If You’re Maddened and You Know It

I always hated that song, actually—“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!”.  For starters, I don’t much like making loud noises, so clappingand stomping horrified me.  Also, being one of those kids, I always wondered how people know they’re happy, and whether you had to stop doing the actions of the song if you didn’t know anymore, and if it was an option not to do the song at all if you knew you were not happy (it was not, I found).

But it is one of those that you learn as a kid and sticks with you until the end of time, like I’m a Little Teapot.  So it pops up sometimes in my head, checking in to see if things are sufficiently cheerful.

My apologies for not warning you, Reader, that there would be no post last week (there won’t be one next week, heads up)—I was presenting at a conference last Friday, wrapped in the midst of thousands of medievalists geeking out about all things even tangentially medieval.  And Reader, it went so well.  I rocked that presentation, if I do say so myself, not because I presented well (I totally screwed up in several places, speaking-wise) but because I knew what I was talking about.  I fielded questions in the Q & A like a boss, I had people coming up and congratulating me/thanking me for the ideas (it was a pedagogy paper) even the next day in other sessions.  I even had someone come and tell me I should be a member of a journal and attend their business meetings (not glamorous or particularly special, I know, but making the effort to connect like that on this person’s part was), and I’m considering a suggestion to publish the paper.

(…clap your hands…)

So I come back to work (it’s a several-day conference, so I was out of the office for two days) on Monday and it’s every deadline that ever was this week, and I’m about to leave the office again for a few days so I’m trying to get ahead of that avalanche and failing.  And some of my faculty, in all their brilliant self-centeredness, are tracking me down on my lunch hour, asking me to process things that they needed yesterday, taking over my office without a by-your-leave, and generally being totally unaware that they are not the whole of my universe this week.  I can feel my Southern soul doing the apologetic dance of “bless their hearts” and adding some series of expletives about how much I want to just shut my office door and let them deal on their own and see how they like it.  I came back to work on Monday and was exhausted from the conference’s networking and stress and a general lack of sleep  and all that conferences are, and I was more tired after one day of work than three days of conferencing because this job gives nothing back.

It’s not that I didn’t know that before—hell, I took the job knowing that would be true.  But to have it so clearly placed before me has been hard because you can’t sugarcoat that.  And yet even in this job that drains my soul with its miscommunications and myopic idiocies,  God doesn’t leave me alone.  I haven’t yet decided whether I’m frustrated by that or not, because I would like to just stand in my madness and be mad about other people’s stupidity.

Nope.  One professor came into my office mid-stream, as she always does—one of my biggest annoyances in this department is that people rarely give me context.  They walk in and ask me a question or say a statement with zero lead-in, as though I’ve been part of the explanatory conversation they had in their heads on the way to my office.  It drives me nuts.  So this prof comes in and I have to back her up so I can understand what she needs from me, and a lot of it is asking clarification on the paperwork for a certain kind of research application.  My predecessor used to do most of it for her, which is swell, but I’ve never done this before, so asking me to tell you about something you’ve been at least connected to for five years seems a bit backward to me.  Also, I really get spiky any time any of the staff or faculty want me to do something because “she used to do it.”  I am not her.  Also, a goodly portion of the stuff she was doing y’all can do yourselves.  You have PhDs.  I promise you can navigate a form.

So it’s Friday, and this professor is so focused on her own stuff and dragging me into it, and it’s just the culmination of a week of everything saying “whatever you’re doing is not nearly as important as anything I need you to do RIGHT NOW” and I just.  Can’t.  It took everything not to snap at her, which would have been totally unprofessional and also not fair because a lot of my frustration wasn’t her fault and also we’re working across languages, which complicates things further.

But in the lull of figuring out technology, we get to talking about machines and how we talk to them as if they’re people, and if we’re “nice” they work better, just like people, and how it’s a mechanical thing that “nice” equals “patient” and machines work better if you let them go at their own pace.

Sometimes, God is not subtle.

It’s still not okay that they don’t respect my time and I’m still justified in telling them to step off, but this job isn’t going to be any less draining if I’m a jerk in it.  Sniping at my coworkers only drains me further, really, because now I’ve doused their humanity as well as my own, and it’s the humanity that tethers me here for the time being at all.  Patience will serve us both better—even if it’s much, much more satisfying in the short run to just slam the door on their wants.


By obedience to the truth, having purified yourselves for sincere love of the brothers, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again—not of perishable seed but of imperishable—through the living and enduring word of God.  (1 Peter 1:22-23, HCSB)

One thought on “If You’re Maddened and You Know It

  1. Lisa says:

    I’m glad your conference went so well. Congratulations. 🙂

    Your post reminds me of my first year at my job — which, as far as things that devour my life go, I really enjoy now. I enjoyed it that first year, too, but it also stressed me out much more. Part of it was that everything was new to me, and there was definitely that annoyance every time someone assumed I’d know to do something automatically because my predecessor had done it. I came to dread that person’s name.

    But an even larger part was that in the past 7+ years I’ve both become more patient with the people around me and become more assertive in drawing boundaries. I’ve made peace with the noise and mess of the picture book area in the mornings, negotiated when I will step in to address rule-breaking or adult negligence. It only took speaking with a bossy coworker once for our whole relationship to change. My duties have shifted as our staff evolves, and I now feel complete ownership.

    To put it simply: the environment hasn’t changed; I have. And it feels like a blessing.

    Liked by 1 person

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