The old knot of contrariety

No matter how many years I do this job, there comes a point every semester when I begin to doubt everything. No, doubt is not the right word. I need something stronger, something with more heft. Ordinarily you can count on the Germans when you need a word to capture the more perverse of human emotions.  But somehow Zweifel doesn't cut it.  I need something better, something more corrosive, something that captures the idea of thought turning in on itself with a kind of ruthless, cannibalistic clarity.

It seems every November I have to come to terms with the fact that I've compromised most of the goals I set for myself in September. I discover myself shamelessly making up lesson plans on the fly, speed grading what I should take more time with, and finishing my committee work an hour before the meeting.  November is when I discover important, unanswered August emails in the cthonic depths of my in-box.  November uncovers my native hue of feckless irresolution.

Other people seem to be on top of things.  Other people seem to have clear, pedagogically brilliant strategies. Me?  I have a line of tired, shopworn lessons and a few wince-inducing last minute improvisations.  I have, for lack of a better word, bitter, self-lacerating doubts about the whole enterprise and especially my less than stellar role in it.  

And it's also this time of year when, inevitably, a passage from Walt Whitman's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry comes to mind:

It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,  

The dark threw patches down upon me also;  
The best I had done seem'd to me blank and suspicious;
My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?
          would not people laugh at me?

It is not you alone who know what it is to be evil;
I am he who knew what it was to be evil;
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
Blabb'd, blush'd, resented, lied, stole, grudg'd,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant;
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me,
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting.

None wanting indeed!  If there's any blessing to be found in November it's in the promise of Thanksgiving Break.  Make it to break I think to myself, and it’s almost over.  But right now, in the first few days of this rotten no-good month, I find myself thinking of still another poet, Frank O'Hara, who once wrote, "Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again."


Alan Peel said…
Oh, Steve. The crux of this doubt is your false perception that other people seem to be on top of it. They are not. They are with you in the same place at nearly the same time! That may or may not make you feel better, but hell, misery loves company.

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