Sunday, September 28, 2008

Work week lurch

the semester is announcing its groove.

sundays are a gift, a day of rewards so sweet i forget, temporarily, what's coming 'round the bend. sundays are walks in the autumn gold, or a yoga class, waffles with fresh fruit and yogurt, newspapers in bed and feeding peanuts to the bluejays who eat out of my hand. sundays i phone friends in other cities, refuse to read my email, remember to look at the sunshine. sundays are short.

mondays are a grading and class prep day. i go to pilates in the morning and spend the rest of my time (barring meetings, of which there are, predictably, several) trying to get ready for the week. i'm teaching two new courses and supervising a directed reading. all the material in both undergraduate courses and some of the material in the DR is new, and in a fit of enthusiasm i embraced technology -- make that technologies -- in both classes, which presents a fairly steep learning curve of its own. mondays are a big day and i spend much of my time banging my own forehead with a fist and asking, "what were you thinking??"

tuesday, though, i feel good. i'm ready to teach from 9:30 to 11:00, though it rarely goes well, for reasons i haven't fully divined. there's the certainty that i will humiliate myself on some small point ("the eli clare text is finally available at the bookstore!," i might announce, for instance, to which my puzzled students respond, "what book?" since, it turns out, it is indicated exactly nowhere on the syllabus), but there's something else i can't put my finger on -- the material is too difficult, or i'm speaking too quickly, or the students are too shy, or something. i struggle through even though my feet start hurting after an hour.

i don't teach again until 2:00, which is like hiking up a steep hill and settling down at the top for a sandwich: there's always some sharp stone digging into my back and reminding me that i can't relax yet because i have another class to get ready for. in three hours.

my new practice is to leave the building and go for a swim at noon. (it used to be running until i got the arthritis diagnosis.) even in the pool i feel a certain anxiety and spend much of my time calculating how fast my laps are and how many i'd like to do, subtract the total from 1330, which is when i have to get out of the pool, or actually before, because i have to get back up the hill, and also when will i actually eat lunch? even so, it is good to swim.

the 2:0-3:30 class goes reliably, though i'm always careening between too much and too little. i'll work our way around to a really great point, only to realize, godawfully, that we're only ten minutes in and i've blown my wad. fifty minutes later i am in a panicked rush when i realize we're not going to get through everything. for example: we've only listened to 3 of the 9 tracks i put on a playlist to teach the blues. even though i made the point with billie holiday. this is pacing, and it comes with experience. comes back with experience, i should say. i hope.

every tuesday so far i've had something on right after class: a meeting with the chair, a talk by a visiting scholar, women's studies 20th anniverary, a book launch. so i don't get home until 6-something. by the time we've eaten and i sit down again to work, i'm a) tired; b) panicked; and c) behind. again.

wednesdays have become miscellany day: meetings with graduate students, meetings with the canadian literature centre, meetings with visiting scholars, meetings with my directed reading student. the great thing is that amy and i do the directed reading on foot, which gives wednesdays a great sense of being in it: in the ideas, in the moment, in the city. we walk from the university to wherever it makes sense to go, talking rebecca solnit or jane jacobs or linda goyette or lucy lippard as we go. it's so exciting that i need a nap afterward.

but there is no napping on wednesdays because those are exposure meetings, which seem to run longest when the agenda is shortest, which makes me by turn frustrated with others and doubtful of myself, neither of which puts me in the best frame of mind for coming home and getting ready to teach again on thursday --

-- which is just plain tiring. by thursday the pre-class shuffle, the 2 x 90 minutes of standing and pacing and trying to understand where 30 other people are coming from, and running two or three computer programs and translating theories i don't believe in to language students will understand, and then sitting in my office trying to catch my breath before doing it all again in a few hours -- by thursday it's all and so i skip the workout, not because i don't think it would help, i know it would help, but the question is, would it help more than staying behind and clearing my inbox just a little? the bad decisions continue into thursday night, when i feel capable only of watching trash TV.

friday is a day of reckoning. i guiltily reply to emails and read student proposals, apologize to my collaborators, open dinning letters from various editors and, if i'm lucky, balance my chequebook. my sense of embodiedness is most acute in the evening, when i feel my sitting-bones drawn to the rare-earth magnet otherwise known as the sofa, where i sit and watch TV or, if i'm feeling particularly lively, play tetris and, lively or not, eat cheese popcorn and peanut M&Ms and salt and vinegar chips and chocolate and dried mangos and regular popcorn and licorice if we have it. all of which sets up a terrible hangover saturday morning, my mouth raw from the acid and my body still struggling to metabolize all that fat and sugar. it takes all day to rouse myself to run, though i'm always happy to have done it. after the saturday chores, of course.

this weekly descent is the epitome of mindless living, and i find it particularly distressing because of the painful knowledge i have gained over the last two years. when i was away from the university i still worked, but i also slept sufficiently every night. every night! i exercised regularly and prepared healthy meals. i quit working for the day when i was too tired to be productive -- often, in fact, i quit before i hit that point. i took evenings off, to hang out with mo or read magazines or even, sometimes, novels. but the point isn't what i did or didn't do -- believe me, my life is hardly exemplary -- but for the most part, i made decisions about what i was doing. i lived mindfully.

the hectic life i have returned to is, i think, typical of the lives all my friends lead. freelancers, professors, artists, parents, editors, teachers, fundraisers -- everybody is working way too hard all the time. the details change, but the sense of being stretched too far and tired all the time seems common, even when we like our lives and our jobs, which most of us do. i want to register, before it all gets normalized again, that this is a bad way to live. it is dangerous. it's unsustainable.

while i've been trying, for two weeks now, to figure out why i am so tired all the time, something david suzuki said has been pinballing around the edges of my consciousness. naturally, i can't remember it word for word, but the gist was this:

happiness has a direct correlation to sustainability. the things that make people genuinely happy are environmentally low-impact and personally/socially regenerative. what people like to do, what makes them happy in a deep and abiding way, includes spending time with loved ones: friends or family or lovers or tricks or comrades or animals. we are happiest when we live in our bodies. we thrive on being creative, whatever that means to you; unless your hobby is, say, reproducing dupont substances in your basement, pursuing a hobby tends to be environmentally friendly, and have you ever met a bitter scrapbooker? happy people spend time alone, spend time in nature, spend time being active and spend time being still -- they spend time, they don't "save" it or "waste" it -- all of which is not just neutral but actually good for human beings and good for the planet. unlike driving, shopping, fast food and television.

i think this is profound. and while i don't yet know how to solve this issue for myself come monday or, worse, thursday, it's something i'm thinking about. you know, in those days after days after days when i'm not finding any time to blog.

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