Thursday, April 22, 2010

Good thing they weren't testing my emotional stability

I wrote my first exam in seventeen years last night, for my first library tech course. I wasn't stressed about the exam itself -- the instructor had assured us that the purpose of the exam wasn't to trick us, it was just to assure that we had met the learning goals of the course, and I knew that I had. Compared to the multiple-page essay questions on magical realism and narrative lyricism in One Hundred Years of Solitude, I was pretty sure this would be a breeze, and it was pretty close. But the actual mechanics of finding the right building and the right room and my exam actually being there and not tripping and losing all of my pens down a storm drain on the way... that I was nervous about. I drove to Algonquin the day before and scoped out the building lay-out -- people I knew were divided into two more or less equal groups on thinking this was a logical and prudent step and thinking it was thoroughly anal and laughable. Don't feel obliged to tell me which camp you fall into.

The night before I didn't sleep well. I read a little too late, thinking it would make me sleepy, then couldn't fall asleep. I got up early and walked with Pam anyway, thinking I could rest before the exam which wasn't until 6:30. I got home from the walk and grocery shopping at about eleven. The kids were slated to go to my Mom's from school and have dinner there, which seemed like a good plan when we made it, but the day just kind of stretched into this uncomfortable amorphous blob of hours to kill, and I couldn't really settle to anything. I read the paper. I cleaned up a little. I made some spicy black beans. I studied a little. I walked around flapping my hands a little, because Angus does it and I wanted to see if it actually worked as a tension reducer. It does a little. I left a little too early, which turned out okay, because when you get to the room you have to line up and wait for some woman to fish your exam out of a big box of exams.

The guy sitting at the table in front of me got in trouble for opening his exam early. Then he had a long question for the invigilator about something in his exam. I worried that he was going to be a troublemaker and wondered if I should move. Actually he was completely silent for the rest of the exam, but after a few minutes I realized that between questions I was flicking my pen between two fingers making an annoying tapping noise. I mentally apologized to the guy in front of me and made myself put the pen down between questions.

Turns out I can't write more than two lines without messing up words and writing crazy crooked sentences at this point. I raced through the easy stuff, then flipped back through and finished the stuff that required a bit more thought, then flipped through about ten times more than necessary to make sure I hadn't accidentally missed five pages of questions or anything (it could happen). For the life of me I couldn't formulate a coherent definiton of index, which was stupid but I only had to pick ten so it didn't matter, except that I totally knew it and it made me crazy.

I finished in about an hour and a half out of a possible three hours, handed in the exam and then spent the next ten to fifteen minutes wandering around the parking lot trying to find my car. It was like I popped some weird emotional cork the minute the exam was done. I used to be a cry-at-the-drop-of-a-hat person. Weddings, funerals, auto shows, commercials with kittens in them, I was your girl for copious waterworks. My Mom used to get mad at me for crying all the time, which, hello, like it's a voluntary function. When Angus was a baby I cried a lot too. But in the last few years I could count on one hand the times I've cried -- not sure if I used up my lifetime allottment or became suddenly insensitive or what. As soon as I was back in the car, I felt weirdly weepy. I was happy. I was fully one-twenty-fourth closer to a credential that could allow me to spend all day in a library AND GET PAID for it. I was happy. And tired. Really, really tired. I felt like I might fall asleep while driving. I stopped at an intersection, and four teenagers were crossing the road with the tiniest dachsund I've ever seen, and it's stumpy little legs were moving so fast they were basically a hummingbird-wing-like blur. I laughed so hard I could hardly start driving again. I decided to go to Chapters because the kids were still at my Mom's and my husband was hashing out baseball teams somewhere and I didn't feel like going home to an empty house. When I walked in they were playing Constant Craving by k.d. lang, and I was convinced it was the most beautiful song I'd ever heard and it almost made me cry again.

I bought this book and this book, because I'm trying to fill in some gap in my coverage of the classics, and it has to be better than this book, which I'm finally almost through, thanks be to all that is good and holy and not about whales. I went home and the kids were just going to bed. They were telling me stuff and I suddenly saw that Angus had a big fat lip, and he said he fell off his bike riding from school to my Mom's, but he was fine, it didn't hurt at all. So naturally I burst into tears. He kept saying he was fine, and I kept thinking how brave he was being, and realizing he was riding with his friend Jon, so even though it must have really hurt he wouldn't have felt like he could show it, which made me cry harder, whereupon my entire family declared me mad as a box of frogs and told me to go have a drink or something.

I ate some salmon, because I hadn't eaten before leaving for my exam, even though I'd meant to, but I'd gone up to fold laundry and happened on an old episode of this show, which I didn't even really watch when it was actually on, and Felix borrowed a gun to go deer-hunting and the family dog got shot, and I couldn't tear myself away until I found out if he was going to pull through, so I ran out of time to eat. I do realized this has blown my neat little theory that I only went loony AFTER the exam, but I strive for honesty here.

I went to bed and started reading this book, which is possibly the most beautiful and original ghost story with a wonderful sense of wholeness and rightness, or just an okay book that I read in a heightened state of appreciation. Then I finished reading it, because it was impossible not to. Then I laid down and cried some more. I felt fine, just like I'd sprung a slow leak from the eyes. It was annoying because my pillow kept getting wet.

I'm back to normal today. Mostly. Here's hoping this is a one-time thing, since I'm looking at roughly twenty more of these over the next four years, and it would be nice if I don't have to go home from my library job to a padded room.

9 comments:

Pam said...

Yay! One down, 23 more to go. I completely get the emotional let go after the stress. Normal and retail therapy usually helps. And a drink.
Cheers!

alison said...

I'm with Pam. One down. And really, tequila (after the exam, of course), is the way to go.

Mary Lynn said...

Moby Dick...had to study it in university and wasn't able to even finish it. Still did well on the final exam essay question related to the book, though.

The Awakening, on the other hand, I've read a couple of times. I quite like it...hope you do, too.

Amber said...

I would totally scope out the building. Prudent, I say.

And hooray on finishing the exam!

Lynn said...

Loved this post...it is such a slice in the life of Allison. Congratulations on getting through the exam, and on following your dream! That's so awesome.

Julie said...

i'm with amber. i would have done the same thing because i am anal that way and why have more stress on a stressful day. imagien what your state of mental health would have been if you didn't do it? egads! ;-)

i think you need to get a library card to your library!

only 23 more to go. sweet! congrats.

NoisyBluebird said...

Congratulations! I think they will get easier to handle as you go along. Especially if all the exams are in the same building, you'll be giving newbies directions in no time! I probably wouldn't scope out the room beforehand, I'd just leave with lots of extra time to find it. That way my mind would be distracted by the little game of finding the room and not obsessing about the exam. I hate having mental time to kill. If I've got it all mapped out beforehand my mind is empty and then I'll go and fill it with all the anxiety in the world.

The Mayor! said...

LOL, I soooo hear ya, major stress always befuddles me & brings on the tears! But I'm betting you rocked it!! NOW, ditch the stress by blogging your funny of the week....e-mail, joke, personal story....& come Mr Linky it at Crazy Town! 1st inaugral Friday Funny blog hop, let's get it rollin'! :-D

Rachel Cotterill said...

I'm always the waterworks girl, too. I even cry if I laugh too hard.

Thanks for sharing your exam adventure. It sounds like a great thing to be doing :)