13 Ways of Looking at a Weekend Alone in the House

1. In a stack of papers, each more incoherent than the last, one seems to shine out, as though lit from within by the divine glow of its interesting ideas and correct grammar. It is difficult to not write “thank you, thank you, thank god for you” on this paper

2. A box of leftover pizza lasts much longer when its owner is alone for the weekend

3. The dog, accustomed to the specific direction of his morning ramble with the partner who is not here this weekend, heads that way instinctively. He does not realize that it is the other partner walking him, and that they are going the other, more boring way

4. Many exciting plans are laid, in expectation of the inspiring solitude. Instead, it’s mainly just leftover pizza

5. Alone in the house for the weekend, a woman compulsively binge-watches serial killer dramas

6. In the night, the dog leaps up, barking ferociously down the stairs into the inky blackness of the living room below. A heart stops beating, due to terror. It is just someone getting into their car outside

7. Morning brings unexpected snow. The snow falls softly and quietly. A woman and a dog are alone in a world of snow. The dog stands looking out the window for long stretches of time

8. Four identical shapes on the ground; three are blobs of snow, and one is an old dryer sheet

9. It stops snowing. Then it starts snowing again

10. The woman who claims her dog is afraid of black dogs informs another woman that her (the first woman’s) dog is no longer afraid of her (the second woman’s) black dog. The reasons for this are unclear; she (the second woman) believes it is due to the fact that the whole premise of her (the first woman’s) dog’s fear of black dogs is wrong

11. There is an instagram account run by a man who has 7 elderly dogs and a pig

12. The pile of New Yorkers waits to be sent to a loved one on the other side of the country. The pile bristles with post-it notes, upon which many annotations and exclamation points are inscribed. Whether or when the pile will be mailed remains a mystery

13. While one partner is out of town, the other partner accidentally shatters the absent partner’s favorite lasagna pan, and has to use a soup ladle to clean all the glass out of the sink

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I’m learning about Chaucer, for no real reason. I’ve never read Chaucer. In high school it was sort of like you somehow ended up either reading Canterbury Tales or the Decameron, and I read the Decameron. But I love medieval history so much and so when a popular-press book about the really rough year Chaucer had in 1386 comes out, I’ll make my library purchase it and I’ll read it in fits and starts, in between also reading Beowulf, which is of course much older than Chaucer.

Beowulf was written sometime between the 8th-11th centuries (hilariously huge possible date-spread, it’s like the Iliad or the Bible, where people are like “I don’t know, maybe sometime between a billion years ago and half a billion years ago”), so, no matter which way you slice it, several hundred years before Canterbury Tales, which was written in this dreadful year of 1386, where Chaucer was stuck living above this terrible loud soldier-gate and his “window” (3-foot-deep arrow-slit in wall of solid stone) directly overlooked a moat filled with dead dogs (not a colorful joke–the moat was actually known as Houndsditch for this very reason) and of course the requisite human shit that covered every surface of the earth in 1386 (“how do you know he’s a king?” “He’s the only one who hasn’t got shit all over him”). I feel like in Beowulf times there weren’t the dead-dog rivers and piles of human shit because western culture still lived in some sort of degree of harmony with nature, also there just literally weren’t as many people on the earth, and there weren’t cities really. Then again, hardly anybody knows hardly anything about the Vikings or what their lives were like, except that they liked to disembowel one another a lot (who doesn’t, though)

It’s funny reading Beowulf and then getting to this book about Chaucer and being like “windows? second-stories? WOOL MERCHANTS?? What gleaming sci-fi future is this?” In Beowulf it’s more dragons and glimmering gold, and a dude swimming naked for 9 days and 9 nights and killing a bunch of sea monsters. By the time you get to Chaucer it’s mostly, like, shipping receipts.

There are 493 existing documents about Chaucer in the entire world, and ALL of them are about his business and parliamentary transactions. Nothing about his literary pursuits! We only know he wrote poems because the poems exist. Pretty epic.

It’s also reminiscent of Pepys’s diary (from 300 years later) in that people are always running into the King. If you were even vaguely wealthy or well-connected you apparently saw the King all the time. “Oh hello sire” as you pass him strolling by the river or whatever.

I have to go to school today to do one 20 minute task, which is very annoying, but I have spent the morning well, listening to some of the millions of contemporary compositions I need to be familiar with, and working on a bibliography. I am finally at a place in time where I can make my SUMMER READING LIST, and of course it is filling me with a rank and savage joy. Soon, so soon, I will be carting home 50 books and reading them, and thinking and writing, instead of grading, grading, ceaselessly grading! And course prepping! I am at that point of the semester where I am letting my classes out early and kind of feeling like “why did I put this stuff on the syllabus, even”

For the rest of the weekend I have to grade, so this morning was very beautiful to me. Yesterday it poured rain, which is a nice change from all the blizzards, and anyway as you know I love rain. Springtime! The radiators are off and we’re back to wiping off snoopy feet every time we come back inside.

The snoop is sleeping like a bejeweled prince upon his embroidered pillow, all his many feet in one big pile. He smells terrible but to me the worse he smells the better I like it. He is truly such a beautiful beast. I was thinking today about how amazing it is that we just trust him to never get up on the pieces of furniture he’s not allowed on. It never crosses our minds to even wonder if he’s been up on the couch or up on our bed while we’ve been gone. He just would never. He’s even learned not to get up on a chair that he USED to be allowed on. He’s just a real solid little pal, very trustworthy and reliable, and always up for adventure or napping, whichever you prefer. If you put a plate with a cookie on it or something down on the coffee table he’ll come right up to it and put his nose a fraction of a centimeter away from it and sniff it for so long, and then after many many seconds of passionate smelling he’ll just take a little lick. He would never bite it or grab it. But if you don’t watch him, he will give it a lick. It cracks me up. He’s not made of stone. Today he ran into me because he was sniffing the air so hard he wasn’t looking where he was going. He’s such a rat.


Please also enjoy my old man’s “FUCK YOU” pajamas, which he purchased online from Spencer Gifts and of which he is very proud and speaks often in tones of reverent delight

My old man is out of town, so last night I got my own plain cheese pizza and was very excited about it, then realized that this is the exact same thing that Kevin does in “Home Alone,” except he is an 8 year old child and I am a grown-ass woman with knee arthritis. I guess the appeal of one’s own cheese pizza simply never fades, and is the great equalizer. As humans, we have always loved to get our own cheese pizza.

Sumer is Icumen in

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Scheduling part II

I’m getting a ton of feedback on my scheduling post (two people)!! I’ve been asked for additional scheduling advice via email, which I welcome any of you to do if you like. Also we got a comment asking for advice so I thought I’d answer it here:

i have an elaborate task list system in a notebook, but not tied to particular times for accomplishing those tasks. one reason for which being that i used consistently write up what i’ll be doing in every block of time per day, but tasks would extend beyond their allotted time or there would be tasks where i’d see, oh time to grade now, and just not. do. it. (and then I am filled with self-loathing) I am pretty disciplined but…there’s this. Any advice? build in breaks? be more disciplined?

Well, you ask a couple different questions, some of which I can answer and some of which I can’t but will try to anyway.

Firstly: are you talking about on-campus days or off-campus days (or whatever the equivalent is, in some other career I can’t visualize)? Because I will say that I think the intense hour-by-hour scheduling plan is really MOST helpful during on-campus work days where you have a ton of stuff going on outside of your own work. E.G. days when you are on campus, going to meetings, having office hours, teaching, etc., and you’re trying to profitably schedule all those things, and the time in between those things. THIS kind of day benefits most from an hour-by-hour schedule, because it keeps you on track and keeps you at maximum productivity. So you come back to your office from a meeting, look immediately at your day planner, see that it’s noon now and your next commitment is a thesis defense at 2, and in your day planner you’ve written between noon and 2:
- write Kelly back
- ask D about alternate event tickets
- email class about tomorrow’s reading
- call Kathy about TA funding
- grade quizzes

And then you are like, “oh right, YES, ok I will do those things” and you know you only have until 2, so you immediately start jamming that list out.

For me, this kind of hour-by-hour scheduling is LESS helpful during my weekends, when I have no commitments. For my off-campus days, a to-do list–your elaborate task list concept–is enough structure for me, and I just work methodically through it. I don’t think I would enjoy hourly scheduling of my off-days. However, I think if a person (you) struggles a lot with their off-days and making them productive, the hourly schedule could be good training wheels to get into a more productive habit on your off days.

In terms of feeling defeated by scheduling hourly and then the tasks go past their allotted time…well, partially this is normal. You always have a run-off system, where stuff you didn’t get to today goes into the next day. NOW. I will say that a commitment to thorough scheduling has actually made my run-off tasks slow to a trickle and sometimes even disappear. Like any self-disciplining practice, if you actually follow it and commit to it it eventually reshapes your habits. I always think of Phillip Glass, the composer, who said that decades ago he decided he was only going to work from 8-2 every day and then stop. And he did this for years, as a disciplining practice (he’s also a Buddhist, so that helps). After awhile, between 8-2 became when he had ideas! After making himself adhere to this 8-2 practice, his ideas got used to coming out during that time. Starting at 8, he has all these great ideas, and he works on them, and then they kind of come to a stop around 2, and he stops working. I find this very inspiring, that even an artist can train themselves around habits of productivity. Like we don’t actually HAVE to be the insane person in the garrett not eating or sleeping and being haunted and tormented by our muse. Just work from 8-2 and don’t make a big thing of it!

So, I say, start with your day’s task-list, and then if there is run-off at the end of the day, don’t sweat it—put it in the next day’s to-do list. If you are diligent, you’ll get better at this. You’ll get better at actually knowing what a realistic to-do list looks like. Sometimes a day’s to-do list only has one thing on it! If I’ve got to “write a draft of chapter 2″ on a given day, I now know that I should not expect to do ANY OTHER TASK on that day, because writing a book chapter takes forever, and honestly actually I should probably just go ahead and put “write draft of chapter 2″ on the next day’s list (and nothing else) as well. This practice teaches you to be diligent and focused and it also helps you slowly learn to understand how long things actually take to do, which in turn helps you make more and more realistic daily task-lists, which in turn makes you not feel like a shitty jerk for not doing everything on your list because you set your sights too high when you made the list!

Okay but you are saying you have this problem where you will see that it’s time to do a given task but then you just won’t do it. I am wondering if this is happening on an off day or during an actual on-campus day (or equivalent)? For me, when I am on campus, I hit the ground running, and a sense of extreme urgency essentially carries me through the entire day (this is also why I tend not to eat while I’m at work, which is my personal struggle). I am like “go! go! go!” like a marine from 8 a.m. until I leave campus at night. So I get back from the meeting, frantically check the day planner, see that list, and just am like “GO GO GO” and I do the list because I have this (absolutely correct) belief that if I don’t do the list right now during this tiny allotted time, it either won’t get done–I’ll forget about it, it’ll slip through the cracks–OR, I’ll have to move it from today’s 12-2 slot and put it in my weekend to-do list, which is already jam-packed and I really really don’t want to have to deal with today’s list then.

I am very receptive to future-oriented thinking, which is why I have never really had a problem with procrastination. I know I am very blessed in this regard. I know what a painful struggle it is when you have problems with procrastination. For me, it just generally REALLY WORKS to simply imagine a future in which I have not done today’s to-do list, and how awful that future will be. Just imagining this is enough to make me do the to-do list. I understand that procrastination is a serious psychological issue that scientists are studying and that no one fully understands, so just me saying “imagine how happy you’ll be later if you do this now!” probably doesn’t solve your problem. I will try to think of more nuts and bolts ways to attack this issue…

I guess I would ask you: what are you doing, during those blocks of time when you know you’re supposed to be doing something else? Are you just idly looking at shit on ebay or something, or are you doing other work, or what? I am starting to come to the belief that a lot of scheduling problems and organization problems and even procrastination might stem in part from us not recognizing time and tasks in a concrete enough way. Maybe the tasks on your task list still seem too vague to imagine doing them right now? OR, maybe they seem too daunting? Like maybe you need to slowly learn that “grade quizzes” actually isn’t that daunting of task. Come on, it takes like an hour and then it’s done, it’s not a big deal, just do it! And/or maybe this block of time is too vaguely conceived of in your mind? You have to really FEEL that 2:00 is looming and once it comes, this block of free time will never come again! I think this is why the hour-by-hour scheduling is usually helpful–it helps you really SEE how long a chunk of time is. Instead of just telling yourself “oh I should grade those papers sometime today,” if you actually look at your hourly schedule and confront the fact that there really is HARDLY ANY TIME during today when that grading can actually get done, and the grading will take at least an hour…it helps you identify a slot of time that will work and be like “well shit, I better get on that RIGHT NOW”

So I guess I would tell you to work a bit on identifying time, tasks, and actual activities with greater specificity, precision, and honesty. Maybe it would help you to reverse-schedule for awhile? What if on a given day, you didn’t do anything on your to-do list, and instead looked at galoshes on ebay for 2 hours. If you wrote THAT down in your day planner (“12-2 looked at galoshes on ebay. Did not buy anything”) maybe it would JOLT your brain into being like “look at all this time I am wasting!!!!!” and it would make you WANT to be more productive? Like you’d actually start doing your to-do list so that you wouldn’t have to fill out your day planner with such shameful things? That’s one idea.

Finally, YES, you definitely should build in breaks!!!!!!! You need to build in time to eat, time to chill. On my off-campus days I have a very Phillip Glass-style schedule–I know I have to stop around 2:00, and go to the gym, and walk the dog, and think about dinner. It is nice. If you just have this amorphous blob of time during which you’re supposed to do this huge task list, of course you’re going to balk and not do it and procrastinate and fritter it all away! It’s too daunting to just be like “Monday: do this huge list of tasks, thanks bye.” You have to identify a realistic list; you have to identify realistic blocks of time; you have to know when you can stop and go do something else; etc. If you build a reassuring schedule that takes all this into account, maybe you will be more likely to work in partnership with it, instead of fighting against it?

I don’t know if this was helpful!! Feel free to leave follow-up information so I can think more specifically about what’s going on with you.

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