Distinguished, my ass …

Distinguished, my ass …

Maureen Connolly
2003 3M Teaching Fellow

his narrative emerged from a workshop I had the privilege of attending as a 3M Teaching Fellow. It reminds me that whatever encounters I have with students, colleagues, and subject matter, I must always nurture the self-reflective vigilance at the heart of making a difference as a teacher.

The first time I experienced depression was the summer of 1997 when my partner’s two sons-aged nine and eleven, bright, precocious and somewhat devious-spent that summer with us. Before this, depression was something that other people, without my considerable strength of character and willpower, experienced. Nothing prepared me for that swift slide into worthlessness and unrequited rage. The real kicker was that the boys weren’t all that bad. They were just boys. I would go to the bathroom, turn on the shower and cry and cry. I would cry in other places and times as well and the summer unfolded into a succession of driving, cooking, cleaning and laundry commercials interrupted by daily rituals of tears and self-loathing.

Fast forward six years. The phone rings in my office. I find myself gazing around my space as I contemplate the consequences of answering the phone. Shelves are piled with books and files, the gifts of students, mugs, figurines, pictures of my nephew. There are unpacked boxes that reach the ceiling stacked on the corner of CDs and tapes are piled near the phone, my briefcase is hanging open, a mouth for papers, memos, and more work to finish at home. My students wonder if I am moving in or moving out. This semester’s course and committee files are my only anchor to the here and now. And I am here, now. I am tired of here and now.

I feel the familiar and terrifying slide beginning. And it’s not that things are that bad. It’s a fairly regular semester, a fairly typical day. I answer the phone. It’s Jill-her usual, damn chipper, high energy, see-the-good-in-every-moment self. She needs a title from me for the distinguished teaching award address I will give in May. I say to her, “How about the university’s fucked and nothing that we do makes any difference?”

There is a long silence. Jill clears her throat. “Not a good time to ask you about this?” she asks. I wish that I had some magic button to stop the horrible ache in my throat and the tears in my eyes. I take off my glasses. The office fades to merciful fuzziness, the evidence of my incompetence temporarily, thankfully blurred.

“Give me a half hour,” I tell her.