It’s a rainy Monday morning in my bell tower-level location, and though it’s fully morning here I rather enjoy the feeling that I’m up before dawn in the US. I might even be able to get a recommendation letter submitted before the person who needs it sends me another reminder. Most of my students are in someone else’s class right now, so that gives me time in which I can write. Do yoga. Go to the gym. Prep class. Write that recommendation. Go to the library. Print out a problematic chunk of the current writing project, read through it, and list “what I have/what I need,” create a new outline, and then write it. Do a couple of errands. Check e-mail. Write letters. Um. Stop!

I’m supposed to have a schedule that makes time to do all these things. It worked pretty well last week, with tweaks here and there (slept too late to get to the gym and still get to breakfast on time? Go to breakfast and hit the gym later in the day). Today I started with writing (well, actually, reading through the above-mentioned problematic chunk and separating out some stuff I intend to print out in a little while), then posted over at amstr’s Writing Account, had muesli instead of going to breakfast in Hall, and now have to figure out the rest of the morning.

Last night I slipped on wet cobblestones and wrenched my wonky ankle. It’s not swollen, but it does hurt a little, so I have been intermittently wrapping it in damp towels rendered cold in the refrigerator, then elevating it, and wrapping it in a colorful scarf when the cold packs come off. Hence the importance of doing a little yoga, to see how that feels, before making a decision about the gym, which may or may not be advisable. I need vigorous exercise every day, but if the ankle’s going wonky again, I’ll have to leave it alone for a few days and deal with the other physical consequences.

On the plane, I worked out a list of scheduled research tasks for the first couple of weeks here. I’m only slightly behind. I might even be able to catch up, though the better part of valor would probably be to recalibrate the list. It is very satisfying to meet clear, daily goals, however, and I enjoyed that immensely last week.

One of my colleagues commented on the physical demands of life here, compared with home, where he drives everywhere, takes the elevator to his office, sits in a cushy chair, watches TV with remote in hand; whereas here he must walk, climb stairs, carry purchases. I laughed. My life here is so much easier than at home: I can walk everywhere, instead of driving an hour each way to and from campus; I have two big desks I can work at; I have no cats to knock things off the desks or spread themselves out all over whatever I’m trying to work on; I only need to shop for one; there are no cats to feed, exercise/play with (Glendower needs a lot of this, it’s not just to amuse myself), separate from fights, groom, take to the vet, etc; limited social life; no garden (at least, not that I’m responsible for); I have an order of magnitude fewer students than I did last term; in short, I feel that I have died and gone to research heaven.  Except that poor Sir John is going round the bend dealing with everything at home, and I experience this as pressure to WRITE ALL THE THINGS so that he will feel his sacrifices are worth it.

But being away from ALL THE THINGS (the household things, not the writing things) makes it clear to me how many things there really are in my normal life.  Distracting things.  Events.  Tasks.  I don’t just mean physical things, though it does cross my mind that a good purge at home might make life a little simpler (don’t hold your breath, though; I am the child of hoarders, and though I am far, far better than my father, it’s not so easy for me to get rid of stuff once it has entered my house).  But seriously, even a two-person household where both people pull their weight just has a lot more going on, especially once you add four special-needs cats.

(Awful thought: do we just drive our cats crazy?  Would Glendower be fine in another household?  I would prefer to think that he would be a nut-job anywhere and that we are saving him from an indefinite stretch of shelter life or repeated try-outs with families who decide he is too difficult and take him back.  We watch My Cat from Hell and make changes that seem appropriate; we have lots of places to climb and hide; and Glendower is much better when somebody spends a lot of time playing with him.  But he does have good days and bad days regarding the other cats.  Basement Cat has mellowed enormously, so I hope once Glendower is a few years older, he’ll become a nice cat, too.)

Anyway, since amst asked us to think about the OBE problem, I’m thinking over here, digressively it’s true.  I’m thinking that in normal life, we’re often like those slowly-heated goldfish who don’t realize their environment is becoming unbearable.  We take on one thing, then another, get used to juggling plates, add in a flaming torch, and just keep going, until the day when it’s all too much.  Although I wish I could suggest that everybody take some time away like I’m doing right now, that is unrealistic; a lot of us have more work in the summer (especially if you have to make arrangements for children who aren’t in school).  What I do suggest is that you count up the plates, flaming torches, and everything that you are doing and be cognizant of it.  You may not even be able to stop juggling.  But maybe you could cut yourself some slack if you’re feeling pressured.  Give yourself credit for what you’re doing.

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5 thoughts on “Events . . . not overcome by them, but events

  1. This post reminds me of the important-versus-urgent time management principle. There is a tendency to get caught up in shitte thatte is urgent–needs to be done right away–but not really meaningful to one’s key life goals: writing recommendation letters for students you barely know, grading tests, attending yet another committee meeting, etc. And this comes at the expense of shitte thatte is not urgent–no immediate consequences if you do it now or later–but is truly meaningful to key life goals: reading, writing, working out, etc.

    Especially in academia, if you aren’t scrupulous about protecting yourself, you end up filling your days with urgent bullshitte, and leaving no time for important professional and personal work. So in addition to your excellent suggestion to keep track of all the shitte one juggles, I also suggest that one assess the importance of all the shitte one juggles, and give oneself permission to allow unimportant shitte to fall to the ground.

  2. What CPP said. As soon as I figured out how to guard my time and say no, things changed.

    I love this post–been thinking about similar things as husband and I try to adjust to the various changes we’ve made/are making in the last few weeks. And no, your cats (or mine) wouldn’t be better somewhere else. Because with you, they are loved despite (and sometimes because of) their oddities. I know many pet owners that have pets but the pets are accessories, not a part of the family life. Glendower could have ended up there, but wouldn’t be as happy. Captain is just as needy–needs a lot of play time and cuddle time (but only on his terms of course), or else he and Queen fight. Sometimes they’ll fight anyway.

  3. I’ve found that the Undercover Mouse is really good at entertaining cats that need entertainment when the humans have to work and might give you and Sir John a bit of a break assuming you can concentrate with cats pouncing in the background.

  4. I do not even have a lot of things — I am not a hoarder — but home is overwhelming still because of the number of things and small things to do; it is also where I know more people, not all of whom I am glad to know, so dealing, even though dealing abroad takes another kind of effort, is more difficult at home. Also, I have recently figured out that I am more familiar to myself abroad, so I stumble over myself much less!

    So, now being home, I realize the answer really is to avoid anything junk or clutter-like, and especially the intangible clutter, the cluttering of time. The idea of “protecting one’s time” never was the right image for me — too defensive — and I have invented the alternate image of expanding one’s space-time by not allowing clutter in. Breathing a huge space around oneself.

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