14 March 2011

Reality Check

Last week was the lead-up to our Spring Break. The past two weeks have felt like a manic blur, but I didn't quite realize just how ridiculous it was until mid-week last week. This is what happened:

I have ten minutes between my classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Out of those ten minutes, I try, barring student emergencies/questions, to at least get back to my office for about six of them so that I can refill my mug with tea (or just plain hot water some days) and so that I can check my e-mail to be certain that any of my students in the upcoming sections who are trying desperately to get in touch with me on my teaching-barrage days can get some kind of response. On Wednesday of last week, I was in the middle of this process--one hand on the HotShot for my tea refill, standing in front of my desk, leaning over the keyboard to send a quick reply to an e-mail--when a colleague walked by my office. He saw me, stopped in my doorway, came into my office.

He said, "Leaning over your desk like that is going to kill your back when you get older." He grinned, but he had legitimate concern, as anyone who spends a lot of time at a desk knows. (And nevermind with any of that "when you get older" business. Two years ago, in the midst of dissertation madness, my back and neck crackled like cellophane every time I moved because of my bad desk--and lack of desk--habits.)

I said, half-laughing, that there just wasn't time to sit down. My colleague just shook his head and went on his way.

It wasn't until I was actually in the classroom a few minutes later that I realized that I'd meant what I said. And how ridiculous that was.

Making time to do things that are good for one's whole well-being--sensible, easy things, like having a seat before working at the computer (unless one is going to commit to an actual standing desk that is designed for a standing person)--shouldn't be a hard decision. I'm not talking about large life-changes or even the cultivation of significant helpful habits (like waking up earlier to read or meditate or write or spending twenty minutes a day tidying one's place to avoid Imminent Cleanliness Disasters in the future). There are lots and lots of blogs that address these types of habits and decisions. (Zen Habits is one that I rather like.) I'm talking about accepting that sitting down is worthwhile. That eating lunch with both hands (instead of having one hand on a keyboard) is a valid thing to do.

This is one of those times where my mother would point out that no amount of education can create common sense. This is one of those times where my mother would be ever-so-right.

So. Once Spring Break started properly (Sunday afternoon, really), I decided that I would work all Spring Break on things that made me feel accomplished, as opposed to busy. That's not to say that I won't be busy; I still have a to-do list and a number of work-related tasks that have to be completed. But my break work-load was specifically engineered to avoid a lot of imminent things (like grading masses of papers), so there's actually time to do things that add up to some sort of sense of pleasure and usefulness.

Yesterday, that manifested in putting together some packages for friends, which were mailed this morning. Today, I wrote, I am making granola, and tonight I'm actually going to cook something from my Moroccan cookbook (which I've had for five years but have only ever thought wistfully about). Creating and cooking are both useful and fulfilling to me. (I have tried--and may keep trying--to accept that sometimes it's okay not to be useful, but all that does is make me feel guilty. I try to find a happy medium in things like this, then, to steal from the Enlightenment: sweetness and light.)

What both refreshes you and staves off that feeling that you should be doing something else?


  1. Spending a couple hours in our little woods, burning the winter's deadfalls in a barrel is remarkably satisfying, relaxing and refreshing.

  2. Nice blog, Holly!

    For me: It's taking a walk. Sometimes it can be cooking. Sometimes, uh, just breathing and looking out the window. I'm big on taking little pauses throughout the day. Sometimes a bigger pause like you wrote about in this post. Esp. between projects. I don't strive for balance anymore...just striving to keep my humanity.