On Presentations and Stress

The course that I am taking on Magic and Witchcraft in the Ancient Near East is a mix of graduate and undergraduate students, and since we are at different levels of schooling, we are taking the class in slightly different ways, even though we are all of us studying the same topic. I’m the only grad student in the Comparative Humanities program; all of the other grad students are in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Studies Masters or PhD programs. I feel like a bit of an odd duck out, but it’s OK because the material is fascinating, and even though we are all coming at things from different perspectives it just means that we can each cast a different light on the material.

In any case, one of the big differences between the graduate and undergraduate students is that of the many readings we have to complete for the class, there are a few in particular that are selected for the graduate students to present on, and the undergraduates to write one-page abstracts for. The undergraduates each have to write 8 abstracts, and we graduate students have to give two presentations each. We signed up for presentations at the beginning of the semester, and I’ll admit that I didn’t give much thought to it. I simply signed up for presenting on the papers that had the most interesting titles and hadn’t yet been selected by other students. I got to pick both of my presentations at the same time, since I was picking last, and for some reason that I’m tempted to time travel and ask past me about, I selected presentations 10 and 11, meaning that I have to give two presentations in a row.

My first presentation didn’t go particularly well — I was mostly prepared, but I went a little over time and had to rush the ending, and I also forgot my water bottle at my desk, which is a problem because I have what feels like a chronically dry throat, especially when I have to do public speaking. Thus I had to walk back to my desk to get the bottle out of my backpack only to realize it was near empty. I also ended up in a time crunch and wasn’t able to print out my notes because of a line at the library printers and thus had to have my computer open in front of me to look at them while presenting on the classroom computer. The whole thing was thoroughly embarrassing, especially because then I ended up forgetting stuff at the podium and had to slink back up to the front of the class so that the next presenter could return it to me. He was super complimentary of my presentation, which I appreciated. I felt better about everything and was cheered up a bit until just after class when I was talking to a few other students and after admitting that it wasn’t my best presentation and that I know I could have done better another student asked me “well, if you could do a good presentation then why didn’t you?”

If that wasn’t a slap in the face of a question I really don’t know what is. I have to admit that I just sort of stuttered out an excuse before fleeing the classroom. Typically, I’m better at sticking up for myself than that, but these past few weeks have been really tough, primarily for personal reasons that I’m not going to share with rude classmates, let alone the whole internet, but also because as I’ve gotten older it seems as though the world has gotten crueler. I do believe that there is still plenty of good and beautiful and amazing things happening every day, but I cannot hide the horrors from myself either. My therapist says that I’m an empath and has been trying to help me disconnect myself from the indirect suffering of others that I let impact my personal life, but sometimes it honestly feels like a losing battle. This is all to say that I have many things that I need to work through in my personal, professional, and scholarly lives, and the ways in which all of these things connect can make it difficult to focus on just one; hence, a presentation that I did put a great deal of effort into turned into a bit of a wash.

When I talked to my mum about how sucky everything went, she pointed out that if I learned something from it, than it wasn’t truly a waste, which I can appreciate. And I do think that I learned from it, and hopefully my second presentation for that class will go better, since I now have more time to prepare given that I accidentally thought I was going to be presenting a week earlier than I actually will. In any case, we’ll see how it turns out. I genuinely enjoy the topics that I have been working with, so the presentations really aren’t much of a hardship; I just need to make sure that I keep on top of all of my work. I don’t have classes on Tuesdays, so I suppose that technically I’m already on Thanksgiving break right now, which should be a holiday, but the papers I have due next week say otherwise.



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