around you is always between 18 and 21 (or whatever depending on what you are teaching.)

When I was getting up in the morning and being physically sick at the idea of going to work, I decided I needed a change.

Posted by: Zendo Deb at August 23, 2007 11:02 PM

Now you know how I feel before every gig.

The late, great Herb Ellis - one of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time (And one of my teachers due to God's ridiculous blessings) - got so nervous that he vomited before every gig. Even into his sixties this plagued him. He brushed it off: "It's just a part of my routine." God broke the mold...

Posted by: Hucbald at August 23, 2007 11:37 PM

Thankfully you pulled it out at the end. To harken back into the mists of time, please do take the time to engage in introspection in the off season or when the boats are on land. But now its racetime. Shut up and row.

Posted by: tdp at August 24, 2007 08:38 AM

Tom---Feel free to bite me.


Posted by: Steve the LLamabutcher at August 24, 2007 09:32 AM

I'm having a hard time relating. We work 24/7/365. We don't have time to get stage fright...
Would you rather travel for a couple months out of the year visiting factories on the other side of the world? Maybe you would get anxious on the flight over or, maybe you would get anxious as you checked into the local emergency room for food poisoning...
I wish we could switch places with you.

Posted by: Babs at August 24, 2007 09:51 AM

I would consider it a refreshing reminder that it actually matters to you. I would worry when you stop panicing...

Posted by: LB Buddy at August 24, 2007 09:57 AM

Oh, and shut up and row.

Posted by: LB Buddy at August 24, 2007 09:57 AM

Go, Babs.

Steve-O -- not to pile on here or anything -- but I seem to recall your bride informing me that you did indeed work 24/7. 'Twenty four hours a week, seven months a year' is her quote.

Have a great day.

Posted by: tdp at August 24, 2007 01:36 PM

Babs--No, no, no, I'm not complaining about my job or anything like that. I was just experiencing this tremendous anxiety, and thought it would be helpful to vent it out, which I did.

What I basically needed to do was shut up and row, but I had to figure that out myself.

Posted by: steve the LLamabutcher at August 24, 2007 03:06 PM

Picturing you listening to the monks gave me a chuckle -- reminded me of Otto's line from A Fish Called Wanda --"It's a Buddhist meditation technique. Focuses your aggression. The monks used to do it before battle."

I actually read the monastic Liturgy of the Hours, which has calmed down my anxiety attacks considerably (I tend to get claustrophobic, especially in any kind of crowd).

Posted by: The Colossus at August 24, 2007 03:28 PM