balance · day in the life · good things · having it all · summer · time crunch

Just one day out of life …

You know, if we took a holiday, took some time to celebrate? It would be-e-e-e, it would be! so! nice!

This post is a couple of hours late because I took a holiday. A vacation. A break. Some time off. For almost nine days in a row, no work. That’s the longest stretch of real time off I’ve taken in over a year. And I’ve lived to tell the tale! I feel like it’s my duty to tell you how hard it was to let go of everything (it took a couple of days), how great it was to be free of all of it, and how relaxed and cheerful I am about returning to work today.

Hard: My last ‘working day’ on the Friday coincided with a very big writing deadline, which I met, but not without some injury to my soul. I felt like I had spent the day trying to dig a ditch through bedrock with my fingernails, with the result that at 5:30, when I tried to go into vacation mode, I was bitchy, headachy, and thoroughly weepy.

  • Lesson 1: You can’t do a week of work in one day in anticipation of five days off. At least, I can’t.

Hard: It was hard to maintain vacation mode when I had a defense to participate in on Monday. (Of course, the defense is harder for the candidate; this is worthy work; I’m glad to do it, it’s an honour and a privilege, and it was a great dissertation. Of course.) It was really hard to gussy myself up, go in for three hours and then, again, expect I would be immediately transformed into a blissfully vacationing happy person once the papers were signed. Instead, I got crabby and took a nap.

  • Lesson 2: “Switching it off” is not an instantaneous thing. It’s less like a light switch (“click!”) and more like the garden hose — first you turn the tap off, then you gravity-drain the hose, then you turn off the valve inside the house, and drain that. There’s steps. It takes some time.

Great: From Tuesday on, time expanded, my heart opened up, and I just let everything go. Really: no emails, no NOTHING. We did yard work (new clothes line!), we went in to Toronto to the AGO, we went out for lunches, had naps, planned a barbecue party. I went to three yoga classes, and for many long bike rides, at 9am, even! My life felt qualitatively different: it wasn’t just that I wasn’t working my full days, it was that I wasn’t working at all, and got to be the person I am when I’m not working.
  • Lesson 3: When you go on vacation, don’t even work for 30 minutes a day, because you don’t really get the benefits of letting it all go. Doing less academic work is work to rule; doing no academic work is a vacation.
Relaxing: We threw a party on Saturday. An outdoor party, with adults and kids. All day it threatened rain. People RSVP’ed late. I felt, though, remarkably zen about the whole thing: I can’t control the weather, and we can just move inside! People will come, or they won’t! More sweet potato fries on the grill for me! And it was awesome. I’m not laid back like that about work. But maybe I should learn to be a little less … clenchy. Because relaxed felt pretty nice, and worked out awfully well.
  • Lesson 4: Work exacerbates my control-freak tendencies in ways that don’t contribute to either my happiness or my effectiveness. Might need to rethink some stuff …
Cheerful: So here it is, Monday. I’ve got some more writing to do, some committee stuff in my inbox, another dissertation on my desk. I’m kind of looking forward to getting at it. After all, I really do enjoy my work. I feel like I’ve got a bit of balance back, and I feel a lot less resentful, angry, and overwhelmed, the way I was getting to feel after this very intense year I’ve had. That’s good news.
So. I did it. I took the whole week off, and puttered around my house and my city, spending time with my husband, taking it easy. And I feel fantastic now.
  • Lesson 5: Draw your own conclusions on holidays here … Do you have a great holiday story you want to leave in the comments? 
academic reorganization · good things · mental health

Fifteen minutes a day; or, what’s in your lunch bag?

I’ve noticed that women, feminists, activists, and empathetic humans in general have a tendency to periodically feel responsible for the world. There are so many things that need solving, addressing, unpacking, intervening, and aid. While we can’t turn our eyes away from the hard work that has to be done on a local and global basis… sometimes it is useful and important to focus on the basics that keep us healthy, energetic, and maybe, just maybe, a little bit happy.

March is a difficult month for those of us working in the Canadian academy. Reading week is long gone. Midterm exams and papers are piled up on desks waiting to be marked. Students are tired and stressed. Professors and administrators are tired and stressed. Any day now folks will start to hear the results of funding competitions and it may well still be snowing wherever you are. It can be easy to forget to take care of oneself. In that same vein, it can be strangely comforting to fall into a routine where your own needs fall right out of your line of vision. Or is this another case where it is just me? In a recent telephone conversation with my wise father (who is no stranger to stressful work environments) he said something that really resonated with me. “Make sure you take fifteen minutes a day for yourself,” he said. “No matter what, give yourself fifteen solid minutes a day just for you.” His reasoning was that it is nigh impossible to really take on tasks–big, small, or middling–if you’re running on empty.

Hmm. Sounds easy, huh? It even sounds like advice I should already know to take. But where can one find the time? Well, in the name of self preservation, good will, and good nosh, I want to suggest that lunch might be one wee little space to carve out some time to refresh your spirit (or at least please your tum!)

Frankly, I’m terrible at taking time for myself, even something as small as a lunch break seems like an indulgence. I eat hunkered over my computer or student papers trying desperately not to spill my food on either. And Aimée has written about how finding the time to pack a lunch can be emotionally and temporally taxing. So perhaps lunch is simply a state of mind–the resolution to take a quarter of an hour away from the computer, or perhaps at the computer reading a beautiful food blog or looking at other people’s lunches. Or maybe lunch can be time to get up from your desk and take a walk outside or visit with a friend.

And perhaps, if you’re lucky, lunch can be about unpacking something special you’ve made/bought for yourself. My dear friend M. writes a terribly witty blog about the importance–and challenge–of packing a lunch. She even offers some suggestions for easy lunches on the go. If you like to dabble in cooking (gosh, I do) but feel pressed for time (gosh, I do) I have to recommend the wonderful recipes over at the Post Punk Kitchen. They are swift, fresh, and usually make more than enough to save pretty leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.

Usually my noontime fare is unpacked at 2pm between lectures and gobbled down between student meetings, but this week I’m going to try to carve out a little more time for myself, and lunch will be my excuse.

Take care of yourselves, dear readers, and don’t forget to take a break! Maybe you can even take a quarter of an hour to share lunchtime with a colleague. Oh yes, and if you have a moment, let me know what you’re eating. I like reading about food almost as much as I like ingesting it.
day in the life · good things · mental health · openness · you're awesome

Release, Slacken, Relax

I like the verb ‘se détendre’ in French, which has the various translations noted above in the title. I like the idea even better: me détendre, to release, to slacken, to relax. Let go. Calm down.

Have you noticed that a lot of academics do yoga? I’ve noticed. And I do yoga. A lot of yoga.

Yoga is hard but relaxing: the hardest part for me is the meditation, the mindfulnes, the being-in-the-moment, the observing my thoughts without becoming attached to them. Man. I can’t do that. Ask my teacher: I couldn’t keep my eyes closed in savasana for TWO YEARS. I’m a chronic insomniac, a champion worrier.

(“Hold on — is the plaster cracking on the ceiling? Is that just along the lathe, or is that along a joist line? Omigod, is my house structurally unsound? IS THE SECOND FLOOR GOING TO CAVE IN? Ommmmm.”)

(“Furthermore, what does interdisciplinarity really mean? Does it mean a work meets the standards of no disciplines? Or must meet the standards of several, simultaneously? If the former, how can we call this scholarship? If the latter, who can work hard enough to get it done? But it must! Think of the terrible warning of the geneticists and the evolutionary biologists!!!”)

I’m a little hepped up. A lot of academics are a little hepped up.

Over the course of many of my sleepless nights, I’ve given the matter some consideration. It seems to me that to think for a living–worse, to engage professionally in critical thinking–means carrying your work around with you everywhere. It’s hard to stop thinking. Or at least, to stop thinking about things that prevent you from sleeping / enjoying your leisure time / not boring your relatives with disquisitions on usage based billing and moral imperative of net neutrality.

Yeesh, self, give it a break until 9am tomorrow, okay?

Hence, my theory on why a lot of academics drink, quite heavily: it slows your thinking down. Personally, I like martinis.

My husband made me this one, and he put a straw in it so I could drink it in bed, while reading a yoga philosophy book. Double calm!

My other best way to calm down (when I’m not drinking or doing yoga, I guess) is comedy: I like to watch America’s Funniest Home Videos reruns every night on CMT. People falling down make me laugh, and laughing makes me calm.

So none of this has much to do with who I am as an academic. But. I’m a person too, right? And it’s good to remember that, to celebrate that, in its boozy zen chuckling quirkiness. And you’re people too, outside of your academic or para-academic or post-academic or supra-academic daytime identity.

So in the spirit of Friday, I ask: What do you do, when you’re not at work, to calm down, to let go, to slacken, to relax … pour te détendre?

good things · random

10 Awesome Things for a Wednesday

  1. Revolution in Egypt (??) and solidarity all over
  2. Worst Professor Ever (and NH, for posting the link)
  3. My students’ blogs: see this one and this one and this one (the students opted to make their blogs public)
  4. Feminist Figure Girl (“look hot while you fight the patriarchy”)
  5. Our always-good friends at University of Venus
  6. Art Project powered by Google: the Uffizi, the Prado, the Frick!
  7. The way everybody wants to read “This Month in Sexism,” but nobody wants to contribute.
  8. The Journal of Universal Rejection
  9. My old cat snoring and snuffling beside me
  10. Sunup at 8:18 + sundown at 5:18 = 9 hours of daylight today