Thursday, September 29, 2005

 

Irony

I tried the 23:5 meme that’s going around – take the fifth sentence of your 23rd entry, and see what it says – and mine was

(Insert forehead-slap here.)

Apparently, the “only sane guy in the room” pose is a consistent theme. (This probably explains my affinity for Bob Newhart.) This hit home yesterday when one of my chairs, a high-maintenance type who tends to consume most of the oxygen in any given room, declared (in a moment of unimpeachable self-awareness) that she respects anybody who can work with someone like her. She asked, directly, how I do it. Without thinking first, I replied, “irony.”

In administration, irony is incredibly important. People come at you in states of high emotional dudgeon, from whatever provincial perspective, and need some major change executed RIGHT NOW. Or at least, they think they do. Maintaining enough emotional distance during the conversation to avoid getting caught up in the speaker’s drama – without seeming either cavalier or dismissive – ain’t easy. Depending on the conversation, I’ll either ask a lot of questions (if the issue is confusing) or simply wait for the emotional storm to blow over before proceeding (if the speaker is venting). The same applies when students come to complain, actually.

I have to remind myself constantly that by the time someone has resolved to go see the dean, the problem already seems beyond repair to them. If it were easy, they would have handled it on their own.

Nobody can wear the mask all the time, so figuring out when it’s safe to let the mask slip, and by how much, is a major challenge. Certain things are safe: cute kid stories can elicit laughs, as can the local running jokes. (Yesterday one of the union firebrands declared facetiously “Far be it from me to criticize the administration!” We both had a good laugh at that one.) Displays of real frustration can occasionally be constructive, but you don’t want to go to that well too often.

This is why I get uncomfortable running into work colleagues in my civilian life. When I’m out on the town, I’m usually dressed casual/shabby and riding herd on the kids. There’s no time for irony with a four-year-old, so it’s all just out there. “Dean Dad” isn’t an oxymoron, exactly, but the two roles are very distinct; I mix them as little as possible, except on this blog.

Many years ago, there was a cute parody of Star Trek (something like Star Trek XXXVIII: So Very Tired), in which a geriatric Kirk and his geriatric crew saw a Klingon ship decloak nearby. Kirk sighed, “Again with the Klingons.” I could definitely see how that could happen. The moment your crew sees that, you’re done. From below, exhaustion looks like arrogance. I respect my faculty enough to make the effort to wear the mask. But yes, sometimes, you’re just So Very Tired.

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