09 March 2009

The Fatigue Defense

Today my department had its monthly meeting, which was supposed to be held last Monday but was cancelled because a snowstorm closed the college.

I'm not the only one who's noticing that those meetings have been getting longer and longer while accomplishing less and less. Others have said as much. A few were grading students' papers; one prof, who sat to my left, was evaluating proposals that were submitted to him in his capacity as the chairman of a task force. Who ever thought of calling it a "task force?" This college, and the others in which I taught, have so many task forces that I fully expect them to go to war.

Can you see it now? The chair leads one of those task forces on an amphibious assault against another college. Could you just imagine them storming the main Quad on a direct route to the library, the bookstore and the college president's office? Or would said task force be a defensive unit, defending its almer mater against onslaughts from other colleges that want to gobble up its labs and all the grant money they derive from them?

And what if the would-be Rambo were.....well, just about any professor you can think of? Better yet...me? Yeah, I would really inspire shock and awe while launching an invasion of some college's quad, especially on a nice, sunny day when students or even faculty members are basking in the sun and the reflected wisdom of the books they're studying. Or throwing a Frisbee. Wait, I never see that where I teach. It's not a Frisbee kind of campus. How can it be, when none of the students live there?

At least I can have fun thinking about these things now. I couldn't during the meeting. None of what we discussed was rocket science: any literate person with an eighth-grade education, e.g., my mother, would have understood what the issues were. The difference is, my mother would make more sense.

And that, I realize now, is the reason why I felt exhausted at the end of that meeting. I needed a big, quick shot of caffeine before going to teach the class I had just a few minutes after the meeting ended. It's not that I did any heavy lifting: I made a couple of comments and asked a question, which isn't a lot to do in more than two and a half hours. Rather, just having to be there was itself draining.

You have never seen pettiness, egoism and bickering completely take over a room until you've been to the meeting of an academic or administrative department at a college. I don't recall anything like it during the time I spent in the corporate world, and certainly not even when working in elementary and junior high schools.

The kind of fatigue I felt simply drained my entire body and spirit. I don't know whether it has something to do with the hormones, or simply the ways I'm changing as a person, but I notice that I do grow wearier than I used to in dysfunctional situations, especially if that dysfunction is transmitted through condescenscion, comeuppance or any other form of egotistical violence of the spirit against other people. I know that I have less tolerance and patience for such situations, but I am starting to think that getting tired is a defense mechanism.

In the past, I used to walk away emotionally bruised and resentful that in spite of my efforts, now one had enough respect for themselves, much less me or anyone else, to communicate honestly and forthrightly without ad hominem (or ad feminem: let's not be sexist) attacks or attempts at self-aggrandizement. I'm sensitive--too much so, some people have told me--to the tensions between people. Sometimes I can feel them in my body as I enter a room, as I did today at the meeting. It's really not so different from the physical sensation I had when I heard that this country's leaders launched the invasion or Iraq.

Now, who knows? Maybe I'll see through the next crisis. Until then, I'm going to get some sleep.

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