Sunday, January 10, 2016

January 10: Return to the Grindstone, Cold Sweats, Classic Saint Marty

I have been working all day on a syllabus for this coming week.  The start of a new semester.  And when I say all day, I mean ALL DAY.  I just finished after a marathon five or six hours of complete and abject panic.  The syllabus is done, but I'm still in a panic.  Tomorrow, I return to the grindstone of work and school and exhaustion.

One year ago, I was pretty much in the same state.  Panicked.  Suffering from insomnia.  Cold sweats.  The normal.  If you don't believe me, may I offer as Exhibit A this episode of Classic Saint Marty:

January 10, 2015:  The Enormity of It All, Richard Wilbur, "Boy at the Window"

Mr. Ives Senior was able to give his third son clothes and books, two brothers and a sister, a little money, and a room in his large, somewhat rundown brownstone, three stories high, on Carroll Street.  And a name:  Edward.  And encouragement when, in one of the miracles of his life, young Ives, at the age of seven or so, had started to draw, spending his leisure hours not out on the street playing with the local ruffians, who'd slide down coal chutes and throw bottles off rooftops at passing trucks, but resting on his belly on their front parlor floor, copying out drawings from newspapers and the illustrated books that found their way into the house.  His father had liked such books very much, notably those from England with engravings by the likes of John Tenniel or those artists who illustrated the works of Charles Dickens, whose line drawings enchanted the young Ives.  (There was a row of books, memoirs and sporting novels, illustrated by Phiz, Cruickshank, Alken, Leech, Seymour, and Heath, among others.,)  He also taught his son how to pray, when to kneel and stand and bow his head and close his eyes during the consecration of the Host, taught him to take in the beautiful goodness that he was desperate to believe existed; to tremble before the "enormity of it all."

There's a lot going on in this paragraph.  It's about Ives' origins as an artist and person of faith.  From a very young age, he demonstrates that he's different.  Quiet and thoughtful.  Interested in art and literature.  Humbled by the goodness and expanse of God's love.  The paragraph raises many questions and provides very few answers.  Ives struggles before the "enormity of it all" for almost the entire book.

This morning, I woke up in a cold sweat after a restless night of sleep.  This week marks the beginning of the winter semester at the university, and I am teaching a graduate-level poetry seminar this coming Thursday.  I chose my textbooks for the class almost two months ago, but I'm currently suffering through a great deal of anxiety over the enormity of it all.  I'm terrified, actually.  Every time I step into a classroom, I feel a little like a fraud, even if I've taught the subject before.  Over my years of teaching, I've become acutely aware of how much I really don't know.

And that's what's causing me so much stress.  Trying to pass myself off as some kind of expert.  One of my college professors told me about the day he received his doctorate from the University of Michigan.  He said he stepped outside the graduation ceremony and suddenly realized that he didn't know anything at all.  He felt completely inadequate to face life's challenges.

That's where I am at the moment.  Feeling completely inadequate and overwhelmed.  I love poetry.  I love talking about poetry.  Reading it.  Writing it.  Rewriting it.  Helping people write it.  Helping people rewrite it.  I want to make my students love it as much as I do.  Now, the million-dollar question is, how do I do that?  That's what keeping me up at night.

I'm going to make mistakes this semester.  I know that.  Hell, I've probably made a few mistakes already.  I just don't want to mess up too badly.  I'm one of the first contingent faculty members at the university to be assigned a graduate-level course.  For the sake of my contingent colleagues, I need to do well.  There are some people who would love to see me fail.

So, that's why I'm turning my blankets into knots at night.  Enormous fear.  Enormous anxiety.  Enormity.  Period.

Saint Marty has a great poem about fear to share tonight.

Boy at the Window

by:  Richard Wilbur

Seeing the snowman standing all alone
In dusk and cold is more than he can bear.

The small boy weeps to hear the wind prepare
A night of gnashings and enormous moan.

His tearful sight can hardly reach to where
The pale-faced figure with bitumen eyes
Returns him such a God-forsaken stare
As outcast Adam gave to paradise.

The man of snow is, nonetheless, content,
Having no wish to go inside and die.

Still, he is moved to see the youngster cry.

Though frozen water is his element,
He melts enough to drop from one soft eye
A trickle of the purest rain, a tear
For the child at the bright pane surrounded by
Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear.

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