I tell people that I’m…

I tell people that I'm off for the summer, and they're so envious. And they should be -- on the one hand, it's amazingly luxurious to be able to schedule my own days freely for the next three months. This is the first summer off I've had (unless you count the summer right after I had my first child, which I don't!) since grad school, and it's glorious. If I want, I can get up, get the kids ready and take them to preschool, and then go back to bed and watch tv all day, or at least until it's time to go pick them up again.

The truth is, of course, that that doesn't happen. Tuesday was the deadline for handing in final grades. And it's true that Wednesday, Kev and I deliberately (and somewhat awkwardly) took 45 minutes in the middle of the day to lie in bed and watch the latest episode of Once Upon a Time (a show I can't quite decide if I like or not, actually). But we didn't (as we'd vaguely discussed last week) spend hours in bed every afternoon watching romantic movies. There was just too much work to do. And I think, if I want a real vacation this summer at all, I need to be a little careful to make it happen. Otherwise, the work will just keep coming.

Part of it's the backlog of e-mail. Yesterday, I spent the entire day dealing with e-mail -- admin stuff for school, for the SLF, for DesiLit, for my own writing. I got through a hundred backlogged messages, and have three hundred more to go. I have a vague goal of actually clearing my Inbox by the time I go to WisCon at the end of May. I haven't had an empty Inbox since college; I can't imagine what that would feel like. Good, I think.

Part of it's writing. Because of course, I'm not actually supposed to be sleeping all summer -- I'm supposed to be writing books. That is actually part of my job, to write books. During the school year, it is REALLY hard to carve out writing time. I do it, but it's squeezed in hours here and hours there, and it tends to make for fragmented thinking, which at least for me, isn't good for the books. My books-in-progress could all use some really sustained, deep thought at this point, the kind of thing where I spend 4-8 hours thinking about the book, take a break, sleep on it, come back and do it again the next day, and the next, and the next. That's what I was able to do for Bodies in Motion, back in grad school seven years ago, and I think it's what I need, personally, to write good books. (I can't speak for other writers.) That kind of sustained time and thought is what I haven't had, in a very long time.

And as a result, I'm not feeling relaxed this summer, even though I'm supposedly 'off.' Whenever I'm not writing, I feel this buzzing anxiety at the base of my brain, this little whispering voice saying, "You should be writing." And I'm deliberately ignoring it some of the time, because this is also the summer of finishing unpacking and cleaning the last of the basement (after our move into the house last June), and the summer of establishing the garden, especially the vegetable garden, and the summer of really getting into the habit of exercising at least an hour daily (which I've actually been doing, pretty much, for the last month, and I have to tell you -- it feels AMAZING, and that deserves a separate post of its own). It's the summer of catching up with neglected friends, and renewing my relationship with Kevin, finding time to enjoy each other again, rather than just coping with the day-to-day minutiae of our lives.

This summer's not going to be all-writing all the time, and it shouldn't be. It doesn't need to be. But now that I've churned through the most urgent of the e-mail, I've feeling the need to really shape the summer that comes. With deliberate spaces for lots of writing, and for exercise and gardening and house organization. With spaces for playing with the children, teaching Kavi the basics of reading, getting Anand toilet-trained. With spaces for resting, for lying in bed with Kevin and watching romantic movies.

This academic life and schedule can be a gift, as long as you pay a little attention, don't squander it. I don't want to get to August and feel like I've frittered away the summer, lost it to anxiety and flailing. Mindful enjoyment, organized work. That's the plan.

Now let's see if I can actually implement it.

3 thoughts on “I tell people that I’m…”

  1. Sounds like an excellent plan.

    And I really like the paradigm of “mindful enjoyment, organized work.” Good ideas.

    Also: go, you on the exercise! Both on the managing an hour a day, and on establishing it as a regular/habitual thing for a month; that’s great.

  2. I too like mindful enjoyment and organized work. I never tell people I have the summer off, I tell them I am unemployed for the summer. Technically truer. And I while I agree with you that it is an amazing privilege that I don’t want to take for granted (either the time or the privilege) I get tired of people acting like I spend it at the beach. While I do slow down and get caught up on sleep, friends, email etc. I also research, prep classes, etc. I suspect those folks who could spend the summer doing nothing are not the kind of folks who finish their PhDs. Not enough OCD about work!,

  3. Mary Anne – I would love to meet you when you are in Madison for Wiscon. I am not a writer and don’t plan to attend the event itself, but is there a chance to just get together with you?


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