Like many of my friends, my husband and I binge watched Stranger Things, the new nostalgia-fest from Netflix. After the heavier pleasures of series like Mad Men, Narcos, Breaking Bad, or The Americans, part of the joy of Stranger Things is the condensation of real troubles (class distinctions in a small town, sick kids, and crap parents) onto a clearly fantasy demon that can be battled. In this case, some weird skinless, faceless thing called a demogorgon. In the show, the demogorgon lives in a place called "the upside down," a shadow world to our own, from which he sometimes breaks loose to terrorize the good people of the show.
The upside down and the demogorgon seem like a good metaphor for the way the world looks when things get bleak, scary, or out of control. There's the world as is, and then there's the world as it appears to us when shadows of jealousy, anxious expectation, or rumination cast their unlovely pall across it.
I had occasion to think about this as well as to take some of my own medicine the day before school started on my campus. As any teacher knows, it can be less than 100% fun when your institution changes educational technology. The few days before classes began, I was scrambling to learn new course management software, to add captions to video clips to meet ADA standards, and to update materials for a new film studies course. The night before school started, I was in near panic mode when my husband stopped me.
"What's the worst that's going to happen?," he asked me.
"Well, my technologies will all fail and then I'll be humiliated in front of two-hundred plus students." Duh, husband!
Sometimes you say something and your partner just stares at you. This was one of those moments.
"Um, that's not a thing that can happen. That's how you'll react to it."
Aha. This is my mindfulness talk back to set me straight. Taking your own medicine is always a bit bitter, but he was right. Part of what's encapsulated in that old chestnut, "Be here now," is the advice to see what's actually happening in the present moment, to be there for what is really happening, rather than spinning it out into a narrative about how the present event is connected to what's come before or expectations for the future. Instead, mindfulness would ask us to pay attention to what's actually contained in the moment.
And the truth of the matter is that my technology, quite predictably, did fail. In my first lecture of the day a polling slide in my PowerPoint didn't open, and in my second class the link to a film failed. But the earth did not open and swallow me whole, sending me into the upside down and my students did not turn into faceless demogorgons intent on devouring their foolish teacher. Instead, I apologized and told the students I'd look into the problem. And then we all moved on.
Now, the evening after the first day, my whole family came down with a wild case of food poisoning. Let me tell you, that was real.
Get a Life, PhD
The Professor is In
The Thesis Whisperer
Tenure, She Wrote