You know that house I was getting in order, just a little while back? Well, right now it feels pretty wobbly, not for any one big reason but just from the combination of lots of little things that, cumulatively, are making me feel stressed out and distracted. I leave on Monday for my trip to the UK, for instance. In lots of ways I am really looking forward to this: a chance to meet up with friends and colleagues, to see and learn things, to be in London again and in Birmingham for the first time. But much as I enjoy being other places, I’m a terrible traveler when it comes to getting to other places (particularly by air, though I also abhor car travel). In addition to the flying itself, there’s the fun of airport security, in which you have your option of ways to have your privacy invaded, and a great deal of hurrying up in order to wait. I usually distract myself as best I can from thinking about the unpleasantness to come by keeping busy with planning, and in this case there’s plenty of that to do, along with finishing my conference presentation. But that is the source of its own kind of stress, as after all this time working out what I wanted to include and in what order and what degree of detail, I’m feeling dissatisfied with what I’ve got. I also did a practice run of the current version today and ran almost 10 minutes over what I believe to be my allotted time. I wanted to do a more informal talk, but it’s so hard to make sure you stay on point (and hit every specific point you want to) if you don’t script things pretty carefully!

I’ve been developing my Prezi in tandem with working out my speaking notes, and though I remain enthusiastic about Prezi as a concept and a conceptual tool, there too I am feeling dissatisfied: the current version doesn’t really use the special features of Prezi in a very creative way, and I’ve been wondering if I should have just saved a lot of time and done some straightforward PowerPoint slides — which I might end up preparing anyway as a back-up because I am paranoid that something (what? I don’t know!) will go wrong using Prezi (a firewall keeping me from getting to the site? an incompatibility between the design of my presentation and the projector I use? I don’t know! I enjoy technology but I don’t altogether trust it, at least not when I know people will be watching me use it!). It is not entirely calming to reflect that every conference paper I have presented in the past has been quite sparsely attended and has been the focus of far more concern to me than to anyone in the audience. The disproportion between my anxious preparation and the usual underwhelming but friendly reception in a way adds to my stress, because I feel I must be doing something wrong. I particularly recall two papers I sweated bullets over, both of which I thought dealt with quite controversial material in a somewhat provocative way. Oh, the questions I braced myself for! The micro-edits I put on them trying to anticipate and shape responses from hostile, or just better-informed, listeners! And in both cases there were maybe 9 or 10 people there besides the panelists, and no challenging questions at all. A relief? In a way, but also a let-down. One possible (and comforting) interpretation of this past experience is that I prepared such good papers they were (to quote from the cute new ‘Welcome to Dalhousie‘ song) “hater-proof.” But maybe the opposite was true and nobody wanted to be mean to me. I don’t think a paper about blogging and knowledge dissemination will be controversial, but I do want to have thought about the issues I raise well enough that I can answer questions about them, give appropriate references or clarifications, and address any skepticism I encounter…

So there’s that. And there’s the prospect of being on my own in London, which is at once exhilarating and a bit scary — it’s so big, and there’s so much to do and see, and I have so little time, too. I don’t feel so overwhelmed by New York because I’ve been there so many times (one perk of going to graduate school “up-state”), but I’ve been to London only twice and always with others. It will be nice not having to negotiate plans or meals, or just the pace of things, and I reassure myself that if I get lost, well, at least I (more or less) speak the language.

But I get back only a couple of days before my classes begin, and literally the day before my kids start back at school, so there’s a lot to try to be on top of before I leave. I’ve done one round of shopping for school supplies (I swear, I won’t be surprised if pretty soon they ask us to provide toilet paper for our kids) but am still waiting for a reply from the other school about what is needed. Then Dalhousie just announced some changes to their parking system which will make a difficult system a lot worse (unless I’m one of the lucky ones who “wins” a permit for a lot newly designated for reserved spots only — at more than double what I paid for my permit last year). So that’s stressful, as I contemplate scenarios that involve 45-minute walks with the kids through typical Maritime fall or winter weather (pouring cold rain, sideways wind, ice pellets) carrying all the gear we need for our days, and no easy way to get around if there’s some kind of problem that requires picking them up early — not to mention getting to routine after-school activities and appointments. Oh, and a hurricane is threatening to arrive the day I’m supposed to be flying out, which in a best case scenario means it will be a bumpy trip.

Sorry for venting. I’ll calm down eventually. Tomorrow I have some practical things to see to, and then I’ll do another round of tidying-up revisions on my speaking notes, and then on Friday I’ll have one more go at the Prezi, just to be sure that at least it includes all the illustrative bits I want, and to keep improving the transitions to avoid making my audience sea-sick. (My efforts towards this last point account for the increasing linearity of the prezi: big turns and lateral movement seem to be the most disorienting.) And tonight, I’m meeting two of my favourite former students, just for a coffee and a chat — that is definitely something to look forward to. Maybe I’ll even do some serious reading again soon: I’ve been too distracted for much besides yet more early Spensers.

Update: Better now. I really enjoyed chatting with my students (can I still call them this, even though they have both graduated – twice – from Dal?). Interestingly, we all talked at length and with much animation about the books we’ve been reading lately. This is interesting to me because I have noticed that at social functions with my professorial colleagues, we almost always end up talking about which TV shows we are watching. Maybe to English professors, book talk is too much like shop talk? But it’s also my colleagues who always say they have “no time to read.” I’ve taken another look at the prezi and it at least seems usable, though I do still want to tweak it (and cut the talk down). So I feel better about that, if not entirely satisfied. And now a glass of wine and maybe a dose of Our Mutual Friend, and that should keep the other anxieties at bay until tomorrow.

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3 Responses to Stress!

  1. Susan Messer says:

    This is just the kind of obsessive, detailed worrying that I love to read. I relate to it completely. And you articulate it so well, make it so personal and honest. Thank you. And all the best with the travel (I hate all that airport stuff too) and the presentation. I look forward to your report on the trip.

  2. Bless you, Susan: I always feel like a dope, worrying so much about this kind of stuff, so it’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one, and that it doesn’t make for terrible reading. Now, if only Irene will keep bearing west and at least one of the printers in my life would cooperate so I can print out stuff like tickets and maybe even my conference paper (sigh), and I’ll feel much better. I’m practising going to my happy place in my mind, which these days is the London Review Bookshop–I’ve never been there, so I can only imagine, but I’m planning a good long browse as it is very close to my hotel. And it has a cake shop. Bliss: books, tea, and cake….

  3. Dorian Stuber says:

    It’s a *great* bookshop. Safe travels. Hope the conference is (at least not entirely un)rewarding.

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