Wow, folks: still in denial about the new semester. Like Jack as he begins his Japanese sojourn in The Hemingway Files: I’m bedazzled but stressed. Am I really in a classroom on Monday morning??? The thought makes me dizzy….
Starting new things is often intriguing but almost always a challenge. Even at this late stage of my career, that first day, facing a full group of new students, is intimidating. I’m actually pretty sure it is even MORE intimidating than when I was much younger, but that may be faulty memory. What can I say? What must I do??
In the funny and insightful academic novel Straight Man, by Richard Russo, one of the older professors freezes up on that first day. He can read the notes, but the words will not come. This is one of those recurring nightmares for me, and probably for other teachers — what would happen, if I enter the classroom in front of 50 staring eyes, and the words just will not come. Words — those things that have always come, in great abundance? Those words, words, words, that are the very sort of missiles we believe might even save the world? But instead — nothing, a void, the abyss.
The old joke is that in polling data bout a person’s greatest fears — public speaking is at the top, even above one’s own death. Meaning — most people are more fearful of speaking at a funeral than they are lying in the coffin. Even such performing legends as Barbra Streisand, Rod Stewart, Adele, and Andrea Bocelli have confessed to massive encounters with stage fright just prior to venturing onto the platform, in front of thousands of pairs of admiring eyes. Then there is the fear of staring into a blank screen, as a writer: I recall that terrifying scene in the terrifying film, Misery — where the famous author must produce an entirely new novel about a favorite character of the insane woman holding him captive. Talk about pressure.
Where can we turn? Perhaps Philippians chapter 4 — toward a Peace surpassing all understanding?? Meanwhile: I need to get back to work on my syllabi — and try to come up with something smart to tell my students, come Monday morning. Same with that blank page staring at me — after publishing my first novel…