August, September, October, skipping along hand-in-hand with the syllabi I’d been with all semester, how could I expect the cataclysm of November 2012? They’d treated me well for months. Sure, we’d had the occasional midterm and an exam or two. I’d given “this” and “that” from time to time, and they’d returned to me “the other” on the odd week. Overall, we’d been quite happy. We had fun, as they taught me lessons and I provided homework. Little did I know they’d been colluding in order to create a perfect storm of stress and anxiety.
As I flipped my calendar page the morning after Halloween, a new fear set in as the dates I’d vaguely known were coming converged. Between November 13th and 14th, all of my classes demanded a presentation. Within 27 hours of each other, they would rip from me three separate performances of facts and research which, as of November the first, were as distant from my mind as a McDonalds addict from tofu.
I hate giving presentations. With papers, if you’re worried, you can pull a few all-nighters and achieve near perfection. A presentation over-ripens when matured by a few all-nighters. Markedly. Like spinach forgotten in the vegetable drawer too long. They require foresight and preparation.
Three near-simultaneous presentations towered. I panicked. Interlibrary loans and in-between assignments and due dates and forgotten breakfasts and sleeping and waking hours tumbled madcap over one another. I knew enough about the Spinach Effect to realize that if I pulled all-nighters, they had to be well in advance of the presentations.
This head-over-heels research merry-go-round lagged and jumped and bundled over nine days and nine nights. Baffled and restless, I threw everything I had at them, and they demanded more and more as I went. Then, beckon glowing, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer entered, and Rudolph mended everything.
Sapped by nine days of preparation, I was completing a slide on the history of JICA, an international organization on which I was presenting. And, between the coffee and the sleep deficit, the chart’s branches and red center woke a little part of my brain that had been sitting alone in the back corner of my mind. The history chart of JICA looked uncannily like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
I laughed, the first positive emotion I’d felt about my presentations or my schoolwork in weeks.
In three and a half seconds, a decision cemented itself in my caffeine-laced little brain: clearly and unquestionably, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer must feature in each of my three presentations. Naturally – not lurching, but casual. As though I hadn’t even thought about it. It would be a covert little game, and – the excitement bounded up – I would have fun. Fun at school. Like I’d had a few weeks ago. The game somehow put me in control, relieving the pressure of everything barreling down on me. Like when Dante passes out of Hell, it all flipped and I was right-side up.
Scads of internet research and unconstructed slides remained, chiseling away my nocturnal minutes and whatever part of the liver filters caffeine. In the end, the first presentation was fine, the second terrible, and the last an absolute delight. But, none suffered the Spinach Effect. And all featured Rudolph, ever so subtly and naturally.
The decision to enjoy myself liberated me. Putting myself in charge of the presentations instead of letting them be in charge of me capsized their tyranny. I suspect that the calm, playful disposition made me a more engaging presenter for my classmates to watch, but I don’t know. I only know its effect on me. Playing reindeer games with Rudolph preserved me from becoming an anxious pile of spinach goo.