Schedules and sleep

For years I’ve been moaning about having to teach night classes followed within 48 hours by an early morning class or meeting. By nature I’m a morning person (though not an extreme one), and the only time I ever coped well with night classes was back in the last century, when I was able to stack all my obligations in the afternoons and evenings, thus allowing me to sleep from roughly midnight to 8:00 a.m. on a regular basis.

For the first time in the twenty-first century, thanks in part to Zoom and also to some retirements, I have that schedule again.

And yet after my first night class of the semester, I was up till 2:00 a.m. and still didn’t sleep well. Too much stimulation: a day full of new people! a different classroom! also an unhappy colleague to talk off a ledge, and staying late to scan some things that need to go on the V(i)LE site, and finally lying awake thinking (more with pleasurable excitement than with anxiety, but still, awake) about things I needed to do. I hope I get used to the new people and classroom. I never realized the extent to which sheer physical exhaustion used to help me sleep after I got all keyed up to stay awake for class and the drive home.

At any rate, I’m now regularly doing work after dinner, to replace the now-missing mornings. It’s interesting! It feels like re-connecting with my grad-student self. Like early mornings, evenings are peaceful: incoming e-mail is rare, and there’s a feeling that “normal” people are doing other things, not demanding my attention.

Actually my morning-person leanings have been in trouble since last summer, when for various reasons I kept being unable to sleep till very late, and then either sleeping late the next day or taking naps. But basically I was tired all summer. The fall term put me back on a closer-to-normal schedule, but I was still tired a lot of the time.

Then when I had Covid I sort of turned into a cat, no circadian rhythms at all. I couldn’t sleep for more than a couple of hours at a stretch, because I’d wake up congested and coughing, or otherwise uncomfortable. I drank a lot of hot liquids to soothe my throat, so my bladder also woke me up regularly. But all those liquids lacked caffeine, and I haven’t restarted my very modest caffeine habit (usually a single serving of green tea in the morning). I’m sure I would have recovered faster if I’d been able to sleep more, or at least more hours in a row, but it just wasn’t happening. Naps round the clock were the best I could do.

Once I was able to breathe better, I’ve been in bed for eight or nine hours most nights, sometimes even ten, and asleep for most though not all of it (I often wake up for awhile in the middle of the night). I miss the flavor of my fancy green tea, and the alert feeling when the caffeine kicked in, but on the other hand, I don’t seem so generally draggy in the morning. Or maybe I’m a little bit draggy all the time, but not especially so when I first get up.

Though the semester has started, I still have a lot of teaching prep to do, the kind of stuff I like to have done before classes begin. The syllabus for that night class is very rough, and the V(i)LE sites are much less populated than I’d like them to be. But that work is just going to have to get done in the awake hours that I have. Though I keep thinking I’m mostly back to normal, every time I push myself a little the body pushes back and tells me no, you aren’t really. Long nights, short walks, and gentle yoga are where I’m at right now, physically. The brain seems to be in decent shape, for which I am grateful. That means I’m able to do the work that needs to be done, that I want to do, am excited about. But I can only do so much of it.

I’m not complaining. Mostly I’m just noticing differences. It’s like when I was ill in November 2015 and time stretched out so hugely because I wasn’t doing anything. Last semester seems like at least a year ago, and in other ways as well I feel insecurely anchored in time (see above re graduate-student self). Probably the demands of the semester will take over and anchor me again, soon. For now I’m somewhere between dragging and floating, and immensely grateful that I’m able to keep to a consistent sleep schedule this term, even if it’s not what I would have said was my preferred schedule. I don’t think I could cope with one of those 33-hour turn-arounds I used to have.

Three remarks

A couple of weeks ago, in my grad class, we were discussing the Riverside Chaucer. One of my students, inspecting the publication information, said “That’s the year before I was born!”

I refrained from mentioning that the book came out the year I started graduate school. The students can probably work that out for themselves, if they look me up.

The same week, I unexpectedly saw a colleague in the parking lot, someone who used to be in a writing group with me, but whom I haven’t seen in years. I hailed this person; the first words out of their mouth were “I thought you’d already be retired!”

Sir John says this is sort of like saying “I thought you’d be dead by now.” I didn’t take it that badly, perhaps because in our writing group days I observed that things this person says are much more likely to be about them than about the person they’re talking to. Sure enough, conversation revealed that they’d like to retire but can’t do it yet.

When Sir John and I opened a new joint checking account last year, at the bank he’s used for decades, the woman helping us asked if I’d like to consult with a personal banker: “You might be able to retire sooner than you thought!”

“But I don’t want to retire,” I said, so quietly that Sir John (who knows me well) thought I was angry. Not that. More sad, I think.

I’m supposed to want to retire, but I don’t. I didn’t expect this. When I was approaching the age at which I could retire early, and had a department chair I didn’t like, it was a comfort to think that soon I’d be able to tender my resignation if it all got to be too much. Now that that time, and another couple of chairs, have come and gone, I’m happy with my current life. I’d like things to stay the way they are for awhile longer.

Where the day went

Before I started work, I fed the cats, did yoga, ate breakfast, watered and fertilized the tomatoes, watered the African violets, brushed the cats’ teeth.

Checked e-mail and answered a couple of messages. Declined an “opportunity” that would interfere with time I want to use either to do research or to prep my grad class, though technically I’m “free” at that time.

Wrote 567 words.

Commented on all the undergrads’ discussion board posts. Assigned points to both classes’ posts. Discovered that I have loaded to Blackboard all but one assignment for each class (I thought I was missing more than that for one class, so this made me happy). Made notes toward the two assignments I still have to write up in detail.

Attended a committee meeting online. Volunteered for a subcommittee.

When the meeting ended early, I used the “found time” to swing by the grocery store (half an hour) and move some boxes around in the garage, then started unpacking one box of books (another half hour). ILL’d a book I need, only to have the request cancelled because the book is already checked out of one of the libraries that has it; another is a non-circulating library; the third claims to have it but in fact hasn’t ordered it yet. Thppppbtt.

Dead language group meeting, online.

Talked to Sir John while completing the unpacking of that box of books. Sorted out a stack of books to give away. I’m pretty sure that box of books never got unpacked in the last house, so it was easy to distinguish between the books I was glad to see again and those that made me wonder where and why I got them in the first place.

Checked in online with my dissertating students.

Ate dinner. Went for a walk. Unpacked a new batch of masks from Etsy that arrived in today’s mail.

While watching the Vuelta, answered more e-mail and started reviewing an article I’m teaching tomorrow.

Where a day went

Yesterday, not today. In her Thursday post, Ganching said “It is very difficult to write a blog post every day when every day is almost identical. So what was different about today?” And I thought I’d have a go at answering the question myself.

I got up in time to see a very bright, glowing sunrise (red sky at morning, sailor take warning). I drank green tea while enjoying the sky’s color. Then I fed the cats and myself. For days I’d been trying to fit in a trip to Target to get new furnace filters, Brita filters, and assorted personal-care items, only to have other things come up (work; a last trip to the storage unit on Tuesday), and I decided, since a storm was moving in, that I wanted to go while the roads were clear. So I set off after breakfast.

It was really quite decent out: breezy, but above freezing, and there was some thin sunlight. The nearest Target had much of what I wanted, but not all of it. I had thought I might take a walk around the high school nearby, for a change of scene. I was correct that its sidewalks were clear of snow. However, for at least half a mile all around, all the streets are “no parking” all day long on weekdays. So that didn’t work out. I went home and walked to the post office to mail a package and buy stamps, instead, since the predicted snow was still holding off.

Back at home, I fed the cats and myself (yes, this does happen on a regular basis). I sat down to do some work in the hour or so I had between lunch and our cleaner’s arriving. It started to snow, fast and heavy. Sir John needed to go out to pick up cat meds, and had something he needed to get done before departing, so he asked if I’d shovel the driveway. I shoveled the entire driveway and the front steps while the cleaners were working. Snow continued to fall, more slowly than at first. I got on a video meeting, a minute or so late. When it was over, there were another couple of inches of snow on the driveway. I wondered if I should start re-clearing it, but Sir John called to say he was nearly back and not to bother. I decided that as it was late in the day and I’d done almost no work, I was going to say that Saturday fell on Thursday this week, and work on Saturday to make up. Since I wanted to say I’d done something fun with my day off, I started a jigsaw puzzle. Sir John joined me in working on it for awhile, but he had a video call with a friend during the evening, so I lingered over the puzzle on my own.

Before bed, I stretched and took a hot bath. I can feel that I shoveled snow yesterday, but I’m not too stiff. Today I cleared the steps again, but left the driveway to Sir John.

Hail the new!

My intention for the year: roll with the punches. I’m sure there will be some.

That doesn’t stop me planning. I’ve re-booked a trip I had hoped to take last year, mainly (TBH) because the voucher I was holding was about to expire. The airline wanted me to use it within twelve months of when I first booked the trip. Well, ha very ha, sorry, but that’s not happening. It took quite awhile, but I did manage to get the trip pushed out to May, so we’ll see if that’s time enough to get vaccinated and for the library I want to visit to re-open. Considering that the alternative was just giving up and losing the money entirely, I’m willing to gamble.

Today I did two things I’ve been putting off for months: potted or re-potted some house plants (two African violet plantlets had been rooting in water since August), and hung pictures. The plants took under two hours, including setting up and cleaning up afterwards, and did not spawn any off-shoot projects. I certainly have had spare chunks of two hours in the last four months, but not the bandwidth to deal with getting out the new pots and soil, shutting up Basement Cat, clearing the kitchen table, actually dealing with the plants, putting everything back, and cleaning up. I spent my spare time reading fluff or going for walks, rather than embarking on multi-step projects, although I did at some point buy new pots, also drywall screws for the pictures.

Hanging the pictures took a little longer. There, the steps were find toolbox, get out drill, dig around for drill bits, discover that the little doohickey that tightens down the bit holder is missing, take everything out of the tool box to look for it, find that it is entirely missing, test various Allen wrenches and screwdriver heads to find something that will sorta-kinda replace it (and make note to get a real replacement on a day that is not a national holiday), measure various walls, make holes in walls, screw in the drywall screws, hang pictures, put everything away. I managed to lose the hammer at one point, but found it in the bag with the drill. The hammer was part of an off-shoot project; one picture frame was loose and needed to be tacked down again. Fortunately I recently turned up a little packet of the right sort of tacks.

It’s the propensity for off-shoot projects that keeps me from tackling tasks like this. So often, the steps go Find Object A, Discover that Part B is Missing, Spend C Amount of Time Looking for Part B, Spend D Amount of Time Going to E Stores for Replacement Part B, return home to discover that Cat F has Damaged Object A, Say “oh fuck it” and Pour Wine or Eat Chocolate.

I have also started setting up calendar stuff for January and beyond, which I’ve been putting off for a week, I think in rebellion against the entire idea of calendars and task lists.

Today’s productivity may or may not be a good sign for the rest of the year. Nonetheless, if I do nothing else but worky-work for the rest of the month, at least I’ve done these two things that will Stay Done (for awhile, anyway; eventually the plants will need more attention), so I’m claiming that I have Won January.

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled

Five decades ago:

I lived in my parents’ house. I had the little room that was once a sleeping porch. I slept with the big Teddy bear I got for my fifth (fourth? sixth?) birthday. At the end of July 1970, I was just over a month out from meeting a girl I shall call A, who was my best friend for the rest of grade school. I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I liked climbing trees.

Four decades ago:

I lived in my parents’ house. I had a larger room at the back of the house. I slept with my cat, a grumpy orange tabby. Lady Maud was among my best friends, though I probably spent more time talking to another girl in our group, B. I was getting into cycling because my boyfriend was an avid cyclist. I was about a month out from starting college. I wanted to be an archeologist, and was planning a special major that I thought would prepare me for that career.

Three decades ago:
I lived in a studio apartment in Grad School Town, probably the nicest place I’d lived in my life up to that point: it was in the basement of a split-level house, so somewhat dark, but everything was in good repair, and there were nice built-in bookcases and desk that the landlord had built. I had great landlords. I slept with my tabby cat, who had been my boyfriend’s cat until I fed her for long enough, and sometimes with my boyfriend. I liked living alone, and had been doing it for a year, after the boyfriend and I decided not to live together any longer. In a month or so, I would meet two women, C and D, who would become close friends; for the moment, however, my best friends were still Lady Maud, Queen Joan, and Sir David (no point in disguising that name: 80% of the men of my generation are named David, Michael, or Eric/k). I wanted to be an English professor when I finished my graduate work. I hadn’t seen my parents for three years. I swam two or three miles a week in a campus pool, besides walking up and down hills a lot.

Two decades ago:
I lived in my third-floor walk-up condo, with windows on east, south and west giving floods of light, though it got very hot in summer. I slept with the same tabby cat, and sometimes with Sir John. In the summer we more often slept at his place, which had central air conditioning (and a different tabby cat). I spent a lot of time on the phone with C and D, junior professors at schools where they were not very happy. Both of them were ultimately to leave “the profession,” one pre- and one post-tenure. I liked living alone, but hoped to move in with Sir John full-time before too much longer. I was a recently-tenured English professor. Some health problems were interfering with research. I probably visited my parents (both of them) that summer, though I don’t recall exactly when. I swam a couple of miles a week at the YMCA, and also worked out on machines there.

A decade ago:

Sir John and I, now married, lived in our townhouse with five cats (the Shakespearean Heroine, the Scot, the Grammarian, the Tiny Cat [all now deceased], and a very young Basement Cat). I slept with Sir John and whatever cats wanted to join us; sometimes I woke up pinned between the Scot and the Shakespearean Heroine. D had just become an American citizen; the ceremony was one of the last times I would see her, and may be the last time I saw her on her (new) home ground. I had met E a couple of years previously, but we hadn’t yet embarked on the Huge Honking Translation project. I was still an associate professor, at the same school. I was getting back to research, feeling a bit anxious about my position in the field and my ability to work, but I had recently returned from a productive research trip to the UK. I’d also traveled to see my father that summer, my mother having died in the intervening decade. I swam and worked out at a fairly swanky gym.

Now:

I live in a split-level house in the suburbs, with three cats (it does remind me, pleasantly, of the house where my grad school apartment was). I sleep with Sir John and Basement Cat, who comes to bed with us so that Glendower can pick at his food overnight. A and I are intermittently back in touch; she teaches third grade in the town where we grew up. Occasionally I hear from C, who is working on yet another master’s degree. I long ago lost touch with B, while D and I deliberately parted company when we ceased to have many shared interests. I am a full professor. Some days, research still seems like a struggle, but I am considerably more confident in my ability to get back to it, and I have published a respectable amount in the past decade. At present a lot of my work time goes into preparing to teach online in the fall. I walk 2-3 miles every morning, and work out with light dumbbells at home; the local pools are closed because of COVID-19.

Looking back in these big swoops of time, it’s curious what shows up and what drops out. I can suppress the six years we spent in the house that was too big, too old, too much work. My entire undergraduate career drops out of the picture, as does my first rented apartment in TT-ville, perhaps appropriately as I tend to forget that I lived there. But all the cats of my life pop up. Day to day, and even year to year, I feel like my life doesn’t change much. I’ve had the same job for going on 30 years. I’ve been with Sir John for more than two decades. I’m something of an exercise addict.

In ten years’ time, though, things do change. At no point did I foresee a pandemic (so I think now: but C says I used to claim we were overdue for one), but twenty years ago I wouldn’t have predicted my 2010 life, either. I haven’t mentioned the people I work(ed) with; colleagues and office staff have changed, though I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the year for most of them, without the diaries that are still in storage. But they do make a difference. Twenty years ago, my department was much heavier on older men than it is now, and I looked young enough that I had to put a lot of energy into establishing and maintaining my authority in the classroom. Now I can let my grey hair do a lot of the work for me.

Maybe I’ll do another look-back-the-decades in two or three or five years, and see whether looking at different points (college; a sabbatical year; living in the Too Old House) changes my perspective.

What was your life like, ten and twenty years ago? (Or more: I make no assumptions about my readers’ ages.)

Sources of inspiration

Grumbles and procrastination clearing; forecast offers a chance of further improvement.

A lot of my grumpiness has to do with facing a very old R&R. I want to be done with it. I wish my past self had just done it right away. But when the reviews came in, my past self was struggling with the MMP, and then the series editors put both feet down about the Huge Honking Translation, and what with one thing and another, including my promotion application last year, years have passed. Not without efforts toward the R&R, but now this is one of the contributing factors: I have layers of notes and outlines to review as I try to figure out what the plan was, and the mass of material is daunting.

Since I finally spent an hour re-reading these, I’m feeling more like tackling the thing and getting it over with.

I’m also looking over my shoulder, suspecting that making the effort will (by Sod’s Law) bring down the Translation Editors or some other type of interference with the work.

Yesterday when I was procrastinating/looking for inspiration, I found a couple of helpful posts. One is from a gardener. The advice sounds a lot like any planning process, but it’s useful to see that people in other areas have the same problems and solutions. Here’s what Jen in Frome says at https://doingtheplan.com/2017/04/21/planning-and-doing-the-plan/

  1. Do Stuff. Take small steps frequently to get more good things thriving . . . . Lots of little things done each day adds up to a lot done over the month.
  2. Review. Note down what was done and when, and keep observing and thinking about what’s working out and what’s what’s not.
  3. Plan. Check what’s done so far against what’s hoped for in future, and set out a few next steps to get a bit closer to your goal.

Another is Kameron Hurley on working through fear and writing fatigue, here: https://www.kameronhurley.com/lets-talk-creativity-fear-losing-magic/ Hurley says, “Much of the time I feel I’m spending “writing” is actually time I spend feeling guilty because I can’t write, or because I feel that what I’m writing is utter shit. That’s not “writing” time. It’s my time with The Fear. So much of my writing time has been taken up talking with The Fear that I couldn’t figure out why shit wasn’t getting done. It certainly felt, emotionally, like I was working REALLY HARD. But arguing with your fear isn’t working. Feeling bad for not working isn’t working. Being angry about not working isn’t working.”

Yes, and no. Arguing, feeling bad, and being angry are certainly a lot of emotional labor. Doing them doesn’t necessarily “work,” as in, make it possible to get back to work. But it doesn’t help to pretend The Fear isn’t happening, either. I wound up negotiating with mine. I put on the music I usually use for grading, spread print-outs all over my desk (so I had to see them), and set a timer for ten minutes. That was all I needed to get into the task. When the timer went off, I was annoyed and immediately re-set it for 25 minutes, and made a lot of progress in that time. I needed the short time to start, though, because 25 seemed like way too much time for demon-fighting.

Am I embarrassed about having this sort of work problem, still, again, at my stage of career? Hell yeah. I also hope that admitting to it, publicly if pseudonymously, may help some other people who might be having the same problem. You can get past it. Sometimes you can go years without The Fear. But it’s also a thing that comes back with the right triggers, the right combination of factors, the wrong encounter with someone who pushes certain buttons. The only way I’ve ever found to deal with it is Virginia Valian’s: make the task smaller. As small as you need to. Ten minutes. Five. And be kind to yourself, because the piece of work is not really the problem. It’s all the emotions that have got tangled up with that piece of work. They might be big things that need therapy, or they might be ghosts of something you cleared up long ago, or they might just be bad habits.

If it’s not a good day, if The Fear is happening to you, if you’re procrastinating, give it five minutes, write down what you did in that time, and come back to the thing tomorrow. That’s all. Five minutes, and a note about what you did in the time.

Diary of an academic lady trying to sell her house (1)

Since Undine said she’d enjoy it . . .

In March, order tickets for all-day event in Our Quaint Village. In April, Real Estate Agent decides to take advantage of traffic to Our Quaint Village for all-day event and schedule Open House for that day. Raise eyebrows but Sir John decides we can Make It Work, so agree, and make Plans accordingly.

In May, Plans come unraveled due to being poorly following misguided polite acceptance of dish containing onions while at luncheon with a friend (friend seems sceptical re low-FODMAP diet, in general; mem. consider whether this means one must affirm Courage of Convictions before eating with this friend, or if one should rather avoid any occasion involving food and plan Healthy Walks or similar instead). Am not in condition to prepare house before the day of the Event and Open House; husband, being Vampire, is neither up early On The Day nor did he prep the night before (probably due to consideration of poorly self trying to sleep, as is very Considerate vampire).

Thus find ourselves and House finally ready two hours after Event starts, and one hour before Open House. Query: shut up cats early? Go check in for Event, then return at once to incarcerate cats? After quarter-hour discussion, decide to trap cats, since now have only one half hour before we would have to do so anyway. Venture forth to check in and begin our Day Out. Long Lines ensue. After two portions of Event, once again we have not enough time to begin another, nor is it quite time to return home to release cats. Telephone Agent. Return home, consult briefly with Agent (eight groups visited Open House, more than ever before; question is whether they are Looky-Lous or truly Interested), send Sir John out for the breakfast he did not have time for earlier, restore litter boxes and release cats. Thunderstorm begins.

Sir John returns home, decides he is not up for any more Event. Having spent whackload on tickets, I return to Event. Thanks to storm, lines now much shorter. Determinedly complete my Day Out. Drive home, exhausted and damp, and put feet up to watch last stage of Tour of California. Sir John says if ever have similar conflict in future, refuse to schedule Open House. Own view: if ever eat something I ought not two days before Open House, cancel same.

Awesome idea, plus some whining

Apart from going to Mass every day (or at all), this sounds to me like a fabulous vacation, and I am going to try to do something like it after the semester is over:

https://lafemmefollette.typepad.com/lafemmefollette/2016/06/castaway.html

 

I have ideas for at least two substantive posts but I still need to Do All The Things even though I am nearly done with one Enormous Thing (style-check of the Huge Honking Translation), and I just don’t have the time/brain to engage with blogging ideas. I found a wonderfully soothing, repetitive loop of classical piano and cello on YouTube that was exactly what I needed to keep my monkey-mind distracted, or do I mean focused, both/either/whatever, while I read through 150 pages of translated medieval text. Only another 50 or so to go! Starting Tuesday I’ll be able to see if the music works for grading as well.

Please tell me I am not the only sorry procrastinator who still has not taken tax-related stuff to the accountant. But if you file E-Z on the 15th don’t tell me, we need the accountant and at this point I am procrastinating in part because I feel so guilty about giving them more last-minute work. I have a stack of documents. I have the checklist from last year. I can do this.

And then the rest of the Things will not seem so bad. Right?

Calm

It will be so much quicker to just do some of the things I have to do than to start having feelings about them (ugh, don’t want to, why can’t someone else on this committee do more, why didn’t I do this last week/last month, why am I so slow, guilt, too many things, gah). So I’m declaring this morning a no-feelings zone.

Yesterday I saw a colleague who has been dealing with a perfect storm of deadlines for months now. She is usually a fairly calm person but has been performing stress lately, including complaining about having spent the whole of spring break working. I said I’d worked throughout it as well but also had spent a lot of time at the gym, reading, etc. She asked if I had deadlines to meet and I said oh yes, they whooshed by. She said she was losing sleep over hers: “I’m neurotic that way.” I laughed and said, “Well, I’m irresponsible that way.” She thought we should be combined into one person.

I don’t agree. I’d rather be me. She has accomplished more than I have, in less time, it’s true, and I do have a little envy of that. But I’m being responsible to my health, and if I don’t do that, I won’t be able to work at all. So I have a lot of days when I don’t get that much done (and waste time and energy having feelings about that “failure”), but I hit the gym, and go to bed early (or as soon as I can), and try to set myself up for a better day tomorrow.

And this is tomorrow, so let’s see what I can get done before the next round of House Stuff and the afternoon gym visit.