Emotions are so slippery now. They can blow in and knock me over without warning. Laughter rises easily and bubbles over when Paul and I talk about the speed with which farting can propel you in space. A “fuck you” is lobbed almost lazily across the dinner table towards my teen.
Emotions used to rise slowly and steadily for me, unnoticed until I was immersed and suffocating beneath the tide.
The emotion that overwhelmed me at Friday’s retreat was a tsunami. I felt the space of emptiness and confusion opening just before it hit.
Am I supposed to be here? Do I even matter here? Will I feel this afternoon is time well spent? Is the goal feasible? Am I committed to the goal? Should I be out enjoying this beautiful weather?
The questions cross all of our minds.
I had never noticed before the energy it takes to suspend our concerns and fatigue with each other (and with meetings, in general). We are like aircraft controllers, keeping our worries in a holding pattern, fueling them in the air with our limited patience.
What if the new treatment makes my skin so dry and sensitive that it will be too difficult to make love? What if I feel nauseated or fatigued and don’t want to focus on my kids? Do I read enough to my son? Should I be reading right now to my son? Should I be making love to my husband? Should I be working more to engage with my ever-more-distant-daughter?
These thoughts are heavy orbiting debris, falling, flaming, down, carving craters in my heart.
I have made the wrong decision. I shouldn’t be here.
I push it away. I listen. I try to find some gratitude to hang on to.
Each of the colleagues present is so valuable. These are my world-changing peers, my-let’s-not-be-satisfied-until-the-world-is-just peers. These are my let’s redesign-the-whole-dang-system-if-we-need-to heart driven peers.
And they are driving me fucking nuts. At some point, as a group, we got the idealism tangled up briefly in that performance-ego-stroking game where we cite theorists and nod knowingly.
Anyone who knows me also knows that I am definitely the pot calling the kettle black here. I have definitely been known for getting high and righteous on acts of academic performance. So there is no blame game here.
But today, for me, the game-triggered rumblings of doubt and deathly anxiety coalesce into a pretty strong magnitude.
Shaky, I try to focus on our motivation. Isn’t this, as my colleague from psyshology Deepti pointed out, about ensuring our international speakers of English are supported in a way that allows them to use language confidently? Isn’t it about curtailing the language shaming that can go on in some classrooms? Is there something concrete we can do towards this goal in two quarters?
The castles we’ve spun in the air so far with our goal setting and brainstorming seem so out of reach.
That’s how we talk in academia. It’s never just yes. It’s always YES BUT. Or WELL… We are trained to add insight, adjust perspective, throw in a little twist of critique.
Unfortunately, the woman who offers this at this point, is someone who tries so hard, every minute, to not be academically lewd. She reflects, meditates, questions, listens, absorbs, reads, thinks, reflects, incorporates, and acts according to all of this. Watching the discipline and sincerity with which she does this exhausts me.
And it’s her “And also…”
“I agree with everything you’ve said, ” I respond. “I know the ideal is valuable and I also need to say this emotion rising up isn’t related to anything or anyone here…”
“I am emotional, as well, for reasons not related to what is here,” she (empathizes?)
“I AM GOING TO BE DEAD BEFORE ANY PROGRESS IS MADE TOWARDS THESE IDEALS.”
I am crying now.
I’m sorry, I have to go. I have to go and take care of myself. I don’t know where this is coming from.
(I have no idea what I am going to say next. I feel dangerous.)
A nod of sympathy from the meeting coordinator and I’m running out the door. My colleagues’ gazes are planted on the desk in front of them, some with sadness, others with discomfort.
I jump into my mini-van and start driving away… My most-sincere colleague is running after me. She waves at me to stop – to come back. I use my hand to brush her away, mouthing…
In slow motion.
I have never left a professional event in a tantrum before. I have witnessed others do so. I think the behavior is unprofessional and inappropriate. I apologized to my peers and they have been gracious in their acceptance of my apology.
When I got home, I found the most spectacular bouquet of flowers I have ever received. A colleague from my early days at the college, Rebecca Baldwin, had sent them to me, out of the blue. She is another incredibly disciplined, thoughtful, integrated and intentional person who taught me that economics is all about studying how people value things, emotions, experiences, events, others…
I was overwhelmed by those flowers. What a perfect moment.
I think my most-sincere-colleague and I might need some Fuck You’s and Flowers to get past this.