A day “off”

Recently, life hasn’t been pulling any punches.  It’s been a heck of a week, following what was even more of a heck of a week.  All in all, I’m feeling rather wiped and ready for a bit of a break.

Happily (mostly), one of the punches from this past week was the fact that  the research associate job I’ve been working on has run out of money to pay me, so I won’t be working on that project anymore.  There’s a long story behind that one, and mostly I’m just grateful.  We’re fine financially, so the loss of a month’s worth of very part-time income isn’t that dire.  On top of that, I could certainly use the extra time spent not-working to put some more time into planning courses, writing, and doing other work over the next month, so I’m actually pretty happy about one less thing on my plate.

And so, with a bit more time available, I’m going to take today “off”.  Why is the “off” in quotes, you might ask?  Well, despite the fact that I won’t be working on any professional work, I really want and need to get the apartment in order.  Between a few rough weeks, not having a lot of time to clean, stocking up on some extra food, and plans to order a new couch (first time ever!), this place needs a good clearing out and straightening up.

While I doubt it will all get done today, I’d very much like to:

  • Clear out and clean up the kitchen
  • Turn the big cupboard with shelves in the main room into more of a pantry/food storage/small appliance/canning supplies storage area
  • Get together a box of donations for the thrift store
  • Organize (and possibly purge?) my cookbook shelf
  • Process some of the frozen things currently residing in the freezer
  • Tidy the living room enough that we can move the furniture in preparation for the new stuff

While a day well-and-truly off sounds rather nice too, I know I feel better when the apartment is in good shape around me, and when I feel as though I’ve accomplished something.  As much as I’d like to while the day away reading, I’m going to leave that for a bit later on and take some time to try to clean up my outside world in the hopes that it will leave me feeling a bit calmer and more ordered in general.

The universe laughs

No sooner do I decide to chill out and relax that a few work things go off the rails in somewhat spectacular ways.  Although I have little to do with the causes, I’m the one who gets to work out the solutions.  No idea how, but I’m working on it, bit by bit, trying to breathe a bit more in between, and looking forward to the weekend.

I’m sure, when all this is done, it will be at least someone amusing.  If nothing else, I suspect the universe is laughing.  Hopefully, I’ll be laughing along in short order.

Slowing down

It’s just another day in paradise
As you stumble to your bed
You’d give anything to silence
Those voices ringing in your head
You thought you could find happiness
Just over that green hill
You thought you would be satisfied
But you never will-
Learn to be still
– Eagles

During the year, I’m pretty busy.  I am very lucky to have a job, and I appreciate it greatly.  But I also know that keeping on top of lectures and grading for my classes takes a fair amount of work.  I also have other responsibilities, plus a whole list of things that I always feel like I “should” do (okay, admittedly some of those are really my own doing more than anything else).

Because busy-during-the-school-year is the norm, it’s only recently (during this summer that I was supposed to have at least somewhat “off” from work), that I’ve started to realise just how consumed with work my life is.  I have no idea how it got to be mid-July so quickly, but work has kept me so busy that I’ve barely had a break, and the “to do” list is still pretty long.  While I don’t know that I work a huge amount compared to some people, I do know that it’s become harder for me to put work away and to sit down and just be still for a bit.  Even if I’m not actively working, I’m thinking about it and – worse yet – often worrying about it pretty near constantly.

This really puts a damper on a lot of things.  It’s hard to be in the moment when all I can think about is the stack of reviews that I need to work through, the paper I need to write, or the course prep that I need to do.  It’s hard to enjoy a lot of things I usually quite like when I’m constantly thinking of all the things I haven’t yet done, and all of the things that I really should do in order to be better at my job / make myself more employable / pay the bills / etc.

So, with a month and a half left of summer, I’m on a mission to calm down a bit more and get better about leaving the work behind when I can.  I want to slow down.  Relax.  Take it easy.  Put my feet up.  Downshift.  Chill, if you will.  There’s still work to be done, there’s no getting away from that.  But I want to put the work in its place and not only have some more time for the things I really like to do, but really appreciate and enjoy them more.  Cooking.  Walking.  Reading.  Gardening.  Biking.  Music. Yoga. Writing.   All of the things that work sometimes has me pushing aside.

Part of the problem is that I have a hard time saying no to paid work, since my current job doesn’t exactly pay the big bucks.  Another issue is that I sometimes push off work because I know that it’s summer and I feel like I’m supposed to be having a nice bit of a post-degree break prior to a heavy teaching year.  But when it comes to work, out of sight is very definitely not out of mind and it’s always hanging over my head just the same.  I’m hoping that if I can set out some dedicated work time  – morning, probably – I can get by the rest of the day feeling like I’ve accomplished something and without hearing the siren song of whatever I’m working on.  And without that siren song, I’m also hoping that enjoying the time that I do have to myself will be all the easier.

More than that, though, I think I just need to practice being still a little more and get in the habit of taking time here and there.  I’m used to working a lot of the time, and thinking about work all the time.  Four years with a dissertation hanging over your head apparently does that to many people, as does the constant pressure in academia to take more paid work, do service work, and “publish or perish”, as the saying goes.

Logically, I know that work isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the defining feature of my life.  There’s a lot that I love to do and want to do that doesn’t involve my work life.  I’d like to enjoy it without work constantly in the background or, worse yet, detracting from the experience.  I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to do this yet, other than trying to consign work to one dedicated part of the day and perhaps taking up meditation, but I am determined to make these remaining six weeks of summer count for something beyond just writing papers and planning courses.  And from there, I’m hoping I can keep at least some of this up through the school year – even though work is busy, there’s no reason why it should continue to dominate my life.

And with that said, now I’m off to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  And darn it all, I’m going to enjoy it.

Every pepper

Every day, I go out and water my two gardens.  Sometimes, if it’s been especially hot, I do that twice.  I also handpick the beetles from my plants, cut off dead leaves, prop up things that need propping, and take care of whatever else needs taking care of.  When there’s room, I’ll often head out specifically to plant new things.

It turns out that these interludes are the highlight of my days.  I work from home, and taking a break to tend to the gardens makes for a lovely break from the hours of writing and researching that are the hallmark of my work.  But more importantly, I see a huge amount of value in the gardens as constant reminders that there is a world apart from the academic work that I do, and that there is something useful, delightful, and very reassuring about actually working to produce something tangible.

Even when I “produce” something for work, it’s pretty intangible.  A lecture or journal article doesn’t feel like it has a lot of physical substance in the end.  There’s certainly value there – understanding problems and solutions can be a hugely important thing – but day to day, it doesn’t really feel like that much, especially for something that’s very temporal – as with a lecture or presentation that ends and then is done – or intangible – like an article that exists only online or in a journal.  It’s easy, for me anyway, to feel distanced from the rest of the world and like the work that I do isn’t really doing all that much.

As a result, the further I’ve gone in academia, the more I’ve felt the need to do tangible, concrete things alongside my academic work.  I certainly don’t feel like I have to replace one with the other, but I do thing that both are important to maintaining a balance between spending time in my own head and getting out into the world in a way that’s useful and productive. I’ve been cooking from scratch, baking, knitting, and sewing for awhile now.  This is the first year I’ve had anything resembling a garden.  So far, it feels like this is the best antidote to pure academic life that I’ve found.

I certainly think that having to take care of something a few times a day is helpful in and of itself.  The daily garden tasks get me up and outside a few times a day, and focused on something other than theory or course design.  But it goes well beyond this too.  When I make or produce something, I feel connected to the world, and like I’m part of it.  Simple materials become something else – a squash, a dinner, or a sweater.  There’s an underlying history and sense of continuity, since people have been doing these tasks for ages.  And it’s reassuring to be able to do fairly basic things for myself that are useful and practical.

Every pepper feels a bit like a miracle or a form of natural magic in it’s own right.  But each is also a reminder that there is a whole world out there beyond my computer keyboard and classroom, and that it’s a place where things are made, food is produced, and the important elements of daily life happen in very tangible and often rewarding ways.

Morning storm

You love the thunder, you love the rain
You know your hunger, like you know your name
– Jackson Browne

I woke up a bit late this morning, but by 8 am the sky was no brighter than it usually is by 6:30.  By 8:30, the thunder was rolling – sometimes for minutes at a time – and forks of lightening could be seen falling from the sky.

I love a good storm.  I open the curtains – or even sit outside, if I think it’s safe – and watch.  When I’m done really watching, I make a cup of tea, find myself an atmospheric book to read, and sit myself as close to an open window as can.  Barring a few exceptions (teaching, I’m looking at you) no matter what else I’m doing or should be doing, I always press the pause button when a storm starts and settle in to relax for a bit in the midst of the fury.

I’m sure there’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere.  And if not, there should be.

An introduction

I’m notoriously lousy at introductions, but the first post on a new blog seems to cry out for at least a little “hi, my name is” effort.

I’m an academic, teacher, researcher, writer, and perpetual student.  I live with my husband in southern Ontario where I’m building a better, simpler, more sustainable life in an urban-ish apartment and trying to live lightly, simply, frugally, and as sustainably as possible.  Although I’m deeply concerned with issues around peak oil, climate change, and economic instability, part of my project – such as it is – is to seek out as much happiness, beauty, and enjoyment as I can.

As much as possible, I try to make and do as much for myself as I can.  I grow, cook, bake, and preserve food.  I walk and bike to get around.  I live frugally to save money, try to keep my consumption to a minimum, and buy used whenever possible.  When I have free time, I like read, write, and play music.

The truth, though, is that I’d like to do more.  I’m a person who likes to jump in with both feet and start going full-tilt-boogie, which isn’t always the best approach.  It’s a process, as my husband likes to remind me.  And so, I’m figuring it out as I go, and making changes as I can, even if that means making them slowly.  This space, I hope, will serve as a record of this process and a repository of inspiration for all the things I’d like to do, and all the reasons why it’s important to do them.