Monday, April 09, 2007

Time off from spectacle

Though I'm really having a hard time wrapping my mind around the end of this year, and I'm grieving a bit, one thing I won't miss is being the centre of attention. I am oh so happy to have time off from the spectacular status of professor.

As I've mentioned before, I am pretty introverted - or was, at least until I started teaching. Teaching changed me, to some extent. But there's something fundamental about me that is shy, still. So where I've learned to be pretty comfortable in front of a class, things like giving speeches, making toasts, being in skits, are definite no-gos for me. They bring up a kind of primordial terror in me, and I won't do them. (This means I disappoint, often...It is sometimes rude not to give a speech, like at your 30th birthday party or your surprise Happy PhD party, when people are giving you cakes and clapping and chanting "speech, speech!" And you refuse to say more than "Thank you." Ah well.)

Anyway, so lately, after 26 weeks of classes, I was feeling really, really tired of being stared at and listened to. Really just sick of it. And starting to develop a kind of skittishness about it. For about the last three or so weeks of classes, I couldn't stand to hear myself talk anymore - I'd have to fight with myself before class. And on Wednesday night, for my last Theory class, I had prepared a mini-lecture, as I usually do, to be followed by discussion. But I got to class and looked at my lecture notes and just could. not. do. it. I didn't lecture at all. I just asked questions and facilitated a discussion instead. The thought of being the spectacle yet again exhausted me.

A few hours before class, I'd had an eyebrow-raising little encounter with a couple of students that uniquely underscored that spectacle; it may have been been what ultimately stopped me from lecturing that night.

I had run into two students I'm fairly close to, at the student-run cafe at lunch. These two are inseparable and hilarious. They endlessly amuse me - and others - with their witty, whiny repartee. (I actually told them in all seriousness that they are exactly like Alice and Dana from The L Word, which certainly set them gleefully a-twitter. It also means they're destined to be lovers!) So I was sitting with "Alice" and "Dana", and the conversation turned to the dinner my class had gone to the night before - they'd both been there. There had been some emotion when students were leaving - and one in particular had cried as she walked out.

Dana: When J started to cry, did it make you want to cry, too?
Me: Yup.
Dana (excited, voice rising, wearing crazy smile): Oh my god, I wish I'd been looking at you and I could have watched the tears come and you try to fight them off!!


This is precisely why I'm happy, on one hand, for the year to be over. Because I seem to "have quite the fan club here," as one of my students put it to me the other day, I feel inspected. I didn't realize the extent to which I was under benign scrutiny until recently. Possibly it was because they knew I was leaving, it was the end of the year, and they felt they could afford to drop some of their cultivated nonchalance, since I wouldn't be around next year - and some of them are graduating, anyway. Whatever the reasons, I'm delighted to be able to make a couple of these relationships - those with whom I will stay in touch - more reciprocal, less public, less spectacular. And to be relaxing into anonymity again.


Sarah said...

Yes, I get this. It's one of the reasons why I have zero desire to teach after I'm finished the beast, and why also I have moved continents. Being anonymous can be soothing. Being on display is exhausting.

But you also have this problem, as I commented before, because you're hot. There are probably "I have a crush on Hilare" groups on Facebook. Lol.

squadratomagico said...

I've often felt that academia involves a fundamental disconnect between the sorts of people it attracts, and the sorts of roles we are required to play. Academics often seem to trust books more than other people. Human relationships are confusing and unpredictable, and to shy persons, books can offer an experience of intimacy and total involvement that is more controllable. Certainly this was my temperament as a teenager, and I think it is largely responsible for my academic career.

Then, after an intensive grad. school experience of being in silent libraries and archives, or hunched over a computer keyboard, suddenly we newly-minted PhDs are thrown in front of a classroom and told to take control over all these other people. In my case, the first class I ever taught as a professor was 120 students.

Ten years later, I feel quite comfortable in front of huge classes, and ended up joining a circus - though it helps that we usually have a friendly audience of countercultural types who appreciate our offbeat acts. But somehow, I still think of myself as shy, and I bet a huge proportion of academics would say the same.

Sorry to ramble...

medieval woman said...

As usual, dearie, you've expressed these feelings beautifully and in a way I can totally understand. It's exhausting to be examined because you're the one speaking "truth" (I use the scarequotes deliberately) - I'm glad you can take a break AND that you just gave yourself permission to lay low on your last class - I'm sure it made it a much nicer note to end on!! :)