This second week of classes is not yet over. I have one more class, at 9:10 Friday morning, and shortly thereafter I will preside at the Div School’s weekly eucharist service. I’m not entirely sure why I agreed to do this, to preside, except… maybe… as I have worshipped in many contexts plenty of times over the past few months since departing parish ministry, and have not missed preaching, I have, at times, missed preparing and leading liturgy. The liturgy for this eucharist is pre-prepared. I just pick scripture and follow the script, so it is very low demand. So, I said yes.
Anyhow, I’m far enough into this second week of classes to be able to testify so I will. (Mind you, there is a part of me still waiting for the other shoe to drop so I may retract this testimony at some future date.) Last week, as I alluded to in at least one post, was VERY overwhelming. I thought I had prepared well for at least two of my classes, but in both cases I found myself quite unable to meaningfully and substantively contribute to conversation- at all. The first day of my Bonhoeffer seminar, the class I was MOST looking forward to was dreadfully frightening and I felt woefully ill-equipped for participation. I found out the night before the third of my three classes that I somehow wasn’t granted on-line access to class information, which included FIVE long readings which, at first, I thought to be required for the first day of class. By the time I realized this I had been studying all day for other classes, I was exhausted and it took me hours- into the night- to be able to figure out how to get my hands on the articles. And by the time I did get my hands on the articles I learned that they were recommended, not required, and that I didn’t have a chance in hell of reading and digesting them by the next morning. So I let it go, but… twas a terribly anxious night. That class (which actually is the second of my three classes as it is my Thursday morning class) actually turned out to be the best of the three last week and I screwed up my courage to be among the first two to write a close commentary on one of the readings assigned for this second week and to offer the class a brief oral presentation growing out of that commentary. Due to the pregnancy, I need to get such assignments in all my classes done early, but… I thought, with travels to Chicago last weekend, a birthday on Tuesday, and NO MODELS preceding me, my willingness to do this might have been a bit insane.
A word on my academic history, surely discussed elsewhere in this or the old blog. I have been known to have a severe anxiety attack upon the preparation of every first assignment for new classes, especially for new classes in the first year, first semester of a new academic endeavor. The intensity of my anxiety typically declined as I would venture further into a course of study, but… frequently, even in the third year of a program, the first time I was called upon to demonstrate what I was learning, I’d freak out. (Sometimes the last time as well- that last seminary paper was like pulling teeth!!) Now this wasn’t so bad that I required meds to regulate my anxiety, it wasn’t crippling. I’d get the papers written and I’d get them turned in. But I’d also subject my nearest and dearest to whining, writhing, fretting, moaning- about my stupidity, my inadequacy, my complete failure at the task I had been assigned. I’d finish the paper and would be POSITIVE it was was the worst paper ever submitted to a professor.
And then I’d get an A. Usually.
I know. It would be easy to find me (the old me) obnoxious.
So, though I managed the overwhelmed feelings of last week with relative poise and grace, though I managed to feel the feelings without latching on (too tightly) to thoughts about my inadequacy, incompetency, what have you… I wondered… if… when it came time to write this first close commentary and prepare an oral presentation if I’d be swept away in the waves of anxiety and insecurity and discover that indeed “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (the more that changes, the more that stays the same). But… even though I didn’t get a draft written on Tuesday as I had wanted to, the powerful anxiety never showed up. I slept well after my birthday guests left Tuesday night. Spent Wednesday morning finishing careful notes on the essay on which I was to offer close commentary, spent much of Wednesday afternoon drafting my commentary, sending occasional e-mails to the prof for clarification about various dimensions of the assignment, finished a draft that was way too long, but… let it go. I then shifted my energies to finishing my reading for Friday morning’s class because we have to post on an on-line discussion board every week before 11 on Thursday and knew that if I didn’t get that done Wednesday it wasn’t going to happen. I managed to finish reading a write an (again too long) post for the discussion board. Mind you, I didn’t leave the library until after 6. I had arrived at 8:30, I took one hour break for community worship. It was a brutally long day. But it was not an anxiety ridden day. I wasn’t sure if my posting made any sense, but I let it go. And then bussed it home. I did enlist Kev’s help in trimming nearly three hundred words from my draft (thank you, dear one). The paper I ended up with was still too long, but… I felt good about it. I felt like I had done my best with a new task and new that I would have another chance, in a few weeks, to try again, and that surely, then, I would do better. I went to bed not having figured out my oral presentation, not having printed my final draft, but… I slept well.
And I awoke early, trimmed a few more words from the paper, formatted, printed, talked through my key presentation points with Kev (who brought me breakfast while I finished my manuscript, who made me a lunch without being asked, and filled my water bottle without being asked, and drove me to school in horrific traffic because I just can’t fathom taking a bus early enough to make it to an 8:10 class- aren’t I among the most blessed women in the world?), wrote out my oral presentation notes on the drive to school, arrived a few minutes before class… and it was fine. I did realize in the midst of class one fairly major oversight in my commentary, but… I didn’t beat myself up about it, I didn’t mention it in my brief presentation time, I just thought, “Crap… oh well, nothing I can do about it now” and moved on. And I even participated meaningfully at other points in class as well. Monday, similarly, I changed my rhythm of prep for my Bonhoeffer class and found myself much more able to participate. I left class Monday feeling adequately equipped (though still conscious of the voluminous learning that awaits me). And after class today I read the postings on the discussion board for my class tomorrow, and I took a deep breath and re-read mine- and… it’s fine. Not great, but fine.
Friends, I’m feeling fine about my work, my first attempts at things, early in the first semester of an academic program. I’m not feeling great about it, but… I’m millions of miles from feeling like crap about it. And have you noticed how often in this post, and in this new blog, I’ve talked about letting go? I’ve never been good at letting go. Is it Anne Lamott who talks about the claw marks she leaves in things? That’s me. And I’m still no expert. But… I’m learning, and letting go more and more. I really have changed and grown. Maybe it is the years behind me. Maybe its the therapy, the reiki… I don’t know. But I’m different. And I praise God for that.