Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 23, 2009

Restless, Not Helpless

The world turns and the world changes,

But one thing does not change.

In all of my years, one thing does not change.

However you disguise it, this thing does not change:

the perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.

          –T.S. Eliot, Choruses from “The Rock“, 1934

Why don’t you tell me ’bout the Mystery Dance. / I wanna know about the Mystery Dance. / Why don’t you show me, /’Cause I’ve tried and I’ve tried, and I’m still mystified./I can’t do it anymore and I’m not satisfied.” – Elvis Costello, Mystery Dance (1977)


As in “Romeo was restless”, first line of the song Mystery Dance.

That’s the word I’m looking for to describe my state of being these days, in this in-between time: after the thrill of Obama’s inauguration, but before the hard work and settling-in and grinding-out of small but important changes in how we treat ourselves and the planet.

I’m restless. Like America is restless.

After the sinking feeling of unemployment (recently ended), and before the comfortable rhythm of satisfying employment, where I’ve settled into a groove and have the confidence to relax and trust my instincts… I’m in this in-between place, this liminal space.


It’s not the worst feeling in the world, though. I can handle it. I have it quite often when starting a new job or project. So I’m mostly content, knowing it’s temporary, and useful, and normal. Like this godawful winter weather lately.

I can look my restless Self in the face and not cringe.

The word is also apropos, because I’ve had insomnia several times the past few weeks, which was never much of a problem before (except when I took an extended dip in the lake of Clinical Depression, winter of ’95… also, a “first year of teaching” …urp!). My rythyms are all out of whack.

Generally, it’s the new job that has kept me up, as I rehearse and review in my restless, anxious brain what I’m going to do, or what I should have done, or what I keep putting off doing, or what the class did that ticked me off, or what my students might need that I’m not quite clear about yet.

It’s my first time around the block teaching a full-fledged, college level course. I’ve taught adults, teens, all the way down to kindergarten. But the format and style issues for a full-term college course are significantly different than any of those prior experiences. My inner resources are being taxed quite a bit, as I try to grow into this new role.

My bosses have given me a vote of confidence, but there’s sometimes a vaccuum of practical support or helpful information for a newcomer like me. Maybe it’s the nature of a “low budget” institution, educational or not: they have too much on their plate, and there’s not always a budget line item, or a kind “midwife” to spare (a long-term colleague, to help someone like me learn the ropes). So I have to be my own advocate, since the impersonal institution can only able to go so far in anticipating and assisting with the challenges. Nothing new here. Just frustratingly familiar.

But I’m a big boy. “I’ll be a’ ight,” as Barack humorously said at one point during the campaign ( I blogged about his use of Ebonics, and the wisdom of a Joe Biden pick for VP, over a year ago. As my man Stephen Colbert likes to say: “I CALLED IT!”).

Just ’cause it’s new, just ’cause it’s stressful, just ’cause too many other stressed-out or lazy people are inclined to duck and say “It ain’t my job…”, just ’cause a kid doesn’t know any better, these temporary difficulties are no reason to panic or beat myself up.

I ain’t gonna lose any sleep over being restless, in other words. There are already enough people sleepwalking through this world as it is.

Maybe restlessness is just another word for hope, ambition, or possibility.


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