April 25, 2006

That raises a boring question: phobias

My two most ironically maladaptive phobias are heights and public speaking. I say ironically maladaptive because heights make my head swim and public speaking makes me incoherent with anxiety, thus increasing the chances that I will do precisely the things I'm afraid of: fall off of tall places and make a bumbling ass of myself. Still, they both seem to be in some sort of process of remission at the moment.

In the case of heights, it's perhaps a very small remission. The Berkeley campus is very crowded, and I don't have time to come home for lunch on weekdays. So I'm forever wandering around campus with lunch in hand looking for someplace where I can eat peacefully without hearing too many cell phone conversations. Folks: I am here to tell you that such places are extremely rare. If the weather is nice, every bench is sprouting a person with a phone in one hand and a cigarette in the other. If the weather is not nice, they (people, not benches) flock to indoor lounges, overhangs and even building corridors. The only escape route I've found is upwards, to one of the outside balconies on the upper floors of the library. They're generally lacking in benches, but they do have concrete railings on which a person can slouch comfortably. With the odd architecture of Doe Library, I'd say it's about a 14-foot elevation on one side and maybe 20 feet on the other. Those aren't heights to inspire fear in most people, but particularly when sitting on (rather than behind) the balcony walls, I find them scary enough. Yet I've been eating my lunches there about twice a week for most of this semester. It's strangely nice. Everybody stays at an unintrusive distance just by being at ground level, and on the north side at least the view is pleasant. Mind you, I always cling desperately to the concrete railing with my knees and can't look up or down too abruptly, but I choose to find it more important that I'm sitting there at all. If I keep it up, maybe one day I'll be able to climb a ladder!

Public speaking is in rather more significant remission, for the reason that it's under the control of considerably less sympathetic people than I. Classes require public speaking, I'm now recalling. There are projects. Presentations. Stand up and talk for twenty minutes to a room full of staring eyes, that kind of thing. I've had three of them so far this semester, split among two classes, and it's been to my utter shock that none of them has killed me. Today I presented an archaeology research project on the Ertebølle culture of Mesolithic Denmark, which in a fit of cockiness I'd signed up to give as a bare-bones blackboard talk instead of a shiny Powerpoint show. Between 11:00 last night and 7:00 this morning I divided my time between rehearsing, sleeping, and worrying (the latter of which, for the record, accomplishes neither of the first two ends), and finally threw my hands in the air, went to class, and talked about boat burials and transverse arrowheads. It worked. I distinctly remember all of my essential information leaving my mouth, my instructor nodding, and my classmates asking questions that indicated I'd been more or less coherent. I ran into a classmate later in the afternoon at the library and she said thoughtfully, "You know, you really seemed to know what you were talking about." I've realized: I live for words like that. To be the person who knows shit and can explain it and impart it to others, I will spend just about any number of hours researching and summarizing and distilling and practicing and quietly panicking. One of these days I'm going to get myself in real trouble with this attitude -- I'll wake up one morning and realize that I got drunk on pedagogy and signed up to teach a class or something -- but I have to say that I really appreciate what it's doing for my grades.

Posted by dianna at April 25, 2006 07:19 PM

Whee, Pedagogy! I'm a fan.

Have you given any thought to facilitating a DeCal? It's a lot of public speaking, but you'd get to lecture on the subject of your choice. Plus you'd have the power of life or death over a gaggle of students.

Posted by: Zach S. at April 26, 2006 11:59 AM