Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bad experiences in the bank

As most of you know, I've been having a tough year. The wonderful bio prof I worked with last year left over the summer and the consequences continue to pile up. Not only did I end up with 18 hours to teach but I also lost my best friend in the area. That her replacement has been less than stellar has made it so that I advise all of the bio majors (who all need to spend substantial time with me every semester), that I will teach an overload again next semester, and that I spend a fair amount of time dealing with his issues or students who have issues with him, and that the toilet seat in the faculty bathroom is now left up. It will likely mean more committees and some real uncomfortableness as his "visiting" position becomes open to a full search. My fabulous teaching assistant (my other friend in the area, and the other person I could discuss biology with) just accepted a full time job and is leaving next week. As of now we have no-one to replace her and we're desperate. Meanwhile, two healthy 34-year-olds in among my friends have been diagnosed with agressive breast cancer in the last month. Ugh.

All of which makes me wonder about last year, which was really really super-hard and which I survived by thinking that no year (work wise) could be harder than my first year teaching 4 different classes I'd never taught before in a place where I knew no-one. But bam, I was wrong. This year is harder (although I am caring substantially less so I am getting considerably more sleep and exercise than I did last year).

But really, while work may be hard and frustrating, I can look back and think that it is nothing at all like the hardest recent year of my life-- the year I was 28 started with a badly broken ankle, included 2 surgeries, 4th of July spent in the hospital with an allegedly life-threatening blood clot, a move to Lawrence in 3 weeks of over 100 weather while wearing a cast, the sudden death of my uncle while running the Chicago marathon, my parents nearly splitting up while being spied upon in China, the people housesitting for my parents abandoning my parents cat and not forwarding bills so that I was being called to court on my parent's behalf, my grandmother dying of a broken heart and improperly cleared sores, and ended with the funeral of a friendly classmate who had been murdered in Costa Rica*.

As I was thinking about this, it occured to me that it was really good to have trying experiences in your past. A bank of bad experiences upon which one can think "I've seen worse." Having survived worse doesn't much make the present better (as my friend Happy Cricket in Ecuador writes about bus rides on her very funny blog.) but it does remind us that it is bearable.

This was miserable. People were everywhere in the aisles. I’m huge and my backpack was huge and I don’t have the Ecuadorian ability to squeeze myself into a manageable ferret-like shape. I kept thinking to myself, “this could be worse, but not by much.” I have had some horrific bus rides, which is kinda nice to have in your past. You think, well, at least I’m not throwing up out the window, or about to fall asleep standing up in the aisle on a night bus, or that they aren’t opening up the back windows to get more people to crawl in the back while I stand in the aisle over the someone who is wrongfully sitting in the seat in which I purchased the ticket. So you can be philosophical about it, thinking, yeah, this isn’t much. But sometimes, sometimes you want to think, “THIS IS TERRIBLE! IT CAN’T GET WORSE!” And then you realize, ahhh, yes, yes, yes it can and I don’t want that. So you’re stuck really. Your past hardship neutralizes the present suffering, yet you are suffering.

Then as I was thinking about bad experience banks, it suddenly dawned on me--- maybe that why we all need to be teenagers!

*Lots good happened that year also, most importantly I met Jennifer, Beth, Tim. TT, SS and many other dear friends.


Erin said...

You know, my main squeeze and I were having a similar conversation earlier today. We decided that what makes you an adult is understanding that lots of awful shit happens right along side the wonderful things. Not in a tit for tat way, of course. But coming to terms with bad experiences some how changes your perspective. For me, it makes me appreciate the little sweet moments even more. So, I guess I don't often think "It could be worse". I think "It's probably going to get worse, so I should enjoy right now." Of course thinking is only one step toward doing, but that's another story.

Irene said...

I'm not sure what the worst year of my life was, or even the worst single experience. But I definitely agree that having gone through difficult times makes me appreciate good things more.

SpSq, I hope something wonderful comes along to make life more pleasant.

Sally's sister said...

Wow, since we're sharing worst experiences, tomorrow's the 9th anniversary of my fiance Tony's death, and his birthday was 2 days ago. But this is the 1st year I'm not overwhelmed with grief, just kind of glum. Til a coworker asked what was wrong, and I cried, then she sent me flowers and I cried. It didn't help that it was dark and rained ALL DAY yesterday. Oh well, I guess it could be worse....

But having wonderful friends makes it all bearable. And them moving away makes it bummy. But having dogs and cats to come home to sure does help!