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Swamp

Confessions of an Academic Pseudo-Giraffe
2.3.04  
I’m used to hearing about other people’s weird dreams and not being able to remember my own. Strange, but today I do still remember the basics even though the narrative in my head ended at least twelve hours ago. Not a very pleasant dream, which is probably why it hasn’t disappeared from my memory yet.

I am lecturing to a large crowd in a big and fancy auditorium. The whole room is packed with two kinds of people: 1. Friends, who would like me to do well and impress everyone and 2. experts of the field who, as I instinctively know, are smelling blood and ready to attack my every word fiercely. There are no students or anyone else interested in learning anything; the whole function of the lecture is to assess my performance. So it’s not a lecture really but a staged act of social porn, a “reality show” type of thing.

I am speaking English, but the language feels more foreign to me than usual. The words come clumsily out of my mouth, and even though I master my topic perfectly, I know that the awkward delivery gives the impression of incompetence. I start analysing my own pronounciation as I speak, realising that there’s a problem with my alveolar fricatives: I’m trying to be hypercorrect with my thin unvoiced Finnish sibilants (s-sounds) and end up exaggerating their thickness and mishpronounshing the wordsh. I’m more or less able to maintain my professionality until the question and answer section begins. Someone asks a question which rests completely on the meaning of a single word, and I’m shocked to find that I no longer know the meaning of this previously familiar term. There’s nothing I can do, however feverishly I think. I try to play time, to no avail. There’s a moment of mental nudity as I suddenly understand that not only do all the other people in the room know the meaning of this word but they are also aware of the exact nature of my problem. Every drop of my academic integrity is gone.

I look at my friends who, as I now notice, are all female, and every single one of them has a look in their eyes that says: “I can’t believe you don’t know that word”. Then they all sing that aloud in beautiful soprano voices. The experts, who are all over fifty and dominantly male, have extended their arms, thumbs pointing downward. Their teeth are showing. The rest of the event is a blur, but afterwards I wander alone among happy people at a reception, surrounded by some kind of smokescreen. I consider travelling to the ends of the earth. I'm convinced that my face is not the colour it's supposed to be. Fortunately, there are drinks, lots of drinks…

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