A few days before I left for England, a senior colleague pulled me into his office, sat me down, and said, "You know, Jen, there are people in this department who find you, well....curt. I just thought you should know."
I've been thinking a lot about this episode, and I have multiple levels of reaction to it. On the one hand, it was humiliating--I felt chastised, a little, like a kid who has mouthed off again. My colleague's wife was sitting at the desk, nodding, which also made the whole thing feel a little like being pulled into a principal's office.
There's also a part of me that's angry about it. I'm guessing there is a strong gender dimension to this talking-to, and I have my doubts that any of my male colleagues have ever received "advice" in this way. Women aren't supposed to speak up, and most don't, in my division. The fact that I do, rather than "keeping my head down" while trying to get tenure, marks me as a target. And, this colleague told me that there is one person in particular who finds me abrupt, and that this person doesn't know me well (he's new), but my colleague wanted me to know how "other people" in the division see me, which is probably code for how he sees me. Add to this the fact that he has also consistently asked about where my kids are when I'm at work (his wife is a stay-at-home mom to their three kids), and whether or not I'm having more kids, and--well--I'm feeling a little sensitive around this colleague.
But he's also a nice man, with good intentions, and I think he genuinely thought he was helping me. It's no newsflash that I'm curt or abrupt, either. It's certainly part of my personality. And particularly this semester, when I've bitten off more than I can chew, I tend to be pretty focused when I'm at work, not too chit-chatty. So, I'm guessing that part of my strong reaction to the comment is because it's at least partially true. At the risk of sounding defensive, though, I will say that I work with many of my dearest friends, and I feel like I have deep, fulfilling relationships with most of my colleagues. I was a little taken aback, then, by the sting in his comments.
Still, putting aside the galling context of this conversation, I like to use moments like this for some self-reflection. I really have been off-kilter this semester, and was starting to feel crabby and small before the trip. I don't have a good sense of how this translated to the outside world, but I do know that I wasn't feeling quite right, either. I was having the racing mind, a pessimistic vision of the world, and a general sense of despair (just scroll down to some old posts for evidence).
Anyway, something happened to me in England. I'm not sure if it was the long hours of plane and train travel, during which I read and meditated and just existed, to my heart's content. Or maybe it was the long hours of aimless walking around London and Lincoln, with no real destinations in mind, just wandering. Maybe it was the sleeping and eating when I felt like it, rather than according to schedule, or just being out of my routine. Whatever it was, I feel like someone reset. The judgments and fears are a lot quieter now, and I'm feeling so much joy. Joy at my kids screaming MOMMY! when I get home. Joy at the snow that's finally started to fall. Joy at glasses of wine and my husband's warm body in bed at night and at the plodding ahead of work.
I was also reminded to reintegrate meditation, prayer, and yoga into my life, to make time for those things, even if it means sacrificing some work hours or sleep. When those elements fall out, everything else in my life is out of whack, too.
Anyway, so this is where I am: I am curt, and abrupt. But I also have a huge capacity for listening, and sharing, and for being a good friend, and colleague. So, a little correction, but not a huge one. As Nanny is always reminding me, I am on my right path.
England was also incredibly beautiful, by the way, and that sort of setting always helps to rejuvenate, yes? I'm sure India will be a completely different experience. The only things I've been told so far are to buy a costco-sized box of Immodium, and that the "entire country" smells like urine. Everyone wonders why in the world I want to go. But no second thoughts for me. I can't wait.