saving my sanity

Visions of sugarplums

I have another post in me about training PhD students, but I just can’t do it right now. Right now, I’m so dumb I left my yoga mat (My $100 Manduka Pro special edition black cherry mat that I would rush back into a burning building to save) at the yoga studio. I’m so tired that it’s 9pm as I write this and I can’t wait to go to sleep.

To sleep. To sleep and perchance to dream. It’s early December, it’s late in the term, and the sugarplum visions–you know, the ones that begin with me submitting a tidy spreadsheet of grades to the Registrar–well, they’re dancing in my head.

I swear, it’s only the daydreaming that gets me through this final slog of final essays. My students were all so relieved to hand them all in–their work is done. Now mine … doesn’t begin, of course, because it began that first day of class in September, but continues for another week or so of solitary, thankless grading.

My daydreams are simple: filled-in spreadsheets, time to read a novel, staying in my pyjamas, doing some Christmas shopping, drinking a leisurely latte with a friend without laptops taking up the entire table between us. Of having a little more patience in the morning with my family because I”m not gearing up for class. Of sleeping a little more soundly because I’m not worried about the handout / the lesson plan / the computer podium key and where I may have put it.

Many of the graduate students I interact with talk of Christmas breaks full of reading ahead, of thesis projects started, of daunting paperwork addressed. That’s the wrong attitude, I think. Term is hard. It’s long and intense if you’re taking courses, or teaching them, or studying for comps or preparing a thesis proposal, or if you’re writing, or especially if you’re on the job market. Take a break.

Do something selfish and decadent, even if that means something as simple as watching TV in the morning, or as elaborate as leaving town for sunny, warm climes.

My sugarplum visions include slipper socks and staring at the lights on my tree, mug of Holiday Tea in a Santa mug in hand.

What do yours look like?

Oo-err. Even my computer is *tired*

10 thoughts on “Visions of sugarplums

  1. Ha! Tell that to my supervisor, who wants my first chapter submitted by New Year, a chapter that I started precisely three weeks ago.

    In all seriousness, I am going to try to power down a bit over the holidays. Taking some time to make homemade Christmas gifts will be part of it, as will loafing on the sofa watching Downton Abbey and drinking chai, spending too much money on books that I want to read “in case they would be good on a CanLit syllabus” (i.e. for fun), and eating pouding chomeur and drinking scotch late at night in a dark bistro. The 30-person Boxing Day dinner at my parents' house is also a highlight, although it sounds like a nightmare. I love the holidays, and I'm going to try to enjoy them as much as possible this year.

    And get most of that chapter done.


  2. Thanks so much for this wonderful post! I want so badly to take a week off over Christmas, to read some of that stack of nothing-to-do-with-my-dissertation books (The Sentimentalist! The Waterproof Bible! Room!) that have been accumulating over the past two years, to spend five hours preparing an elaborate meal for my family just because, to bake seven kinds of cookies, to sit and play Christmas carols at the piano, to hand make terrible Christmas cards, decorate a tree, and watch all my favourite movies in one day. I am a Christmas FIEND and, you know what? I really want to enjoy it without feeling bad about not working every day.


  3. My sentiments EXACTLY! How do we find that balance? I too have a chapter due at the end of the year, Melissa, so I know where you are coming from. I feel like I haven't had a proper holiday for years since starting grad school, as there has always been something due, pending, or to be done over Christmas. The list of books on my night table is as high as the list of books I need for my research. I keep purging the “fun” books and banishing them to the closet waiting for that idyllic month-long “catching up on my reading” holiday that is always out of reach. (Big sigh) I am getting better at scheduling sanity and fun breaks, though. My writing doesn't get any better when I am cranky and exhausted, whereas after a run or an eggnog latte (or both), my attitude, and my writing, improve considerably.


  4. sorry, thought I'd reword. Graduate students are on tight deadlines and part of their challenge is to do something they haven't done before: write a book. Professor also have a lot to do, but are in it for the long haul and so most of us have learned not to work continuously. When you get old, you just can't work all the time anyway!

    When I was a graduate student I never worked on Sundays and I did take time off for the holidays. I had to because of family commitments. Now, I use the holidays to catch up and power down, and I think that's an achievable goal for most of us. Merry relaxing everyone!


  5. No one works well when they are tired. Regular breaks are important. I want to ask who these supervisors are who are expecting their grad students not to take a break over the holidays so I can send the boys round to remind them of this.


  6. My sugar plum visions look like a submission confirmation e-mail for this latest co-authored paper I am putting together for work, a credit card arriving in the mail, and a full bank account. But it doesn't end there! I also see finished and paid for PhD applications (all paper work done and sent), a scrap booking session to complete a christmas present for my grandmother, and the faces of my loved ones as they open their carefully selected gifts from me ;p I cannot wait to play festive music, bake cookies,and put up decorations.


  7. It's funny…. Now that I think about it, I was so good about taking time off when I was a student (yes, even when I was in grad school). But, since I started a TT job, I've become all work and no play (and yes, it's making me really dull). My first holiday break after starting my TT job, I only took 2-3 days off (Dec. 24-26), and only out of necessity. Last year, I took off 4 days in a row (Dec. 23-26), plus another day or two here and there. This year… wait for it… I'm planning to take off a whole week! Yep. A WEEK! I'm planning for it, though (getting my winter courses prepped over the next two weeks, which will be doable since they're both repeats), and have already starting scheduling fun things with family and friends (including downtime) so that I can't sneak in a few hours of work. Because while that helps in the short run, it just leads to burn out over time. And somehow, in my wiser days as a grad student, I knew this. What happened?! Well, who knows… But I can hear my old self in there, begging for a break. So, I'll be taking one. And yes, it will involve LOTS of eating, movies, and living in PJs. 🙂


  8. It's one thing if you plan to do a lot of work over the break, and you actually get it done. That sometimes happens to people who are not me, I think.

    Worse is planning to do a lot of work, worrying about it every day, and still getting nothing done. In that case, you get neither the benefits of a real vacation AND none of the benefits of working ahead while others get quietly drunk while idly flipping through magazines and eating mandarin oranges. It's lose / lose!

    For me, realistically, I won't get much done. So much better to just make that my plan. Otherwise I'm just Jacob Marley, an unwelcome, morose ghost through the holiday, only my chains are graduate papers, peer review assignments, and long academic books clanging and dragging behind me …


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