Friday, August 15, 2008

Pain

About this time yesterday, I was at my desk at work, just packing up my stuff. I was about to ride home in the drizzling rain, meet Paul at home and go to our friend Kristin's opening, and then out to dinner at our favourite place (Joel was away for a week at ski camp and we were determined to go out together). I'd had some good classes this week and chapter six is coming along nicely. But I became conscious of a nasty pain in my stomach, and only started to feel a bit better when we sat down over our meal (Paul had the duck soup with dumplings and I started with six divine oysters, lined up in a row, each prepared differently), when I realised why my insides were knotted up in a fist-sized ball. It was stress.

What had brought this about? The situation at work is tricky at the moment. We are entering yet another round of curriculum reform and I have to devise a new subject in medieval literature that will attract goodly numbers of students (an enrolment under 40 is frowned upon and 100 is ideal!); but worse, the arts faculty is still in debt, and jobs will have to go. The first round of voluntary departures saw only a few (excellent) staff leaving; and the pressure on others is starting to be felt, with inevitable tensions. Well, have you published ten articles (or let's be really brutal and say "points") over the last five years? No? No sabbatical for you. And would you like to think about leaving, too?

Yesterday, then, I was copied into a bunch of emails, and had several conversations with colleagues who are doing their best to look after our staff, especially the less well established folk who are the ones mostly caught up in this, and to make sure these policies are implemented at least equitably, and not punitively. I'm not directly involved in any of this, and yet my stomach was knotted up in a way that kept me awake much of the night.

How much more ghastly, then, for those in the faculty whose jobs are threatened, who feel the weight of performance anxiety hanging over them every day?

I've not blogged about this much, but since this blog is about the intersections of the professional and the personal, even the bodily, I'm recording the way my body is registering the stress that runs through a faculty under pressure.

I think in my own case it affects me because, nearly two years ago now, when I first realised I might have breast cancer, I was in the thick of curriculum reforms and re-structuring debates I was finding difficult. So it seems like re-visiting that moment of mortal fear, too.

I don't want this post to sound too grim. I also want to go on record as saying I love my honours class this semester; the first-years I lectured to on Woolf and modernism this week were attentive and interested; my honours and graduate students are doing brilliant work at the moment, and I am bursting with ideas for the work and the writing I am doing and want to do. But when a much beloved institution gives you a pain in the pinny, the day can seem dark indeed.

4 comments:

inthemedievalmuddle said...

Greetings,
This email announces the launching of a blog that should be of interest to literary humanists who desire to move beyond the status quo or simply want the tools and/or animus to critique it.

http://inthemedievalmuddle.blogsome.com


yours,
Administrator, inthemedievalmuddle

Zoe said...

Greetings

This comment announces my appreciation for that excellent post.

And notes that for many younger academics and PhD students, that feeling of ghastly impermanence is probably permanent.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

This sounds grim indeed -- I am so sorry to hear it.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Dear Administrator, thanks for the link.

Zoe, you're absolutely right: it's always tough for people trying to establish themselves, and not just at Melbourne.

JJC, thanks for that.

JJC also emailed me off line expressing surprise I could face up to oysters after such a day. To see how, go here