Fear & Guilt after Las Vegas*

*My apologies to the amazing Hunter S. Thompson for butchering the title of one of his texts, but it’s so appropriate to the post.

So we made it back from our Vegas-Cali-Vegas trip, which was a lot of fun, though Vegas was overwhelming. Sensory overload, anybody? It’s been about two weeks since we’ve been back, and now I’m trying to work through what I can only call the aftermath of the trip.

I was super-productive in the few weeks between the end of the semester and our trip: I sent off my book proposal for review, revised my composition I and fundamentals of English syllabi for the fall, made some revisions to my comp II syllabus for next spring (while the ideas were still fresh in my mind), worked on clearing and planting the garden for this year (better late than never), and I finally finished the Garth Nix novel Sabriel, which was given to me by one of my colleagues after helping him with some technology stuff for his courses last fall. I have to say (humble brag incoming), I impressed myself with my productivity during that time, which I felt boded well for the rest of the summer.

Since the trip, though? Nada. In the first few days, I chalked it up to a combination of jet lag (there was a two-hour time difference between Oklahoma and our west coast destinations) and allergies: my sinuses couldn’t handle all the smoke in Vegas. Everywhere we went, we had to walk through smoke-saturated casinos to get to our destinations, which wreaked havoc on me. The thing is, though, that I haven’t managed to get through the post-trip fog yet. I find myself staying up too late, sleeping in too long, and being completely lethargic and unproductive during the day. Dave and I were discussing this fact today, and he feels the same way. We’ve both been so low-energy, in fact, that when we slept in earlier this week, I awoke with a start, looked at Dave and the dogs still sleeping, and thought, “Could it be carbon monoxide poisoning?” It’s not…at least, I don’t think it is, as we’re still around and kicking (the carbon monoxide detector is on order).

But it’s not just the fatigue that’s the problem: I’m avoiding the work I need to do most–drafting and sending off articles for publication. And I have a feeling a large part of my non-productivity is mental: I’m suddenly afraid to do the work, which simultaneously makes me feel guilty about not doing the work. Make sense?

In theory, I’m not afraid of sending off an article and being rejected: it happens, and it has already happened to me. It’s more a matter of fear of sending my ideas out there and being ridiculed for them. Again, in theory, I know that this is bound to happen in academia. In practice, though, I want to hug a fluffy unicorn and ride a magical rainbow to Happy Town, where everybody tells me I’m the smartest person ever. To compound matters, I think about the game of catch-up I need to play to feel comfortable whenever I go up for tenure later, and I become afraid of not getting tenure, which also makes me feel guilty about not being more productive now. Argh.

The thing is, I don’t think I’m the only person to ever feel this way. That’s just not possible. What’s more, I think it’s the nature of academia to feel like this occasionally–fear and guilt are amazing motivating factors for junior faculty, no doubt. The problem is when that same fear and guilt go beyond motivation into the realm of paralysis. Which is where I fear I’m at right now.

Or maybe this is just another manifestation of Catholic guilt? I just need a nun with a ruler to get me going again. Hmmm…

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I am an associate professor of English and writing center coordinator at Southwestern Oklahoma State University. I teach courses in composition, creative nonfiction, fundamentals of English, and peer tutoring.

Posted in How it’s going

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