I’ve run through email, cleared my inbox, and scheduled the Department’s core social media output for the week. I met last week’s research goal, and feel ready to tackle the one set up for the week ahead. I feel calm.
And then I don’t. When I am calm I can rationally imagine me doing the work, taking myself through the files on my computer, jigsaw-ing with other timetabled classes. When I am calm, I feel capable, the work feels finite, and I feel in control.
This sense of calm never lasts long. It is swiftly disrupted by other voices. The one that reminds me that I am no good with strangers (so that blasts Wednesday’s task out of the water). Reminds me that I never got on with the person I am meeting next week; that she took disciplinary action against me, that I’ll have to be on tiptoe the whole time, and even then things may go wrong. The voice that tells me the only reason my biggest project has felt manageable is because I had the most fantastic Research Assistant working with me on it, and she finished last Friday. The voice that reminds me I am alone in this research. And that I won’t get the tasks done because some crisis will come along and get in the way. The voice that reminds me other members of the public don’t like the research. So why am I bothering? It’s too much for one person anyway.
Now she has settled, our cat is one of the most chilled out creatures I know. She quite literally spends most of the day sleeping, purring the odd acknowledgement of my presence. She never has too much to do; yet is never bored. There is time for eating, time for resting, and time to patrol the territory. She is black – black as coal – as night is cold.
In contrast, I prowl, ever alert, ever cognizant of the next task, if not of the one that I am working on. This kind of prowling is exhausting. But it’s not a problem for anyone but me, until someone trips a spark for the fire. Until I feel acutely awkward – or am told I agreed to something that I know I did not agree to – or until someone asks me to do yet something else that is not technically my responsibility.
The tiger prowls socially, too. She looks for signs of acceptance, or rejection, minute signs. Sometimes bigger flags fly in her face – being told at a family wedding to cover my arms, when I have no cuts on them – that I should have said this, shouldn’t have said that. Being at a wedding. Then all could be lost. The tiger has teeth and a tail, as well as a roar.
I’m scared of her disturbing the calm. I’m scared of how watchful her eyes are. Of what they may see next.