Sunlight

I am amazed by the immense change wrought in me by a change in weather–I never used to be this way, I don’t think. I went to California for a conference, and spent a great deal of time outside with various colleagues. It felt amazing, and I ate as many avocado-themed foods as I could. I felt a tight fist of dread loosen somewhat inside my chest, and I slept like a baby every night. I asked questions in the Q&As, something I usually don’t do out of social anxiety. I met up with all kinds of scholars who are working on similar topics, instead of dragging my feet out of that same social anxiety. It was just a very relaxing and pleasurable and intellectually stimulating time. And now I’m back home, and it’s a simply glorious day. Balmy weather, birds singing their faces off, everything dripping, hints of gross slimy grass peeping out from beneath the misshapen snow banks. I am preparing for class tomorrow and everything is filling me with delight: writing the keywords I know I will have to define for my students; the smooth wet motion of the pen in my hand; the taste of the boring coffee I made; thinking, reading, grading papers.

I wonder if it is the weather or if I am just in a good mood. I also feel bad because I think some of it is due to being around my many colleagues who have children and realizing how easy and fun my life is in comparison. I love my colleagues with children but every time they opened their mouths I just felt these wild rushes of panicked joy and gratitude that I am not also trying to juggle the demands of a small child while trying to write my book or whatever. I don’t know how they do it–especially the women, I am sorry to say. If there are any hetero fathers reading this, my advice to you is to do some fucking goddamn housework for once in your life

To say that our line of work has zero respect for the added burdens of motherhood would be to make a dramatic understatement. I mean, in this, academia is no different than American society at large, I guess. Is that comforting? I don’t quite know what counts as comforting anymore.

Anyway, the plus side (for me) is that now I feel very powerfully how much time I have and how much I am able to relax. My poor colleagues with babies, they all feel like they’re bad scholars AND bad mothers because they don’t have enough time to do either thing well! They literally see their kid for 2 hours a day, during which they are utterly exhausted and distracted. I can’t imagine adding “I’m a bad mother” onto my list of things to have anxiety nightmares about. I felt ashamed, while talking to these people, about how much I have let my job take over my life and my spiritual journey. It’s stupid. It’s just a job! Nobody is more stressed out than a working mother!!! All I’ve got is this gross dog. I relax every night and have tons of time to focus and run errands. I wish some of my working-mother friends lived near me so I could babysit for them during strategic blocks of time. TIME, you are a harsh mistress indeed.

I really want to lead a workshop on scheduling. I am developing some pretty powerful self-help feelings about proper scheduling and how it can transform your entire life. I spent about three hours with one of my friends, up in my hotel room, painstakingly outlining her entire week’s schedule on a big piece of paper and after doing that she realized she had a whole free day just for writing that she didn’t know was there! SCHEDULING. My workshop will be called “Scheduling as Personal Empowerment.” I will be very stern and mean in it. “What’s this empty space at 5:30 on Tuesdays?? Get your shit together”

Part of what makes scheduling so powerful is that it requires mindfulness and personal honesty about your own personal strengths and weaknesses and preferences. Once you identify what part of the day you like to do which chores during, you have taken a huge step toward empowering yourself to excel the data. We recently cut like 60% of resentment towards one another out of our relationship simply by switching which of us walks the dog in the morning and which of us walks him at night. Boom! Such an easy scheduling change but it took a ton of annoyance and arguing and discussion before we realized that was all that needed to happen. Another empowering thing about scheduling is that when you have finally developed a very serious and detailed schedule that you know you can trust, it frees up your MIND. You no longer are constantly wondering what you’re supposed to be doing, or worrying about some other chore, because you trust that the time for everything is built into the schedule, thus taking the responsibility for keeping track of it all off your brain, thus freeing your brain up to actually sit quietly and read this book about Marxism and elder care or whatever. It also teaches good discipline–you have to have your day planner with you at all times. And you have to know for a fact that every time something comes up, you will immediately put it in the day planner. That’s how you build that trust relationship. I am happy to discuss my thoughts on scheduling in much, much more detail if anyone would like. “Ask me about my day planner!”

In grad school I got really into serious filing techniques; now it’s all about scheduling. It’s like filing, but for your WHOLE LIFE. It is the only way to live well in this horrible world, unless you duck out completely and go live in a tent in the woods, which, don’t think I haven’t considered it.

I think Pete Seeger is really talking about proper scheduling in that one song:

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to grade bibliographies
A time to have night sweats
A time to answer work emails
A time to complain about the provost
A time to prep, a time to stop prepping
A time to relax with a large wine and episodes of Veep.

I was mistaken for a boy on the airplane. This hasn’t happened to me in years! It used to happen all the time. It was so weird; it took forever for me to realize they were talking about me, because they kept saying “him.” “I think he’s in my seat.” “Did you ask him?” etc. Finally I whipped around and said “ME?” and they were horrified. In this day and age when so many women have short hair I really wonder what kinds of mis-read cues I was giving off in that moment. Perhaps it was because I was sitting slouched in my seat with my legs spread super far apart, taking up fully half of the next seat’s personal space (joke)

A cool thing that happened was that, as per usual, I brought tons of work to do on the plane and then did none of it, instead I simply carried two heavy books and a folder from the east coast to the west coast and back for no reason. As per, while stuck in a four hour layover late at night on my flight out there, I buckled under the existential pressure and bought a copy of The Secret History, which I have probably read four times already. And you know what? I completely enjoyed reading it again. I realized halfway through it that I can not think of many books that hold up like this one does; usually while re-reading a book beloved of my past self I see all manner of plot holes, awkward writing, etc., but The Secret History, I believe, is more or less a perfect book. Even though it is not a science fiction or fantasy novel, I think it is some of the best “world-building” I have ever encountered. Her descriptive prose is so evocative I can’t even believe it. Reading this book, one can easily imagine Donna Tartt finishing it and then slumping into some sort of intense regenerative space that prevented her from writing anything else for ten years. It was really fun reading it again because in the intervening years since my last reading of it, I randomly learned a lot about Athenian democracy, ancient Greek tragedy, and Socratic thought, and I also taught The Bacchae like seven times, so a lot of cool nuances were opened up.

Anyway, back to the ol’ grindstone, now, but with renewed vigor and a positive ‘tude. The weather changed, I had all those realizations about how great it is not to have kids, I spent a delightful hour drunkenly discussing the old testament with one of my professors who congratulated me on being the only person he’d ever met who knew the story of Rachel sitting on her father’s possessions and saying she had her period. Also I think a big factor is I finally finished two immense writing projects that had been consuming an epic amount of time and mental energy. Now I will get back into a cool life rhythm, I swear by Dionysus.

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3 Responses to Sunlight

  1. ericka says:

    Speaking of conferences, I saw this and thought immediately of you:

    http://rsdeese.blogspot.com/2014/12/call-for-papers-poles-apart-melting.html

  2. Sam says:

    Two things:

    1. I NEED scheduling self-help advice. I am so bad at it. I plan, and I cannot follow through because I am lazy and tired and stressed and also just need external validation of my time management.

    2. I am always mistaken for a woman. Short hair, long hair, beard, clean shaven, skirt, pants, it doesn’t seem to matter. The voice tips people off, but I have been called miss and ma’am even by people I am facing when I have a full beard and a crew cut.

  3. Drea says:

    How have we not talked about The Secret History? I have read that book at least a dozen times and am just finishing up a reread right now – it’s literally sitting next to me. We must discuss.

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