It was the perfect storm. I should have seen this coming, but I was only dimly aware of the brewing crisis. Let me start from the beginning; it's usually the best place to start. The meeting was scheduled for 3:15. The issues were, as usual, how do we collectively "deal" with our miserably unprepared students, and our unwilling faculty: unwilling to teach our charges how to read and write, for example. The debate of the day centered around the creation of a new position: Dean of Basic Skills, or something to that effect. There are two camps that weigh in on this, faculty who view administrators as unnecessary, incompetent and useless bureaucrats, and administrators who view faculty as isolated academics who need a strong leader to organize them and bring some legitimacy to our impossible mission. I knew that a fight was brewing; the opposing parties were ready for war. Do we use Basic Skills money to fund yet another Dean position? Do we make this a faculty position, thereby making use of the talent we have? I felt ill as I found my way into the room and took my seat. The tension in the air was heavy. My heart was pounding in my chest. I felt something ominous brewing in the room and in me.
An ex-dean turned full-time professor started making the arguments against the Dean position. The Vice President stopped her, and let loose with the following statements: "We need a top-notch administrator from the outside, a heavy hitter, a real leader who has done the work and the research in basic skills, someone people will respect; we need a true professional." My hands were shaking. My head was pounding. My face was red. I started to speak, my voice trembling with rage, my emotions out of control. What did I say? Something like this: "Why do you have to find someone 'from the outside'? I AM A PROFESSIONAL, as are all of us in this room. I have dedicated my entire adult life to education. I HAVE DONE THE WORK, I AM A REAL LEADER, how DARE you suggest otherwise--if your faculty doesn't have your respect, then we have an entirely different problem to address here." I went on. I don't remember everything I said, but by the time I was posing the question "how exactly is this dean supposed to help ME? What exactly do you think he will DO FOR ME???" I was in tears, and obviously unhinged.
The rest of the meeting was fairly terrible, with all civility tossed out the window along with my dignity and professionalism. Everyone argued, no longer caring to spare each other's feelings. By the end, I had resisted the urge to flee in shame, and we had approved the Dean position; we quickly discovered the futility of our actions, since the President was going to hire someone "from the outside" regardless of how we voted. It was always a done deal. None of our debate really mattered, and my outburst only served to make me appear hysterical. The damage control stage started today; I met with the Chair of that committee for over two hours. I made my apologies, and we agreed that I needed some down time (I didn't mention that I had already enjoyed four weeks off). More importantly, we decided that I needed to jump in and take some control over these issues that vex me so intensely. Long story short, I am now leading various seminars on reading and writing skills for faculty. More work, yes--but after agreeing to work on this head on, I felt like I could breathe for the first time in awhile. I actually was able to sleep a little this afternoon. A weight lifted, and now I have to ask myself What Happened.
Truth: I am miserably underemployed. I don't use my talents outside of the classroom, or advertise to anyone my long list of accomplishments. Does anyone know, for example, that I created an entire division for adult education at the Claremont Graduate School? Does anyone know that I was the Chair of the largest program at Lawrence University? The list goes on and on, and I don't mention it because I want people to bow down in awe--the point is, I keep these things to myself. I don't build on my experience, I don't advance up any ladder; in fact, my career is a story of devolution, of maladaptation, of downward mobility. Not only do I not exploit my skills and my accomplishments, I work in isolation, obscurity and bitterness. Yup; if it weren't for my students, I'd be a nasty, angry hermit with a "fuck-you" attitude combined with an inflated sense of self that disguises a crippling need for self protection.
I want to be left alone, and I want to be praised. I don't want anyone to notice me, and I want everyone to notice me. I hide in my office, but I get really pissed off if no one invites me to campus events. Most people don't know me at all, but this meeting changed that forever. I now have an identity, but it's not one that I want. My frustration and lack of emotional control have now defined me for the campus. Now I REALLY have to lay low. Where did this dysfunction originate? God knows; the divorce didn't help matters. I learned that one must protect oneself from the cruel world filled with cruel people; that no one can be trusted, not even that husband you spent ten years nurturing. Work is a scary, awful place where people engage in destructive politics and look for the first opportunity to rip apart their colleagues.
There is enough material for years of therapy here; I can't do this topic justice here. I think that "overwhelmed" is the best word to describe me when I am at work. My frustrated promise as a leader angers me; I COULDA BEEN A CONTENDER. Instead, I squandered my vast potential attempting to insulate myself from the world. I've been scared for a long time. I've been angry for a long time. If I can't learn to jump back into the fray, I'll have plenty of regrets to mull over on my deathbed. I suppose it's time to roll around in the mud again, to fight the good fight, to carry my little torch into that vast, dark night.