Monday, October 25, 2010

Gold Star Worthy

I am trapped in this window-less basement room. Twenty five nonprofit students are screaming at me for showing up to class five hours late.  Wearing only a t-shirt and underpants, I stand ashamed at the front of the class, the words of someone's power point presentation glowing across my face. Paper airplanes are hurled at me and the professor banishes me to the back of the class, telling me that I have failed the course. "No, Ms. Sands, you cannot give your presentation. I don't forgive tardiness."

I bolt awake and frantically look around, a side glance at the clock telling me it's 4:15 am.  Panic and dread fighting in my stomach, then I realize I haven't missed class. And logically the most I'd get for showing up late would be some slightly judgmental glances and very minimal heckling.  Shrimp with spaghetti at midnight is the culprit.  I was starving when I got home after working at client's gala, not thinking about the ludicrous late night dreams that would certainly be visited upon me for eating dinner right before bed. I fall back asleep and am promptly dreaming again. This time some combination of an episode of Hoarders with myself as the star, mixed with some light gardening.  I am aware that I'm dreaming the whole time. Weird.

The alarm goes off at 7:00, snooze button until 7:15 and then manage to force myself up and start getting ready for class. I am 35 and I'm in school again.  It's a warm familiar feeling. But it comes with the stress and performance anxiety that I remember less fondly. Yet it's invigorating. I have an assignment to present to the class today. I'm confident that I've done a solid job, but now I have to present it to a class of 25 other non-profit fundraiser types. My class is filled with sharp, dedicated people. A wide age range, from early twenties to late sixties, one actual nun wearing a habit, one older professor filled with war stories about his Jerry Lewis telethon days and a abundance of politically incorrect jokes, a woman who manages to don more scarves than even I do, the cackling laugh girl who rolls in the aisles over EVERYTHING and yet does not take criticism well, another woman who has worn these bright purple boots at both class sessions (boots so desirous that I completely relate to teens who beat each other up over Air Jordans or Starter jackets, I promise I didn't hit her over the head with my book and steal her footwear, her damn feet are too small.)

In case I didn't mention, these classes are for my fund development certificate at the University of Missouri Kansas City, and this was the last session of my first complete course.  I'm taking two this fall and two next spring, and when I finish I can cross off #41 on my life list!  Officially crossing it off still leaves me with some other decisions to make. I need to get a Master's degree at some point, and probably in Public Administration. I'm just not ready. These current classes can be used towards graduate level credit hours which is useful, once I decide to go back to school. I don't want to yet. Part of my delay is the cost, part of it is the time commitment, and part of it is, I just don't want to right now. So there, decision made. But I'm crossing off #41 either way, next spring once I get my certificate, and framing that sucker right up on the wall with hipster giraffe. 

All morning, this session, will be filled with presentations.  It's decidedly harder to fall asleep when you are expected to speak and not just take notes, so this is a good thing. I want to present first and get it out of the way so I don't have to sit all afternoon dreading it. I like public speaking. But like the balance of the population, it makes me nervous. I talk entirely too fast, escalating the speed with which I talk normally, already fast, to the point where I sound like the Micro Machines' pitch man. So the mantra "SLOW DOWN" is constantly running through my head as I stand facing the class and winging it. The professor arbitrarily decides to have us present in the order that he received our assignment in the mail. I have no idea if this is good or bad until I get called to go fourth. Aaah, good.  Some of my fellow students prepared lengthy and elaborate power point presentations. I didn't. It's just me and my direct mail fund raising piece standing at the front, ready to be ripped apart.  I got a few laughs, some truly positive feedback and constructive criticism and overall I felt good. I ended up with 100% on the assignment, and the class. I am still so driven by receiving those grades. I feel like a little kid receiving a gold star for cleaning my room or putting away my shoes. I feel accomplished. My professor liked my work. I reek of teacher's pet.

After a morning of presentations and feedback, we break for lunch. Over in Midtown Kansas City, with so many restaurant options, I tend to grab cheap fast food, eat in my car with the windows down while reading a book. But for some reason that just seems kind of wrong today. Fast food is crappy and the weather is warm and humid, so sitting in the car for some peace and quiet would be sticky. I went to lunch all alone at Cafe Europa instead. I don't feel very comfortable eating by myself in nice sit down restaurants. This is silly. I just so rarely do it that I feel like I stick out in the room, sitting by myself with my book. My waiter was chatty and funny and certainly gay, based on the way he outrageously flirted and touched the gentlemen seated next to me, my quiche and soup were scrumptious and once I got over the fact that the woman sitting on my other side really was looking at me a lot, (I was slightly eavesdropping on her conversation about liposuction, maybe she noticed) she leaned over and said "Sorry, I keep staring, but I love your bracelet, where did you get it?" Ok, so I'm unnecessarily self conscious and no one could give a crap whether I eat lunch alone.

After lunch I browsed at the little boutiques and shops around the restaurant. Trying to hide my sticker shock in one lovely austere shop, I turned over a price tage and saw $550 dollars for a scarf and had to reconnect my jaw to my face. For a scarf? Huh? A scarf that I think I've seen at Marshalls for $20. I think I was in the wrong place. $550 for a scarf. I wandered into the little stationary store next door and bought a couple of little presents and a small "Keep Calm and Carry On" print for myself. And then back to class.

The afternoon dragged. Once the other presentations were over, the last hour of class felt like slow torture. Coming down off of the double whammy adrenaline high of the special event the night before and the presentation that morning, my serious lack of sleep, I was looking rough. I hung on, attempted to take some notes, though on closer inspection yesterday they are a bit incoherent. 4 o'clock finally meandered up and I dragged myself home. A brief blessed nap later and I felt like myself again, like myself who had just gotten an A+. Nerd.

So are you totally grade driven? Are you still giddy when you get an A? Do you still get nervous giving speeches? Do you talk so fast during presentations that you should be in the Guinness Book of World Records? Tell me, tell me!


Regina Walker said...

I would go to school forever if I could because the feeling of getting an A on something cannot be duplicated. Not even by cake. And coming from me, that is saying a lot. I am currently enrolled in a serious grammar class. Keeping in mind that I haven't had a grammar lesson since the sixth grade, you could say that I was totally intimidated. Also, on the first day of class, the girl behind me (early twenties, crunchy-granola) is telling the other students how mean the teacher is, and how difficult the course is. I am at that point filled with anxiety. And then Dr. B starts talking. And then I remember, oh, yeah! I rock this shit out! But I also remember to lay low, because I don't want to seem uppity. So we take the first exam, and the average score is a 71%. I got a 95%, but I am still playing it off to others in class like I don't know what is going on. I hide my exam. Then to my dismay, the teacher posts my name on a list of other people who did well on the test. She is then calling me a "tutor". In black and white online, is my email address and my name so that students with difficulties can get ahold of me for help. I am outed as a huge grammar nerd. I can no longer hide behind my pretend unerachiever exterior that I have spent so many years perfecting. What am I, a sixth grade girl? Pretending to be clueless about relative clauses, and acting as though diagramming an adverbial prepositional phrase is going to make me pee my pants. Last week, I had to do a diagram on the board. I just knew that the other students were looking at my muffin top/flat ass and wondering where I had left my trunk junk. I refuse to make eye contact while Dr. B tells me that my work is perfect. I feel overwhelmed. Now ten people are trying to get me to take linguistics with them. Life is good.

Katrina said...

I totally talk WAY TOO FAST giving a presentation. I have been down graded so many times for that. Sigh.

Grades didn't matter to me much until grad school. And that is something you WANT to do- so holding off is a great decision I think! Anyway grades didn't matter until then. I was/am super stoked about my 3.98 grade point average! Stupid A- in intro to research brought me DOWN!! Have I mentioned lately that I HATE research? :)

And what is it about not being comfortable eating in a restaurant alone? I am impressed that you did that at all. I never have. Way too chicken!! That should be something on my list that I am still intending to write but haven't. :)My mind tells me it's no big deal- but man to actually do it!! Kudos to you!!

Erin L. said...

I have the opposite experience as Katrina. I loved getting A's and was especially thrilled to find out when I occasionally got the highest grade in the class. But grad school was a whole different animal. Everyone gets A's and B's (in fact, we were required to carry at least a B average). In the end I realized that grades didn't matter in grad school. I realized that if you know how to play the "school game" you can get an A but still not really synthesize the information from class. What mattered in grad school for me was what I carried away from a class because I would be expected to know it and use it.

Joe said...

What up Rock Star! - Um, I was never one to be too excited either way about grades. But then you probably knew that already...
As far as giving speeches, I was always mortified and therefor probably always spoke too fast (at least in school). It's gotten a bit better as an adult but mostly b/c what I'm talking about is almost always something I know so well...and therefor why I'm talking about it. Rock on w/ the A+ too - not that there was any question!

margherio said...

I haven't been in school for so long that I don't remember how I feel about grades. Probably a little more strongly than I care to let on and a little less strongly than I should. That said, I am considering an MBA or EMBA so I'll let you know when (if) I get there.

As for public speaking, I routinely do this for my job and have reasonable control over my nerves but it still takes some practice. Nice part is that it is a learnable skill so practice really does make it better. That and I agree with Joe, I generally know that I know more about the topic than the audience so that takes off some of the edge.

bethany actually said...

I totally thought I commented on this already. Huh.

I never cared much about grades, but I always got almost all A's. When I did get a B, I usually knew exactly why I didn't earn the A so I didn't care because if I'd wanted the A I would have done A-level work to get it. Except one class in high school where I really should have gotten a D because I coasted and did next to no work. The teachers gave me a B both semesters. I pretty much lost respect for both of them for that, even though it benefited me.

The first C I ever got was in college for a calculus class where I went to every class except when I was deathly ill, did all the homework, studied for the tests and did my best. The work was slightly above my head, and the TA who taught most of the classes was spoke heavily accented, peculiar, nearly-incomprehensible English. I think my actual percentage in that class was 50-something, yet I got a C. So you can imagine that most of the people in the class were confused.

kassie lou said...

I have smart friends, thank god.

Kristendom said...

Other than the fact that I get an F for coming to the party so late (my blogging and blog reading is WAAAAAY behind right now), I totally identify with this post - shocking, I know. I found out yesterday that we have an online learning system that is available to us free with lots of courses, and what did I do last night (not even waiting until this morning)? I started planning which classes I was going to take. So join the Nerd club - you are by far not the only member.