About stuff (including me and writing)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Presence

In the spirit of the season, this post's title is a homonym of "presents."

In the spirit of the season, I share this morality tale:

I took a bathroom break today. (That in itself would be reason enough for a post. These days, this life, I find it hard to stay on top of everything. Is a bathroom break "urgent" or "important"?)

Not having official "office hours" on Wednesdays, I'd made the bold, exceptional, and self-preserving choice to work with my door closed this afternoon. Trying to write those exams, make sure all my spring adjuncts are taken care of, grade... An hour or two ago, I received an email from a student with an "urgent" question that I knew was not really urgent in the least (but by all means is important). It was much less about procedure (though initially presented that way), and mostly all about expressing/sharing her joy in a recent personal discovery or choice. Her email said she was going to stop by to see me this afternoon or tomorrow. I made the bold, self-preserving choice to email back and say I wasn't available today, but tomorrow during official hours would be fine.

Pop open the door. Step into the hallway. Almost literally run over the student on my way to the Comfort Break Room. Her face lights up - Success! Everybody come quick and see, I caught Prof. C, she's really here! Let's start talking immediately! Oh, wait, she's still moving! But look at me, I'm here, about to knock on your closed office door. Where are you going?!

I, in retrospect-chagrin, brusquely say, "I don't have time to meet today. I have to run." The speed with which joy disintegrates from a vibrant face... I stop, mid-stride, turn and say (by the way, did I mention that she's on her cellphone?), again too brusquely, "I sent you an email. I don't have time to meet today as I have meetings this afternoon. I have to run right now. I'll be back in just a minute." With each word, my "resolve" melts. (Or is it my resolve? Maybe it's my ice-professor exterior.) "I have to do some more work before my meeting, but I'll come back in just a minute and we can talk real quick." Her face bounces back. "Yes, just five minutes!"

Comfort break. I wash my hands (employees must before returning to work). The brusque-ice-self-preservation voice in my head is muttering. "Inconsiderate. Regular, posted office hours. Check your email. Demanding. Get it over with. Distraction. Two minutes, and I'll type while she's there." Okay, I didn't really literally think that last full phrase. But it was the idea of it, the attitude that brought me up short. The soft-chiding-exhortative voice in my head suggested, "Be present. You're going to go back and see/listen to her through the lenses of your stress and your schedule? You're going to reduce her to an interruption? Be present."

I teach it. I think it. Sometimes a little grace squeaks in and I do it. I'm not sure I was fully present with my student when I got back from the Powder Room and met with her just now, but at least I remembered that I wanted to be. I want to be present.

Okay, the irony of my blogging on this when I'm going on and on about being overwhelmed with work is not lost on me. It's like 10,000 spoons, yada yada. But that's sort of the point, isn't it. Breathe. Be present. Tell stories. Cancel exams and final assignments. Go ice skating. Watch Elf and recall the ridorkulousness of "making work your favorite."

2 comments:

mccobbey said...

I love that quote.

Just remember you'll be back in good ol' Texas soon and all you will have to do is quick trips to Cox Farms for carrots and almonds, leisurely lunches eating pho, father-daughter times at Half Price, little nephews reminding you that you're their favorite and Splenda-sweetened tea sipped through a straw made by a very obliging brother (either of the twins.) You'll soon have a nice break so you'll be ready again & recharged so you can be present to all people who need your attention.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.