In his characterization of the dynamic structure of the mind, Freud employs the metaphor of a Censor who guards the boundary between the unconscious and consciousness, preventing unacceptable wishes, fantasies, and memories from erupting into our awareness. At night, he suggest, the Censor's guard is down, so that some of that repressed content finds its way into dreams, albeit in altered form. I got up in the middle of last night, as I do every night, and spent an hour or so reading my e-mail, checking news stories and opinion blogs, and playing games of FreeCell. As often happens, there was a message from FaceBook that I had a number of "pokes" and visits to the FaceBook page one of my former students persuaded me to sign up for several years ago. Usually, I simply delete these eruptions from the world of social media, but last night, for some reason, I clicked on the link and read through the many entries on my FaceBook page.
I am by nature a private person, for all my public persona as a genial story teller. I count very few people as my real friends, and have always thought of myself as someone who does not have a talent for sociability. Although I feel a genuine love for my students, I do not spend time "hanging out" with them. As I often remark, I have lived most of my life in my head.
But as I paged down through the long series of messages posted on FaceBook, many of them dating back half a year, none of which I had read, I suddenly felt immersed in a warmth of feeling that is quite unfamiliar to me. Most of the messages were from students and colleagues with whom I had shared time in the W. E. B. DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts. There were Manisha Sinha and Jim Smethurst and Tanya Mears and Cristy Tondeur and Andrew Rosa and Karla Zelaya and countless others, wishing me happy birthday [these from last December], telling me of their triumphs, posting pictures of political demonstrations, "liking" this, that, or the other.
As I read through the messages, all the way to the end, I had what I am embarrassed to describe as a Sandra Dee moment. Unbidden, the thought came to me, "They like me, they really like me."
Those sixteen years in the Afro-Am Department were the happiest of my half century long career. I am prouder than I can say of what we achieved then, and I glory in the triumphs of my former students -- their doctorates, their books, their careers -- as though they really were my children.
As I say, all of this took place in the middle of the night. It was dark, save for my computer screen, and the Censor was nodding, allowing these feelings to make their way into my conscious mind where I could acknowledge them.
It seems infra dignitate to call this a Sandra Dee moment. Let me say, rather, that it was for me a Mr. Chips moment.