Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March Madness

Like most end-of-season, best-of/face-off/championship/super-match-up events, NCAA's March Madness seems to just go on forever. I guess it's mostly the lead-up, the eliminations, the divisions, the endless winnowing to get down to two teams who play the Ultimate Game. I mean, I really like baseball but over the years (okay, decades) with the advent of new divisions and leagues, or divisions within the leagues (true baseball fans feel free to set me straight) the playoff season seems to drag on and on. And on. Didn't the World Series used to be pretty much over by Thanksgiving?

So here comes college basketball and pools and those intricate charts and all the "they play them, and they play them and whoever wins that game plays those guys...". They call it March Madness.

Which, far from putting me in mind of abnormally tall, sweaty collegiate athletes in baggy shorts (and yes, I liked basketball much better in the 70's when the shorts were short, dammit. And tight!) -- far from putting me in an athletic frame of mind, the term March Madness seems to conjure up "Auntie Mame"... Vera Charles... oh, no, that was "Midsummer Madness".

And although he started his descent into what appears to be a drug-induced alternate universe last month, Charlie Sheen seems bent on making this March, and probably the entire spring season, quite mad indeed.

Then there's my version. I work at a university and it's coming upon finals week, when there's a lot to do: setting up schedules, ordering online exams, extending credit limits in order to buy the online exams, organizing class lists, making sure everything matches up... On the face of it, it's pretty simple. But once you get into the nitty-gritty it's a confusing business. Not to mention that there are at least half a dozen other plates I need to keep spinning. Balls in the air. Pick your juggling metaphor. I'm still finding my way among an office full of people who have been there much longer than I, and who know all the shorthand, the why's and wherefore's. And no matter how often I'm assured that the learning curve is at least a year and I'm doing fine; no matter how much people thank me for all I do... I still have this gnawing, maddening, gut-tightening feeling that I'm really not doing that well at all. The I've screwed up this or that task. Or I should have known how to... Or when to... Or when not to...

I'm a disappointment, a big one, and it's only a matter of time.

Of course, in talking to my colleagues and faculty members I'm assured that everyone feels overwhelmed and stressed a great deal of the time, even that some of them often -- and irrationally -- fear for their jobs, in spite of the fact that they're doing yeoman's work and doing it very well.

I keep thinking back to all those little Zen sayings I'm so fond of, reminding myself that the future doesn't exist, the future where I've done some irreparable damage, or missed an important deadline. But it doesn't help. I still wake up anxious, before my eyes are even open. I still look back at yesterday, last week, last month, and wonder why I didn't do this or that differently. Or why I did do this... or that.

It's madness. To the best of my knowledge I'm doing a fine job. Not perfect, but given that, as with many new positions I'm sure, I didn't get months of hands-on training before leaping into this particular void. Also, as with many jobs, this one is very unpredictable. I never know from day to day, or week to week, what I'll be asked to do next.

I know I'm not alone in this. And if anyone reading this has similar worries, troubled sleep, gastric problems brought on by stress... you're not alone either.

Still, I spend an awful lot of time worrying about things that haven't even happened yet, doubting myself, calling myself names, wondering why, in fact, I'm even alive.  Amazing what chaos a bit of stress can do to the psyche: the imagined future is real, what my mind tells me about myself I believe.

It's madness. And it's only the first of March.

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