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Mid-semester Break and Beyond (or mostly beyond)

Ugh…it’s the middle of the semester, and that’s how I feel…ugh. I’ve been analyzing for the past couple of days just what makes the middle of the semester so tough, and here’s my top 4  list.

1. I’m tired. This isn’t like, an oh-I-drank-Starbucks-too-close-to-bedtime-and-lost-an-hour tired; this is the will-this-never-end and my-too-do-list-could-span-the-Great-Wall-of-China kind of tired. This is the kind of tired that has been confirmed by unsolicited outside opinions like the administrative assistant who greeted me on Monday with, “You ok? You look tired.” And, it was reconfirmed by my student this morning who said, “You look tired.”  I hold no grudges against these observers. They speak only the truth. I’m tired, so I look tired. Makeup can only do so much.

2. I get hostile. No, this isn’t my best side, but nonetheless, I’ll be honest. I get hostile. For example, on Tuesday, if I would have had the mental energy to do so, I probably would have plotted evil for anyone daring to send an email or cross my office threshold with anything resembling a demand on my time. I’m not justifying or condoning this behavior here, and I fully acknowledge that though I’m overwhelmed, it’s still my goal to reign in these hostile tendencies before turning into a narcissistic maniac.

3. I get time conscious and time oblivious all at the same time.

Let’s start with the time consciousness. This is about the time of the semester when people ask innocent questions like, “When can you catch up on the phone?” And, my mental time calculator starts to whir. Let’s see — phone call. Average time spent: 34.6 minutes. Average time available in a day 18.9 hours. Hm… When I was doing my undergrad, fielding these questions was easy. I would say something like, “Well, since I’m trying to be valedictorian and have basically taken a vow to be antisocial and uptight in pursuit of such goals, I will call you on December 16th, which will be two days after I’ve slept off the residual effects of the semester.” However, now that I’m older, I recognize that perhaps it’s not a good idea to work 7 days a week (or perhaps I just no longer have the energy to do so). Thus, I find myself answering “yes” to these fun plans more often. Maybe by the time I’m 40, I’ll have matured to the point of saying “yes” and experiencing great internal joy instead of waves of panic about how to get everything done.I think it’s a good sign that I’m 30 and while I’m attending the dinners or coffee breaks that I agree to, I’m not watching the clock, and I do come away from them refreshed and glad I took the time out.

At the same time, I get time oblivious. Take for example, browsing the Better World Books online sale last night until 12:30 when I already have more books than any sane person should have. Take also for example that I’m writing this blog when I should be trying to grade some homework.

4. I start counting. For example, while students were peer reviewing their work today (and, I must say doing a rather impressive job of it), I took it upon myself to figure out that there are 20 more class periods this semester. I have to say that finding out that information was a no-win situation. It feels like not enough time to accomplish all that needs to get done while at the same time putting the light at the end of the tunnel really far away.

And, so, that is fall break and beyond. Don’t get me wrong. Teaching is full of rewards; I still laughed today and enjoyed students and took a nap and had a nice conversation with Todd. Life is not all dark, and I can recognize this slump as part of the academic rhythm; it happens every semester, and it will get better. I’ll get through the department meeting and get mid-term grades submitted on Friday, and I’ll keep slogging through papers, and eventually everything will come together just as it has time and time and time again. But, if for the time being you see me in the hallway, ask me to coffee, and my eyes bug out and steam comes from my ears, please understand, it’s me not you. Bear with me.

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