Class Introduction Spring 2015

The Instructor Introduction I initially shared was created in the Fall Semester of last year. I’ve decided to retain it because the text is representative of my role as your instructor, but I wanted to create a fresh introduction for this semester. My purpose is to share my perspective with students, so they might realize that I am not simply an automaton; I am a person, with qualities and faults. I’ve found that it’s best to be honest with my audience, if I am to ask the audience members to give my language authenticity. So, I will tell you about a somewhat significant event that occurred yesterday to me, prior to writing this introductory piece, in which I hope my audience can find some of my humanity.

In this paragraph, I would like to set up the scene of this event…building up to when I arrived home in the afternoon after teaching a new course on Tuesday. When I awoke, I had initially suffered a minor panic attack before the class, since I still retain anxiety about speaking in front of new audiences. No matter how long I have performed as a college instructor, I always get most nervous and jittery before a new class (as I did with this class on Monday). My anxiety becomes especially inflamed prior to a class that I have not taught in the past. There are points during these panic attacks when it feels like I just cannot function properly. I have learned how to calm myself, but it was particularly difficult yesterday morning to maintain, as shortness of breath made me a bit dizzy. I was able to still myself, and I am happy to report that the first day of my Tuesday class went fairly well (though, it’s always difficult to tell from Day One). However, I was relatively exhausted by the time I reached home, as this anxiety is physically, mentally, and spiritually draining.

The event I wish to emphasize is not this panic attack, but instead what happened when I arrived home. I live in an old house, and during the winter time, we usually get a few mice in my basement. It’s not unexpected, and I’ve become somewhat anesthetized to removing dead mice from the traps I set up down there. I work on my schoolwork down in the basement, so I traipsed down the stairs to prepare some class items.

As I sat down at my laptop, I heard a couple of squeaking noises coming from the corner. The squeaks came in pairs, spaced out by about three seconds each, and the sound was alarming. I went to the corner and saw a mouse pinned in the trap. Its body was crushed, but the head was still alive, eyes wide open, staring at me. The squeaks became louder and more panicked as I stood above the crippled creature.

I felt a wave of nausea, and I busted up the stairs to reach the bathroom. I made it there, but I couldn’t hold it in. If I was exhausted before, then I was positively spent after that violent reaction.

I couldn’t go back into the basement for about a half hour, and I paced upstairs a bit, trying to get the sound and the image out of my head. I realized that it would be most humane to put the creature out of its misery. I debated and struggled a bit because I am not a killer. Growing up, I was exposed to farm life and hunting, but I just don’t have it in me to kill a living creature. I never have.

I tried to work it up in me to go back down there and perform my duties. I couldn’t do it. I tried to distract myself by turning on the news. I watched a debate about the Paris terror attack, which disgusted me more. It confuses me how human beings persist in killing one another, for “transgressions” like drawing an offensive cartoon. I don’t understand killing, yet it seems that others not only understand it…but they are most capable of performing it.

So the news program was no good; instead, I popped in my DVD of To Kill a Mockingbird and fast-forwarded to the scene where Atticus Finch had to shoot the rabid dog: how he hesitated, drew a bead several times, and eventually did what needed to be done. I repeated the scene several times, hoping that the mouse might perish by the time I made it down to the basement.

Eventually, I told myself how silly I was being and “to be a man” (whatever the hell that means). Go down to the basement, and kill the damn mouse. I slowly descended the stairs. There were no squeaks, so I hoped that I would not need to kill the mouse. I wasn’t even sure how I would do it. I suppose I was simply going to crush it beneath my boot, which brought me back to some Biblical passage I had read as a young man. I couldn’t remember it, but I made a mental note to look it up later…after disposing of the mouse. I gingerly tip-toed my way to the mouse, slowing down the closer I came. Finally, I stood over the mouse. It was still. I stood there for a few passing moments, bemoaning the loss of one of the “lower” creatures on the human-constructed food chain.

I turned my back to the mouse, took a step to retrieve gloves to remove the critter, and the mouse started squeaking again, with more volume and frequency than before. I jumped out of my skin. I retrieved my laptop from my desk, and I skipped up the stairs two at a time, as the mouse pleaded.

As a writer, it seems to me that we become most anxious when we realize how easily we expose our character to an audience. We open ourselves to analysis, criticism, and judgment; the response from audience members might be positive, or it might be negative. I anticipate that some may label me “soft,” “unmanly,” or “incapable” as a result of reading this exposition, yet I also realize that some in my audience might empathize with my plight. It is a necessary product of communicating with others. An audience member will react and respond personally and differently to spoken or written words. At any rate, writing from a personal perspective, whether objectively or subjectively, is always a risk for those who write to an audience. As your instructor, it is through the written word that I might show you two relevant aspects of writing: 1) how the rhetorical situation works, and 2) aspects/qualities of the character of the human being who conducts your writing class.

As I conclude this piece, please realize that I spent a considerable amount of time upstairs, attempting to perform scholarly work, but I just could not focus on it. I stared blankly at the screen for what seemed like an hour, replaying the ordeal with the mouse in my head. Eventually, I produced this document, which took approximately two hours. As I write this final sentence, I am preparing myself to descend into my basement for a third time, as the mouse is still down there.

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2 comments

  1. I can relate. I would feel very anxious and nauseous just before I had to go testify in court when I worked in the forensic lab. Even though I had testified 25 times, because it was always new – new case material, new DNA results, new judge, new lawyers and new jury.

    One of the major reasons I quit that job was because of how much anxiety that made me feel.

    One time (and one time only) I taught a lecture on forensic DNA analysis to first year college students at the University of Chicago. And I’ve taught a similar lecture to 4th grade students. I can tell ya, teaching the 4th graders were WAY MORE FUN. They still had that that magical quality about them where they actually respect adults. 😉

    I think your sensitivity for even the smallest of living creatures is beautiful. Don’t change that part of you.

    I just read that a humane way of killing a mouse would be to put it in an airtight container with baking soda and vinegar. It creates carbon dioxide and would kill the mouse painlessly. It’s approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

    http://www.alysion.org/euthanasia/index.php

    For the next time.

    Hugs, my friend.

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